After 48 years, nursing still only calling
WHEN Sister Veronica van der Merwe officially “retires” at the end of this month, she will have served the Nelson Mandela Bay community as a nurse for 48 years.
“She still works harder than all of us,” Uitenhage Netcare Cuyler Clinic theatre manager Janice Kriel said.
In fact, the staff at Cuyler Clinic are not quite ready to let Van der Merwe go.
They have asked her to work a few hours a week so they can still see “Ouma”, as she is affectionately known.
Van der Merwe started as a student nurse in 1967 at the Uitenhage Provincial Hospital.
“I came from the tiny farm community Fullarton, near Willowmore,” she said. “Back then it was all dirt road. It was very tough for me to leave my parents.
“My first real job after training as a nurse was at St Joseph’s Hospital in Port Elizabeth [now Life St George’s Hospital].
“I started working there in 1970. We were working with the nuns in the hospital and one who worked in theatre liked me. She first introduced me to the job of scrub sister.
“I always knew that there was nothing else I wanted to do,” she said. “Nursing was always my calling.”
When Dr Andries Marais established Cuyler Clinic in 1985, Van der Merwe started there. “We only had one theatre in the beginning and then two. Now we have five,” she said.
Even though she is a grandmother, she is not fazed by new technology, microsurgery or new, complicated, cuttingedge procedures.
“Of course, the surgeries we were doing in 1970 were much simpler than those we are doing now, but I kept up with all of it.”
Her favourite operations are assisting orthopaedic surgeons.
“I love my job. I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single morning that I did not want to come to work.
“It is the most wonderful feeling in the world to watch someone’s worried face light up when you hold their hand or speak softly to them.
“I work with many lovely doctors,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
“It is completely untrue that surgeons are difficult people. Some of them might be a bit impatient, but really I have always loved working with them.”
Van der Merwe said if she could give advice to younger nurses, it would be to enjoy their work.
“But also to do your work as well as you can . . . and don’t to be lazy.
“Most importantly, I think being respectful and tolerant is very important.
“There is no use in getting angry about things.”
Van der Merwe was diagnosed with cancer in 2000 but returned to work as soon as she could.
“Now I am fine, but once you have had cancer you look at things differently.
“You stop complaining about a cold or the flu,” she said.
“I thank my colleagues and the management of Netcare Cuyler Clinic for the time I worked here. It really has been wonderful.”
Kriel said Van der Merwe had the most exceptional work ethic she had ever encountered.
“She can work harder than most of the others here but she also brings us a lot of joy. She is a truly exceptional person,” Kriel said.