Sunday 17th February, 2008


T&T-trained nurse goes the extra mile

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Taleka Alexander, a Tobago-born nurse living in Georgia, US, at the bedside of her niece Rosella Charles.
Charles, now 13, was involved in a car accident. In this June 2007 photo, Charles, wearing her graduation gown, participated in her graduation ceremony through a Webcam set up in her room at the New York Presbyterian Hospital.


A car accident involving Tobagonian Taleka Alexander’s then 12-year-old niece allowed her to be a nurse and an aunt at the same time.

Alexander, a registered nurse trained at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital, spent every day of two months at the bedside of her niece Rosella Charles, who spent four months in intensive care.

The girl’s injuries were extensive: her spleen was removed. Her left leg was broken. She lost all the skin from that leg from hip to ankle.

Saving the leg was touch and go for weeks.

“Thank God they saved the leg,” said Alexander, a travel nurse who lives in Georgia in the United States.

“It helped the family to understand, for me to interpret things.”

When Charles was in pain, she turned to her aunt. Alexander has no children.

“She’s still in rehab, but she is up and walks using a walker. She cannot put her full weight on the leg,” she said.

Taleka, travel nurse

for 2007

In a telephone interview from New York yesterday, Alexander, elder sister of Guardian photographer Andre Alexander, spoke of Health Care Traveler magazine awarding her as travel nurse for 2007.

Alexander, 55, who grew up on Hamilton Street, Scarborough, Tobago, said the nomination surprised her.

Employed by Supplemental Health Care, a travel nurse agency, she explained the criteria for nomination.

The US’s 80-plus travel nurse agencies nominate nurses.

The magazine investigates the nominees’ professional performance, personality and commitment to their job.

Alexander’s award was based on her dedication to nursing.

She got a crystal award, a gold certificate and complimentary copies of Health Care Traveler magazine.

Taking her job seriously

Alexander joked on the phone that she’d asked about getting a new car to replace the 1996 dark green Toyota Camry on which she has clocked 221,000 kilometres making long distance trips.

The faithful car makes the six-hour drive from Rochester to Virginia or the ten-hour drive from Georgia to Virginia.

She’s hoping her car can clock 300,000 kilometres before she replaces it.

Alexander works at whichever hospital she is assigned by Supplemental Health Care.

Agencies like Supplemental arrange contracts with hospitals to provide travel nurses on demand.

Driving to nursing assignments is the norm for Alexander.

One such job involved a 17-hour drive from Georgia, where she lives, to Rochester, New York.

“I pack my car, leave early in the morning and drive.”

Assignments usually last 13 weeks.

The job usually comes with housing, travel and meal allowances and insurance coverage.

Dedicated to relieving suffering

Alexander, who graduated as a nurse in 1976—32 years ago—does the duties of an operating room nurse.

“I can handle almost anything. I can do general surgery, orthopedic surgery, ear, nose and throat surgery, urology, geriatric,” she said.

The only thing I don’t really do on a regular basis is brain surgery and cardiac. Everything else I do.”

Alexander finds joy in all disciplines, but she especially likes orthopedic and neurosurgical spine cases.

She’s also had extensive training in joint replacement at New England Baptist Hospital in Boston.

A child’s dream

Alexander’s childhood dream was really to be a doctor.

But she couldn’t bear being away from her mother Margaret, a single mother, and the six siblings she was close to.

For a while, she did accounting and taught. Being trained as a nurse in Trinidad was the next best option.

For Alexander, nursing is about relieving suffering.

She’d help another human being any way she can.

Nursing is more than a job; it’s a way of life.

She recalled being in downtown Port-of-Spain many years ago when Woolworth’s was in the space that Excellent Stores now occupies, and saw a man collapse. She performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on him there and then.

He’d suffered a heart attack.

Unfortunately, he didn’t make it.

Nursing and spirituality

Alexander is a Seventh-Day Adventist, but it never gets in the way of caring for people.

She’s hardly called out on a Saturday because operating rooms open weekdays only.

But if she is, she’d respond.

“The only reason they’d call me on a Saturday is if somebody needs attention and it’s an emergency.

“You can’t let people die and sit down in church. Then your faith is not in action,” Alexander said.

As to life after retirement, Alexander wants to do mission.

“There are some missions where you can go to the country and help do operations.”

Some go abroad.

Alexander wants to stay home.

“I like to do what is closer to me first. I always thought my calling was to do something in mission work.”

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