Ina Cherkas and Gail Pearson love being nurses. Ina, age 84 and a resident at the Jeffrey and Susan Brudnick Center for Living in Peabody, worked as a registered nurse for 32 years. Gail, 63, is a nurse manager at the Brudnick center.
Adele Berman Cherkas – or Ina as everyone calls her – attended the Newton-Wellesley Hospital School of Nursing, graduating in 1957. She went on to work at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, starting in the ICU and then in recovery. After her son and daughter were born, she worked as a part-time nurse at Malden Hospital. Ina served as chairwoman of the Massachusetts Nursing Association for four years, helping troubleshoot issues and solve problems.
Gail Pearson has been a nurse at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare’s Brudnick center for nine years. She graduated from Essex Agricultural High School in Danvers in the LPN program. Gail is beloved by residents and staff alike.
In honor of National Nurses Week last month, Gail asked Ina to share her thoughts on nursing, the pandemic, and what being an RN meant to her.
Gail: How did you get interested in nursing?
Ina: It started when I had my appendix out at age 14. Being a patient prompted me to think about what nursing entailed and how dedicated the nurses were to their patients.
Gail: Do you remember how you felt when you became a nurse?
Ina: I was so proud of getting my nursing degree. Student nurses worked really hard. It was a lot of responsibility to assess people’s symptoms correctly. But I enjoyed it. The truth is I am so glad I became a nurse!
Gail: Nursing encompasses so many experiences and emotions. What was your favorite part?
Ina: (laughing) Flirting with the cute doctors! But seriously, I loved being able to help the patients. I remember sitting with one little boy who had cancer while he was waiting for his treatment. He asked me to stay with him and his parents. He just really needed someone to hold his hand.
What made me feel really special is when patients came back to the hospital and they asked for me to be their nurse. I think you have to really want to be a nurse. It’s a tough job. That said, I encourage all those individuals who have an interest in nursing, especially CNAs [certified nursing assistants] to pursue this line of work. It is truly gratifying to be able to help people.
Gail: The hardest part of the pandemic for me was to see the elderly residents who I have cared for many years wither away from the virus, realizing that no matter how hard we worked to help them survive, they would probably not survive. What do you think people learned from this last year and half?
Ina: I think we learned that we had to take it day-by-day. It was a very difficult time. The pandemic caused a staffing crisis, creating a shortage of nurses. We were all afraid at the beginning, but now what residents and staff have been vaccinated we are seeing a return to normalcy.
Gail: What I love most about my nursing career is the trusting relationships I have developed with my long-term care residents and their families. It is such a rewarding feeling. What did you enjoy most about being a nurse?
Ina: To me, the most important part of nursing is getting to know the patients. I feel people miss out if they do not take the time to listen to their patients and find out who they are …what they like … their families … their careers. I think finding out as much information as possible makes you a better nurse. That was the easy part for me. I am definitely a people person!
Gail: What was the hardest part of nursing?
Ina Cherkas: Malden Hospital took critical cardiac patients that other hospitals would not take because the surgeries were complicated and risky. Some made it through and that was wonderful to witness. But it was really hard to accept when a patient did not make it.
Gail: You worked as a nurse until age 72. Did you ever consider retiring?
Ina: I actually retired when I was 65. In fact, I even had a going-away party. But you know, retiring isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I found that I really missed caring for my patients. Guess I choose the right profession after all.