The Olden Days of Nursing

“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:

Adjusting flow from IV bottle
Adjusting flow from IV bottle

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.



"Pouring meds"
“Pouring meds”

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.

Rusted, white enamel enema can being sold on Easy for $25--could be used as a "flower-pot."
Rusted, white enamel enema can being sold on Etsy for $25–could be used as a “flower-pot.”

Do any nurses of a certain age reading this want to add to the list?


By Marianna Crane

After a long career in nursing--I was one of the first certified gerontological nurse practitioners--I am now a writer. My writings center around patients I have had over the years that continue to haunt my memory unless I record their stories. In addition, I write about growing older, confronting ageism, creativity and food. My memoir, "Stories from the Tenth Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers" is available where ever books are sold.


  1. So many memories! The “spirits frumenti” were locked in the narcotic cabinet. We would pour 30cc of whiskey into a med cup and administer it to our angina patients as ordered.Some patients would even come to the nurses station to get it! How about the “sippy diet”? We would bring 30cc of milk(or was it half and half) every hour to our ulcer patients. Remember the huge O2 tanks, and the tents we had to work with? I once took off my cap and sat under the tent to prove to an anxious patient that it was safe. Good thing my instructor wasn’t watching! I could go on and on, but I’ll let others tell their stories.Thank you for the pictures and memories, Marianna.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great recall, Marianna.
    (1984) In our hospital’s oncology unit, the “med room” was actually a small kitchen just off the nurses’ station and with no door: I or another RN would draw up a dose of Adriamycin, a chemotherapy IV injection, for the oncologist to administer. OSHA was evidently not on hospital radar then because we didn’t wear gloves, gown, and a mask in case it got on us, and not prepared by the pharmacist in an enclosed vented area. Sometimes it sprayed out of the syringe and onto the ceiling! The red stains stayed up there until the next paint job.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would take a temperature in Celsius but the patient would like to know what it was so I memorized the conversion formula and calculated it for the patient at the bedside (temp in Celsius times nine, answer divided by five, add 32 equals Fahrenheit). Another common conversion was weight in kg to pounds (wt in kg times 2.2 equals pounds). Patients and their family want “pounds and Fahrenheit not the metric stuff”.


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