Our People in Profile: Continuing care coordinator Nancy Gurnham

Continuing care coordinator Nancy Gurnham
Continuing care coordinator Nancy Gurnham

“AAAHH!”

A loud, anguished shriek pierced the air from outside. As Nancy Gurnham’s father hurriedly stumbled into the kitchen, blood streamed from his fingers across the linoleum floor.

Standing in the room of their Connecticut family home was wide-eyed, five-year-old Nancy Gurnham. Her father and uncle had been drilling a well in the yard but forgot to secure the pipe vices. The top vice lost its grip, slamming her father’s hands between two vices. He lost four tips of his fingers and smashed three others.

“I remember standing there watching him and knowing there was nothing I could do,” Gurnham recalled.

From then on, Gurnham resolved to be a person who “knew how to do stuff” in order to help those in desperate situations. So at age 21, she started working as a nurse in a coronary intensive care unit (CICU), providing care to critically ill cardiac patients.

She soon got married and relocated to Nova Scotia with her husband Bruce Gurnham in 1982. Although she knew her work in the CICU was meaningful, she needed to break away from its intensity.

Mesmerized by the natural beauty of the South Shore, the Gurnhams were inspired to open an inn beside Kejimkujik National Park. Gurnham and her husband adopted three children from Prince Edward Island and Gurnham operated as a chef at the inn for the next 20 years.

When her colleague was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she appealed to Gurnham for help to die at home, where she could maintain comfort and dignity. This time around, when someone close to Gurnham was in need, she knew how to provide medical attention. A strong sense of purpose and meaning came from the experience.

“What am I doing? This is where I belong!” Gurnham decided. Gurnham recommitted to helping others through nursing and got a job as a consult nurse in Digby County. In 2013, she became a continuing care coordinator at Annapolis Community Health Centre. In her role as a coordinator, she visits Nova Scotians in their homes to assess their care needs and set up required services.

“When people realize my job is not to take them out of their home, but to keep them in their home for as long as safely possible, you can just see the relief spread across their faces,” Gurnham said. “I explain, listen and take the fear away.”

Gurnham credits her interest in caring for others to her life experiences with her father, colleague, as well as close friends and family who have needed medical attention over the years.

“My life has been touched a lot by the continuing care program, so for me to be able to give back feels really good.”