Nurses at Maine Medical Center helped bring me out of my mother’s body and into this world. Theirs were some of the very first human faces I saw when I opened my eyes, only a few seconds old, screaming loudly. (I haven’t stopped that part.) Mom said the best meal she’s ever had were the crackers and peanut butter a nurse brought her right after I was born. (It is possible that the hormones were clouding her quality judgment.)

I don’t remember the nurses who helped me enter the world, of course. But I sure as heck remember the nurses who helped when my dad started to leave this world. I spent a lot of time in Maine Medical Center as Dad’s cancer choked his guts and starved his flesh and ate him from the inside. And let me tell you, it wasn’t the CEO of MaineHealth who was setting his catheters or giving him a sponge bath or adjusting his pain medication. It wasn’t the MaineHealth president in his fancy office who made my dad strawberry milkshakes, which became the only thing he could keep down. It wasn’t the president who let me use the break room copier to make multiple copies of Dad’s last will and testament so he could read it over and sign them because he knew death was coming for him and by god, once a lawyer always a lawyer, he was going to make sure his affairs were fully in order. And so they were.

I was drinking a lot in those days, but the memories of the nurses in the Gibson Pavilion at Maine Medical Center are burned into my brain and my heart. I am not a person who loves or trusts easily, but the Maine Med nurses have my lifelong, ride-or-die loyalty. So if the nurses at Maine Medical Center want to form a union, they have my full and complete support.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I work for a facility that is owned by MaineHealth, the same organization that operates Maine Medical Center. I don’t work at Maine Med – I’m not even in the same county – and I am in no way a medical professional. Whether or not the nurses unionize will have no effect on my finances. The only way I could possibly derive a benefit is if someone’s in a celebratory mood and buys doughnuts for the break room. (Hope springs eternal.)

I do get some of the slickly produced union-busting emails, though. One came from Jeffrey Sanders, the president of Maine Med. It contained an unlisted YouTube video, meaning the general public would not be able to find it in a search of the site – you have to have the specific link to access it, and the link went to every MaineHealth employee. He stares unblinking into the camera and uses the phrase “union-free” three times in 30 seconds. He makes $640,000 a year. He seems to do a good job, but in my humble opinion, the people who deserve to make $640,000 are the ones on their feet for 12 hours at a time setting IV lines and inserting catheters and doing the thousand delicate tasks that can mean the difference between life and death. William Caron (CEO of MaineHealth) and Richard Petersen (president of MaineHealth) both have an annual salary of $1.6 million. That’s a lot of money, especially in a state like Maine, and especially because MaineHealth is a nonprofit. I wonder if they’re worried that the bargaining power of a nurses union might require them to take a pay cut to balance the budget.

I come from a union family. My grampy belonged to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and that helped give him and the eight kids he and Grammy had between them a solid middle-class life. My dad was a public school ed tech. He didn’t make much money. But he belonged to the teachers union, and because of the union’s negotiations, he had great health insurance benefits, which meant we could ask for the best care Maine Med could give him without worrying about how we were going to afford it.

One last thing. A few years ago, my sister had major jaw surgery and was in the hospital for several days. As you can imagine, being a teenage girl is tough, and going through painful surgery that involved breaking and resetting the jawbone is worse. She looked like a flesh-colored pumpkin with arms and legs. And she was stuck in the same hospital she had spent so much time in, watching Dad get sicker and sicker. As you can imagine, this situation didn’t put her in a great state of mind. Her nurses knew that. One of them covered the mirror in her hospital room with a sign that said, “For now, the only thing you need to see is who we see: strength, kindness, perseverance, intelligence, healing, a world changer, hope for the future.”

Nurses don’t go into the profession for money or fame or power. They go because they have a calling to heal people. The nurses of Maine Medical Center have healed my family many times, and I stand with them.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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