“When my mom first got sick, I was that family member you all hate to see,” Bertice Berry told a crowd of more than 150 critical care nurses and other Christiana Care Health System employees.
Dr. Berry, a nationally renowned lecturer, author, sociologist and former college professor, spoke with disarming frankness at an Aug. 28 event at Christiana Care’s John H. Ammon Medical Education Center. Officially, the event was a continuing-education lecture, but the laughter and tears shared between speaker and audience made it clear the experience touched many on a very personal level.
Berry told her audience she initially was scared and highly suspicious of the people caring for her mother. But after watching critical care nurses interact with her mother over the two-year course of her terminal illness, Berry’s attitude changed.
“I got to see up close what nursing really is,” she said. “I had to go through the transition from a crazy relative of a patient saying, ‘Don’t kill my mother!’ to someone saying, ‘Thank you for keeping her here or, if you don’t keep her (alive), thank you for sending her off with love.’
“I became someone who said, ‘My God, why don’t people know what these nurses do?’ No one ever says thank you.”
Berry set about to fix that problem.
She takes on speaking engagements to share her message of thanks, and repeatedly has emceed the national conference of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (an organization that in 2012 awarded Christiana Hospital’s Medical Intensive Care Unit with its second Silver Beacon Award for Critical Care Excellence). This year, Berry offered a personal speaking engagement as grand prize in the conference’s annual raffle — a grand prize that Christiana Care MICU nurse Val Pelly won.
When Pelly’s name was drawn, it was hard to tell who was more surprised and excited: Pelly and the group of Christiana Care MICU nurses attending the conference, or Berry herself. As Berry shared during her resulting visit to Christiana — during which she toured the MICU and met with critical care nurses one-on-one before her speech — she was raised in Wilmington and has a special connection to the hospital: Three of her five adopted children were born here, including one who returned for treatment as a severely malnourished 2-year-old and, she said, “was loved back to life” by a Christiana Hospital nurse before Berry adopted him.
“Hearing about what we do from someone on the other side, it inspires us and let’s us know we’re appreciated,” Pelly said.