ANGEL OF THE ISLES

Published: April 13, 2007  |  Source: nm.stir.ac.uk
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NEW SERIES CHARTS THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF LIFE AT A BUSY NURSING CAMPUS Rachel cares for patients .. and her paralysed fiance

WHEN Rachel Kennedy set out to become a nurse, she did so in the belief that she would help others.

But when her fiance Sandy Macleod crushed his spinal cord in a car crash two years ago, the student realised caring for others wouldn’t stop at the end of her shift.

Sandy would never walk again after being paralysed from the waist down, his back broken. But his future wife’s hope wasn’t.

Rachel is that rarest of breeds – the eternal optimist who can see light in even the darkest times. She won’t have her life turned into a tragedy, no matter how cruel a twist it has taken.

Rachel is just one of a group of nurses featured in BBC Scotland’s two-part observational documentary, Nursing a Dream, filmed on the Isle of Lewis.

Manchester-born Rachel is now a qualified nurse and works on the island she calls home. But two years ago the future didn’t look so certain.

Sitting at home, Rachel is candid about the hand life’s dealt her and her partner, but she refuses to dwell on past events and actually thinks she and Sandy are the lucky ones.

She said: “I think we are both very fortunate. It could have been a heck of a lot worse.

“Our lives were turned upside down, and we would have been married by now, both of us with good jobs.

“I would have been qualified now for a year instead of six months. But what’s happened has happened.

“Sandy is still the same person and as much as things might not be what they were, well, I appreciate things a lot more now than I used to.

“I don’t feel bitter. It actually makes me feel fortunate. Everything happens for a reason.”

The pair were just 21 when their world was turned upside down.

Sandy was in a car with four others when it left the road. Fortunately, no one was killed in the crash.

“They were very lucky,” said Rachel. “It was a very serious crash, very traumatic. Sandy came out the worst.

“He broke his back. We never thought anything of it at first and I was threatening to break both his legs I was so angry with him. But little did we know it was a spinal injury too.”

Once doctors discovered the extent of Sandy’s injury, the truth began to dawn on Rachel.

“It was a bombshell, it was ironic some people would say. It was life-changing, totally unexpected, such a difficult time.”

The pair spent almost a year in Glasgow as Sandy was given intensive treatment in the city’s spinal unit at the Southern General Hospital.

“We got specialised training, but that was really hard, trying to adapt and do things without the use of his legs,” recalls Rachel. “But I didn’t feel bitter, I was just in total shock, and realised how unfair it was for him.

“That’s when I realised I didn’t want to go back and do my final year which would have taken me away from Sandy. My heart and soul just wasn’t in it.

“But once I started to see the nurses working, I realised I was starting to get envious. I wanted get back among them all and get my hands dirty.

“It motivated me to get back and finish my course. Now I realise that Sandy’s accident was a significant part of my training.

“I learned a lot through personal experience. We had bad experiences and good experiences when we were away. Being on the receiving end of things made me appreciate it more. I also realised what made a good nurse and what made a bad one.”

Having gained her qualification, Rachel’s life is back on track, as is Sandy’s.

He helps on the family mussel farm in a clerical capacity, and the pair are planning to get married next year.

Rachel said: “He’s really independent. He can get in and out of a car, he showers himself and dresses himself.”

Earlier this year Rachel’s professional and personal endeavours were rewarded when she was awarded the University of Stirling’s R. G. Bomont Award for Recognition of Clinical Excellence.

She said: “I was a bit overwhelmed to be honest. I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I was shocked, but delighted.”

The BBC programme Nursing a Dream tracks the fate of the students of % Stirling University’s Western Isles nursing campus for a year.

For some, this is a life-long dream come true but for others, the reality of what the job entails proves a bitter pill to swallow.

However, for Rachel, it’s been something she’s always wanted to do.

Growing up in Manchester and moving to the islands in her early teens, she realised she wanted to devote her life to helping others after her nan developed heart problem and her aunt died from MS before her 40th birthday.

“I think I just wanted to give something back on their behalf after what the nurses had done for them,” she said. “When I left school I was fortunate enough to know that’s what I wanted to do.

“And I was very lucky that I could do the course on the island itself too, because I thought I was going to have to go away.”

But Rachel is glad she stayed, and reckons – despite the limitations imposed by geography – she can devote more time to her patients.

She said: “It feels quite homely. I worked on the mainland in Inverness as part of my course, and as much as it’s bigger and more specialised, it doesn’t seem as friendly as a local hospital. You don’t get to know the patients the same.

“I think we have more time for them here. It’s a better standard of care.”

But it wasn’t a case of access all areas when the Beeb rolled in with their cameras.

“There are confidentiality issues and I think a lot of people didn’t want to be filmed,” Rachel said.

Nursing A Dream is on BBC2 Scotland, Monday, 9pm

Note: The University of Stirling’s Department of Nursing and Midwifery is to star in a two-part documentary to be screened on the 16th and 23rd of April at 9.00pm on BBC Two Scotland.

By Paul English