Thursday, May 6, 2010

Nursing School Memories on National Nurses Day

Composed by Mrs. Lystra E. Gretter, Detroit, 1893

Memories from nursing school dance in my mind today. I graduated from a hospital diploma program in 1969--a member of the last class.

Most programs lasted three years, but this one packed all the work in two. We went year around. I think the hospital counted us as staff, and some of us also sometimes worked as aides for a little--and I mean little--spending money. 

Which was okay because we had no need for much. We spent almost all our time either on the floors, in class, studying, or sleeping.

We lived in a dorm connected to the hospital with a tunnel. Sometimes we amused ourselves with cart races.

Most of the girls roomed with someone else, but Becky and I each had our own room in the end turrets--maybe because we lived further away and stayed on the weekends more often than the others. 

I remember the first night was just plain scary. I locked my door and lay on my bed shaking and crying. I wanted to go home. Especially when I heard all the crashing doors and screaming. And then pounding on my door. I didn't answer, didn't move. And found out the next day that the "big sisters" were dragging all the newbies into cold showers. 

If we survived the first six months, we received our school cap in a special ceremony. Every school had its own uniform and own cap. You could identify a nurse's school by the cap she wore. I remember sending our caps out to the cleaners who would wash, stiffly starch, and press them flat. We'd need to fold and staple them back together.

Capped by my big sister, Betty.

The ceremony took place in a church, and we are each holding a Nightingale lamp.

My brother carved the school's insignia (from a uniform arm patch) into a plaque as a gift. He cut himself and bled all over the house one weekend I was home --and wouldn't tell me what he was doing. Made me pretty mad.

Some of the things I remember are:
  • Seeing my instructor's feet outside the curtain while I was giving a complete bed bath. She was eavesdropping.
  • Having to give up my chair at the charting desk if a doctor appeared.
  • My first patient death and having to prepare the body.
  • Passing nasogastric tubes on each other and injecting each other with sterile water (yes, water, not saline.)
  • Following a patient through an emergency C-section (baby's arm prolapsed) and discharge. The baby had a physical issue that caused doctors to question its sex. At discharge the mom proclaimed, "We love him in spite of his penis problem."
  • Assisting with a circumcision performed in the nursery. Maybe more traumatic for me than baby.
  • Stocking my closet with jars of baby fruit for late-night study snacks.
  • Friday morning (8 a.m.) dates with a formaldehyde cat. 
  • Early morning doctor rounds.
  • Sunbathing on the dorm roof.
  • Metal bedpans and emesis basins.
  • Glass thermometers.
  • "Man on the floor" warnings when maintenance came up to fix a dorm issue.
  • Psych rotation--Playing Euchre with the patients, scopolamine and insulin treatments.
  • Dr. Manning halting surgery to admonish (and embarrass) Becky. "Young lady, we NEVER say 'oops' in the operating room!"
  • Having to wear our hair off our shoulders.
  • Yelling "flush" if someone was in the shower so they didn't get scalded.
  • The fragrance of alcohol, Dial soap, moist dressings, musty halls in the old wing, and fresh paint--among some not-as-pleasant aromas.
  • Having the difference between empathy and sympathy drilled into us.
  • Avoiding the autopsy page. We were all supposed to observe one. I always managed to be busy.
  • Doing post-op teaching for a patient several days after a routine gallbladder removal.
We earned a black stripe for our caps later in our training. After graduation, we could work as a graduate nurse such until we passed state boards, allowing us to add RN after our names.

My first job was in an intensive care unit, which in 1969 would probably remind one of a regular patient room today. I rotated through all three shifts. I couldn't sleep during the day, and I remember a nightmare evening as charge nurse even before I'd passed my boards.

Over the years, I worked as a special duty nurse, office nurse (OB/GYN and family practice), OR nurse, community health educator, and public health nurse. I went back to school in my 40s to get my BSN. 

I haven't worked in the field for several years. And I miss it sometimes. I feel a sense of "home" when I step into a hospital, and I keep my license intact--just in case.

Someone reminded me today, "Once a nurse, always a nurse." That need to nurture and comfort in some form continues to be part of who I am. 

Even as I've turned to writing.
Nursing is an art; and if it is to be made an art, 
it requires as exclusive a devotion, as hard a prepration, 
     as any painter's or sculptor's work; 
for what is the having to do with dead canvas or cold 
     marble, compared with having to do with the living 
     body--the temple of God's spirit?
It is one of the Finest Arts;
I had almost said, the finest of Fine Arts.
                                           ~Florence Nightingale

Are you a nurse? Do you have memories of training? 
Do you know a nurse who creatively practices the art of compassion and caring?

Thank a nurse this week.
National Nurses Week 
May 6-12, 2010

Copyright © 2010 by Sandra Heska King


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your walk down memory lane! It threw me when you said you graduated in '69--I thought you were my age. I snooped on your facebook info page and found out your my Billy's age (he was born in April of 49).

I love learning things about my friends!

Sandra Heska King said...

And you are a year younger than my sissy.

I'm so old.

Sandra Heska King said...

My friend, Becky, had this comment:

"Read your blog - such memories. You forgot the part about you having symptoms of each disease we studied. We weren't sure we'd get you through psych. I still laugh thinking about it."

Yes, I'd forgotten I contracted nearly everything.

S. Etole said...

I'm not a nurse, but I have been on the receiving end of many nurses ... you can always tell the ones that truly care and it is such a phenomenal blessing ... I suspect you are a compassionate, caring one.

CandaceCalvert said...

Great post, Sandy! You brought back so many memories for me, too. I graduated from an ADN program in 1972. And remember how many of us bought those ugly Dynel wigs to cover up our long hair (right, couldn't touch our shoulders). And that we kept caps in place by fixing a piece of TP to top of our heads with a bobby pin, then pushing the comb on the cap into the TP. Geesh. We also used KY Jelly to stick the velvet stripes on, blue for student and black after graduation.

I started my career in a small rural hospital in Oregon--and was made PM Supervisor the first year. Had to relieve in the ER which scared the wits out me. Then, of course, finally drew me in for the next 30-plus years. Stopped wearing a cap after the first year . . . when a little girl asked me, "Why do you wear a pirate hat?" Nurses are heroes for sure. A big part of the reason I'm writing the Mercy Hospital series. :-)

Candy said...

Thanks for this, Sandy. After 36 years in the field, I'm still hanging in there. No regrets, really, other than the night I accidentally took the narcotics keys home on Christmas Eve and had to drive all the way back. I would have given up my chair and patient charts a little less willingly, had I known that the docs actually put their pants on one leg at at time like I did. So naive.

I worked Labor & Delivery for 8 yrs, had kids, then went into the education side, then on to wellness and now cardiac rehab for 21 years. I always got my cap hung up in the curtains, until I discovered the TP secret. Then it just ripped my hair out by the roots.

My favorite quote is still "Ask not what disease this patient has; but who is the patient that has this disease." Sir Wm Osler I hope they're still teaching that in nursing school.

Sandra Heska King said...

@Susan: Funny thing is, I think I'd be a better hospital nurse now in some ways, now that I'm older. But now I don't think I have enough energy. :D

I don't think anybody in my class wore wigs! I do remember one of the girls rolling her hair around orange juice cans.

We didn't have combs in our caps. After we stapled them together, we stuck a safety pin in them and than a bobby pin through that. I really hated when we stopped wearing them. We worked so hard for them.

When I returned to the hospital, I went to the OR, partly because if a patient arrested, we already had Anesthesia available!

I remember one of the heart docs yelling at me for praying with a patient in the hall before rolling her into the room--slowed down the schedule 10 seconds.

I also remember my first time coming in on call for a young man who'd been in a motorcycle accident. No helmet. We gloved only.

And back then, when we cut our hand with a scalpel or got poked with a suture needle, we sometimes just slipped a second glove over so WE didn't contaminate the patient!

I love that quote, Candy. I hope they are still teaching it, too. There's a person, not a gallbladder, in room 246.

I hope some others pop in and comment. This is fun.

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