Monday, September 13, 2010
I enter a time tunnel and stand in front of Andersen Center, what used to be Andersen Hall.
I’m surprised that it still stands.
I look up and see my room. On the corner. With the bay windows.
I must go inside.
But my husband says we can’t. There are security locks on the door.
I step forward just to peek in the window, and the door swings open as someone steps out.
We are inside.
There’s a lady sitting on a bench. She asks what department we are looking for.
I start to cry.
“She used to live here,” says my husband. “When she was a student nurse.”
“Then you need to go that way,” says the lady.
So we go that way, but we don’t know where to go or what to do. We push open a door that has a mail slot in it and nearly knock over another lady in scrubs.
She asks if she can help us.
I start to cry again.
My husband explains.
And Debbie (we only find out her name when we leave) is stunned. She says she’s always wanted to meet one of “us.” I belonged to the last class to graduate from Saginaw General Hospital School of Nursing. It’s not even Saginaw General anymore. It’s part of a sprawling Covenant HealthCare System.
Debbie takes us on a tour and introduces me to people and finds people to unlock doors.
I see my room and Becky’s across the hall. We made and hung our own curtains that Maintenance took back down and replaced with the ugly fireproof ones while we were in clinicals. Now those windows are framed with vertical blinds.
I tell Debbie how I stocked up on baby fruits like strained bananas and apricots for late night study sessions. And I tell her about the first night and how scared I was and how I locked my door and cried because of the commotion in the hall and the pounding on my door. The “big sisters” were pulling the new students into cold showers.
And I tell her about how we had to yell “flush” if someone was in the shower so they didn’t get scalded. And how Maintenance called out “man on the floor” if they came up.
Today our rooms are offices.
I see the lounge where we used to gather around a piano and sing and have monthly birthday parties. It’s a board room now.
Where were our mailboxes? I try to remember. I tell Debbie how we used to sunbathe on the roof.
I see the back door. A short run across the parking lot would put us in the hospital. That’s where we were if we weren’t in the dorm. That was our life for two years, year around. And we often earned extra money as aides if we did not go home for the weekend.
One of my instructors wheeled me across that parking lot to have x-rays the morning I couldn’t stand up after throwing my judo instructor on my foot the night before.
I see the tunnel entrance. It also led to the hospital, and we went through it when it rained. We used to have laundry cart races in there. We can’t open that door, but I peer in. It a lot more narrow than I remember. I take a picture through the glass.
Debbie takes us into some conference room that’s being remodeled. And way over on the far wall are some large hinged poster-size photos. She says someone wanted to throw them out but someone else said no. I look first at the last picture of a graduating class—1969. Ours. And I point to myself and Becky. And I tell Debbie about some of the other girls in the photos.
And I see the class prior and my “big sister.” And all the classes that came before, all the way to the front to the hospital founding in 1889. But I’m sure several are missing.
Debbie tells me that a couple nurses in OB were still wearing their caps up until a couple years ago.
Finally, we say goodbye and thank you and hug and walk around to the front of the hospital and into the park, where I remember walking with one of my psychiatric patients after she’d come out of a catatonic state. I look up and remember watching a sunrise from what I think was a surgical floor lounge.
We go inside, but nothing looks familiar. And a lady shorter than me by inches, a volunteer, Florence, asks if she can help us, but I can’t talk again. And Dennis tells her why we are there, and she tells me she worked there in recovery when I was a student. She doesn’t remember me, and I don’t remember her, but we talk about the doctors and nurses, and she tells me of some who have passed on and we share stories. She says she doesn’t recognize most of the hospital herself anymore, and that even the cafeteria is different. So we say goodbye and don’t go past the information desk.
And we walk back to the car, and I’m not crying anymore, but I’m tired and thirsty. And I’m quiet, as my mind tunnels back in time and breaks through to more blurred memories.
But I’m confused about the tears–tears that did not come even when I sat in front of my childhood home or the now empty lot where my grandparents’ home stood.
Maybe it was the going in. The going deep. The touching. Hearing echoes in the halls. Brushing away cobwebs.
Because those two years, more than any others, consumed me and defined a large part of who I am.
And getting inside? Pretty much a God thing.
Celebrating National Nurses Week
May 6-12, 2012