Olden Days of Nursing: Travel Adventures

Life of adventures: Former nurse tells stories from medical flights to world travels

  • The Daily Sentinel, May 30, 2021 

The wings of the small plane were icing up and the pilot was nervous.“I’d just as soon have someone up here,” he told Fern DuBose, a flight nurse whose patient was thankfully sleeping at the moment.She joined the pilot for a bit, anxious herself about the plane and her patient. There were so many times like that, DuBose said.

“It was riskier to be involved with that, but the patients needed it,” DuBose said, recalling her days as a flight nurse as story after story from her life spilled out in the safety of her East Orchard Mesa kitchen.

DuBose has had a lot of adventures around the world in her 81 years.

She has visited more than 30 countries, toured hospitals and castles, and walked the Great Wall of China.

She has shared a number of those stories with Doris Burton, a woman she met at church. The two have spoken often over the phone during this past year of the pandemic, as DuBose has checked regularly on Burton.

“She is super energetic, optimistic. She is daring and she knows herself for sure. She is very confident, and she loves the Lord. She’s just been a good friend to me through all this pandemic and everything,” Burton said. “It’s like every time I talk to her, she’s got another story to tell me.”

Those stories, to some extent, began for DuBose in earnest when she became a nurse.

Her two daughters were busy in school and her husband, Earl DuBose, had his work with Colorado West Dairies. Earl’s mother was a nurse, as was a neighbor. DuBose thought it was a fine occupation, so she decided to become a nurse, too.

DuBose got her associate’s degree and then bachelor’s degrees from Mesa College, later receiving her master’s degree in nursing from Central Michigan University.

She started as a staff nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in 1974. She worked all over the hospital, eventually becoming the director of emergency services and a flight nurse in the days long before a helicopter could land on top of a 12-story tower at the medical center.

Fixed-wing planes were rented by the hospital to fly patients to and from Grand Junction — there wasn’t a cardiologist in the Grand Valley at the time, so “we had to be able to fly people,” DuBose said.

Among her memories from her medical flights is the time a patient needed to be picked up at the airstrip outside Moab, Utah.

It was night and there were no lights. Folks from Moab drove out to light up the runway with their vehicle headlights so the plane could land and take off, she said.

Another time, they picked up a patient who was larger than they expected, and they had to leave a paramedic behind in a mountain town to find his way home, she said.

And with winter, there was ice. Coming into the Grand Junction airport one time, “it was so, so icy that he (the pilot) just slowly edged into a snowbank,” DuBose said.

In 1980, DuBose began adding to her adventures by traveling internationally with Professional Seminar’s Healthcare exchange program. “St. Mary’s was very nice to me” in allowing her the time off to travel, she said.

Her first trip was to China, and she broke her leg during the first outing. Her leg was cast at the hotel using plaster and a bed sheet, and during other outings on that trip, she was taken around in a wooden wheelbarrow.

That wasn’t too fun, she said, but she got to see all kinds of surgeries with acupuncture that were interesting.

The first thing she did when she got back to Grand Junction was to go to the ER and get her leg checked out, she said.

Then she signed up to go to Kenya in 1981. Earl, who was a paramedic, decided to go with her.

They spent time at Kenyatta General Hospital in Nairobi where large rooms were filled with beds. “There were no private areas,” she said.

Patients sometimes had to share a bed, and some surgeries were performed outside.

But during that trip, Earl was bitten by the travel bug and went with her on every trip that followed.

They went to the Soviet Union in 1982 and toured a psychiatric hospital in Moscow among other things. Everyone on the trip was constantly monitored, she said.

They went to Spain with a pediatric group in 1983, and “I had my passport stolen there,” DuBose said.

They traveled so many different places and loved it, she said. They went to Japan and the Philippines and accompanied students and faculty from Wayland Baptist University to the United Kingdom.

However, India was difficult. The Taj Mahal was as beautiful as in pictures, but the poor and dead were just cast along the roads and burning dung filled the air with pollution and stench, she remembered.

Taj Mahal, Wikipedia

One member of their team had a stroke. “It was a very, very hard trip,” DuBose said.

In 1988, she transferred to Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver and was responsible for medical clinics in Granby and Parker.

But her traveling didn’t stop. She and Earl went to Belize to put together a medical clinic with a group from their church and traveled to other places as well.

When the couple retired in 1996, they decided to take their adventures to another level and began leading RV tours with Adventure Caravans. They eventually started their own RV travel business named DuBose Travel Co.

This took them on trips from the Alaska Highway down to Central America. They drove RVs across Europe, around New Zealand and Australia.

Probably the most frightening thing that happened during those RV years was the time she and Earl got locked in a Mexican jail at the border, she said.

They were leading a tour group and, for whatever reason, the Mexican border officials didn’t like their paperwork, she said.

DuBose made such a fuss that they let her out of jail after a couple hours. She thought she would go to the U.S. for help to get Earl out, but then realized she had no money.

She continued her fussing, people started gathering and eventually Earl was allowed to leave after being warned to never come back. Those officials likely were looking for a bribe, DuBose said.

Anyway, they reconnected with their RV group and they all returned to the border the next day where a different group of officials sent them through with no issues, she said.

The last tour the DuBoses led was a 92-day adventure through Mexico and down to Panama and back.

There were 25 RVs on that trip and all but one broke down at some point, she said, recalling mechanical issues as well as the medical situations she dealt with on that trip.

One day, while they were driving through Guatemala, the U.S. military showed up, incredulous that they were there, she said.

“You’re not safe!” they were told, so the DuBoses led their group a different way.

“It was just unbelievable,” she said.

Those were good years, and they met so many people from all over the world, DuBose said.

Earl died in 2014, and DuBose intensely misses her life and travel partner; however, her adventures have not stopped.

She and a best friend and fellow former nurse, whose spouse also had died, traveled together to Ireland in 2015 and then to Cuba a couple years later.

DuBose was planning a trip to Prague when COVID-19 hit and put travel on hold, but as soon as things are safe and open again, DuBose is ready to get back out there.

Prague is still a possibility, and there is plenty of Africa and South America that she hasn’t seen.

“I’d like to go someplace I haven’t been before,” DuBose said.

Why Do We Write?

Reblogged from September 16, 2012

I attended the book signing this past August. Farther Along, written by my friend and mentor, Carol Henderson, which tells the stories of thirteen mothers (she is one of them), a bakers dozen as Carol points out, who had lost children at various ages.

I was prepared to cry. I don’t do well with death of children, even adult children. Children shouldn’t die before their parents. Maybe that’s why I choose geriatrics as my specialty. Old folks die. It’s expected. No surprises. I can deal with that.

I teared up but didn’t cry and was somewhat unprepared for the humor, serenity, and lack of self-pity as the six mothers read sections from the book. But then ten years had passed since the women came together under Carol’s guidance and direction. Certainly bereavement takes time to absorb, rant and rage against, come to terms and eventually accept the grievous loss that will never be forgotten until one’s dying day.

How fortunate the women found each other and Carol. Writing their stories seems to have brought them to a better place than they would be if they hadn’t immersed themselves in writing.

Why did these women write?

Carol says in her book:

“Writing about deep and traumatic matters, as many studies now confirm, is good for our physical health. Reflective writing actually lowers pulse and blood pressure, increases T-cell production, and boosts the immune system. Writing can help us cope with chronic conditions like physical pain—and the loss of health, of dreams, and, yes, of children.”

We all write for different reasons. I am haunted by my patients. They walk around in my memory and defy me to ignore them. I need to tell their stories.

“Why do we write? To make suffering endurable. To make evil intelligible. To make justice desirable and . . . to make love possible”― Roger Rosenblatt, Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing

Why do you write?

Writing More Personal Stories

While it was time consuming, I loved doing the April Alphabet Challenge A to Z. It got me writing new stories, released memories I had forgotten and expanded my writing skills. Going forward with my Blog, I will intersperse more personal tales. 

This is a timely decision since nurses are getting greater attention being on the forefront of the pandemic. Look what nurses do, shout the headlines. Plus, nurses are writing their own stories in essays, news media and books in greater numbers. This is just fantastic. I feel more comfortable cutting a back bit on my emphasis to show how nurses make a difference. 

Also, there seems to be a national movement to grant nurse practitioners the legal authority to practice independently. That is, to practice without physician oversight. While I was busy constructing a daily post for the month of April, a friend emailed me an article about nurse practitioners titled: We trusted nurse practitioners to handle a pandemic. Why not regular care(Lusine Poghosyan, The Niskanen Center Newsletter, March 9, 2021). Before COVID-19, only 22 states allowed NPs to practice independently. Since then, governors of 23 states have signed executive orders to permit NPs to practice without physician agreements. 

Sadly, it took a pandemic to unearth the truth that nurses and NPs do improve patient care and make a difference in the health care system. 

Alphabet Challenge: Z

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

Z: Zaragoza

I chose the theme: Places I have been for my Alphabet Challenge. I nearly ended this last day of the challenge without the final letter because I couldn’t think of a place I had visited that started with a Z, except Zoo of course. And that seemed a cop out. 

Then I flipped through my travel journal and found Zaragoza. We had stopped there for one night while driving between Toledo and Barcelona in Spain in 2006. My husband and I were on a Road Scholar bus tour. 

The problem with Zaragoza was that I had no memory of the city. That is, until I read my note in the journal. 

After a tour of the city of Zaragoza, our guide took some of the group back to the hotel to await dinner at 9 p.m., allowing the rest of us to stay behind if we wanted. 

I decided, with a few others, to further explore the city. As my travel companions scattered, I found myself alone. Delightfully alone. For the first time on the trip, I wasn’t walking alongside another tourist or my husband. It didn’t bother me that I hadn’t any money or that my husband had inadvertently carried off our camera. 

Without money or a camera, I wasn’t distracted thinking of what to buy or when to take a picture. I wandered about the town without a destination. I lingered in a large market with many stalls holding meats, fruits, nuts, local pottery and art. I ambled up and down the streets. I got lost. With help from the locals, by stammering out my high school Spanish and using lots of hand gestures, I arrived at my hotel in time for dinner. 

How would I have remembered that delightful experience in Zaragoza if I hadn’t had to find a place I had been that started with the letter Z? 

Alphabet Challenge: Y

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

Y: Yacht Club

Sometime back in the 80’s I decided I wanted to learn to sail. Never mind that I had no boat, no plans on buying a boat, no friends who sailed or had a boat or wanted to take a class with me, and I had husband who couldn’t swim and didn’t have the same desire to sail as I had. I registered for classes that were held in the evening at a yacht club on Lake Michigan. 

About thirty of us sat on folding chairs in a large wood-paneled room facing a plain stage. On the stage, two men stood sipping from glasses that I thought could be filled with gin and proceeded to do a comedic take on sailing. One of them resembled Robert Redford. I can’t remember taking notes or having any handouts. I came every week because after the “class” we would sail on Lake Michigan. Members of the yacht club made their boats available for us students, hoping some of us would join the club and come back to crew for them in the future. 

We were assigned a different boat each week. Some of the boat owners loosened the rules and offered beer to the students. All of the owners gave us the opportunity to navigate their boat. 

Skimming along the waters of Lake Michigan as the Chicago shoreline receded and the sky darkened, allowing the stars to sparkle overhead, always took my breath away.  

One night a storm came up abruptly while we were out on the lake. Thankfully, I’d been assigned to one of the larger boats with a captain who adhered to the rules of not allowing alcohol. A small boat not far from us was having difficulty fighting the wind. All I can remember was the swift and professional action of our captain as he tossed a line to the distressed boat  and the “thank yous” from the grateful crew as they docked at the pier safely behind us. 

Just as quickly as the wind roared, the wind stopped. I tumbled off the boat on jello legs. 

After graduation, I didn’t join the yacht club. 

Alphabet Challenge: X

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z.

X: X-Ray Department

I believe the X-Ray/Radiology Department was in the basement of the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center where I was working but I’m not sure because I don’t remember going there on my own but usually following an entourage of white coats including the physician who was the head honcho studying a rare disease a couple of residents and a student or two and me the nurse practitioner taking up the rear happy to be part of this group and because I get to hear what the radiologist has to say when he points out the very subtle findings in the MRI or CAT scan or whatever x-ray the patient has had hoping

to identify if the disease being studied was causing the symptom that the patient was having so much so that he and his family came all this way from whatever state to get a diagnosis and they are upstairs in the waiting room on pins and needles hoping for clarification but I have been around this Institute long enough to know that most times there is no definitive answer and when the patient and his family hear that the diagnosis is inconclusive and look downhearted the primary investigator says that sometimes no diagnosis is better than a horrible one with no cure but that doesn’t make the patient or family feel better and I am sad for them because I know how much they wished to hear that their ailment had a name and a cure and they are disappointed to have traveled all the way to the NIH to get no answers however I still feel honored to be part of this research project although the part I play is rote but necessary in moving the research study along even if I don’t have a PhD in a research specialty nor am I one of the leading investigators in this important study I hope my nursing contribution has been helpful and I find out after I have given my notice and leave to follow my husband to another state because he has a new job that my position was filled by two nurse practitioners. 

Alphabet Challenge: W

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

W: West Catchment Area

When I started my job as a nurse practitioner in home care at a Veteran’s hospital outside of Chicago, I had the choice of taking care of patients in the north or west region. The north region was deemed a safer catchment area. The west region, which surrounded Oak Park where I lived, had pockets of crime caused by rampant gang and drug activity. I wanted to be closer to home and stop off for lunch if I was in the neighborhood. I didn’t think twice before choosing the west side. Maybe I thought I was invincible, a city girl used to the gritty streets and boarded up homes. 

I tried to keep my senses sharp and stay alert when I drove through the neighborhoods making my home visits. I kept my distance from the car in front of me in case I needed to make a quick U-turn. I avoided groups of young males loitering on the street corners and always locked the car doors. 

In the long run, it wasn’t just the neighborhood that proved unsafe. Any home I went into could hold danger regardless how dilapidated the outside environs. My close calls, and there were some, depended on the character of those with whom I interacted. 

Still, to this day, I keep my handbag on the floor of the car and out of sight.

Alphabet Challenge: V

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

V: Venice

Before we headed for a Villa in Tuscany, (See: I: Italy) my husband and I and our friends, Bill and Mary Ann, had reservations to spend three nights at a monastery in a residential section of Venice. 

When we arrived in Venice, we couldn’t find the monastery. It was getting dark. We had the name and directions but no address. Thinking we were in the general vicinity, we stopped people who briskly passed us, perhaps on their way home from work. Most shrugged their shoulders as we showed them the name of the monastery on a sheet of paper: Casa Vacanza Madonna dell’Orto Patronato Pio IX

This was before cell phones so we hadn’t any way to contact the place. We didn’t see any phone booths nearby. Finally, a young man pointed to a large wooden door behind us. Our accommodations were hidden in plain sight. 

We rang the bell, and after a long wait, a nun opened the heavy door letting us into a spacious courtyard. After we registered, we each were handed two towels: a thread-bare bath and face towel. Our rooms were spartan: two twin beds, a desk and chair and a wooden wardrobe to hang our clothes. Thankfully, each room had its own bathroom and shower. 

The next morning, we shared the breakfast room with two other couples and the nuns, about six or seven, in full habit. They ate together at a long table in the corner of the room. 

On our breakfast table sat a basket filled with slices of Italian bread, pastries, packets of cheese, and fresh fruit. Butter, jam, and honey were placed alongside the basket. Over on a sideboard against the wall were glasses, cups, and utensils along with water, hot tea, a pitcher of milk and bowl of sugar. 

At the very end of the sideboard, the nuns left their cloth napkins neatly folded for reuse as they left the dining room. They laid a slip of paper with their name on top of each. 

We stayed at the monastery for three nights. During the day we hiked all over Venice. 

In the evenings, we ambled back to one of the trattorias in the neighborhood that we had scoped out during our earlier walk. 

Our lodging may have been simple but was more than adequate, and the location was exceptional.

Casa Vacanza Madonna dell’Orto Patronato Pio IX

Alphabet Challenge: U

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

U: University of Illinois at Chicago

I graduated from UIC, College of Nursing in 1981 with a master’s degree in Public Health Nursing. During my first semester, in the community assessment class, I was assigned to the Pilsen neighborhood with a fellow student. At the end of this course, we had to write a paper about the community and the health problems that we unearthed. 

In order to get to know the neighborhood, my classmate and I walked the streets, looking at the housing and stopping in the stores. Mexican music played loudly from the shops while mothers, fathers, grandparents and lots of babies and children filled the sidewalks. I fell in love with the Mexican neighborhood. I brought home Piñatas, Mexican pastries and colorful vases. The vibrant sense of this Hispanic community impressed me.

There was another part of this geographical area: modest, detached homes and sidewalks swept clean by elderly Italian and Polish homeowners who soon would no longer be able to keep up their property. It was this population I would meet again in a few years after I became a gerontological nurse practitioner and took charge of a senior clinic on the westside of Chicago. UIC was the conduit for the welcome change of direction in my career. 

Alphabet Challenge: T

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

T: Taormina

I visited Taormina, Sicily, in fall, 2004. I remember the place well but found surprisingly few notes in my travel journal. I probably soaked up the beauty of the town and didn’t feel the need to document the experience. 

The main section of Taormina looms high over the sea. In town, the white-washed store fronts sold flowers, fresh produce, art, and, made on the premises, cannoli. Hotel Caparena, where we stayed, is still in operation.

I recall walking on the deserted beach on a glorious sunny afternoon. I planted my feet at the water’s edge recording the waves of the Mediterranean sea on my cell phone. I listened to that recording for months after our trip. 

I later learned that Truman Capote had stayed at Villa Britannia in Taormina, another hotel still in operation. He felt New York City held too many distractions to write. 

I would love to have a room of my own in Taormina.