Managing to reach my goal
Until six years ago, Michellae Edwards had not heard of myasthenia gravis. She thought the bag of frozen peas the specialist put on her eye would stop it sagging — it turned out to be a test, rather than a treatment.
“My eye opened and I thought I was healed, but my eyelid went droopy again immediately.”
Doctors eventually determined she had myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscle. In Ms Edwards’s case it also affected the moving parts of her body — her legs and arms.
“I wasn’t able to walk properly, my muscles weren’t working,” the 26-year-old said. “I was in hospital for some time.”
The diagnosis came just as things were looking up in her career.
Ms Edwards was not certain what path she wanted to take after graduating from high school in 2010, and jumped at the opportunity to go to Bolivia for ten months.
“I decided to do Rotary Exchange thinking it would help me figure out a career path and get more independence,” she said.
Once back home, she joined the customer service team at LF Wade International Airport. In September 2013, an advertisement for a job as a front desk agent at Rosewood Bermuda caught her attention.
“It was different from the customer service I was providing at the airport, but I grew to love it,” she said. “It was a more [formal] environment in a way; looking after guests at a five-star hotel. I didn’t develop a relationship with customers at the airport. At the hotel, I would see them for anywhere from three to five days so I would have more of a relationship with them.
“I like meeting new people, especially tourists. They’re only here for a short amount of time and, while they’re here, I want to show them a good time.”
Myasthenia gravis appeared two months later, just as she was settling into her new routine.
“My eyelid went droopy and stayed that way for quite some time. I could only lift my arm as far as my elbow. I couldn’t ride a bike, I couldn’t wear high heels, I was really weak.
“As far as I know, it’s rare here. I don’t know anyone else who has it. It’s not hereditary; no one else in my family has it.”
She needed help to get dressed; the thought of walking up or down stairs on her own terrified her. “My mother, Antoinette Tweed, was there for me from Day 1 — she stayed with me in hospital. Her and my boyfriend, Bryan Phipps, were there for me the whole time.”
Also on her mind as she dealt with her illness was the goal she had set of becoming a manager at the Tucker’s Point hotel.
“It set me back a little,” Ms Edwards said. “I had to transfer from the front desk and move over to the golf club, where it wasn’t so much of a strain on me. It’s fast-paced at the front desk, you’re on your feet a lot. It’s more relaxed at the pro shop.
“Growing up, I was athletic. I did track and field, I was always active. My main goal was to get better, but I didn’t let my illness stop me from working. I was determined to get back to work, I didn’t let [the disease] bring me down. Of course I had some days when I was upset, but I was determined to feel better, to get back to my normal life.”
Muscle-strengthening medication helped her progress as did monthly immunoglobulin infusions. And then in 2014 her father, Anthony Edwards, the former Somerset Cup Match and Bermuda cricketer, passed away after a motorcycle accident.
“It was like one thing was happening after another,” she said. “Of course, I said, ‘Why me?’”
Five years later and she is “back to her normal self”.
She said: “I was initially on medication that I took every three hours — even through the night — but in March 2014, I started my monthly infusions.
“In 2017, I actually checked myself into hospital as I wasn’t walking properly and felt like I was going to fall. They did more tests and it turned out I wasn’t getting enough [immunoglobulin]. After two weeks, I felt extremely better.”
Life then seemed to turn around on all fronts.
Last year, she succeeded in her goal of becoming a manager at Rosewood Bermuda and, on February 20, Ms Edwards gave birth to a daughter, Mya Phipps.
“I see my neurologist every six weeks and I was asking if I could even have a child and he said yes, it was possible, that he had clients who have successfully had children.”
Because of her health problems, she “didn’t really expect” she would reach her career goal in only five years.
“I was promoted to resort activities manager in April 2018,” she said. “My role is to manage the concierge team and create activities on property. It gave me the opportunity to work closer with hotel guests and be back in my element at the front desk.
“My job is to make sure guests’ transport is arranged in advance, their activities are arranged and their questions answered so when they come to Bermuda they can enjoy their stay.”
Her advice to other Bermudians considering the hospitality industry is to “just try it out, go for it”.
“There are so many different positions within hospitality — everything from bellman to housekeeping to a chef. And you learn every day, whether it be from your colleagues or from the guests that stay at the hotel.
“I work with a great group of colleagues and we have monthly classes to keep everyone up to speed — with hospitality, telephone etiquette, how to deal with a tough situation.”
The hotel also offers summer internships and a management trainee programme to encourage Bermudians, Ms Edwards said.
“Rosewood has other hotels in the world. In the future, I can see myself working at another Rosewood property.
“One of my colleagues just came back from a Rosewood task force, a programme where you go to another property and help with their operations for a period of two months.
“It’s a great opportunity to see how another Rosewood property functions and meet new people.”