Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Annals of Nursing- Part Six.Junior Year- Pediatrics

Last year I began a memoir of my nursing school years in the late sixties and early seventies. I continue now with my junior year.

My first year in nursing school was rich in incidents and in the drama of being indoctrinated into nursing. My second year was my introduction to the specialties. Pediatrics. Obstetrics. The Operating Room. And yet I find my second year to be a series of impressions rather than a narrative. I cannot remember some of my instructors from that year, but I do remember that they were younger women than our rigid, conservative first year teachers. And I do remember that every one of them told me that I was a natural for the O.R, or Labor and Deliver, or for Peds. They were wrong.

I will talk first about Pediatrics, which attracted some of the most passionate nurses I have ever known. These nurses loved children, yet their love was not returned, for the only person a sick child wants is his mother. Families could not stay with their children in those days. Even Miss L., one of the world's kindest and best nurses, could not stop the crying.

I admired Miss L. I looked up to her because of her competence and her courage. I was one of the few students who felt this way. Other students pitied her or made fun of her. They saw her as a lonely old maid who had nothing but her profession. And saddest of all, she had a terrible deformity- she had no neck and could not turn her head . She was not allowed to drive because of this. She walked to work each afternoon. We saw her in downtown Hanover, wearing her white nurse's cap and a blue nursing cape. Pitiable to some, but I remember how she loved "her" children and how kind she was to me and the other students.

My pediatrics instructor was cut from the same cloth as Miss L. Her name was Kay. She was a tall redhaired lesbian who lived with one of the head nurses. She reprimanded me and two other students for shining a flashlight through the back of the neck of a hydrocephalic baby. We wanted to see if the baby's head lit up like a pumpkin. We were amused, but Kay was not. Yet there was so much ugliness and deformity in Pediatrics in those days. So many birth defects and congenital diseases. Black humor was everywhere, though not where Kay could hear it.

And one child is an indelible memory. Born to a ten year old ,who was pregnant by her father. I can still see it lying in a bassinet in the dirty equipment room. It was next to the bedpan flusher. It had a baby girl's body, and the shrunken green head of a frog. It was an anencephalic. A baby born with just a brain stem. It died within the hour. We heard that the girl's mother had been screaming about "God's punishment".

There is nothing easy about nursing. There never has been. We were learning this every day, and most of us were not even 21. Miss L. wanted me to work in Pediatrics. So did Kay. But I promised nothing. Sick and hurt children were not for me. Perhaps I would find Labor and Delivery more enticing. But I doubted it. It was my next specialty in that cold, dark New Hampshire winter.

To be continued-

1 comment:

Clementine Moonflower said...

These stories are great, and this is some interesting history! I thought that maybe only modern nurses used black humor. When we learned about nurses from the past in school they all sounded so serious and stoic. I guess the writers of the textbooks don't really want us to know the reality. Thank you for putting these stories on your blog and allowing us to read about a part of nursing that I never knew about.