To honor and celebrate the many veterans who serve the Boston Children's community every day, the hospital profiled four staff members. Their stories, and their connections with the armed forces, are as diverse and unique as the roles they play in the hospital today. Lynne Grady is a nurse in the Pre-Operative Admitting Clinic.
For years after she left the Navy, Lynne Grady, RN, MHA, CPN, received one Christmas card that was particularly special among the dozens of others from family and friends. The card, signed by Duc and Ha Nguyen, and eventually their son Jonathan, often came with paper money stuffed inside -- a sign of good luck in the Nguyens' home country of Vietnam. Unlike the other card senders, Grady hadn't met the Nguyens through family, college or work; she met them in a refugee camp.
As difficult as it may now be for her to imagine a life without her experience in the Navy, Grady might never have enlisted had she not promised to do a favor for her little sister. "She asked me to get information from the Air Force Nursing recruiter for her," Grady admits laughing. While her sister never did end up joining the Air Force, Grady, perhaps inspired by her childhood hero Cherry Ames -- a Nancy Drew-esque mystery-solving nurse who at one point works onboard a ship -- decided to enter the Navy.
Because she had already earned her nursing degree, Grady was taken through Officers Candidate School and stationed at Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base 30 miles north of San Diego, CA. With only three years of experience as a clinical assistant and a few months of new graduate nursing experience, Grady was assigned to manage the base's medical intensive care unit. "I was dealing with a lot of casualties from Vietnam that had to be stabilized in Guam or the Philippines prior to transfer to Camp Pendleton," she remembers. "Those experiences helped guide me and provided me with the foundation for my nursing practice; what I was asked and required to do gave me a sense of purpose and direction at such a young age."
Caring for burn victims and soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder soon became a part of daily life, as did caring for the children and family of enlisted men and women. On any given day, Grady could expect to go straight from treating an active duty person to taking care of someone's grandmother or wife. When she was later transferred to the newborn nursery where she would meet the Nguyens and other families, Grady became used to alternating 12-hour shifts overseeing critically ill patients with other nurses.
"There was an immense culture shock, going from a Harvard Teaching Hospital to military medicine in the middle of the desert," Grady says. At that time, the base hospital consisted of 30 Quonset huts elevated on pilings and connected by a single, long corridor. Having materials tested in a lab meant handing them off to a messenger who would bike half a mile to a lab with the sample. Air conditioning consisted of a fan and what little breeze she could coax through an open window and it soon became clear that the rattlesnakes lurking under the huts and in their bathrooms were there to stay.
In spite of these conditions, Grady was thriving. Whenever she could get away from her work, Southern California provided an abundance of distractions and her work, stressful as it was, was teaching her a lot about keeping a hospital unit efficient and organized. "One thing that really saved me was that I had great friends," she says. "I made some tremendous friends and we're still friends 40 years later." Grady counts herself lucky to be able to include the Nguyens in that group.
Duc and a pregnant Ha arrived at Camp Pendleton in 1976 along with other Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese refugees. At first glance, Grady, a devoted student of World War II history, couldn't makes heads or tails of the group filling up the refugee camp she had helped build.
"My whole vision of the word 'refugee' totally changed," she explains, recalling the first groups of refugees to arrive, which were made up of mostly doctors, journalists and businessmen. "Off the first three buses jumped these beautiful women with gorgeous jewelry and silk outfits and men in business suits and I'm thinking 'these don't look like refugees to me!'" During the months she provided pre- and neonatal care to Ha and hundreds of other mothers-to-be, Grady would have plenty of time to revise that definition.
In the summer of 1976, after almost three years of service, Grady passed up the chance to go the Philippines -- and to finally practice nursing onboard a naval ship -- in favor of returning to her passion, pediatric nursing. Discharged with a letter of commendation, she worked at Stanford University before returning to her home in Brookline, and to Boston Children's Hospital.
Over the decades, Grady eventually lost touch with the Nguyens, but still cherishes their years of communication as one the best things to come out of her experience in the Navy, and something that still impacts her work today. "I am so fortunate for the experiences I had," she says. "The people I met and the patients I cared for in all shapes and sizes influenced my journey as a nurse."