The best nurse and a beloved friend

Michelle Lorraine Beets
22 February 1953 – 27 April 2010

The huge mass of people from all corners of the world and from all states and territories in Australia, who have paid tribute to, shown their respect and honoured and celebrated Michelle Beets’ life is indicative of the positive impact and effect Michelle had on our lives. We are privileged to have known her. Always unpretentious and unassuming, Michelle had no idea that she had impacted and made a difference to so many.

Michelle Lorraine Beets, or ‘Beetsy’ as we fondly referred to her, was born in Kawerau, New Zealand on 22 February 1953. She was the second born of four children to Robbie and Nancy Beets. Marty was the eldest, then Michelle, Yvonne and Robyn. Her beloved mother Nancy died just on two years ago. Michelle was a devoted and loving daughter. She was very close to her dad and often had him come and stay with her and her partner David over the years. He was invited to many functions with her so we got to know him well.

Michelle had an idyllic childhood on Gilbert Is of the Gilbert and Ellis Islands. This is a tiny pacific Island now known as the nation of Kiribat. Here she enjoyed swimming, diving and horse-riding and a happy lifestyle.

In 1966, at the age of 13, Michelle became a boarder at Auckland Epsom Girls Grammar. Here she met Fiona, who became a lifelong friend. She describes Michelle at this point as a beautiful girl with long sun-bleached hair, big brown eyes, a beautiful infectious smile and a loyal friend who wore her heart on her sleeve. She was also cheeky and a prankster and made everyone laugh. Fiona recounts an incident at school on a regular Saturday morning Dormitory inspection. Michelle knew the head teacher had her hair styled every Friday so as she bent down low to inspect under the bed, Michelle ‘accidentally’ vacuumed her hair up as all the girls suppressed their giggles.

In 1970, at the age of 17, Michelle and Fiona went to Green Lane Hospital in Auckland and began their nurse training. She graduated in February 1974 and worked in a Surgical Ward there. She promptly became a well respected and highly regarded Sister.

In 1976 Michelle travelled to London and flatted with a group of five, including Fiona and Michelle’s other good friend, Kathy, who has also remained a lifelong friend.

She was a very considerate flatmate and was very caring and easy to get on with. She did lovely caring things spontaneously like prepare a lovely meal for everyone or place hot water bottles in the beds one hour before everyone was due in on a cold English winter’s night.

In London, she nursed long and hard for five years. She did a stint in Harley Street in a private clinic and she did agency nursing in all of the major London Hospitals.

In 1983 Michelle went to the Colorado ski fields and worked there as a professional photographer with her friend Kerry for two seasons. She returned to New Zealand for a period of time before working at Adelaide Hospital for a short time.

In August 1985 Michelle began working in the Emergency Department at RNSH. She fitted in straight away and was a friendly and happy woman held in high regard due to her excellent nursing skills and high standard of care that was immediately evident. In 1988, she gained Clinical Nurse Specialist status in Emergency as soon as it was introduced and she was in her element as a mentor and clinical teacher to other staff.

By this time, David Grant was working in Emergency and he was very impressed with Michelle but she paid him no attention, except on a professional level. He continued to pursue her and we all had a few laughs at his expense as she tried to ignore him. In 1991, he finally charmed his way into her heart and became her loving partner from here onwards. Michelle was very happy, content and in love with David ever since then.

In 1999, Michelle became the Nurse Manager of Emergency at RNSH and remained in this position ever since. She may have been small/average in stature but she leaves behind extremely big shoes to be filled! Michelle’s core values and integrity never veered from what was best for the patient. She demanded all decisions, policies, procedures and models of care were based around best patient outcomes.

Michelle was the matriarch of our ED and she also protected her staff. She had an ‘open door policy’ and she was always available to any one of us, no matter how big or small the problem was. With a staff of 90 FTE nurses, 13 ‘orderlies’ (until recent restructure), and 15 clerical staff, this meant a lot of extra work and interruption to her but she never closed her office door to her staff in need.

Michelle had a marvellous memory and remembered everyone’s likes and dislikes; availability; babysitting days; courses attended or to be attended by each individual; all staff children’s names etc. She could even remember who worked on Christmas Day in 2002, for instance, and why.

She was resilient, determined, tenacious, loyal, compassionate, kind, protective, funny, cheeky, intelligent, hard-working, dedicated, unpretentious and she still wore her heart on her sleeve! Many ex-colleagues who have moved on into expert positions all over the country and world have repeatedly stated to me: ‘She was the best nurse I have ever worked with’, ‘She taught me everything I know’, or ‘I try to measure up to Beetsy’s standard even now!’

While she had the stress of working in a large public teaching hospital ED, Michelle enjoyed a quiet and reserved private life with David. She got a lot of pleasure from tending to her garden, cooking a lovely meal and having some friends over to dinner, and keeping a lovely home.

Michelle’s good looks belied her age. She really did look 20 years younger and she kept fit with her brisk walking. She had a distinctive quick walk and when you heard her shoes clicking up the corridor at work, everyone scattered, trying to have everything up to her high standard.

To many of us, Michelle was not only our Manager, she was also our friend and confidante along life’s journey. She experienced great joy with engagements, marriages, and children born, and she also experienced our sorrow with our personal crises and divorces, ill health and deaths. She was shattered when our friend and colleague Rhonda Moon was tragically killed in a car accident last year.

We all mourn the loss of Michelle. At work her extended family will continue her legacy by maintaining the excellence in patient care that she demanded. She would be very proud of each and every one of us for continuing to work and support one another in this extremely sad and difficult time.

By Mary Separovich