The only thing more vibrant than RPN Cathy Case’s signature red hair colour with blonde bangs is her personality. Between her friendly, cheerful nature, positive attitude and playful sense of humour, it comes as no surprise that she was WeRPN’s 2022 Preceptor Award of Excellence recipient.
WeRPN’s Preceptor Award of Excellence celebrates a nurse who is a role model and provides guidance to practical nursing students by creating a positive learning environment. And Cathy definitely goes above and beyond to make any space a positive environment. She once even turned a palliative care unit into a wedding venue, which led Niagara Health to honour her with their Nursing Excellence Award.
Cathy had simply been scrolling through Facebook one evening in 2018 when she came across an ad in the Marketplace section for a wedding officiant and photographer. She was shocked when she realized not only that the couple was seeking to get married at the hospital where she worked — in Fort Erie — but also that the mother of the bride was one of her palliative patients.
Sadly, the woman had inoperable cancer and was given only days to weeks to live. Cathy immediately jumped at the opportunity to organize the event and enlisted her colleague and ‘partner-in-crime,’ Jackie, to help plan the impromptu nuptials.
Cathy’s manager gave her permission to plan the wedding, which she successfully did in only 48 hours. She and Jackie reached out to their local Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP), the mayor and the president of Niagara Health, all of whom were in attendance, as well as several news outlets, including Woman’s World magazine, which featured the story.
Cathy has dreamt about becoming a nurse since she was a child. She was intrigued whenever she went to the doctor’s office or a hospital. “I was excited to go,” she admits. “I’d walk through the doors [of the hospital] and I felt like I’d come alive!” In 2014, she was proud to graduate from the practical nursing program at Niagara College.
Cathy began her career with Niagara Health, having worked at both their Niagara and Fort Erie locations. She currently works on an in-patient medical unit. In December 2020, Cathy faced her greatest challenge when a COVID-19 outbreak hit her entire hospital.
“It knocked out most of the staff and patients,” Cathy says. She recounts the horrors of watching perfectly healthy people suddenly get sick and succumb to the illness the very same day. Meanwhile there were elderly people who were severely sick but somehow survived.
Cathy and her team got through the horrible ordeal by supporting each other, sharing their frustrations and even laughing and crying together. “What else could we do?” she asks. “If we didn’t laugh, we would just cry.”
Cathy explains that she and her colleagues tried to warn the government what would happen if more safeguards weren’t put in place to protect nurses and patients.
“Right from the start, we were telling the government what was going to happen, but we feel like our voices aren’t being heard,” she says. “And then when things happen [as we predicted], it’s like, ‘Oh! Quel surprise!’”
Now, Cathy is focusing on her next challenge. She remains a union steward and was asked to be a clinical coach for her unit. Her manager and the nurse educator thought she would be perfect for the six-week role, which would include finding ways to improve the unit and work with staff, particularly new hires.
Like many nurses, Cathy prioritizes self-care. In her spare time, she loves to crochet, a skill she learned from her great aunt. Over the years, she has put her talents to good use, creating a different Disney Princess outfit for her granddaughter every month for a year, starting with Snow White. She’s also made it a tradition to crochet festive urinal wreaths for her hospital each year (and even though she doesn’t sign her work, as artists do, people still know it was her). That’s just another creative way Cathy Case can transform an ordinary hospital — that can sometimes be a scary place — into the bright, cheerful, lively space she’s seen it as since childhood.