In loving memory of Sylvie Trudel (1966-2013)

One year ago this month, the 6th floor nursing staff at the Montreal Children’s Hospital lost one of their pillars after a brief, but valiant battle with cancer. She was, by all accounts, an exceptional human being who passed away much, much too soon. She trained generations of nurses, fulfilling over 19 years of service to the hospital. Sylvie Trudel was the epitome of compassion.

She taught me everything I know about caring for sick kids - from feeding a baby with a cleft palate to just holding a traumatized infant. She knew how to use humour, even when you didn’t think laughter was possible. She was extremely capable, yet unbelievably humble. Sylvie’s passion was contagious. She didn’t preach, but practiced her words so you learned through example. You could bare your soul and she had this amazing knack of making you feel like everything was going to be alright, whether you were the parent of a patient in her care, a colleague, or a trainee nurse. By the end, you weren’t sure if you were crying or laughing. She had a habit of calling each one of her little patients ‘My Love’, but she could have just as easily been addressing any one of us. That’s just a small part of who Sylvie was - she made you feel important. Children with Down syndrome occupied a special corner in her heart. “This is pure love” she would say.

Sylvie’s hugs were her trademark. Every Saturday morning when I arrived on the ward as a volunteer, she would put down whatever she was carrying and she would hug me. I mean really hug me. Then she would ask if I was looking for a “client”: a baby that needed some tender loving care. Her nickname for me was "Angel without wings." She would sometimes pass by a room where I’d be cradling a baby in a rocking chair, and she would grab whoever was beside her and say, “See how happy she looks? The baby too!” Sometimes words weren’t even necessary: the day after we lost a young patient on the ward, she came over to where I was sitting with another infant, we exchanged a knowing look and she simply squeezed my arm.

Once we were gathered in a crowded treatment room where many nurses were attempting to start an intravenous line on a tiny baby I was trying to comfort. A nurse who specialized in anesthesiology finally arrived, asked for a tourniquet, butterfly needle, sucrose solution (sugared water to soothe babies) and "everybody else out." Sylvie responded, "We don't have sucrose solution on this ward, but we have Leonie instead," and she pointed at me. That is probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.

Sylvie touched so many lives in so many ways. I still expect her to walk through the doors of the Children’s any minute in Strawberry Shortcake scrubs. Sometimes I think I see her, except now she works at another hospital or she is jogging through the park. I have been blessed with such an amazing person to guide me and have faith in me. The 6C nurses she trained are remarkable and now treat me with the same benevolence every day. For that, and for so much more, I owe her a debt of gratitude.

During the last weeks of her life, when she sensed the inevitable, Sylvie kept a gratitude journal. She wrote one phrase every day about one thing she was grateful for. To be standing in the dark and still see the light is a lesson in Gratitude and Kindness for us all.

I miss you Sylvie.

Leonie Mikael, PhD

August 2014