Jodi Freedman and Dr. Nirav Shah
Portland registered nurse Jodi Freedman with Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Shah's T-shirt says "I love tacos so much." (Courtesy Jodi Freedman)
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Jodi Freedman never thought she’d become a nurse. 

“It’s a great story,” she recently said with a laugh. “I’m 53 now, and about 14 years ago, when my three kids were in elementary school, I’d see some of my neighbors who were per-diem nurses. They’d work shifts around their children’s schedules, which was nice. So, I said to my husband, Jon, ‘I wish I wanted to be a nurse.’ What Jon thought he heard was, ‘I want to be a nurse.’”  

For years after that, however, nursing school wasn’t in the picture.

Jodi, right, and Jon Freedman of Portland. (Courtesy Jodi Freedman)

Freedman, a Deering High School alum, had earned an undergraduate degree at Brandeis University and then attended the University of Southern Maine for a master’s in special education.

“I’m a Mainer, and this is my home so I came back after college and taught all over Portland,” she said. Then, prompted by a friend who knew of the “most perfect job for her,” Freedman worked as the director of volunteers at The Cedars senior living community before she accepted a position soliciting major gifts for a nonprofit organization.

“One night after a particularly frustrating day, I came home really stressed. Jon just looked at me and said, ‘If you’re going to go to nursing school, this is the time.’” 

Freedman wasn’t sure what she’d gotten herself into after fast-tracking to become a registered nurse through Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

“The first few months were all bodily fluids and really, nursing school was the single hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “But I truly love what I do. I worked in the ICU for over two years, in private practice, and at a quick-care type facility, which is what I’m doing locally now. Direct patient care is the best fit for me. Relationships are so important.”

Married for 27 years, the Freedmans have mixed emotions about being empty-nesters. Two of their children are still in college, while their oldest son, Sam, 25, recently graduated from Northeastern University.

“The pandemic robbed us of our chance to see him graduate last year, but he’s happy and got a great job. Still, it just kind of stinks,” Freedman said.

They also downsized to a condo where there’s still room for the kids, and where Jon does all the cooking. “He took it over while I was crazy busy in nursing school,” she said with another laugh. “I’ve just never taken it back.”

As much as Freedman enjoys her job, she is bothered by the stereotype people have about nurses. “It’s the short uniforms, the sexy nurse costumes at Halloween, all of that,” she said. “It isn’t fair and it bugs me.”

(Freedman much prefers a different kind of Halloween costume: As a longtime lead zombie in Portland’s annual “Thriller” flashmob, her bloody makeup would make an unsuspecting bystander think she was the one who needed an ambulance.)

Despite her professional drive (and Halloween aside), Freedman is not an all-work kind of person. She views enjoying nature and exercise as essential self-care.

“In the summer, it’s the beach and beach-reading for me (she is currently working on “The Memory Wood” by Sam Lloyd), and snowshoeing in winter. Jon and I like to hike Acadia, bike, and just hang out safely with friends.”

Modest about her fitness level, Freedman also does Zumba and Barre via Zoom classes. Like most exercise buffs, she misses the live sessions and the camaraderie found there.

She also misses life before COVID-19.

“Both in and out of work, it’s been exhausting,” Freedman said. “It’s hard, so hard when people say it’s a hoax. I know so many people who are threatening to quit and these are great, experienced nurses. Morale is down.”

She sees a disconnect when medical people protest or are anti-vaccine. She also teared up when talking about intensive care, “Where it’s just heartbreaking to see people near the end of life.” 

“Really, I find anti-vaccination nurses so shocking,” Freedman said. “Nursing is an evidence-based practice and we are supposed to make decisions and advise patients based upon scientific evidence. Some people just aren’t, because of politics.”

Freedman didn’t hesitate when asked what keeps her going as others talk about leaving the profession.

“I just love what I do,” she said. “I really can’t imagine being anything but a nurse.”