Disability brings understanding, nursing grad finds

Disability brings understanding, nursing grad finds


Madison’s Abby May has special insight as a future nurse: She knows what it’s like to have a medical crisis and a chronic illness.

During her journey toward a Bachelor of Science degree from the School of Nursing at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, May was also dealing with autonomic dysfunction triggered during ankle surgery.

“I had problems coming out of anesthesia, my blood pressure was bottoming out, and I was in excruciating pain,” she said. “When they removed my cast, my foot was blue and looked like a bowling ball.”

The condition can result in highs and lows in blood pressure and severe pain and is treated through frequent infusions and therapies.

May’s autonomic dysfunction started the same year that she started nursing school.

“I wasn’t going to quit,” said May, who grew up in Madison and now lives in Flowood. “My mother raised her daughters to be independent and strong. Giving up was not an option.”

If anything, May said, her condition led to a deeper commitment to a nursing career.

“I had always been interested in a career in health care,” she said, “ever since I was a little girl when my mother would watch hospital TV shows. After I got sick, I had some really amazing nurses caring for me, and they were all at UMMC.”

Once, when May was at UMMC for a port placement in interventional radiology, the COVID-19 protocols that meant she couldn’t have anyone with her were weighing heavily.

“I was crying because I was alone,” she said. “My nurse came and held my hand and told me how she had beaten cancer and that what I was going though was going to make me a better nurse. I think it will.”

May kept her focus while going through nursing school, known for demanding coursework, and undergoing treatment for a chronic condition.

“It comes down to how bad you want it,” she said. “I get infusions at night, so I would come home from school, hook up my infusion bag, and sit on my bed and study while taking my infusion.”

During her studies, May was an advocate for “disability diversity.”

“UMMC is a diverse place,” she said, “but more knowledge of disabilities among students and faculty would help in relating to patients, especially those who have chronic illnesses and are in and out of the hospital.”

Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dr. Marilyn Harrington said she’s taken pride in May during her studies.

“Abby is one of the strongest and most determined nursing students I have ever met in 20 years of teaching at the School of Nursing,” Harrington said. “She has a passion and a compassion for health care and patients that will move you to tears. Because of her life story, she will be an exceptional nurse. I am so proud of her and so excited about her future in nursing.”

After graduation May 27, May will study for the licensing exam to become a registered nurse and then go to work at the Medical Intensive Care Unit at UMMC.

“I’m really excited to start working there,” May said. “I hope I can relate to patients who are there and alone and afraid. Holding a hand and talking to a patient can help so much. That’s the whole reason for becoming a nurse.”

MICU nurse manager Pate Shackelford is looking forward to May joining the nursing staff, too.

“She has an obvious desire and passion toward learning,” he said. “There is so much to learn about the complex, sick patients we have in the Medical ICU. Also, after speaking with her, you quickly see the compassion she has for these sick patients and their family members.”

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