A circuitous route to her passion
by The Press and Standard | May 31, 2019 5:00 am
Last Updated: May 29, 2019 at 10:58 am
By LESLIE CANTU
MUSC Public Information
Tindall McRae’s palms itched.
There are many odd and uncomfortable – and, yes, sometimes even humiliating – things that happen to a woman’s body during pregnancy, but this itching seemed off.
The doctor chalked it up to pregnancy weirdness. But the nurse wasn’t willing to let it go. She insisted on a blood test to check for a rare condition: intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. It’s a liver disorder in which bile builds up in the liver until it leaks into the bloodstream, and while it disappears upon delivery, it also can cause breathing problems for the new baby or even stillbirth.
The blood test showed McRae was one of those few women with the condition. She was induced the very next day, and her son Howell was delivered at 35 weeks. She’s forever grateful to the nurse who spoke up.
“If it wasn’t for that nurse taking the time to say, ‘you know what? I think you’re wrong. I think there’s something seriously wrong with her,’ I wouldn’t have my 3-year-old today,” McRae said.
Not only did the nurse save her baby’s life, but she also inspired McRae to change the course of her career. A third-generation teacher, McRae decided she wanted to become a nurse.
At the May 18 commencement ceremonies, McRae joins 291 other men and women who graduated from the MUSC College of Nursing this academic year.
“I’m excited. I’m ready to start this new chapter,” said McRae, who has already accepted a position at Beaufort Memorial Hospital on the total joint replacement medical/surgical floor.
Born and raised in Walterboro, the “front porch of the Lowcountry,” McRae attended the College of Charleston. While in college, she met her husband, Chase, a Mullins boy who was attending The Citadel. They settled in her hometown. She became a special education teacher, and he became a youth minister and high school science teacher.
McRae says she initially focused on special education because her mother and grandmother, both teachers, told her that special education teachers can always find a job. She soon found, though, that she had a knack for “loving on” people who are the most vulnerable.
“I realized quickly how much I loved caring for people who are not always cared for appropriately,” she said.
Besides their special needs — such as learning and emotional disabilities — McRae’s students generally came from low-income backgrounds and sometimes lacked family support.
“I clothed kids that didn’t have clothes. I had food for them. I made sure they smelled good so people didn’t make fun of them,” she said.
On the home front, McRae and her husband soon started a family. Their first son, Mitchell, is now a 5-year-old kindergartener.
Then she got pregnant with Howell.
Along with the intense itching, which usually shows up in obstetric cholestasis patients late in the pregnancy, McRae was exhausted. She figured that came with the territory — being pregnant while chasing after a toddler.
“I had no clue. I had no medical experience at that time. I’m just thankful for that nurse,” she said.
Although Howell was delivered early, he was healthy and didn’t have to spend extra time in the hospital.
“He was fine. He was perfect. They said he wouldn’t have been if it had been another week,” McRae said.
With her baby safely delivered, McRae found a new direction in life. She “pretty much immediately” decided to apply to the MUSC College of Nursing.
McRae credits Carolyn Page, assistant dean for students, for helping her prepare to apply. McRae needed some science courses, which she took at Trident Technical College and University of South Carolina-Salkehatchie. Page also suggested she get a job as a patient care technician to get experience working on a floor alongside nursing staff. That’s an idea McRae never would have come up with on her own, she said, but it proved hugely beneficial.
For her part, Page said she was impressed with McRae from their first meeting.
“There are those rare times when an applicant walks into your office, and immediately you are captivated by their energy and compassion to serve others,” she said. “Tindall came with a heartfelt story and a strong desire to make her mark on humanity as a nurse. It has been my pleasure to watch this student dedicate her life and career to helping others, and to me this is the ultimate act of humility.”
McRae began working as a tech in MUSC’s infant care unit in May 2017. She might not have known anything about medicine, she said, but she did know about babies. As a tech, she took vital signs, fed and bathed the babies, alerted the nurses if anything seemed wrong and generally cared for the babies whose families couldn’t be there.
It was a great experience, she said, and it cemented her decision to attend nursing school. The nurses there were “incredible.” They were supportive of her going to school and some of them continue to be her best friends.
Working in the hospital alongside nurses, first as a tech and then as a nursing student, showed her how much nurses do and how they change lives.
She began the 16-month accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program in January 2018. McRae said she can’t imagine studying anywhere but MUSC because of the supportive atmosphere of the college.
In addition to Page, whom, she said, she thanks every day, McRae also credits Shelly Drake, undergraduate program coordinator, for her support during this journey. Drake has nothing but praise for McRae.
“She’ll be a great nurse, no question,” she said.
McRae is the type of person who will take any situation and turn it into a positive, she said.
“I always appreciate those people who look at a problem in the world and say, ‘What can I do to fix it?’” Drake said.
But McRae would say she just doesn’t have time to sit and stew. Throughout her time in nursing school, she juggled being a wife, a mother, a tech, a student and even a teacher — she ended up back in the classroom teaching sixth grade math when the school was in a bind. And not only was she herself in school, but her husband was too, working toward his doctorate in education. Together they parceled their hours so each had time for study and work while also making sure the kids were fed, bathed and in bed on time.
McRae said her boys don’t quite get the significance of her accomplishment yet.
“They call me a nurse-doctor because they don’t know the difference. They say, ‘Mommy, are you going to nurse-doctor school today?’ I think they’re ready for me to become a nurse-doctor,” she said with a laugh.
McRae is ready too. After her tech job at MUSC, she took a tech job in the Emergency Department at Colleton Medical Center, closer to her home. ED techs are entrusted with more responsibility, she said, so in that job, she got to practice more nursing skills like starting IVs. It was good experience, but the Emergency Department isn’t her passion. Ultimately, she’d like to work in labor and delivery, but for now she’s excited to join the joint replacement floor at Beaufort Memorial.
She’s already started working there through an internship program that allows nursing graduates to work as assistants until they take their licensing exams. McRae said she chose the position not because of the medical specialty, but because of the people she’ll be working with.
“I promised myself I would choose a floor based on morale and how they treated people,” she said.
And, she hopes that maybe one day, she can do for someone what that obstetrics nurse did for her. She looks forward to a long and fruitful career in nursing.
“It’s an honor to have been chosen to attend this school, and it’s an honor to be a nurse for the rest of my life,” McRae said.