Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nursing School- memories of a lost art

part one (the beginning)

I'll never forget that late Sunday afternoon in the Fall of 1968.  The air was full of promise (and the smell of decaying leaves) as  I first stepped out from the security of my father's car,  climbed up those eleven steps and was "buzzed" into the building that would become my home for the next three years.

The entrance was guarded by a small but powerful woman named Mrs. Yetka. She served as Housemother (residence director) and prison matron for the boarding students of the Lutheran Hospital school of Nursing.  She was a legend in her own time!
33 new students arrived that day and were gathered together in the ancient foyer. We tried to remain inconspicuous and not draw any unwanted attention to ourselves.  What a pathetic assembly.
All my personal belongings, a pitiful summation of my life thus far, were placed into a plastic laundry basket. I didn't even own a suitcase at that point in my life!
Everything on the list had been carefully collected to comply with the rules and regulations mailed out earlier that summer. We were directed to bring " an alarm clock, toiletries, sturdy white oxfords and an ample supply of white hose".
*Panty hose was a new concept that just came into existence during my last years in high school and I was thankful to give up the compression girdle with the attached rubber straps that were supposed to hold each  individual stocking secure but only succeeded in pulling down my pants.  In those days, I was built like an ironing board!
Cindy and Donna, two of my high school friends, were among the group of anxious arrivals.  I was hoping that my best friend Cindy would be my room mate.  But instead, we were each assigned a virtual stranger!
This was probably an intentional strategy to prevent us from becoming too familiar in our unfamiliar surroundings. The emphasis on stress reduction, environmental conditioning and attention to our personal comfort were decades in the future of educational focus.
Built in 1937, the building was a classic old Nursing school with pillars and an old red brick exterior. It was three stories high with a tar roof (perfect for sunbathing) and located a stone's throw away from the matching historic carriage house.
built in circa 1854: The Franklin  carriage House.
Lutheran Hospital was founded in 1896 and is one of the oldest institutions in the Franklin Circle Neighborhood.
The dorm was connected to the main hospital via a cement  tunnel, deep in the basement. The passage closely bordered the hospital morgue. It also lead to the employee cafeteria. (left turn to the morgue, right turn to our dinner.) Hmmm. Something to think about.
The hospital was located at West 25th and Franklin.  I think our dorm was around the corner on Jay street.
The majority of the first floor consisted of the housemother's quarters and a formal dining room/living room.
We were presented the first of many "Teas" that afternoon with the hospital's Ladies Board members serving as hostesses. They distributed dainty little cakes on sterling silver trays and poured tea into delicate china cups. The tables were covered in white linen and the atmosphere was very ceremonial.
The office was  located near the entrance and the individual combination lock mailboxes (with see through glass fronts)  were affixed to the outside wall.  The infamous "sign in" Kardex was also housed there.
Just beyond the office/information area, there was a swing door entrance into the student housing area.

There was a baby grand piano and one console television set located in the formal living room, both to be shared by over 100 students.  (During my junior year, they turned one of the student dorm rooms into a "TV room" and Donna and I quickly laid claim and spent most of our evenings "studying" in this sacred refuge for the next two years.)
As we wandered aimlessly throughout the first floor,  we mingled and tried to appear more mature, independent and self assured than any of us actually felt.
After our tearful goodbyes to our departing family members, we were cloistered within the walls of our new dormitory and the doors were locked behind us.
We were permitted to escape to freedom on weekends and holidays, but otherwise utterly contained and committed to our newly chosen profession as future nurses.
The freshmen student nurses (called  probies) resided on the third floor.  There were no elevators for our convenience. You had to be in tip top shape just to survive dorm life!

Housed two to a room, you got the luck of the draw in terms of room mate assignments.
studing at my desk wearing my probie cap
Each side of the room was a mirror image of the other.  The furniture provided consisted of a single wood frame bed, a standing lamp, desk chair and a  hutch like dresser. This rather bizarre piece served  to store our clothing and, with a simple flip of the hinged lid, provided a study area upon which to place your manual typewriter. (Yes, no word processors or computers in the 60's!)  We each had a narrow book shelf and our own closet with additional storage space.
my closet on the right- in my freshman student nurse uniform

They supplied the linen, blankets and mattresses.  You supplied a pillow and any other items necessary to make the room more like a home than an institution.  (Donna was artistically inclined and later, as my room mate in year two, created some ingenious art to transform our room into something colorful and charming)
I had my Grandma's old quilt and some of my stuffed animals to comfort me.
No TV or hot plates, microwaves or other luxuries.  You were allowed a radio or small record player.

My first "roomie" was another teenager fresh out of high school and away from home for the first time.  However, that was where our similarities began and ended.
Linda was "in love" with Frank.  I would learn to eat, drink and sleep "Frank" for the next two semesters. She, on the other hand, got the shorter end of the stick and was forced to endure my peculiar habit of playing the record player each night to ease  into a sleep state.  I  was fixated on musical theater and played the same annoying LP sound tracks over and over again. She expressed a particular aversion to Rosemary's baby.  I must admit, it featured a rather haunting and melancholy theme and, yes, was a bit creepy!
"roomies"- Donna and Judi in our beautifully decorated room

We both received a reprieve in the person of my next room mate, Donna.  (She and I would stay together for the remainder of our  school days and are to this day great friends. I was never able to room with Cindy but we have maintained a close friendship as well.)
I was raised with six brothers and three baby sisters. I had always wanted a sister in my own age group, and this was to be Donna.  She also assumed many other unsolicited roles such as interior decorator,  stylist and personal maid.
Each floor had its own dorm bathroom with one tub and 10 marble sinks lined up like an Army barracks.  A long mirror stretched across the entire length with an accompanying shelf.  The toilets were provided with privacy stalls, thank goodness.  I don't remember any showers.  How did we get by with one bath tub for 40 some girls?
Our room had the advantage of two windows, one on the north side and the other on the west, providing a lovely cross breeze. There was no central air or air conditioning units (or even a fan)  for our third floor walk up. Cleveland in the summertime was hot and sultry.

Like many hospitals in big cities, ours was located in the "bad" section of town and we had a curfew that was strictly adhered to.
We had to be in the door by 10 PM or you would be locked out alone in the neighborhood, never to be seen or heard from again! It was a warning that we took to heart.
Our front window overlooked an apartment building that most certainly was a "house of ill repute"! We would be entertained by the comings and goings that were to transpire over the next three years.
There were no smart phones or even personal beepers in those days.  In fact, there were no actual phones in the rooms!  We had an ancient intercom system above one of the beds that would emit the most obnoxious sounds when it was activated on those rare occasions when you had a visitor or phone call.
If you overslept,  the instructor buzzed you down to the class room, initiating a sound guaranteed to make your blood run cold.
If the summons was a personal phone call, you had to go down the hall to the only phone with an outside line on the entire floor and wait for your turn at bat. There was no privacy.  Romance and long term relationships were frowned upon.  In fact, my first room mate Linda finally married her "Frank" in the third year and they set about to remove her from the class even as the echo of her wedding vows still hung in the air.  Marriage during nursing school was definitely a "no no" back in those days.
We had an eclectic group of characters that taught us the art of nursing, the majority being spinsters and old maids.
Miss Pfost
Our "Foundations of Nursing" instructors were two women who defied age classification. They most likely served as war nurses in the Civil War!
  The one was tall and straight as an arrow and the other  vertically impaired.  "Oldenburg and Pfost"- a dynamic duo if ever I saw one.
Miss Oldenburg had crippling arthritis and was as gnarly and bent as an old witch. Poor lady, she barely ambulated on her quad canes and it was awkward at best to perform clinical skills with her supervising you.
Miss Pfost had a perpetual smirk on her face and was a women of few words and expressions.  However, I do remember her unbridled delight on one rare occasion when the class sang her a chorus of her favorite song "Do you know the way to San Jose"!
Despite their obvious short comings (or maybe ours), they managed to teach us the very basic baby steps of nursing that would form the foundation of our professional career.
We were a sheltered, naive and innocent lot.  We did not seem to be affected by the chaotic events of the late sixties in the world outside our compound.  Hippies, free love, drugs and war protests did not filter into our community.
We were oblivious and kept ourselves busy learning the finer points of Bed baths 101.  Questionable skills such as the three step process on how to correctly fold a washcloth to maintain maximum temperature containment.
Then there was the incessant practicing procedures on the antique rubber mannequins that were worthy of some museum exhibit.  Try catheterizing hard plastic genitals that were not compliant and  so far from the human experience.  Sterile technique was an impossible concept to grasp under these conditions. (so was the plastic labia!)
Bed making was a multi step process with layers of material from the basic flat sheets (no fitted sheets in 1968) to the rubber protective pad and top draw sheets. You had to remember at all times the proper numerical sequence of folds involved in preparing a post op bed.  And yes, you better be able to bounce a quarter when you were done.
All this for around $500 a semester!  This included "room and board"-  three square meals a day.  Cafeteria style, help yourself to all you can eat. This was the era when cafeterias served homemade food prepared by wonderful ethnic cooks. Coming from the limited resources of a family of twelve, I was in seventh Heaven!
Also included were your uniforms which consisted of a simple light blue dress, a starched white apron and bib, and your "crown of glory", the nursing cap.  You wore this with pride and dignity.

Each year you were given 3-5 complete uniforms that were washed,  starched and pressed to perfection by the hospital laundry. You had special buttons with metal pins to "put together"  your apron and bibs.
capping ceremony- Judi, Donna and Cindy

There was a capping ceremony performed at the beginning of our freshman year that was very solemn and auspicious.
In addition to being "capped", we were given a long stem red rose and a signature Florence Nightingale white ceramic lamp to commemorate this special event in our nursing career.  We walked down the aisle with lit candles in our lamps and were a vision to behold.
This was held at my father's church and he presided over the official ceremony.  How proud I was.
Each year a horizontal black band was added across the top of cap to reflect your status and progression through the three year program.  And of course, there was a "Banding Ceremony" for each additional stripe along the way. Upon graduation, it returned to its original pure white state.
You had the responsibility of polishing your shoes and maintaining run free hose. (Who even polishes shoes anymore?)  Your nursing cap came as a flat t shaped piece of white starched linen, and you had to fold it and hold it in place with white bobby pins.
Hair was kept short or off the collar. No exceptions. Absolutely no jewelry except the ever present watch with the second hand.
hair up in buns
Did I mention maid service?  Our linen was replaced weekly and the rooms were cleaned by housekeeping staff.  We  stole and hoarded extra towels for our personal use. What a pampered lot we were.
Although you had to be careful to hide your incense, candles (stolen linen) and other contraband from prying eyes or they would confiscate your wares and demerits would be issued.
Besides room and board, our textbooks and other reference materials were provided throughout the three year curriculum.  Our bookshelves bulged with Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology, Microbiology and other course requirements that would rob us of sleep and well being.
Nursing school was an alien world full of terminology as foreign to us as an unknown language and equipment that threatened our sanity.
It took me days to even see the mercury on the old glass thermometers, let alone to be able to read it! And the sphigmomonometer was as hard to use as it was to spell!
Simple directions created complicated responses.
I remember causing a bit of a panic when I charted a patient having had nine stools in one hour.
No, he did not have a case of terminal diarrhea but rather a student nurse who counted each individual piece of feces in the bedpan.   Live and learn.

1942- old  Cleveland Trust Bank on corner of West 25th Street

which the hospital later razed for a parking lot. The hospital is just down the street behind bank and our nursing school dorm was around the corner to the left past the hospital.

1963- new facade of primary building of Lutheran Hospital

Cleveland Bridge.jpg
Detroit-Superior Bridge
We would save our hard earned money that we made on week ends working as student nurse techs and explore the wonders and bargains found on 25th street and downtown.
Donna and I crossed this bridge many times to eat at the famous old Silver Grille in the Higbee Department store.
It stands 96 feet above the Cuyahoga river and links West side with East side, terminating at Public Square.
It was a windy and scary walk and my fear of heights did nothing to minimize the perceived potential for danger.

Lutheran Hospital as it looks today