I graduated from Saginaw General Hospital’s diploma nursing 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. The hospital staffed around the students, and some of us also worked as aides on the weekends for a little spending money.
Not that we had much time to spend money. We were either in clinicals, in class, studying, or sleeping–and not much of that.
We lived in a dorm connected to the hospital with a tunnel. Sometimes we amused ourselves with cart races.
Most of the girls had roommates, 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 locked my door the first night and lay on my bed shaking and crying. I wanted to go home.
I wanted my mommy.
Especially when I heard crashing doors and screaming. And then pounding on my door. I didn’t answer. I 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. We sent our caps out to the cleaners who washed, stiffly starched, and pressed 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’re each holding a Nightingale lamp.
My brother carved the school’s insignia (copied 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 up to. He ended up with stitches.
Some things I remember
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 down each other and injecting each other with sterile water after practicing on oranges.
Following a patient through an emergency C-section (baby’s arm had “prolapsed”) and discharge. The baby had a physical issue that caused doctors to question its sex. “We love him in spite of his penis problem,” mom told me before she left.
Assisting with a circumcision performed in the nursery.
Stocking my closet with jars of baby fruit for late-night study snacks.
Friday (8 a.m.) dates with a formaldehyde cat.
Early morning doctor rounds.
Getting yelled at for coaching a mom in labor.
Sunbathing on the dorm roof.
Metal bedpans and emesis basins.
“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.
Birthday parties and singing around the piano.
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, as well as some not-so-pleasant aromas.
Having the difference between empathy and sympathy drilled into us.
Reflective listening exercises.
Avoiding the autopsy page. We were all supposed to observe one. I always managed to be busy. Or pretended to be.
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 until we passed state boards, allowing us to add R.N. after our names.
My first job was in an intensive care unit. I rotated through all three shifts. I struggled to sleep during the day, and I remember a nightmare evening as charge nurse even before I 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 at Michigan State.
I haven’t worked in the field for several years. 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.
“Once a nurse, always a nurse,” goes the saying. I believe it. 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 preparation,
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 the Fine Arts.
Composed by Mrs. Lystra E. Gretter, Detroit, 1893
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, 2012