Two months after Howard Young Medical Center first opened its doors in 1977, nurse practitioner Sue Perry has belonged to the family that is the hospital’s staff.
After 36 years of working at HYMC – a vast majority of that time spent in the birthing center – Perry is retiring with a heavy heart and saying goodbye to her Howard Young co-workers.
“You see, this retirement isn’t only about leaving a job, nor is it only about leaving an amazing career. It is mainly about the severing of ‘family’ connections,” Perry wrote in her letter of resignation. “There has always been a feeling that there is a true sense of family and friendships. That is what I will truly miss.”
And the feeling is mutual for those she worked with at the hospital.
“I have worked alongside her, have witnessed and would like to acknowledge her utmost character,” Margie Musbach, HYMC registered nurse, said. “I feel she has added a beautiful light to this community. She respects herself and others. She is a true woman of strength, clothed in grace.”
Perry’s passion for OB carried beyond her work as a nurse practitioner. In 2005, she went back to school, earned her master’s degree at the University of Concordia, and was offered a teaching position in the nursing program at Nicolet Area Technical College.
“I stepped through those doors and I absolutely love it,” Perry said. “I did all that but I maintained a PRN status at the hospital. I would work during the summers when I had off from teaching and some weekends ... so I was able to still do my love, which was OB.
“This last four months or so, it was getting harder and harder to do two jobs well,” she said. “I have really high standards in nursing, so I felt like if I couldn’t do it 100 percent, then I knew it was time. And I grieved, and I’m still grieving.”
Her accomplishments at HYMC
Over her time at HYMC, Perry has amassed an impressive amount of accomplishments, including:
• Holding seven different titles/positions at the hospital;
• Being the manager/director of OB for 12 years;
• Developing 115 staffing schedules;
• Following and supporting seven different OB supervisors;
• Helping deliver and care for approximately 5,500 babies;
• Taking 23 ambulance/airlift transfers of babies and laboring mothers;
• Teaching 175 prenatal classes with about 1,700 couples;
• Working with 98 “amazing” OB nurses, keeping a log of all their names;
• Initiating an annual miscarriage memorial service;
• Becoming certified in inpatient obstetrics;
• Teaching NRP for 23 years;
• Writing and revising many, many policies; and
• Developing public relations programs for the community.
“But above all, it has been a true honor to be with so many amazing mothers, fathers and babies,” Perry said, concluding her list of achievements.
Passion for OB
Perry’s passion for OB started well before her time at HYMC. She worked at a few other hospitals and also did home deliveries for a period of time.
“I did home deliveries with a doctor for one year prior to coming here. We delivered [babies] for the Amish – kerosene lanterns, no electricity. That’s where I really fell in love with maternal child [nursing].”
Eventually she and her first husband would move to the Northwoods, but a devastating tragedy would soon follow.
“My first husband wanted to venture up here. Ten days after we got here, he drowned. I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with my baby, and I had a one-1⁄2 and a two-1⁄2-year-old,” she said.
Though Perry was very new to the area, the community embraced and supported her in every way possible.
“Here I was – I didn’t know where I was – I had this baby alone in the old hospital. People were just so, so wonderful to me. I was a nurse at the time, so when I chose to go back to work, they had an opening in OB. I stepped through the doors in April of ‘77 and I stayed there.”
Perry was even there when Elizabeth Taylor toured the hospital that her uncle, Howard Young, made a reality.
Because of her time at HYMC, Perry and her endless compassion have touched countless lives, and she stays in contact with many of the babies that she helped deliver, including Jessie Nordberg.
“I truly delivered her and didn’t just assist. There’s about 50 babies that I caught myself – Jessie is one of those, so we kept in touch. Her mom would send me pictures of her growing up, and I surprised her at her high school graduation.”
Strengthening that bond even further, Perry had the opportunity to work with Nordberg, who is now a registered nurse at HYMC. Nordberg is just one of the babies Perry assisted in delivering that keeps in touch with her.
“Some send me Christmas cards every year,” she said.
And for the miscarried babies, Perry established an annual memorial service in their honor about 20 years ago.
“I was a manager in OB and working with laboring moms. One time a mom came in to have a baby and she said to me, ‘I had a miscarriage up here last year. What did you ever do with my baby?’And we didn’t do anything ... I thought ‘I will never, ever say this again.’”
Today, about 620 miscarried babies have been memorialized and buried at Forest Garden Memorial Cemetery. Every year the memorial ceremony is held on the same weekend – the Sunday after Mother’s Day.
“We send out invitations ... to come because it’s for the parents. Sometimes we have a few, sometimes we have a lot, some years we have none – and it didn’t matter because it’s the babies that really mattered. We said an important ‘goodbye’ to those babies as we buried them very respectfully.”
Saying “goodbye” to HYMC
The highlight of Perry’s career as a nurse practitioner has been “seeing how big of a difference [she] could make in the life of a family.”
“It was truly spending time and knowing how to connect with a family, because that’s the piece I’m going to miss. There’s just nothing to be said about how good it feels to get a terrified woman through labor and then she’s holding this baby in her arms,” Perry said. “I always said I know it will be time to retire when I stop crying when a baby is born – and that hasn’t happened yet.”
However, the benefits of retirement from HYMC will be the increased time she will be able to spend with her grandchildren and the ability to focus all of her attention on teaching.
“Besides teaching full-time, I have 10 grand-babies,” she said. “I’m just going to stay busy teaching. I love teaching, that’s my next passion.”
It must be said that the other important highlight of her career was the relationships she built at HYMC.
“It’s a small-town hospital, and the relationships over the years have really changed me and made me a better person, working with these fine, fine people.
“Howard Young Medical Center will always hold a very fond place in my heart,” she said. “After all, I worked with these nurses, physicians, CNAs, dieticians, social workers, housekeepers, lab and X-ray technicians for more than half of my life time. It isn’t easy to close the doors.”
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.