For nearly three decades, Sister Glynn has been providing essential services to the youth of Bequia
By Glen Herbert
“I love my work because I get to meet people directly,” says Sister Cherrylyn Glynn. “It’s one-to-one. I do counselling, I get to meet the families.” For the bulk of her career Glynn’s been in the role of nurse practitioner, working out of the hospital in Port Elizabeth. Her office there is organized, clean, if a bit spartan. The one photo on the wall, wedged behind the electrical intake, shows her when she was a nursing student. “That’s when I was in the clinic as a staff nurse,” she says when I point it out. “I had a breast-feeding support group for the mothers. We used to go all over St. Vincent, our group. We went to all the clinics to show them what we do and how they can initiate their own groups.”
Glynn first arrived on Bequia in 1990 and has provided a broad range of care ever since. Today, when she’s not called by her nickname, Cheps, she’s known as Sister Glynn. “It’s the rank of our nursing profession. I don’t know why the ‘sister,’” she says, aware that some might think it means that she’s a nun. “We have males but they are referred to as charge nurses, not brothers. But once you reach the level of ward manager, then you earn the handle of ‘sister,’” something she’s rightly proud of.
Glynn was educated on St. Vincent, and she has developed in her profession and educated others ever since, including as a preceptor at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. In her current role she runs health clinics as well as the school health program, an aspect of her work that she particularly enjoys. “I love to see that parents adhere to my dietary instructions, my dental instructions, and so forth. And that by the time I see the children again in Grade 6, I can see real improvement.” Children have a complete health assessment when they enter primary school, and then again when they are preparing to move to secondary school. In some cases she’s seen the children of those she first saw when they entered school.
Having an effect
In her work and her demeanour, Glynn is an example that the most important aspect of health care isn’t the stuff or the buildings, as important as those things are. It’s the relationships and the expression of care—the knowledge that you have someone by your side who knows you and recognizes what you’re going through—that can form the most abiding, and often most effective, aspect of primary medical practice.
In the course of her career Glynn has done conceivably tens of thousands of in-office exams. She’s also advocated outside of that, oftentimes in ways that many don’t see, or don’t feel directly. “I pick up conditions that would have gone unnoticed, things that would have been missed,” she says, “I like to see that they’ve gotten the necessary referrals and help that they need,” especially in cases of cardiac pathology, which present with some regularity. But it’s the small stuff, too. “A few years ago, when I see children and I ask ‘do you eat your vegetables?’ they say ‘no.’ But now I’m hearing children say ‘I love tomatoes, I love cabbage,’ so I know that it’s” having an effect.
Volunteering with the Bequia Mission
“I was intrigued by what they were doing, and because of that I volunteered,” Glynn says of her first involvement with the Bequia Mission. At first, she packed food hampers and helped ensure that those who could benefit from them received them. For the past decade, she’s worked closely with Linda Harrier, providing lists of supplies needed on island, from an EKG to cotton balls. “I like the stickers. You know, when the children come in and you give them at sticker, they feel so good. And I give a pencil to the kindergarten kids … ” Her voice trails off, though the smile remains. She doesn’t say it, and perhaps would demure, but the stickers and the pencils are emblematic of the care that she offers to the children of the island, the personal interaction and the relationship that builds from it.
It’s an interesting thought experiment to wonder about the net effect that Glynn has had on the health of the island population. True, she’s not working alone, something that she’d hasten to point out. But for so much of the program of care during her career, she’s been the front line. She manages her clinics and is the go-to person round the clock. When I toured the hospital with her, she was on a day off, but was stopped regularly by the nurses for advice on how to handle this and that, or what she felt about a patient’s progress. You’d think that kind of constant attention might wear thin, though Glynn smiles through it all, and clearly enjoys and appreciates the role that she fills. She admits that it feels good to be needed, and to know that her work helps others. For three decades she’s been a quiet example of the impact one person can have, while also providing an example to others, especially young girls, of what they can do, too.