Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Annals of Nursing- The End of Junior Year- Psychiatric Nursing

I have been charmed by the ABC program "Pan Am", about young stewardesses in the Sixties who crave adventure and new possibilities rather than marriage. Though my classmates and I were not as svelte and elegant and chic as these young women (they were glamour girls and we were workhorses), we shared their excitement at what was awaiting us after graduation. The nursing magazines had pages of ads trying to lure us to California and Hawaii. Join the Air Force! Work only 2 hours from the beach and 4 hours from the mountains. Be a Lennox Hill nurse in exciting New York! And each day we saw our senior class geeting closer to the end and to the nervousness of taking their state boards.

I was awed by the seniors. Probably I was idealizing them. But they seemed so confident. So poised. A fair number were going to stay at Hitchcock, which sought a ready made workforce . The hospital paid tuition for anyone willing to stay for two years. But other girls had their eye on the Peace Corp and the hospitals in the sunny states far from New Hampshire. This is what we had in common with the stewardesses of Pan Am. Excitement about the years ahead. So many choices to make.

If memory serves, my Psych rotation was my last semester as a Junior. And I thought Psych might be my forte. The Mental Health Center was all bricks and modern glass and nuthatches out in the pines that surrounded it. We were supposed to interview our patients and write up our "Therapeutic Conversations" with them. Back then if one was mentally ill, it was considered your mother's fault. She twisted you. Now we believe it is seratonin's fault, and that you need drugs and not psychotherapy.

There was one notorious inmate at the center. She was not visiting. She was living there.Her husband was a surgeon, and he had installed his insane wife in Hanover after she did hard time at McLean. There were rumors she tried to kill one of her doctors there. She was tall, and blank, and so slow and hesitant in her movements that she was zombie-like. We were afraid of her, though I think all the life had leached out of her from years of evil drugs such as Thorazine and Stelazine. No student took her as their patient.

And after a few weeks, unsupervised by an instructor I cannot even remember, we began to huddle together in the sitting rooms, and our conversations with our patients, submitted to our teacher were pure fiction that we enjoyed making up. By this time I knew psych was not for me . I decided this after sitting in a big conference room with the shrinks and nurses while the patients paraded in to be questioned for a few minutes. A working class bottle blonde in old jeans and a yellow sweatshirt came in. She was uneducated and tongue tied -and almost toothless. What was the shrink asking her? She did not know. As she left the room and the door had yet to close ,people started to snicker. I know she heard it, but because she was not Hanover she was contemptible. This was ugly. I will always remember it. And I knew Mental Health was not for me.

And then it was over. I stayed in town and I worked as a nursing tech. And I worked as a ward clerk at the Dartmouth Infirmary. I worked all summer, and in September I became a senior.

Thus ends the annals of my junior year.


Thomas at My Porch said...

I enjoyed reading this. Right now my job includes collecting oral histories from people who worked at Saint Elizabeths a mental hospital here in DC that was founded by Congress in 1855 thanks mainly to Dorothea Dix. So far I have interviewed doctors who worked there for decdes beginning in the 1950s. It has been fascinating. So your story is very evocative of the world I have been researching.

betsy said...

Thanks Thomas. I have been a nurse for forty years, most of it spent in Critical Care. I intend to finish the Annals, then move on to an account of the making of an ICU nurse. I appreciate that you commented.

Out on the prairie said...

I did a program at a state hospital and wondered about all living there.Were some a forever resident or just a brief fling until they missed meds long enough?It is interesting science to me .Talking to staff you either hate it or love it.