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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Transforming Lives: CAMH Nursing supports a client’s journey

Hospitalized for the first time, and feeling overwhelmed by her symptoms, Caroline had a guardian angel on her side: a Registered Practical Nurse named Lloyd McFarlane in CAMH’s Acute Care Unit (ACU).

“I felt like he was watching over me, and cared about me,” says Caroline, a young woman who is continuing her recovery and recently completed a bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto.

“Lloyd was there for both of my hospitalizations. I ran into him several years later and he remembered me and said he was happy to see me doing better.”

Caroline was diagnosed with a complex condition blending symptoms of schizophrenia with depression. She was supported by several different programs over a period of several years as CAMH professionals found a course of treatment and medication that was right for her.

And CAMH nurses were there -- every step of the way. A Registered Nurse named Laletta Chang took time on her lunch break to do an exercise program called P90X with Caroline (“she kicked my butt, by the way”). Another, Rita Kozina, took Caroline for walks outside to get some fresh air and perspective.

Caroline
Caroline today

“They were there for me”

“Nurses are the people you interact with the most,” says Caroline. “They were there for me physically and emotionally during some vulnerable moments, like waking up from sedation. They spent time with me, provided my meds, kept track of how I was doing. They are really good at helping you talk through your emotions.”

Caroline spent several months at the Mood and Anxiety Inpatient Unit, known as MAUI. There, a Registered Practical Nurse named Mike Thompson “was kind, and also one of the funniest people I’ve met,” Caroline says. She recalls that Mike put a twist on a drawing exercise called Mandala (an ancient Indian Sanskrit word meaning “circle”), in which clients colour complex circular designs. “He created what he called a Mandela-Mandala, with multiple images of Nelson Mandela – really cool. I still have mine at home.”

A few years ago, everyone on the MAUI unit heard that Mike was getting married. He wanted to have a suit custom-made for the occasion, and ended up getting suggestions from clients and employees. “I helped him find a picture to take to the tailor, with the features he wanted – kind of an English country gentleman look,” says Caroline.

“Caroline had an uphill battle with her mental health, but she was never easily discouraged,” says Mike, who now works for the CAMH Information Management Group. “As a nurse, you’re there, you do your job. At the end of the day, you have to know the huge effort the clients put in themselves to take steps towards recovery."

Mike Thompson
RN Mike Thompson, now a Supervisor with the CAMH Information Management Group

Putting the client first

A graduate of the nursing program at Durham College, Mike’s approach to nursing is to put the person first and diagnosis second, he says. “Ideally the relationship is adult-to-adult versus caregiver-to-client. That approach of respect and equality provides the foundation for recovery, he says. Nurses recognize client strengths and help build on those strengths.

“If I do something that contributes to you feeling better, that’s no difficulty for me – helping clients like Caroline – that helps me.”

And what about the famous wedding suit? “My wife said ‘yes,’ so it worked out well,” Mike laughs.

As Caroline’s health improved, she transitioned to an outpatient program. A Registered Nurse at the Archway clinic, Candice Traynor, was her caseworker. “Candice was a constant presence for me, says Caroline. “She knew everything about me and my life; she’s a very practical and attentive person.”

The road ahead for Caroline

While receiving outpatient care, Caroline went back to school to complete an English degree that had been delayed by her illness. She graduated in 2012. She’s now considering post-graduate options at the University of Toronto, and looking some college courses.

At the same time, she continues to monitor her health and medication. She lives in a YWCA-sponsored housing centre specializing in support for women with mental health issues. To stay active, she joined a running group at CAMH and ran her first two 5K races in 2014. She’s eager to get back to running in 2015 once a temporary shin-splint injury settles down.

She visits CAMH regularly for bloodwork related to her medications – and to say hi. “I still come by to see all the staff at MAUI – most of the nurses are still there. I brought along some cupcakes last year to say thank you and celebrate the fourth anniversary of my discharge.”

The last word – from two CAMH nurses

Rita Kozina, a Registered Nurse with the Acute Care Unit (ACU) and General Psychiatry Unit (GPU), recalls Caroline “pulled on my heartstrings, as my kids were close to her in age at that time.”

“When Caroline was improving we went for walks around the hospital and the University of Toronto, and had good, long, therapeutic talks. I’m happy to see that Caroline has grown to become a young woman who is working with CAMH to address stigma around mental health issues. It’s very rewarding to witness clients getting better and leading productive lives.”

Lloyd McFarlane, now with CAMH’s forensics program, recalls Caroline as a “unique person with a sense of style, well-spoken and articulate.”

When working with clients like Caroline, “it’s important to remember they are sometimes temporarily isolated from their families and loved ones,” Lloyd says. “They have to adapt to a new environment. The most important thing is to establish a therapeutic relationship with the client and empower them to take control of their lives. They want to be valued, feel important, and be cared for.”

“When a client responds favorably to treatment it’s a rewarding feeling,” he says. “I feel good knowing I was part of a team that made a positive influence in Caroline’s life.”

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