A surgeon in the making

Male nurse Damani Turner chases dream

Sunday, September 02, 2018

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Deep gashes spewing blood and exposing organs is a sight most people would find unpleasant, if not stomach-churning. But Damani Turner isn't most people. Having developed an interest in human anatomy early in life, and having spent some time as an operating theatre technician, he is set on becoming a surgeon.

He has had to take the long route to realising his dreams however, as inadequate financial resources meant he couldn't initially afford to pursue a degree in medicine. He did the next best thing: a BSc in Nursing, which he attained three weeks ago.

As one of a handful of male nurses in the health sector, Turner says he intends to work in the field for a while, but he maintains that his surgeon dreams are not dead.

“I like the excitement of surgery, especially emergency cases like gunshot wounds. All the blood and the rush of trying to save the patient's life I find very interesting. What I don't like is when a patient dies and listening as the doctor informs the family and they start crying; that can be very emotional...but [otherwise] I like surgery...I think I would make a good surgeon,” Turner told the Jamaica Observer.

The nursing qualification, which he received from the Seventh-day Adventist-owned Northern Caribbean University (NCU), was the second step on the ladder to fulfilling his dreams.

Years earlier, on the realisation that he was unble to afford the high cost of a degree in medicine, Turner got as close as he could to working in the public health sector by getting a job as a telephone operator at Mandeville Regional Hospital. While there, he did a short course in operating theatre techniques which got him into the operating theatre.

“I handled the [surgical] instruments. It would be the doctor, the assistant and myself in the theatre, so I got to see the whole procedure. I learned a lot about the process; I just didn't have the papers to allow me to perform the surgery,” Turner said, laughing.

As time went on, his love for anatomy, physiology and nursing care only grew, influencing his decision to enroll in the Hyacinth Chen School of Nursing at NCU in 2014. For the first two years, things were “not so bad”, according to Turner. His class schedule allowed him to keep working full time at the hospital at nights. It also meant he could be close to his wife, who is also a nurse, and their four children.

“When I was studying in Mandeville I would take my lunch time and go home and bathe her and fix her up then go back to class,” he says of his daughter Jhnelle, who has severe cerebral palsy. The condition renders her unable to do much for herself and greatly limits her ability to communicate.

“She was one of the reasons that pushed me towards nursing,” Turner said. “I am naturally impatient, but caring for her has taught me patience.”

He may not have been naturally patient, but Turner has proven to be naturally caring, an inter-personal prerequisite for medical professions. One example of this is that Turner and his wife adopted their first son when the child was less than a month-old as he did not have adequate support from his biological family. His caring nature shone through at school as well — where he was the only male student among 90-plus females for the majority of the four-year period. His classmates dubbed him “The harmoniser” because of his knack for helping them settle disputes and for smoothing over ruffled feathers.

After two years of studying on the main campus in Mandeville, NCU nursing students spend the remaining two years in Kingston for clinical rotations. It was this second half of the programme that made Turner feel as though he would break.

“Third year meant I would have to go to Kingston for class at 7:00am or 8:00 am then travel back to Mandeville for work at 10:00 pm. And I still had to make time for my family. So this is where I really started to feel strain,” he disclosed.

He also took on overtime duty on weekends to help with his finances, his only reprieve being two days off work per week.

Turner remembers seriously considering quitting school, but credits the support of his co-workers, classmates and his wife, Shernett Kerr-Turner.

Kerr-Turner, a public health nurse, had the joy of affixing her husband's nursing pin at his pinning ceremony, a rite of passage to mark completion of the nursing programme just before graduation.

“I could not allow him to give up. Sometimes it was heart-rending watching him struggle, but I knew he had the potential long time. I prayed for him and with him and assisted him every way I could. There are no words to explain how elated I feel for him,” she told Career & Education.

Turner also leaned heavily on his trust in God. He says he prayed constantly, especially during his commute.

“I remember one night I was returning from Kingston to go to work at 10:00 pm and I was so tired. Coming up Melrose Hill I fell asleep while driving, and I only heard someone say 'Damani!' I opened my eyes and saw that I was almost under the back of a truck. I had to brake up suddenly and all I could think was 'Who called me just now?' I said 'God, you are really carrying me because only you can do this',” he related.

In spite of the gruelling demands on his time and energy, he still managed to be upbeat and pleasant with his patients while on rotation. He also managed to consistently make the honour roll, graduated with a GPA above 3.0.

“Because of my personality, my patients loved me. They always looked forward to when I arrive in the mornings. Some of them even called me doctor,” he said, no doubt relishing the sound and looking ahead to the time when it becomes reality.

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