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, showing what a nurse practitioner does in her job will educate the public about we nurses really do. So few nurses write about ourselves as compared to physicians.
My memoir, "Stories from the Tenth Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers" is available where ever books are sold
This past Saturday, I received a box in the mail filled with old photos. The nurse practitioner who took my place when I left the Senior Center sent this delightful surprise. “Rita Wisniewski” (I changed all names in my book except for my immediate family) said in her note that sending me the pictures of the patients we both took care of was “long overdue.” Rita had read my book but due to illness was unable to come to the various venues in Chicago where I promoted the book 2019. Between ill health and the pandemic, Rita had forgotten about contacting me.
Rita read my book and recognized many of the patients I wrote about. Thanks to Rita, now I have pictures of those who appeared in my book.
Molly, a wiry, eighty-year-old woman with an Irish brogue, lived next door to Ms. Henry. She often dropped into the clinic to socialize rather than to seek care. She didn’t take medication, and rarely complained of aches or pains. P 103
Jerry Johnson, mildly retarded, wiggled between us, (on the dance floor) gyrating and twisting with abandon. It was a raucous moment that transcended age and ability. (At a retirement party) P 117
Lilly Parks, a strikingly attractive woman in her seventies, stuffed her shawl down the front of her dress, and staggered about the dance floor on her matchstick legs as if she was going into labor. I had heard she kept a silver handgun in her sock but that evening she must have left it at home since her slim ankles were surrounded only by her rolled-down stockings. She waddled around in the center of the room clutching her belly to hoots from an enthusiastic audience (same retirement party) P 117
Stella Bukowski: (Sitting in a wheelchair) A dirty blond wig sat askew on her head. Only one leg, which was covered with a wrinkled cotton stocking, extended past the skirt of her housedress, and her foot was encased in a heavy black orthopedic shoe. She reeked of a sharp ammonia smell. Urine? P 144
A picture of me that I have never seen before. However, I remember the poster, which was one of my favorites. I don’t remember where the picture was taken. The picture is too faded to read the citation on the bottom of the poster. Maybe one of you older nurses will recognize the poster and get back to me with the answer.
Health care today is changing
Today we need someone who can help us manage our health care needs in the hospital, the home, the HMO, the school, the workplace, in long term care and in the community.
Today we need a provider who can teach us how to stay physically and mentally healthy and how to prevent illness and disease.
Today we need access to specialty practitioners who can provide expert heath care for individuals and their families.
Today more than ever we need an advocate who can deliver quality cost-effective care throughout all the stages of our lives.
“Old Friends are the Best Friends,” Watercolors by Margaret Donat
My husband and I moved from the home where we raised our two children. We left them behind. They were excited to start their new lives, new jobs and independent lifestyles. While I was excited for our new adventure, the reality that we were 700 miles away from our adult children caught me off guard. How could I not know how much I would miss them?
My world had narrowed. Not only did I miss my children, but my good friends: other women that I could call on whenever I need a shoulder to cry on, laugh or commiserate with about any topic.
I needed a sympathetic ear. I needed a good woman.
I wrote this lament back in 1993, two months after the move.
Looking for a Good Woman
I need a good woman. She can be any age, although closer to my own is best. Any color, religion. She can be short or tall, thin or fat. Just so she’s sympathetic. But then most women are.
We will meet by chance and she will look at me and cluck her tongue for she will see my need. Yes, I know for I was there too, she will think. She won’t be patronizing or condescending. She will listen to my woes silently, shaking her head in recognition of universal longing and grief. She will recognize herself: her own past yearning, her own departure into another realm of existence—not without sorrow or pain. She’s been through it. She empathizes.
“No, you are not silly to cry, even at inappropriate times. Best to grieve, it will help with the letting go.”
She will not be like him who sternly gazes at me while I cry bitterly over multiple losses, while at the same time, I list the numerous merits of our move. “Can’t you get your emotions under control?”
“But at what cost?” I ask. Finding a ragged teddy bear, an old baby sweater, a second grade poem to mom brings the tightness to my throat and tears spring up but dare not spill over.
But the good woman will know there is a need to grieve for all that is gone. She will know it isn’t a weakness to miss what once was and can be no more. She will know the tears will dry in good time and life will move forward. And she knows as I do, that loss makes for strength and change turns into opportunities.
As I cry, she will remain silent until my breathing slows and my tears cease. Then she will take my hand and lead me to her kitchen. “Let’s have a cup of tea and a piece of cake.”
My cousin, Irene, loved my post: A Little Music and Movement Can Make You See Things Differently (June 6, 2017). In fact, she told me she occasionally watches the video I had added at the end, which is a Museum Workout at the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art to the song “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. She loves the Bee Gees. Makes her want to get up and dance. And she has always loved to dance. She took dance lessons as a child.
She met both her husbands at a dance. When she lived in an independent living facility run by the Sisters of Saint Dominic, one of the nuns gave dance lessons twice a week. “Sister Denice had a life before she joined the sisterhood at 30,” Irene told me. Besides dance lessons, the facility held holiday dances with a live band.
Irene recently moved to an assisted living facility because of mobility issues. She no longer dances but continues to watch the Museum Workout video. The music makes her “dance in my head.”
When I talked with her a few days ago to wish her a belated happy 96th birthday, she suggested that I reblog that post. Truth be told, I had already reblogged the post under a new title: Time to Take a Break, June 16, 2020. It’s one of my feel-good posts. Music always takes me on a journey away from current reality.
So, I’m reblogging A Little Music and Movement Can Make You See Things Differently yet again for for Irene. Watch the video. Get up and dance. Or if, like my cousin Irene, you can’t get up and move to the music, dance in your head.
A Little Music and Movement Can Make You See Things Differently
Originally posted on June 6, 2017
Yesterday, I went to the North Carolina Art Museum at 10 a.m. to move to music.
Two women led, followed by a man in a suit holding an open laptop channeling the songs that were mostly by the Bee Gees. The women, in sequined dresses and sneakers, stomped, marched, trotted in time with the music. Thirteen women and two men, ranging in age from 20 to 70 plus, followed behind, mimicking the women’s movements. We didn’t talk.
I felt exhilarated racing through the empty museum with music bouncing off the walls surrounded by other exuberant people. The moves were not stressful. I did most of them except balancing on one leg and I stopped halfway through the jumping jacks.
The group stopped intermittently in front of a piece of art: statue, still life, portrait, and continued to move/exercise in place. Short inspirational narratives, previously taped by Maira Kalman, punctuated the music. Normally, when I visit a museum, I would gaze at the art in quiet contemplation. This time my mind and body seemed as one, absorbing the stimuli transmitted from the environment, my thoughts suspended.
When the two women dropped to the floor, I felt as if someone turned off the lights. Lying among my fellow participants with arms and legs outstretched, I realized that fifty minutes had flown by.
Now the day after, the residual glow from yesterday remains with me.
My new goal is to have more days where I step out of the ordinary.
Madame X, meet Ladies in Sequined Dresses and Sneakers. For “The Museum Workout,” which starts a four-week run on Jan. 19, Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass, Everywoman dancers of deadpan zaniness, guide tours of the Metropolitan Museum of Art before public hours, leading light stretching and group exercises as they go. Recorded commentary by the illustrator Maira Kalman, who planned the route, mixes with Motown and disco tunes. Might raised heart rates and squeaking soles heighten perception?
I submitted this essay to the Jersey City Medial Center School of Nursing Alumni Association Newsletter for the Fall publication. Limit: 500 words.
Remembering Doris Dolan
(December 31, 1926 – January 10, 2021)
Class of 1947
I met Doris back in 1965 when we both worked at Pollack Hospital in Jersey City. We became friends immediately. It was easy to like Doris: she was warm, gracious, non-judgmental, caring and a great nurse.
Doris worked at the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry’s Cardiac Cath lab at Pollack and moved with the College when they set up shop at Newark Hospital. She stayed with the Department of Cardiology until her retirement.
Although I hadn’t seen Doris over the years, we exchanged Christmas cards.
In 1994, my husband, Ernie, and I reunited with Doris and Bud at a wedding. The next few years, we, Doris and Bud and another couple, Mary Ann and Bill Owens, vacationed together. (Mary Ann worked with Doris at Pollack, too). “Bud and I always wonder why you include us old timers in your travels,” Doris would ask. We always had the same answer: “we enjoy your company.”
The last time I spoke to Doris was before the Pandemic. She and Bud lived in a CCRC. She had had a couple of falls and suffered a subdural hematoma. Surgery released the pressure. She recovered well but had some short-term memory loss.
Soon after that phone call, I was invited to speak at the JCMC Nursing Alumni Association at the Spring Luncheon in April 2020. I would talk about gerontological nursing: I was one of the first GNPs in the 1980s and wrote a book about my experiences: “Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic.”
I planned to ask Doris to join me.
What a great reunion it would be!
But it never happened.
The Spring conference was cancelled due to the pandemic.
When I next called Doris, a caregiver answered the phone and told me that Doris couldn’t talk to me. Bud couldn’t articulate how Doris was doing. I called a few times after that—always told by the caregiver that Doris was either eating or napping.
I wanted to thank Doris for sharing her “expert” cardiac knowledge from back in the 60s—the time frame of the nursing stories I had been writing for publication. She had mailed me reprints of studies and news clippings that filled the gaps in my memory. My essays were richer because of her input.
I wanted to reminisce again about our talk at the Jug, a Greek restaurant not far from Pollack Hospital. I was 23 years old and afraid of marriage. I couldn’t decide to accept Ernie’s proposal. Doris was happily married to a loving, compatible husband. Thankfully, I listened to her. I think she felt delight for the longevity of my marriage.
This past March, on a hunch, I looked up Doris’ name on Legacy.com. She had died on January 10th. The obituary was brief with one comment written by Doris’ only relative, a nephew.
I hastily added mine:
So sorry to hear of Doris’ passing. She and I met back in the 60s when we worked together as nurses at Pollack Hospital in Jersey City. We also traveled with Doris and Bud and kept in touch over the years after we moved out of state. She was the most generous, caring and kind person I ever knew. I will miss her.
There is a small, narrow park not far from my home. A road with palatial houses and wide front porches frames this strip of green. In certain places, I can walk into the park and the magnolias and beech trees block out the homes so that I feel I’m in a secluded woodland.
Halfway down the park is a path that leads to the other side of the park: a road and more large homes. One needs to walk over the concrete bridge. Under the bridge babbles a brook. Recently, we had a lot of rain, so this morning, as I leaned on the wooden railing, the water bubbled over the rocks and swirled under the bridge. Surprisingly few cars drove by so I could clearly hear the brook and the birds. A sweet moment of contemplation.
After my recent trip to New York City, where my friend, Lois, and I spent a whole day wandering through the sprawling landscape in Central Park, I cherish my spot of grass, trees and brook. A patch of nature to refresh my soul.
I have written about my trips to Coney Island as a young adult when I lived in Jersey City on this Blog as part of the Alphabet Challenge. My theme was “places I had been.”
On April 3rd I posted: C: Coney Island.
C: Coney Island
Last year, I had planned on taking my grandsons to New York City with a side trip to Brooklyn to scour the neighborhoods and check out the restaurants and, especially, to see Coney Island. The COVID-19 Pandemic interrupted my plans.
Truth be told, I really wanted to go to Coney Island. I haven’t been there since the 50’s. My high school friend, Gloria, and I would take a couple of trains from Jersey City to Brooklyn at least once a week during summer vacations. Besides slathering baby oil on our bodies and roasting in the sun, we also went on the rides:
I’ve read that the Parachute Jump still stands since it has been designated a city landmark but Coney Island as I knew it is gone. No matter when I return the beach and ocean will greet me.
On June 3, Lois, my long-time nursing friend, and I flew into LaGuardia airport. We had five days to explore the city that had just loosened Covid- 19 restrictions. We decided to visit Coney Island over the weekend.
Yes, the Parachute Jump still stood as an empty landmark on the horizon. The Cyclone clattered on wooden slats as I remembered all those years ago, still accompanied by the screams of the riders.
Nathan’s hot dog lines weren’t for the faint of heart—a two-hour wait before we had warm hot dogs with mustard and sauerkraut in our hands.
Wanting the beach and ocean to “greet me” turned out to be unrealistic. The beach on that hot Sunday was covered with blankets with hardly a place to put down your foot as you tried to make your way to the ocean. You were grateful not to step on a leg or arm of a sunbather or knock over one of the children jumping around. Finally, we reached the waters’ edge, dipped our toes into the Atlantic, took a deep breath and maneuvered our way back to the boardwalk.
None of this felt like the Coney Island of my youth. So many people, long lines, limited seating, hardly a meditative moment to breathe in the salt air and enjoy the solitude. Solitude? What had I been thinking of?
Lois and I were distressed at seeing a homeless woman pushing an empty shopping cart. She wove through the throngs on the boardwalk, naked from the waist up, stopping at each garbage can, tossing the contents onto the ground as she searched for food, seeming unaware of her surroundings or her state of undress. The crowds on the boardwalk gave her wide berth.
Lois and I watched and pondered–what should we do? What could we do?
I take these memories of Coney Island home with me: the crowds, the rides, Nathan’s, the boardwalk, and the Atlantic Ocean along with the vision of the unfortunate woman, who will no doubt, continue to haunt me.
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.
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.
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.
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.