Friday, March 12, 2010

Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital School of Nursing - Part Two

This old photo shows the original Nurses' Home of the Mary Hitchcock Hospital School of Nursing. This was Billings Lee, and from 1969 to 1972 it was my home.

To walk into Billings Lee in the fall of 1969 was to enter a world of housemothers, of permission slips from parents, of parietals, of lights off by 9pm. Rules and more rules.The Sixties were almost over, and it seemed they had never touched Billings Lee or my school of nursing. Auntie Bea, the head housemother ,sat every day at her desk,and watched us sign out and in. One had to have permission from parents to walk to downtown Hanover. She also passed out our mail, and kept her eye on a small room off the lobby- the "Beau Parlor" , the only place at our school where men were allowed.

There were other dorms behind Billings Lee, but they were bunker-like and without charm. Underneath them- our classrooms and the tunnels that went to the hospital and the Dartmouth Infirmary. The Infirmary was next to Billings Lee. One rowdy night my friends and I kicked 100 empty soda cans down 4 flights of stairs, and our housemother took an outraged phone call from the Infirmary nurse about our loud, obnoxious behavior.

The school television was just off the tunnel to the main hospital. I remember Wednesday nights at 8pm when "Medical Center" and its Dr. Joe Gannon came on. It was the "E.R." and "Grey's Anatomy" of its time, and we never missed it, though nothing we saw on it resembled the hospital world we knew.

Sometimes at night if anyone is interested I tell young nurses about the days before the C.T. Scanner and the M.R.I. The days before men became nurses. The first ward I worked on as a student was an open pavilion with curtains between the beds and a fireplace in the center. Hospitals were quieter then.There were fewer machines with alarms screeching and dinging and buzzing. I do not remember the desperate sense of hurry and no time that pervades hospitals now.

Our first classes were Anatomy and Physiology and Fundamentals of Nursing. We worked on the wards as well, though not far from our instructors. I can say that I learned more from working as a nurse's aide on my days off than I did in freshman clinicals. One of my instructors was a Mrs. Clark. By the holidays I knew that she was the designated spy and enforcer who singled out girls the school wanted culled. These were the girls called in for the dreaded Talk. "Are you sure you have what it takes to be a nurse?," the instructors would ask, implying that the girl would be better off not coming back after Christmas break.

I remember a tall redhead named Marsha. When she went to clinicals she stood idle in the halls, her arms crossed, looking bored. She was gone by spring, invited to take her lack of initiative elsewhere.

There was another talk all freshmen had to hear. The instructors gave it to prepare us for the shock of going home over the holidays. We would, they told us, find our high school friends naive and immature. They would not understand our nursing world-its feel, its sights, and its smells. We were growing up faster than our old friends.

Our school was an insular place. During the week we put our uniforms on in early morning, and we did not take them off till day's end. We wore them to every meal in the hospital cafeteria, and to every class. We were being indoctrinated as well as educated, for nursing was not what we did, but who we were.

The weekends gave us freedom. Some girls went home, some tried to find Dartmouth students to take them out. This was not easy. During the week we were the only young women in town, since Dartmouth was a year or so away from allowing women in its classes. Student nurses were used as weekday dates. We were someone to meet at a coffee house. We could not compete with the weekend girls who came in on buses from women's colleges. They could not compete with the women who came in for Winter Carnival- the sleek well-heeled from the Seven Sisters.

One place we were welcomed was the "White Church". The minister and the staff were no snobs. They let us use the church kitchen for our spaghetti dinner fund-raisers. Even the Dartmouth students there seemed egalitarian.

I was never a haunter of fraternity houses . I worked evenings baby-sitting, and I worked as a nurses' aide on weekends. I rarely went home.

My father was upset that I chose nursing. " I wanted better things for you," he said. " I wanted you to be a pharmacist, or a teacher , or a librarian". Now I look back over the last forty years, and see that my father was wrong. I could not have spent my life a better way . I am the one who cares for your sick mother. The one you trust when your father comes out from heart surgery. You see my face, not the doctor's. I am the vigilant one.

This was the sense of duty nursing school instilled in us. We learned we would sacrifice our weekends, our nights, our holidays, our sleep. Our instructors would be heart sick to see nurses of today baring their midriffs and dancing at the nurses' station, beaming it to another hospital over a camera phone, or talking to their boyfriend on a cell-phone in their patients' rooms.

O Tempora! O Mores!

This ends the second part of my Annals of Nursing. In the third installment, the Sixties arrive at last at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital School of Nursing.


Anonymous said...

what a great story

Christina said...

I graduated in 1971; this isn't just a story...this is how it was. You are doing a beautiful job of documenting our history. Thank you so much. I would love to hear from you- is my email...

Sandy Allten, RN, OCN, CCRP said...

Great writing and great job describing MHMH SON. I graduated in the final class in 1980. While some things were obviously different from your experience (we were allowed men in the dorm... if we signed them in!) many things were the same...the TV rooms in Billings Lee remained the same as you describe!

Thanks for telling your story and as the writer above states "documenting our history". Great job!!

betsy said...

Thank you Sandy for your comment. My God what a long time ago that was! I was 20 then. I am almost 63 now. I retired from hospital nursing a year ago. I work in a prison clinic prn now. I worked 2 years at MHMH after graduating, then 8 years at the White River VA. Then I moved to Nashville and spent almost 30 years in the ICU at ST Thomas Hospital. Who could have foreseen the changes-
Once again, I appreciate your comments!