DOC A WILD LOOK AT STREET NURSES
One moment more than any other in Nettie Wild's documentary about Vancouver's street nurses explains the difficult line these dedicated people walk every day.
The film, called Bevel Up, is typical of the work Wild has done over the years. Whether she and Kirk Tougas, her cinematographer, are shooting scenes of guerillas in Chiapas, revolutionaries in the Philippines, or junkies on the streets in Vancouver, we see an intimacy that speaks of dedication to the subject matter.
This particular piece is different from the rest. It is a collaboration involving Wild and the street nurses. And it is intended as a teaching tool directed at people considering one of the most precarious corners of the profession.
Still, it's as compelling in its story line as anything Wild has turned out. The moment I'm referring to involves Caroline Brunt, the street nurse who dreamed up this project, Becky, a junkie with a 36-year addiction to heroin and her pregnant, addicted daughter Jill.
All three are in the Street Nurses' van heading first to a welfare office then to a fast food joint and off to a homeless shelter. Becky has been sick for days, wracked with infections and withdrawing from heroin.
Between Brunt and Becky, it's decided what Becky needs most immediately is some "down," another fix of heroin. Becky has the heroin on her but she needs a syringe and water in which to mix the powdered drug. Brunt provides that.
So here we have a public servant, dedicated to helping our most wretched citizens, in a government vehicle with someone in possession of an illegal substance about to perform an illegal act. At which point Brunt pulls the van over and says: "Becky, you know I'd feel more comfortable if you did that heroin outside the van."
There was neither debate nor disagreement. Becky fixes and they carry on, adding a health clinic to their itinerary.
This isn't just a story about Brunt and Becky. A dozen street nurses funded by the province work the streets of Vancouver. Their primary goal is to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. An in the process they bring comfort and a degree of respect to the people they treat.
Throughout you realize how non-judgmental Brunt and her colleagues are. It is, she explains, the only way to build trust with this population of desperate, drifting and addicted people. One nurse chats up street kids about their drug use, commiserating with a 16-year-old over the bad morning the teen suffered after her first hit of heroin the night before. She also hands out condoms and asks one girl if she needs a pregnancy test.
Another nurse has a sex trade worker in the van stripped down to her bare bum. And while the prostitute sings "Joy to the world" to take her mind off the pain, the nurse injects her with antibiotics to deal with syphilis.
And at every turn there is this incredible warmth, and an amazing amount of consultation with patients about treatment. One junkie taking a blood test injects the syringe himself because, as the nurse says, he knows his veins better than she does.
Incidentally, the title of the film, Bevel Up, comes from the fact that syringe tips are cut on a bevel. As one nurse explains to a junkie, injecting yourself with the "bevel up" does less damage to your veins.
The DVD of the film is formatted so that it can be watched straight through or it can be stopped after each chapter and the viewer can click on testimonials from nurses, not just from the city but from up country too, about their work with drug-addicted patients.
If Bevel Up isn't being distributed to every nursing school in the country it should be. If you want to see it, and meet Wild and Brunt, there are screenings Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Vancity Theatre on Seymour.
Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 Vancouver Courier