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.
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