Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Ghost of Mary Hitchcock

One night many years ago, when I was a new nurse and working on a Neurology ward, one of my patients turned his call light on. "You are going to think I'm crazy", he said. "I think I just saw the ghost of Mary Hitchcock."

He had not, but the live woman he did see would have had much in common with a ghost,for she, like a spirit, haunted the hospital halls. She was Mrs. Gertude Lacosse. Ancient. Venerable. And feared. She must have been 80, but her old legs still brought her silently down the halls.She patrolled ceaselessly. She made rounds, and she looked in on every patient. One, or many, never dared to look idle when she came around. If cell-phones and Kindles had existed then, she would have confiscated every one.

I have, over the years, met several of her tribe. But none lately. Some nursing supervisors these days seem to be office-huggers. They wish to be where the patients aren't. That is why they are not staff nurses.

And the head nurses of yore are gone now as well,replaced by "Unit Managers". Their job is to be unreachable at all hours. No e-mail, phone call, or visit in person ever finds them. I remember an old joke that circulated at one hospital here in town. Whenever someone finally spotted the boss, it was called a "confirmed sighting".

But back to the old time supervisors- Will anyone who worked at St. Thomas Hospital in the eighties ever forget Mrs. Mattie Parham? Pristine from head to toe , with thick glasses and spotless white shoes. Shoes were her obsession. She demanded that ours be clean, and that our nursing caps stay on. She felt that if we were disciplined in our appearance, we would be disciplined in our practice. Yet she could be kind and tolerant. I made an error one night, when I was new at that hospital, and I was almost in tears. I made out an incident report and handed it to her. She tore it up.

And I remember Mrs Mary Burrows, at the old VA hospital in White River Vermont. She walked around with a copy of "Stocking Up" under her arm and if anyone needed to know how to make zucchini bread she was the one to ask. But behind that folksy exterior was a shrewd woman. I thought she was a genius after she informed me one night that there were three sides to every story. Your story, my story, and what really happened. Trite perhaps, but in a hospital-how true.

And I wonder now, in this age of blatant disrespect of all and everything who our young nurses have to look up to. I hope the ghosts of Gertrude LaCoss, Matty Parham, and Mary Hitchcock are still out there somewhere.


Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Betsy , I have been looking around your blog and I loved your nursing stories. I worked in Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn for many years. Sympatico!

troutbirder said...

I think a few still are there. But, sadly, not many...