20110831-ABIZcover-0106Geralyn Shelvin: One supreme lady

It took a recent on-the-job injury — a fall at work resulting in a gash to the head that required stitches, with a bruised hip thrown in for good measure — to force Dr. Geralyn Shelvin to slow down, and when she spoke with ABiz even the wounds and pain medications did little in that regard.

“My husband’s already fussing at me because I’m been getting in and out of this bed — I can’t sit still,” Shelvin says. “He and my sister are riding herd on me right now because I can’t sit still.”
It’s little wonder: In addition to her day job as the manager of Nursing Services at the outpatient Veteran’s Administration health clinic in Lafayette serving about 7,000 former service members, Shelvin is also the Supreme Lady — akin to national director, along with her male counterpart, the Supreme Knight — of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Peter Claver. It’s the nation’s predominant black Roman Catholic lay organization comprising about 18,000 members in the U.S. and Colombia and one that will require her to attend a dozen out-of-state conferences in 2012.
“My mother was a 60-plus year member, my father was as well,” she says, adding that she’s working toward her own membership in the six-decade club: “I have been in the organization since I was 7 years old — been in the senior division since I was 18 — so it’s been about 33 years.”

Throw in a heavy workload of eucharistic activities at her church, St. Paul the Apostle, and membership in several other religious, cultural and professional groups including the National Black Nurses Association, Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the board of directors of the National Black Catholic Congress, and Geralyn Shelvin, it’s fair to say, is a perpetual motion machine.

“If I join something I want to be involved and not just a dues-paying member or on the roll,” she says. “I always try to tell everybody, ‘Let’s work smarter and not harder.’ So if somebody else is doing something, how can we piggy back on them and get together and all do it and make it even bigger — pull all the parties together because we’re all working for the same thing?”

A graduate of Cathedral Carmel High School and UL Lafayette, Shelvin says she entered nursing “to be of service and help others.”

The V.A. clinic in Lafayette offers primary care, nutrition services, social work and mental-health services for veterans from all over Southwest Louisiana — from World War II up to the present military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For some of these veterans of the conflicts in the Middle East, the wounds of war are fresh and debilitating, both physically and mentally. Shelvin deals with soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder on a regular basis. And although she eschewed her mother’s profession in teaching because of the home work, she admits it took her a while to learn how to leave the stresses of her job at the office.

“When I first started practicing, of course, I didn’t, but you have to control how you react to things so you don’t wind up just as sick as your patients,” Shelvin says. “I have learned to compartmentalize, and you have to if you’re going to stay healthy. So while I’m at work, work’s there, but when I’m gone, I’m gone.”  — Walter Pierce

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