Olden Days of Nursing: Navy Nurse

When I came across Navy Nurse: Memoir of a WWII Veteran, on Google, I said to myself: yes, finally a book about the olden days of nursing by a nurse who lived through the times. Helen Barry Siragusa was 98 when the book was published last year. A Navy nurse during World War II, she worked stateside in a Navy Hospital. Her remarkable memory and attention for detail is evident throughout her book. I bought the E-edition and read it on my computer over two evenings. 

Truth be told, I skimmed over the early pages of personal history about her grandparents and parents, and her life growing up in New Jersey—I wanted to get to the nursing stories. But I did stop to enjoy her recollections of visiting New York City as a teenager and dancing to the Big Bands of that time: Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller. Siragusa saw Frank Sinatra singing his first solo, (not a pretty first impression) Polka Dots and Moonbeams, with Tommy Dorsey’s band. 

While Siragusa is 20 years older than I, her vivid accounts of her nursing career were very real to me: bed baths, back rubs and the camaraderie among the nurses. She describes a Striker frame, a bed that was used to prevent bed sores for patients who were immobile. I, also, recounted the Striker frame in my book. I believe that advancements in medicine and nursing during the early part of the 20th century moved at a slower pace than they do today. 

Again, I was blown away by Siragusa’s memory. She listed all the 33 patients on her ward B-11, the spinal injury ward at Saint Albans Naval Hospital, by name and history. There were 11 quadriplegics and 22 paraplegics. Of course, she would get to know these men since most would’ve remained on the ward long term. At the time, quads had a life expectancy of 2 years and paraplegics had 5 years. She witnessed the first car that was adapted for use by a quadriplegic.

Helen Barry Siragusa’s life as a nurse was cut short when she married and began raising her eight children. However, she was always a nurse. In her book she gives us her experience of the development and contribution of nursing during the early 20th century. All her nursing peers have since died. I am grateful to her for telling her nursing and patient stories that are enjoyable, educational, and poignant. 

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Navy Nurse: Memoir of a WW II Veteran

By Helen Barry Siragusa

From one of the few living World War II veterans comes this personal, inspiring, and remarkably detailed memoir. Helen Barry Siragusa takes us from her childhood in New Jersey during the Great Depression, through her career as a Navy nurse in a ward for paralyzed soldiers during and after World War II, to raising her eight children in Massachusetts, and finally to her home in Maine. Complemented by her beautiful photographs, her vivid storytelling reveals her as both an eternal optimist and a steely bearer of adversity. Death was her constant companion, and she was its counterpoint.

About Helen Barry Siragusa

AFTER GRADUATING from All Souls Nursing School in 1944, Helen Barry Siragusa was faced with a choice: be a nurse and a nun with the Sisters of Charity or join the Navy. She chose the Navy, changing her life and the lives of many others forever. For five of her eight Navy years, she cared for the most-injured soldiers of World War II at St. Albans Naval Hospital on Long Island. She worked in the paraplegic and quadriplegic ward, B-11, where the hope and perseverance of the injured boys and men stayed with her throughout her life. Along with her faith, these strengths carried her through many losses: the deaths of her beloved patients; the death of her Marine fiancé George, just months before their scheduled wedding; and the death of her husband and life-long companion Gus, the goofy and brilliant Navy flight surgeon who courted her at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina. Follow Helen on the remarkable journey from her New Jersey childhood during the Great Depression, through her Navy career, to raising her eight children in Massachusetts, and finally to her home in Maine. Helen’s vivid storytelling reveals her as both an eternal optimist and a steely bearer of adversity. One of the few living World War II veterans, Helen gives us this personal, inspiring, and sharply detailed memoir.

E.R. Nurses: True Stories from America’s Greatest Unsung Heroes

E.R. Nurses: True Stories from America’s Greatest Unsung Heroes by James Pattersong and Matt Eversmann, Little, Brown & Company, 2021l

I bought E.R. Nurses: True Stories from America’s Greatest Unsung Heroes at my local independent bookstore. The book isn’t an easy read. I wanted to skip over the tales that involved babies and children. But I didn’t. I honor each author’s experience because he/she is willing to share these stories with me and expose their vulnerabilities. 

Real nurses write real stories about what they do on “routine” days. The stories are mostly short, from two to seven pages. Most of them twist my gut and bring me close to tears. The stories are a testimony to what nurses must overcome to help their patients. 

E.R Nurses. is a bare bones book. No preface, foreword, introduction or prologue. Just chapter after chapter of unforgettable nursing stories written by unforgettable nurses. 

That’s all that is needed. 

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James Patterson has been criticized for co-authoring many of his books and for being more of a brand that focuses on making money than an artist who focuses on his craft.

He has had more than 114 New York Times bestselling novels and holds The New York Times record for most #1 New York Times bestsellers by a single author, a total of 67, which is also a Guinness World Record. 

His books have sold approximately 305 million copies worldwide. (Wikipedia)

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I’m happy that James Patterson has authored E.R. Nurses. His reputation as a best-selling author all but guarantees that a wide audience will learn what nurses really do. 

Book review: Rewarding, heartbreaking stories of E.R. nurses

Mims Cushing

For the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union USA TODAY NETWORK

October 24, 2021

We clapped for them, we cheered for them, we banged pots and pans for them, we cried happy tears and sad. And now we can read about them. They were the first responders during COVID-19. But much of this book does not deal with the nurses who dealt with that. It’s about the nurses who go about their job as emergency nurses. They too deserve clapping. And the authors have dealt with, perhaps 100, day shift, night shift and flight nurses.

James Patterson and Matt Eversmann have come up with a book about the lives of hard-working men and women who work in emergency rooms in the United States. The authors have captured the essence and drama of their stories.

The nurses’ stories are sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes frightening, but all offer a close-up view as to what it takes to be a nurse. The night shifts are particularly difficult, even hard to read about.

Of course the outcomes are often painful, especially when children have to see their father or mother slowly ebb away. The nurses take solace in the fact that sometimes something wonderful happens as when a father takes off his rosary and places it around his son’s neck before being wheeled off to surgery. A nurse suggested that he do that. A few days later, the father dies, but his son will always remember that gesture.

It’s particularly frustrating when a patient is being particularly difficult when a nurse has just seen something tragic. A 7-year-old had fallen out of treehouse and was in cardiac arrest and the nurses worked on him for 54 minutes — as someone else made a petty request. During one night shift, a nurse is nearly strangled, with a choke hold by a severely mentally ill man.

No two days are the same. “Sometimes [one of the teaching nurses tells new nurses], “you get to be a part of a miracle. Other times no matter how well you do your job, it just doesn’t work out. People are going to live, and people are going to die. You have no control. You just do your job.”

One of the nurses wishes that people impatiently waiting for help in an ER would realize that, if they are not being treated, it means someone else is in worse condition than they are: “If we don’t get to you right away, it means you’re stable. If you’re waiting, that’s a good thing. It’s when we all rush in and jump on you that you should worry.”

Give this book to someone who is thinking of being a nurse or is one already. Read it yourself and bang pots and pans all over again, in your heart.

Mims Cushing lives in Ponte Vedra Beach and has written three books. 

Photos of the Patients I wrote about in my book: Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers

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.

Today, we need a Nurse

Remembering Doris

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.

Doris & Bud Dolan October 2010
(Bud died November 9, 2020)

Alphabet Challenge: R

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. 

R: Roof

My friend Carol lived with her family in a two-bedroom flat in the basement of an apartment complex in Jersey City. Her parents were the custodians. (See B for Basement) 

Carol and I began to play together before we started kindergarten. By the time we were in our early teens—after dolls and before boys—we discovered the roof of her apartment building.  

The four-story building had a flat roof surrounded by a brick wall high enough that we couldn’t plummet to the sidewalk but low enough we could stretch over and watch the cars below. Sometimes we sat on the tarpaper floor eating sandwiches for lunch or stretched out letting the sun warm our bodies. 

What I remember best was the evening sky dotted with stars as Carol and I took turns belting out the popular songs of the day. The crying catch in the voices of Teresa Brewer (Let Me Go, Lover) and Brenda Lee (I’m Sorry) challenged our vocal dexterity.

The serendipitous recording of Up on the Roof, released in 1962, never fails to take me back to Carol’s roof every time I hear it. 

Alphabet Challenge: H

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. 

H: Hospitals

I counted up all the hospitals I have worked in during the 40-plus years I have been a nurse. The total is 18. These are the hospitals where I was officially employed. That is, I attended an orientation, worked forty hours a week and received a regular paycheck. 

It doesn’t include the hospitals I visited as a nursing instructor when I had to review patient charts in order to choose appropriate student assignments. 

It doesn’t include the hospitals that I visited to enroll a patient in a home care program. 

It doesn’t include the community hospitals that I visited to evaluate the care that veterans received (I worked for the VA at the time).

So, I have been in many hospitals. Hospitals prompt a plethora of memories.  

The newer hospitals don’t stir up remembrances. They are disguised as hotels. Sterile. I suppose that’s desirable in reassuring patients and visitors that germs are kept in check. The older hospitals, to me, expose the nursing effort of caring for patients at a critical time in their lives—sometimes with success and sometimes with failure.   

I visited an older hospital in 2001, right before I retired, to enroll a patient in a hospice program. The hospital was a small community facility that had little renovation over the years. 

I needed to copy a form. The xerox machine was in the basement. I hiked down the stairway. On opening the door, humidity from steam heat, warm ovens in the kitchen and the noise of the washers and dryers immediately assaulted me. 

This was a functional basement of hospitals of long ago. 

Jolted by the sensory stimulus surrounding me, I trekked along the long corridor feeling as if I was twenty years old, wearing a white uniform, spotless white shoes and starched nursing cap held with bobby pins on the top of my head. My life in nursing, unlived, still ahead of me. 

Lost in nostalgia, I almost forgot to look for the Xerox machine.   

Haunted Townhouse

Back in the 70s we rented a townhouse in Arlington, Virginia that was haunted. 

Now what made me remember this? Maybe because I, like many others, have been fixated on food while sequestered in my home over this past year due to the pandemic. Food and kitchens and houses. Now there’s a connection. Right? 

Back in the 70s, I was young and energetic and loved to cook and entertain—even though I had a toddler and worked part time in the recovery room at a local hospital. Some of my best creations came from that tiny kitchen in the townhouse. My husband and I often hosted dinner parties for the other young families who lived in our cul-de-sac. Once, inviting several couples, I made my husband’s favorite meal: Sauerbraten, sweet and sour red cabbage, potato dumplings and, from scratch, Black Forest Cake. Foodies out there will know that Sauerbraten marinates for five days and then is cooked long and slow and Black Forest Cake is a bear to make. Not to mention the challenge of that cramped kitchen. 

Back to the haunted townhouse. First, you have to know that we moved into a friend’s townhouse. Karl and his family outgrew their two-bedroom house and moved next door to a three-bedroom. He suggested we move into his vacated rental. We loved the idea of being close to our friends and having more room than our one-bedroom basement apartment, especially since I was expecting a second baby.  

Continue reading “Haunted Townhouse”

Through the Eyes of Nurses

On February 25th in the New York Times, two stories appeared about nurses. Both sobering. Both timely. Both essential.

In my last post, I celebrated the fact that although the pandemic is killing scores of people and putting a strain on resources, including health care personnel, nurses have been in the forefront of the media getting the recognition that they have long deserved. And more nurses are speaking out by telling their stories. Long overdue. 

However, the two stories in the NYT need to be read/viewed. One is by Theresa Brown who I have many times spot-lighted here because of her accurate assessment (my view) of nursing issues. A nurse herself, she has been calling attention to the nursing profession in the media and through her books. 

Brown’s piece: Covid-19 Is “Probably Going to End My Career,” is an exposé of what is terribly wrong in the profession and what should be done. She writes bravely and honestly about the precarious state of organized nursing. 

The second article, One I.C.U. Two nurses with cameras, is written, not by a nurse, but by a photojournalist. He filmed a fifteen-minute video that is raw footage of two nurses working with dying Covid patients in the ICU. Unvarnished, compelling and poignant. It’s a must watch that shows exactly what nurses experience during their shifts.    

I’ve attached the links to both essays. The fifteen-minute video is imbedded in both. 

Covid-19 Is “Probably Going to End My Career 

One I.C.U. Two nurses with cameras

Country Music

I’m not writing my second book whose working title was to be “Home Visits.” The Pandemic has cast a spell on my brain, resulting in lethargy and an inability to focus on structuring another book. So, instead, I’ve decided to take each home visit story and submit it to a literary magazine for potential publication as a “stand-alone” essay. I plan to email one of the stories, Country Music, at the end of this week to an online journal. 

Country Music tells the story of three patients that I cared for when I worked as a nurse practitioner in a home care program at a Veterans Hospital outside of Chicago. They were at various stages of dying. In the late 80s, the hospice movement was just taking baby steps into the medical/nursing world. I was learning about dying and death from my patients and their caregivers. 

The locations of the three patients’ homes lined up perfectly for me to make the visits to them conveniently in the same day. This lasted for about three months. On the day of the story, a dreary, rainy day, I show the challenges I faced working with my three male patients and their wives (few women were enrolled in the VA health care system at that time), how each man played the hand he was dealt and how the women dealt their husband’s decline. 

One of the men loved country music. Talking with him about songs and artists, rekindled my interest in the genre. I found a great country western radio station on my government-issued compact car. The earthy, raw lyrics telling of common human emotions became my therapeutic passenger that accompanied me on my home visits. 

While I am editing this story for submission, I find myself checking into YouTube to listen to the familiar songs that supported me so many years ago. This is more fun than writing that second book. 

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