Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Annals of Nursing- Part the Last. Senior Year

This is the last part of the Annals,a history of an education in one of the old three year nursing diploma schools. I graduated from one in May of 1972, and shortly after took and passed my state boards.

It might be natural to think that senior year would be the most grueling. But if you think this you would be wrong.The year was one of the best in my life, full of leisure and happy hours. Foreign film festivals at the Hopkins Center. "The Earrings of Madame D' and the surrealistic original "Beauty and the Beast". Max Orphuls, Truffaut and the other great directors.

And why did we have all this free time?

A half year of a class called "Senior Team Leading". We worked a week, then were off a week. I do not remember my instructors well. I remember no supervision other than the head nurse. We were free help, and the hospital staffed the wards with us on the cheap.There were no CT scans back then. The pulmonary artery catheter was still a gleam in Dr. Swan's eye.There were no beeping IV pumps that I remember. We gave medicines from little white cups lined up on a cart.Primitive indeed by today's standards, but quieter, more hushed. Now nurses look harassed. But 40 years ago they walked slowly down the halls in neat whites.

In our free time we would drive to the Dairy Queen In Lebanon. One of my crowd had a car, but not for long. She went to Afghanistan with the Peace Corp where her most enduring memory was eating vegetables boiled in iodine.

We would go downtown and eat at The Green Lantern, known to all as the "Green Latrine". They doused every thing with MSG. Or if we felt uptown we might go to The Hanover Inn for prime rib and listen to a harpist. I do not ever remember going to Lou's, which I remember as the province of the Dartmouthers and not a place for the town babysitters.

It was a new day in Hanover that year. Women were now admitted to the college. Sleek young black women in long skirts with boots, afros and gold earrings. They made us look dowdy. I remember one admitted to the Infirmary one night with severe asthma. They sent her from there to the ICU over at the main hospital terrified she would die.

Interesting speakers came to town. Shulasmith Firestone. She was a radical feminist who believed babies should grow in tubes and vats and not inside women.She was heavily booed by the gentlemen of Dartmouth.

That winter I took up with a young man from New York. He worked in the People's Lumber Yard, a hippie commune across the river in Vermont.One day he took me to meet a friend and his wife. They lived on a farm and she spent our visit barefoot and drying marijuana on a big cookie sheet in her oven. My boyfriend was a Jew. I had never met one before, nor had I met cannabis. One night we drove to a Canadian nightclub just across the border and I tried it. I didn't like it because I thought everyone had started staring at me.

I was assigned that semester to the Neuro Floor. I would work there after graduation. But behind it on one side was the ICU, and it fascinated me. All those tubes and monitors. I worked there one night as a nurses' aide, and one of the last year's graduates let me do lots of things. This was exciting because I went to irrigate an old man's gastric tube, and bright red blood gushed out. This was better than little white cups. I was hooked. But new graduates were not allowed there. One had to have a year's experience.

After Christmas as the year hurried toward May we left our leisure and did our ICU rotation.I taught myself heart rhythms. I picked the brains of the staff. One of them told my instructor that I was going to be worth my weight in gold. Instead I turned out to be worth 40 years.

Sandra McKay was also teaching an Independent study class. She let us leave and do self study ,
and everyone ran to the roof with towels and suntan lotion.

And the there was Carolyn Sherman's class.She was a dietitian, but she was teaching poetry, to which she said, she wanted us exposed. She was a large woman of outstanding ugliness.She stood there in one of her fleet of purple dresses waving a cigarette and reading Dylan Thomas and Hopkins and Yeats to mostly uninterested girls. I was not one of them. She was the best and most memorable teacher I ever had. She made us buy "The Wasteland", and my world expanded. Now I wanted to be a poet and a writer as well as a nurse.

In May we graduated at a ceremony at Hopkins Center. I remember little of it except the remark of the speaker, a Dartmouth professor, that we were "terminal adolescents". I resented this. Our adolescence was over. Terminated, one might say, by blood and smells and death. He should have saved that line for the Dartmouth boys.

Thus ends the Annals. I am considering writing more memoirs of the next few years ,for I have seen and done much. More than most people could believe.

1 comment:

Out on the prairie said...

A very nice tale, I enjoyed it well.