Long-time Orillia nurse Lois Gilmour recently came out of retirement to help vaccinate locals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 64-year-old Alliston native got her start in nursing back in 1979 when she graduated from the Royal Victoria School of Nursing at Georgian College.
“Back then there weren’t a lot of options for girls, basically a secretary, nurse, teacher, or a housewife, and apparently according to my mom and dad I always wanted to be a nurse,” Gilmour explained.
“We didn’t have the options that young girls have today, and if you did you were fighting an uphill battle.”
The Twin Lakes Secondary School graduate says nursing has come a long way since her early days in the profession.
“When I first started, we didn’t have IV pumps. I was told in school you would never see glass syringes, which I have seen,” Gilmour said.
“While nursing has evolved, so have patients. They are much sicker than they ever used to be because we are keeping them alive longer with free hospital care and family doctors.”
Nursing has presented Gilmour with many life-changing opportunities throughout the years such as being able to travel the planet.
“I’ve been on every continent in the world through flight nursing. I had one day where I had breakfast in Turkey, lunch in Rome, and supper in Madrid, all in one day,” Gilmour chuckled.
“I never knew nursing would give me the kinds of experiences that I have had. I’ve gotten to know that while patients have different names and faces, the problems and attitudes are often the same; you just learn to deal with things in different environments.”
While Gilmour has had memorable experiences while working in the nursing field, she says the job also presents many life challenges.
“Sometimes it’s hard on family life with shift work and, unfortunately, sometimes there were two shift workers in our home as my husband, Gord, worked for Toronto ambulance. You miss a lot of things; I remember when my youngest started Kindergarten I was in Halifax on a flight,” Gilmour recalled.
The mother of two adult children says parents signing up to be a nurse means committing to two full-time jobs.
“You are trying to be a parent at home for your kids. Meanwhile there is always a patient who needs you ... it can leave you torn and pulled apart,” Gilmour said.
After stepping away from Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital in 2018 after 14 years of service in the Sunshine City, Gimour decided to return to nursing duties this past February.
The Orillia resident is now working in the Barrie immunization clinic delivering COVID-19 vaccines through Royal Victoria Hospital.
“I’ve been a nurse for 42 years. I’ve done flight nursing, I’ve nursed on a cruise ship, on land, and doing critical care, but I’ve never been thanked as much as I have been while doing shots,” Gilmour said.
“I’ve seen everything from agriculture workers who have just left the field to come in, to people who left sun tanning ... people just want the shot, they see this as their first taste of freedom and an opportunity to get back to normality.”
Gilmour says giving COVID-19 vaccines is one of the biggest honours of her long career.
“I get the biggest thrill to give a vaccination when I get to put that needle in next to somebody’s smallpox vaccination scar, because smallpox is gone, and that’s because of vaccinations,” she said.
The general attitude from those receiving the vaccination has also been positive, Gilmour says.
“Some people come in a little nervous because unfortunately, they have read everything on the University of Facebook, which has drawn them into some of these conspiracy theories,” she said.
“However, I had one girl literally dance up to the chair she was so excited. I had another lady start crying as I gave her the needle because she was so happy.”
Being a nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t easy, Gilmour says; there are many mental challenges that come with the job.
“Right now, the challenge is keeping my head above water. This virus is affecting everybody, even people who don’t have COVID but might be sick with something else,” she said.
“When you go to work now you are in full gear from the time you walk in the doors till the time you leave, which is hard, emotionally. You are always worried if you are taking home the virus to your family, there is a lot that weighs on your head.”
Outside of nursing, being a mom, and recently a grandmother, Gilmour is well known in local church circles for her singing and piano playing.
“I’ve always been very involved in music. I’ve competed in Kiwanis, and I’m involved in the St. Andrew’s church choir. I love to sing, I’ve done a fair share of weddings and things like that,” Gilmour explained.
“I believe that when you are given a gift you should use it; music is my language.”
Gilmour also loves making quilts, cooking, baking, and helping others. There are never any dull moments in her life, she jokes.
“I’m usually doing something. I like to keep busy,” she said.