60th Nursing School Reunion or How Did We Get This Old?

. . . we take our leave after cake and coffee with tight throats, warm hugs, and moist eyes, to say our long good-byes.

WE

. . . sit at a long table facing multiple pieces of silverware, cloth napkins, sweet tea, and wine and lit by the wall sconces in the restaurant of a historic hotel in Cape May, New Jersey, delighting in the aromas of clam bisque, arugula salad, beef tenderloin and scallops.

. . . scan aging faces with familiar voices, exchanging pieces of our lives since our last reunion five years ago, attentive to each other’s tragedies and blessings.

. . . listen to the reunion organizer tell us stories sent by those not present, sad for their absence but joyful that the seven of us in advancing years made the trip, some in the company of daughters or friends.

. . . share the inner need to reconnect to the women with whom we have spent three years in our youth as we followed the call to care for others in sickness, childbirth, injury and at the end of life’s journey, transforming immature girls to strong, skilled nurses. 

. . . come back to where we started, in the company of our peers, with whom we lived in the nurses’ residence of Saint Peter’s Hospital School of Nursing and graduated 60 years ago, joining hands in a circle in the school gym singing the Kingston Trio song, Scotch and Soda, before we marched into the cathedral for the bishop to bless us as new nurses.

. . . grip the bonds that may have faded but did not weaken in camaraderie as we take our leave after cake and coffee with tight throats, warm hugs, and moist eyes, to say our long good-byes. 

Counting the Dead

How many will show at the 60th nursing reunion of St. Peter’s School of Nursing at Cape May, NJ?

Ruth and I are counting the dead. Ruth counts 13. I have 11. “We should count anyone who didn’t respond to the invitation as ‘dead’,” she jokes over the phone. I can’t help but laugh. Maybe I’m laughing off the somberness of such a task. 

We are putting together a directory of Saint Peter’s School of Nursing, in New Brunswick, NJ, class of ’62 to pass out to the attendees at our reunion next week in Cape May. It’s bizarre that Ruth and I don’t share an accurate list of our fellow classmates who have passed away in the last 60 years!

I have three lists of information in front of me. Ruth, Joan, and Alice had split up the directory from the last reunion in 2017. They attempted to contact everyone who wasn’t on the dead list. I volunteered to collate the results. Ruth and I are trying to sort out those who responded versus those who didn’t versus those whose addresses are unknown versus those that we are sure are dead. I had phoned a few of my classmates to verify the information I was given, and to be honest, to reminisce. Many had moved in the last five years to be nearer to family. Many stopped driving. I heard of their illnesses and of the illnesses of husbands, if husbands were still alive, death of grandchildren and grown children. With each phone call, I heard the warm voice of an old friend. 

I don’t remember how many women were originally accepted to Saint Peter’s School of Nursing. No men, married, or God-forbid, pregnant women were welcome. Forty-four young, mostly Catholic women completed the program. We spent three years living together in the “nurses’ residence” under the eagle-eyes of around-the-clock housemothers. We graduated in our early twenties having bathed the dead, birthed the babies, assisted in surgeries, cared for toddlers, and the mentally ill. We were left in charge of a whole ward during the night shift until a nursing oversight organization told the three-year hospital programs (not just Saint Peter’s) that student nurses shouldn’t have that level of responsibility until after graduation, and then, of course, with pay.

The class of ‘62 has met every five years since the school closed in 1987 and the yearly reunions organized by Saint Peter’s Nursing School stopped. I had attended each reunion except for the time I was getting worked up for breast cancer in ’97 and the time when one of the then organizers rescheduled the reunion forgetting I would be in Ireland. I had volunteered to write our one and only newsletter which included the “save the date” that didn’t count after all. To be fair, that organizer moved the date so that I could travel to NJ from North Carolina the day after I got back from Ireland. As luck would have it, I caught a bug from my fellow travelers. I missed the 50th reunion.

The directory is done and ready to be printed. Besides the dead, (the death count turned out to be 13), there are two who dropped off the face of the earth after graduation, some who have never bothered to attend a reunion but are still alive, and others who would attend except for their, or their husbands’, ill health. There are six who Ruth, Joan and Alice couldn’t contact, and we’ll keep them on the list until we hear otherwise. All in all, out of 29 who we believe to be alive and kicking, or limping, only eight will travel to Cape May this Sunday.

Alphabet Challenge: S

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. 

S: San Francisco

Emergency runaway ramp

We left the Grand Canyon in early afternoon. As we began our descent into Death Valley, the sun slid behind the hills. The car started to pick up speed. Penny screamed, “the brakes aren’t working.”  She gripped the wheel, giving all of her attention to keeping the car on the road. On one side of us loomed the granite facade of the mountain. On the other a drop-off to the valley below. As the car continued to accelerate, Carol Ann and I grasped hands and prayed. Miraculously, Penny jerked the car off to the right onto an emergency runaway ramp. We slowed down. When the car stopped, we sat silently as we realized we hadn’t died. 

Penny, Carol Ann and I had graduated from St. Peter’s School of Nursing a year ago. We promised that we would work as hospital nurses for a year and then move to San Francisco to live. We left New Jersey in Carol Ann’s second-hand car in September 1963. We had driven cross country along Route 66 from New Jersey. On the way, Carol Ann’s old jalopy had to be serviced many times: two flat tires, overheated engine and now, after our close call, a garage in Lone Pine, California, where the car was towed, would fix the brakes.

We arrived in San Francisco, our final destination, on a sunny autumn day. Our bags were in the trunk. We were headed to the YMCA in the Tenderloin district where we had rented the “penthouse.” 

On the first hill in San Francisco, the car stalled. Penny was behind the wheel. She couldn’t seem to put the stick shift into gear. We sat looking down the steep decline in front of us. I sat in the middle of the front seat and Carol Ann sat next to the door, just as we had as we careened down the mountain days before. My hands started to sweat. Carol Ann must have felt as I did because she opened the door and jumped out of the car. I followed. Standing beside the car, we both watched helplessly as Penny sat frozen. The cars behind her started to honk. I knew I couldn’t climb back into the car to help. Neither could Carol Ann.

Poor Penny was behind the wheel again. Before we could figure out what to do, a guy standing on the sidewalk sized up the situation. He jogged over and opened the driver’s door. Wordless, he grabbed the wheel. When he put his foot on the brake, Penny slid out of the car. He slipped into first gear and drove the car down the steep street, waiting for us to join him at the bottom. 

The next day Carol Ann sold the car.

Penny began dating the fellow who came to our rescue.

I decided I didn’t want to live in San Francisco and, after a few months, went home—by plane. 

Humor Noir/Black Humor

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.

 

imagesRight 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.ca2a257635cc69e1fb1116481b9b5ca4

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.

 

 

 

 

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