photo credit: nursing pins
Nursing and Caring during WWII
My mom became a nurse during WW II. One of her first assignments involved going into the homes of elderly people in the Washington, DC area. Many of these older Americans were by themselves because their adult children were serving in the war. These were regular patients she saw every week and she would give them their shots, medication, baths, change bandages… whatever they needed. Mom told stories about how her best medicine was often listening. They were scared and lonely and she would read the precious letters that came from faraway places and help them write back. One afternoon she was with an elderly couple when the military officers told them their son had been killed in action. She gave each person personal attention and dignity.
Her patients were personal. She knew them and their stories. She cared about them as individuals.
After each home visit, she and her companion (they traveled in twos) would take the bus or trolley cars back to the dorm where all the nurses lived. She had to wash, press, and starch her uniform (this was before modern washers and dryers), she had to write her reports (longhand with a pen) and she had to make sure she was inside the dorm before 10 PM or she would be marked a fallen woman and unworthy to be a nurse.
After the war, she married my dad and had five children in six years, with another child 4 years later–six children total in 10 years. When the children were all school-age, she again became a part-time ER and Recovery Room nurse.
Nursing and Caring in 2010
Mom always loved hospitals and everything medical. Even now at 88 years old, she remembers the names and doses of each of her 15+ medications. She tries to remember the nursing staff but there are too many of them.
This afternoon I stayed in her room while a steady stream of professionals did the prep work for her hip replacement surgery. They had her IV running; she was given preventative medicine for vomiting and acid reflux. She had one tube taped into her artery so that during the surgery additional meds could be given without needle pricks. Everything was plastic, disposable, and sterile.
Everything was Impersonal
Each of the medical professionals seemed competent and efficient. They explained the procedures, they reassured her that her doctor was the best; they had amazing machines that beeped and whirled. But, even with me standing there, no one cared who mom was. She was the “hip replacement in room 424.”
Again, this was a state-of-the-art hospital with excellent nurses. Everyone was super nice and competent. On the bulletin board near her bed “Helen” was written in large green markers. Each of her nurses also signed the bulletin board so she would know the name of the staff person.
Games of Caring
In this game of “name that patient” and “ring-around-revolving staff” It did seem disrespectful that a twenty-something staff person would address her as “Helen” like they were best buds.
In Disability World, we have often dealt with staff whose job was to write a report and then give their expertise as to what was best for Aaron. Sometimes the prejudice and low expections of the professionals are dangerous to the person (click here). As an advocate, I’ve been in meetings when psychologists (they were the worst) would go over their whole report with recommendations for placements or goals and they never even met the person. They claimed to know the person better than the biased parents or teachers…. Advocates always recommend parents bring a picture of their child to the meeting. I know of one case where the psychologist wrote the report up, only to find out he had the wrong person at the meeting.
Today, the company that provides Aaron’s residential care has “Home Managers” who oversee Aaron’s life. The “Home Managers” do not have anything in their job descriptions about getting to know Aaron–and since this is just a job to them–they do not do anything that isn’t in their job description. When I forced the one woman to actually meet Aaron, she explained she only did scheduling and paperwork. Yet, she is the person who would be in charge of Aaron if my husband and I got hit by a bus tomorrow; she is the person who signs off on Aaron’s ISP (Individual Service Plan) and she is the one who hires and trains staff. UNBELIEVABLE!
Always the Advocate
Learning to be an advocate is useful in so many situations. Research says people who are perceived as important, wealthy, or famous get better care than people who are anonymous, weak, and ordinary.
As the two nurses maneuvered the hospital bed into the elevator with the soft music and the doors which opened in the front and back, I looked at my mom. Here was this frail 88-year-old woman with her white hair mussed in bed head. Her skin kind of draped loosely around her eyes, mouth and neck. She insisted on putting on her lipstick before she went, so her bright red lips were in contrast to her pale waxy complexion.
She was just another old person to these nurses. She didn’t have an important story.
Going from Nurse to Patient to Nurse
On the elevator ride down to surgery, I told the nurses about her history. Suddenly mom was NOT a nobody. She became a real person—more than just the patient they were fitting into the schedule, the last surgery of the day, the hip replacement in room 424.
On the elevator ride down to surgery, I shared some of mom’s stories about the changes in nursing, hospitals, and medicine. We talked about the old days when mom wore starched white uniforms and hats–not permanent press colorful smocks and gym shoes with disposable covers. Think about it, in the fifties the hospitals were not air-conditioned (it was 85 degrees today) and many hospitals didn’t even have elevators. I told them how she visited the sick and elderly in their homes.
We were in the elevator for probably 4 minutes. That was all it took.
The Human Story Makes the Difference
Now, the old lady “Helen” was a retired nurse who worked when nurses really knew their patients. She was not a stranger; she was a nurse–one of them. She was a pioneer who paved the way for these two women pushing her bed. She was also a future THEM in 50 years when their hair would be mussed with bed-head and they would need caring nurses.
When we reached the doors to the surgery department, I kissed my mom on her red lipstick. This time when the nurse said, “Helen, we’ll take good care of you.” I smiled and knew “Helen” was now a real person and would get both dignity and good care.
In this picture, my mom, Helen Otten, is surrounded by my family. She died days short of her 93rd birthday. Loved by her children and grandchildren. She left a legacy of caring and love for her family and all her patients.
Share YOUR Story:
Come on, I’m sure you have some comments about hospitals, medical or school professionals, and caring.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward,
All the best,
I can’t imagine being in another country than sick parents that would be a great worry. Fortunately,there are four of us children in town so we can spread the responsibilities.
How ironic that we both post about hospital experiences from opposite ends of the spectrum. This blogging thing must form some kind of karma.
I haven’t yet had to experience hospital care for my parents – and in the UK, too. It will be very interesting to see how it works out. I’m expecting extended periods of time away from my kids when the time comes because my own experience of it was dire. Let’s hope the kids are grown when it happens so I can attend to it fully. Caring for sick parents is a job itself.
I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve had very little experience of hospital nurses. My own parents have only had this experience, to any extent, in the past year. And, in my mom’s case, only for one week in June.
My own experiences are based on two Caesareans, a D&C and a biopsy, and in each case I only had minimal contact with the nursing staff. Those brief contacts were personal and caring. My children haven’t really had this experience at all.
I think it’s true that, not just in a hospital setting, the elderly seem to become invisible to our society as a whole. Maybe that will change as the Baby Boomers, used to being noticed, move into those Invisible Years.
Just got word that my mom is being dismissed from the hospital. Apparently she made it though one session of Physical Therapy, had a blood transfusion for something we can’t quite understand and her xray looked okay so she is out the door–good luck.
Becke, I think you make some excellent points. 1. Older people,(including poor, handicapped…anyone who isn’t rich and famous) becomes invisible.
2. Boomers might make a difference.
Thanks for your comments, we are all players in the health care story.
Finally something fresh and new that make sense! I would like to see more about this and that is what I’m going to do.
Great Thanks Jackie, I hope you can use the ideas for someone you care about.
What a great story Gary. You and your mom must have made quite an impression to get the royal treatment.
I hope your mom does well in her new place.
Your mom was a pioneer to advocate for you to stay a part of the family when so many parents sent their children to the state schools for the blind.
Kudos to both of you.
Well I’m still quite stunned by the royal treatment we got. I truly was surprised to see such a send off. The sad thing is that mom has been drifting into a shell and just barely responds. That is when she doesn’t just look like she doesn’t care. The respitarory hostipal doctor that is working with mom even called to detrermine if her nonresponsivness was her baseline.
I am half tempted to copy and paste my that I posted in your blog’s comment section and use it for a blog post on my site. Maybe expand a little.
By the way thanks for reminding me of the state schools for the blind.I had forgotten there was such a thing state run schools for the blind. So you are right it seems. It feels rather strange to be pioneer in such an era.
I would also like to say that you and the others on this thread are right about the invisibility of the elderly in our culture. But it is indeed the rich that gets any attention. the boomers were also protesters and activist. I can’t imagine that would change much. Unless the individuals condition made it impossible to do so.
P.S. I’m glad to hear your mom is doing well Mary.
Have a great day.
Hope your mom is feeling better. It has to be difficult to watch her having so many problems. Especially with breathing. We take breathing for granted and then realize how critical it is.
My mom was transfered to the nursing home for therapy and rehabilitation. I’m planning on visiting her today. That’s why I didn’t get to post yesterday. Thanks for understanding.
Thank Mary. Yes it is hard to watch all the issues. Some are very serious indeed. Unidentifiable infections(what is and where it’s coming from) don’t help.
On the breathing topic. That is why so many of the ancients culture associated the spiritual energy or life force with it. In the ancient science of Yoga for example the breath is so important that breathing exercises are a special branch called Pranayana. With part of the word Prana referring to this breath and life force energy.
Thanks for well wishing. She is not getting better but at this point not worse either.
Hi Mary. It would appear I am first in line with my virtual hand raised. hehehehe.
Okay enough of my goofiness. I did pretty much the same while My mom was at AVHMC in Lancaster CA. Yeah we had the nice whiteboard with names of her nures and RTs. That help me know who I was talking to(most of the time). Since she has been on a respirator and unable to talk I have often told the staff when they had the time about all the things that my mother did. She was a pioneer of sorts in that she raised me as much as a normal child as she could even though she was a single mother. In the 70’s and 80’s that was not exactly cool.
I mean I told every who would listen about the things she dealt with in regards to the school district and the local community(many of the staff were from other places).
Now get this it’s way cool. Yesterday she was transferred to Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Los Angeles CA. After the ambulance team and the nurses switched all her gear over to the ambulance teams equipment(heart monitor,Portable respirator, and IV feeds)we started down the hall. As we went out of the 2nd floor area the halls was lined with nurses saying good by like it was a some sort of honor guard line on each wall. Almost like when A captain or an admiral would board a star ship in a Star Trek episode. I said good bye back as a followed the trolley with mom on it. I don’t even know if she was awake to experience this send off.
Well she has been in the hospital for 2 month and for the first month she was alert and communicated with her own voice. I’m sure that helped. I was there many of day and many an hour by my mother side.
Well enough bragging. I hope your mother makes a good recovery.