When you have been a nurse as long as I have there are patients who take residence in your memories and resurface frequently. They could almost be family except they have a short history in your li…
This Post from 2012–written by my fellow nursing classmate, Ruth Donoghue–describes an episode occurring in the early ’90s.
Early ‘90’s December
NAKED IN THE DELIVERY ROOM
Nursery in a Catholic hospital where 5,000 babies pass through in a year
The call comes via unit secretary
A nurse is requested as soon as possible to pick up a baby in delivery room three. (Every newborn baby is sent to the nursery to be bathed and examined).
Request the nurse be naked!
I believed this was a religious event, since it was permitted in the Catholic hospital where I worked. It was a time when we were trying to be more understanding of other religions and promoting better relations. Recently our department had finished seminars on religious and lifestyle diversity. Any employee not willing to extend understanding would be sent for counseling. Since I was close to retirement, I volunteered to take the call.
I grabbed two surgical masks, stapled them together and applied them as a bra. Disposable mother mash pants served as bottoms. A heavy starched doctor’s coat was applied for traveling.
Upon arrival the whole family—mother, baby, grandma, grandpa, father and sibling—is present, smiling and naked. The doctor managed to skillfully leave.
The thermostat is set at 90 degrees and mother and baby fully exposed. I remove my doctor’s coat. Nobody notices.
They allow me to place their beautiful baby in a blanket. I quickly apply my heavy doctor’s coat and depart, pushing the baby in the crib to the nursery.
It was an accomplishment because now I wound not have to go for sensitively counseling in contrast to some others.
A month later (January) in the hospital elevator, I encounter a couple, lightly dressed, carrying a baby in a blanket only. Smiling, happy and healthy. They don’t recognize me.
Happy Mother’s Day.
My mother died the day before Mother’s Day sixteen years ago. Each year at this time my memories of Mom revolve around both her life and death. Her last few years weren’t what I would have predicted.
When Ernie and I moved from the Midwest to Maryland in 1993, Mom came with us. I had found an assisted living apartment for her. She was 85 at the time—independent, and mentally sharp.
My father had died over twenty years ago. Since that time her only friends were other women. A couple of months after the move, she had to have new glasses. Then she wanted to replace her old hearing aid with not one but two. Clearly, she wanted to see and hear what was going on around her. Over the phone, she told me, “I am having so much fun,” and mentioned a boy friend. As a gerontological nurse practitioner, I knew that a move to an unfamiliar place could make an old person confused. I dismissed the boy friend as wishful thinking.
Shortly after that phone call, I pulled up in front of Mom’s apartment building on a lovely spring afternoon to take her on a shopping trip. She came to the car and shouted to me through the open window on the passenger side, “Come on out, I want you to meet someone.” After shutting off the engine, I got out of the car and followed her to the bench by the front door. Two men sat side-by-side: one was obese with red blotches over his face and the other, a tall thin man, wore a baseball cap and cowboy boots, with a red-tipped white cane resting between his knees.
Mom nudged me in front of the two men. “Lee, I want you to meet my daughter.”
The man wearing a baseball cap stood up, ramrod straight. His eyes were hidden behind dark glasses. Red suspenders stretched across a pot belly covered with a blue flannel shirt. His right hand shot out in front of him.
“Pleased to meet you,” he said in a strong, even voice, shaking my hand. He smiled showing a scattering of rotten teeth. I felt as if I were meeting my teenage daughter’s beau who so wanted to impress.
Lee was twelve years Mom’s junior. At first they talked of marriage but Mom said no because he was a Jehovah’s Witness and she a Catholic. In her mind that was deal breaker. Then they were going to move into one apartment. But they were never able to decide which one would give up his/her apartment. For the next seven years, they saw each other daily. They took walks together—Mom leaned on Lee while she guided his steps; they sat together at the same table for communal dinner, and they took naps together. Mom never told me outright but I surmised this when she revealed she had lost her favorite earring in his bed. I never asked what else transpired between them.
However, their relationship was not without problems. Mom didn’t trust him. She suspected that he was cavorting with other women.
While Lee was a younger man, he was an unlikely gigolo. Besides diabetes and blindness, he had had two heart attacks, a triple bypass, and a Foley catheter that migrated from his bladder out of his penis and down his pants leg and ended up in a collection bag not so neatly tucked into his left boot. Most times he reeked of stale urine and dirty clothes. Mom, who had had a life-long addiction to cleanliness, never complained of his hygiene. But by God, don’t let him prove unfaithful.
Mom’s suspicious and judgmental nature never seemed to take a toll on their relationship. Lee would laugh and say, “There she goes again” when she would accuse him of flirting with another woman. At the same time, Mom would insist we include Lee on family celebrations and occasional luncheons where Lee would eat with his hands and Mom would inevitably spill her water, or wine, and I would leave a big tip as we left the table and floor in a shambles.
When Ernie accepted a job offer in North Carolina, Lee encouraged Mom to go with us. She had become more frail and had frequent falls. After being hospitalized with a bout of pneumonia, she was admitted for a short-stay in a nursing home not far from her apartment. A kind health care worker would walk Lee to visit. I was glad I wasn’t present to witness their final good-bye.
Mom lived just lived nine months after the move.
I went to visit Lee shortly after Mom’s death to give him her radio/cassette player and large button telephone. On the drive up to Maryland, I had romanticized the visit—he expressing his deep love for my mother, sharing the moments they laughed together and telling me how much he missed her.
During the visit, Lee sat in his recliner in a cluttered apartment never uttering the nice words about my mother I longed to hear. And he didn’t remember the times I took them to the Red Lobster and the neighborhood Chinese restaurant. After I programmed his daughter’s number into the phone and we ran out of polite topics to talk about, I left.
On the long ride down route 85 South toward North Carolina and home, I wondered if Lee didn’t talk about Mom with me since I was the one who took her away—although he encouraged her to leave, or he was losing his memory? Or both?
Nevertheless, I couldn’t be too disappointed since he gave Mom a reason for living and certainly kept her blood flowing if only from the aggravation of thinking her blind prince charming had a roving eye. And I will always remember the time she said she was having “so much fun.”
In my last post, I told you about a couple of books I discovered—short story collections written by nurses. Lynn Rosack wrote a comment on my last post reminding me that Echo Heron, whose book I covered, Emergency 24/7: Nurses of the Emergency Room (2015) had written other nursing books. One of them, Intensive Care: A Story of a Nurse (1988) made the New York Times best seller list. She also wrote Condition Critical: The Story of a Nurse Continues (1994) and Tending Lives: Nurses on the Medical Front (1998).
Here is a short list of other memoirs by nurse authors, in no particular order:
- The Door of Last Resort: Memoir of a Nurse Practitioner by Frances Ward (2013)
In researching books by nurses, I discovered a wonderful resource: books.google.com. I had no idea that there were so many books about nursing by nurses —from a book on the Public Health Nurse from 1919 to a new book not yet released by Josephine Ensign, Catching Homelessness: A Nurse’s Story of Falling Through the Safety Net (2016).
The books I found on googlebooks.com included stories about frontier, hospice, school and rural health nursing, and military nurses in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other settings. (I am limiting my search to nurse authors from the USA).
I am impressed with the scope and number of nursing books out there—although these numbers are nowhere near those of physician authors, and physician books attract more media attention. Great that we nurses are writing our books but we still need to find a way to gain the attention/publicity that physicians receive when they publish their books.
Now that my book has been reworked and has a new title—Playing Sheriff: A Nurse Practitioner’s Story—I am ready to get it in print. In order to do this, I’ve been looking for books about nursing, and preferably written by a nurse. to see how these reached publication.
First of all, I found out was that there are more books out there than I had thought. Some have been published with the help of an agent, some by small press or university press, others self-published, and a few worked within publishing partnerships.
“These twenty-three, first person profiles in nursing are ethnically, culturally, and educationally diverse. Some of the women and men here emulated mothers who were nurses, and were sure of their life paths before they entered high school. Some switched careers in midstream, for better salaries or increased job security, among other things. And others came to nursing much later in life, often answering a mysterious call to follow a vocation that could make a difference for individuals in need. But, taken together, their stories chronicle work experiences and environments that not only illuminate the broad range of career options for nurses but also form a valuable body of health care knowledge. All in all, this book communicates the essence of nursing.” (Italics mine)
Gertrude B. Hutchinson, MSIS, MA, RN, CCRN-R, Archivist, Bellevue Center for Nursing History
Two other books also focus on first-person stories by nurses:
- Emergency 24/7: Nurses of the Emergency Room by Echo Heron (2015).
- A Call to Nursing: Stories about Challenge and Commitment by Paula Sergi & Geraldine Gorman (2009).
Collectively, there are a total of 107 nurses sharing their stories. Impressive!
I came across this post on All Nurses. It’s too lovely not to share.
A Nurse’s Hands
by VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN Guide Mar 16 2016
I’ve been retired for over two years now, but in a rare contemplative moment, here are a few thoughts on what being a nurse meant to me.
Lately I’ve taken to looking at my hands, which appear to have morphed into my grandmother’s in recent years. They are well-worn and the skin is thinning rapidly, much to my dismay. While a layer of fat fills in the lines in my face, the same thing can’t be said for my hands, which tell my life story without words.
And then I remember: these hands have held new life, and comforted the dying.These hands have given the first bath…and the last.
They have been washed literally hundreds of thousands of times in the service of people I didn’t give birth to.
They have administered the first feeding and the last dose of morphine.
They have rubbed sore backs, dressed wounds, smoothed fresh linens over feverish bodies.
They have fed, cleaned, stopped bleeding, performed CPR. They have also prepared the living for surgery, and the dead for their final journey.
They are the hands of a nurse. And even though my career is over, my hands will forever bear the marks of the noble work they once did.
And somehow, that makes the wrinkles OK.
While I was looking for something to read to my writing group, I came across this story. It brings back memories of how green I was when I started nursing school.
Right before Patsy’s turn to share her thoughts with the group, she smiled coyly at me. Oh no! She wasn’t going to tell that story again? Not to the whole group? At almost every reunion since we graduated from Saint Peter’s Hospital School of Nursing in 1962, Patsy retold the same story. Now, at our 40th reunion, less than half of the forty-four graduates were in attendance. And for the first time we all sat around a large circular table. Was Patsy going to tell the whole group the embarrassing story of what happened in our first year of nurses’ training? Well, I always thought the story funny, but only when the four of us were reminiscing together—Gloria, Patsy, Julie and me.
(I caution my readers that the following is humor noir or black humor)
Patsy and Julie were roommates, as were Gloria and I. We would stay together during clinical rotations throughout the program.
One day, during our very first clinical, we each were assigned to one patient on the medical unit—practicing giving a bed bath. Eager young women in our teens, we wore starched white aprons and bibs covering light blue striped dresses with white starched cuffs mid-arm. Our white shoes were spotless.
That day, Gloria and I had finished giving baths and making beds and set out to see if Patsy and Julie could join us for lunch. They had patients in the same semi-private room at the end of the hall.
As Gloria and I entered the room, Patsy’s patient, a thin, older man, abruptly sat up in the bed and forcefully vomited bright red blood all over his clean white sheets. Patsy grabbed a kidney basin—a small curved metal bowl—and shoved it under the man’s chin. Julie pulled the curtain around her patient but not before grabbing his basin. Julie took the blood-laden basin from Patsy and gave her the empty one. She then passed the full basin to Gloria who stood close to the bathroom and dumped the contents into the toilet and flushed—we hadn’t learn, as yet, that we needed to document how much blood the patient had lost.
While Patsy, Julie and Gloria passed around the full and empty basins, I ran out of the room. The nursing station looked so far away at the end of the long hallway. Rather than run down the corridor, I stopped and yelled. “WE NEED A NURSE.”
I don’t remember, but I suspect a “real nurse” came to help us. What I do remember is that the man eventually died and that the family was angry because in the midst of our inept effort to handle the emergency situation, we had emptied an emesis basin full of blood down the toilet—along with the patient’s false teeth.
And I remember that Patsy didn’t tell the story to the whole group, after all.
A few years back I took an acrylic painting class. Sometimes, while the ever-present radio played a Mahler violin concerto, an aria from La Traviata or Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, I would spin about whipping color on my canvas, feeling “in the zone.” My mind would disconnect from my hand, which moved independent of my intent. What surprised me most about the fallout from this class was that I improved my writing ability. I was looser, more adventurous, and, best of all, my inner editor became subdued. I am looking to recapture that feeling.
I have always loved to paint and draw, however, over the years I painted only when I had a class. And I have a treasure-trove of supplies, such as canvases, watercolor paper and tubes of paints, not to mention many half-completed paintings stored in my office closet.
I took a 3-hour workshop yesterday—a primer in watercolor. Supplies were furnished. Our instructor demonstrated simple techniques that we—all women—replicated on 5 X 7 inch sheets of 140 lb. Cold Press paper. Quick. One fluid motion. Don’t dawdle. Don’t over think. Don’t go back over the stroke. Don’t compare yourself to your neighbor!
After the class, I felt rejuvenated. In two weeks I’ll start a six-session class, and if I like that teacher, I’ll sign up for more classes. And I’ll set up my paint supplies in a corner of my office.
Creative art pursuits provide older adults with multiple benefits, not the least of which is enhanced cognitive function.
Throughout history, artists have known that art provides benefits for both the creator and viewer. Current studies in the fields of art therapy, music therapy, and other creative modalities confirm that art can affect individuals in positive ways by inducing both psychological and physiological healing. We know that, in general, exercising our creative selves enhances quality of life and nurtures overall well-being. We all are creative—not just a select few.
. . . Several studies show that art can reduce the depression and anxiety that are often symptomatic of chronic diseases. Other research demonstrates that the imagination and creativity of older adults can flourish in later life, helping them to realize unique, unlived potentials, . . .
Erik Erickson’s eighth and last stage of psychological development culminates in an integration of the individual’s past, present, and future to confront the conflict between integrity and despair. The result can be either despair or wisdom. When older adults pursue activities that are based in meaning, purpose, and honesty, they can attain the wisdom and integrity about which Erickson writes rather than experiencing longing and despair. Therapeutic art experiences can supply meaning and purpose to the lives of older adults in supportive, nonthreatening ways.
Neurological research shows that making art can improve cognitive functions by producing both new neural pathways and thicker, stronger dendrites. Thus, art enhances cognitive reserve, helping the brain actively compensate for pathology by using more efficient brain networks or alternative brain strategies. Making art or even viewing art causes the brain to continue to reshape, adapt, and restructure, thus expanding the potential to increase brain reserve capacity.
“I would be in a sweat if I tried to maneuver out of that tight parking space without power steering,” I said to my 15-year-old grandson who is currently taking driver education.
We had left the grocery store with a bottle of apple juice and two bags of pretzels. The parking lot was small and crowded.
“What is power steering?” he said.
Yes, how would he know what power steering was, much less what driving was like in the “olden days?” For all he knew, every car always had a GPS, automatic windows, and power steering.
This made me wonder how many would remember what nursing was like back in 1962 when I first graduated? Some of the antiquated rituals we performed may be better forgotten.
However, this is what I remember:
Hanging a glass bottle with intravenous fluid on an IV pole. Calculating how many drops per minute were needed so it would run over the prescribed time, and then counting the drops for a full minute. I would rip off a piece of white adhesive tape, writing the date and time the IV was started and my initials, and attaching that to the IV tubing. I checked the IV often throughout my shift, making sure it was dripping at the correct rate. There wasn’t an alarm to alert me when the bottle was dry.
Standing in a small medicine closet with a bunch of 2 X 3 medicine cards—each hand written—with the patient’s name, and drug, dose, and time of administration. I poured each drug from the patient’s medicine bottle or from a large stock bottle into a small paper soufflé cup. All the soufflé cups sat crowded on the small tray that I carried into each patient’s room. God forbid I tipped the tray and spilled the contents. (The nurse in this picture has a cart on wheels—an advantage over my small tray.)
Preparing an enema in the utility room by opening a packet of orange-colored Castile liquid soap and mixing it into the porcelain bucket that held warm water. Did I test the temperature with a thermometer or put a drop on the inner aspect of my wrist? More than once I had forgotten to clamp the tubing and received a good soaking.
Do any nurses of a certain age reading this want to add to the list?
I received my memoir manuscript from my editor this past week. Thankfully, she hadn’t any issues with structure. (I’m not counting the many grammatical errors she found that I thought I had addressed but still missed).
Since the last version of my book, I have changed the title, dropped five chapters, deepened some others, and added more about gerontological nursing.
Here is chapter 10 that I dumped. It repeats a lot of what is in the first chapter of the book.
I am writing about a time in the early 80s when I worked as a nurse practitioner in charge of a recently opened geriatric clinic housed in a one-bedroom apartment on the 10th floor of a senior high-rise on the Westside of Chicago. I am new to the role and stumble with the unexpected. Mrs. R is an 80-year-old volunteer that serves as the clinic receptionist. Luther is the building custodian.
I heard heavy footfalls shuffle into the waiting room and Mrs. R’s shrill voice ask, “Why, whatever is wrong, Luther?”
I ran out of the exam room just in time to watch Luther, grimacing in pain, flop down in the chair next to Mrs. R’s desk. Sweat beaded on his nutmeg complexion. His overalls were dotted with blood. He gripped a towel that was wrapped around his upper arm.
“I was fixing a window. The glass cracked.” Luther’s words came in breathy bits. “Cut me.”
He was one of the custodians in the building, a short, sinewy man with a generous smile and warm personality.
I moved on heavy legs toward Luther as if wading across a pool: slow and deliberate. Standing in front of him, I could smell his sweat mixed with the musty, sweet odor of blood. I hated the stench of blood. Trying to suppress my gag reflex, I grabbed his wrist and held his arm up over his head hoping that gravity would slow the bleeding.
“Where did you get cut?” I asked.
Luther pointed to the underside of his arm still covered with the towel. With my free hand I applied pressure. Soon I felt the wet, stickiness of his blood steep into my palm. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome hadn’t yet walked into my medical world, but the thought of what might be under the towel made me want to vomit.
No one else was in the office but Mrs. R and me. I didn’t want to tell her to dial 911 until I knew what I was dealing with. Still nauseated, I forced myself to concentrate on Luther’s injury.
“Do you think there are any pieces of glass in your arm?”
“The window didn’t shatter.” Luther’s voice was tense.
He was still sweating and breathing rapidly. His eyes darted around the room as if looking for a quick way out.
Maybe my own nervousness showed.
“Luther, concentrate on breathing more slowly. In. Out. In. Out.” I breathed along with him. “Good. That’s it.”
After a few minutes Luther stopped sweating and my nausea dissipated, but my arm trembled with fatigue holding Luther’s arm upward. The blood from the towel began to congeal. The bleeding probably stopped but I still needed to see the wound. Not something I was anxious to do.
“Okay, let’s put your arm down.”
Luther rested his arm in his lap. I put Luther’s other hand where mine had been.
“Press,” I instructed, “while I get some supplies to clean you up.”
I kept half an eye on Luther while I scrubbed his blood from my hands in the sink across from the waiting room. While his breathing had returned to normal, his eyes still darted about the room as if watching for some unexpected calamity.
I laid the supplies—a bottle each of iodine solution and sterile water, tape and several sterile gauze pads to replace the towel—on the edge of the Mrs. R’s desk and went back to snatch a tourniquet, quickly slipping it into my lab coat pocket, praying I didn’t need to use it.
Snapping on a pair of disposable gloves, I braced myself for the worst.
“Let me see what this cut looks like.”
With shaking hands, I slowly peeled the towel from his skin with my right hand. My other hand clutched two thick gauze pads that I would slap on the wound if it were still bleeding. Trickles of sweat from my brow dripped down my face and over my eyes blurring my vision. My imagination slowed me down. What was under the towel? Muscle and bone? Shards of glass? A gaping wound spewing blood? If that happened, I would need to apply the tourniquet and tell Mrs. R to call 911. I decided against alerting her ahead of time. Luther might pass out from the expectation.
Caked blood covered the wound. No fresh bleeding was evident. The muscles in the back of my neck softened.
“I cut an artery, right Miz Crane?” His eyes large with worry.
I tossed the bloody towel into the wastebasket by the desk and wiped my eyes with the back of my hand before I answered.
“I need to wash your arm so I can see better, but I don’t think you cut an artery.”
Luther exhaled slowly and his shoulders relaxed.
The laceration was about three inches long with even edges and deep enough to need stitches. I told Luther my assessment.
Mrs. R had fixed her gaze on Luther from the moment he arrived. I raised my voice to get her attention.
“Mrs. R, call Sam Levy and tell him to come up here right away. Thanks.”
Her body jerked as she snapped out of her trance.
“Why Sam?” Luther asked.
“Sam’s your boss. Your injury’s workman’s comp. He can drive you or pay for a cab to get you to the ER for stitches. And probably get a tetanus shot. Do you remember when you had one last?”
While Luther and I waited for Sam, I reached over and poured some of the iodine solution onto the gauze squares and slapped it on the wound.
“Ow! Ow!” yelled Luther.
Blinking back tears, he searched the floor as if he were embarrassed to have yelled so loud. How dumb of me, I shouldn’t have used full strength iodine on the wound.
All I could say was “Sorry, Luther.”
After Luther and Sam left, I thought how easy it was for anyone to walk into the clinic and expect immediate service. Rather than acknowledge my own inadequacies, I blamed Karen Cranston who hired me. She should’ve told me I would be running an emergency room. I didn’t have the supplies or equipment to handle unexpected events. I didn’t acknowledge that even she couldn’t have predicted how the clinic would operate.
I was flying blind.
While Mrs. R looked on, I dragged the mop and bucket from the closet and washed the blood from the floor.