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.