If you are expecting to find a quiet sewing circle at the North Preston Seniors’ Club, the burst of colour and energy that hit you when you walk through the doors is enough stop you in your tracks. The conversation is nothing short of boisterous as a dozen or so sets of nimble fingers dance across fabric and wool. Among them is an honorary member: nurse practitioner Carolyn Mitchell.
The growing pile of tiny purple knit hats will find a home atop newborns at the IWK soon. It was Mitchell’s idea. Ivory Provo is the president of the North Preston Community Health and Wellness Centre’s Senior Citizens’ Club and remembers how it started. “She came in to our seniors room one day and she was sitting down talking to me and I was knitting, and she came up with this idea that we should do it for the children’s hospital.”
“She just comes in and talks with us.” says Norma Downey, another member of the club who has a growing appreciation for what Mitchell brings to the group. “She’s really nice. Friendly. Any questions that you ask her she’ll find the answers.”
Mitchell leverages the relationship to get a better understanding of what the health needs are in the community she serves. “A simple knitting project has built up a relationship with the seniors. They feel comfortable around me and I can identify some needs that they have.”
It’s this type of unusual interaction from a primary health care provider that is becoming more familiar in Nova Scotia, but for many it’s still something new
“A nurse practitioner is a nurse who has advanced education and training that allows us to prescribe medications, to order tests, to diagnose certain conditions and to manage chronic health conditions so we do a lot of the same things that a family doctor does,” says Mitchell. “But we’re still nurses so we still come to the patient encounter from a nursing perspective…You could be seeing patients in the office then running out to do a home visit for someone who can’t make it to the office, or then meeting group in the evening but having the freedom to be able to meet the needs of the community, and meet them where they are.”
A few days later, the group is assembled in a much more formal setting in an IWK boardroom in Halifax, but the energy level is just as high as it was back in North Preston. The group is enjoying a small thank you tea from the IWK before heading off for a tour. Mitchell is there too, sharing in the satisfaction of donating boxes of handmade hats and blankets that will surely go to good use.
Just as important for Mitchell is the satisfaction of knowing that behind every stitch in the impressive pile there was conversation. Sometimes they talked about what they’e eating, how they’re struggling with mobility, or just musing about how much candy is too much before bedtime for their grandkids. Mitchell has woven herself inside of those conversations and the hours of chatting about the things that colour their lives, quietly building a better understanding of how to deliver the healthcare they need. “I spend some part of my day cutting blankets and knitting, and I don’t think a lot of places would allow me to do that as a nurse practitioner but it’s something that invests in building the relationships with the community members, and we build a trust.