Did you know May 8th is National Student Nurses Day and May 12th is Florence Nightingale’s birthday? We share the same b-day! How cool is that?
According to the National Association of Nurses, the organization has been promoting and supporting the nursing profession since 1896.
“That’s Swell!” is delighted to host Kathleen Shoop, Author of AFTER THE FOG with a guest post for National Nurses Week!
Wanna win a health and wellness gift basket that includes a $100 gift certificate to Whole Foods? Read below to find out how to enter!
May 6th through May 12th is National Nurses Week. Everyone knows at least one nurse. Each is unique, but I think all nurses have a steely quality about them that forces the rest of us to shake our heads and admit, “I could never do that.” In researching my novel, After the Fog, I had the pleasure of delving into a mountainous stack of papers that brought to life a type of nurse I’d known nothing about—community and public health nurses.
I found a compilation of stories (undated, but from the context of them I’d say they were late 30’s or early 40’s) that was especially helpful in crafting the daily habits of my circa 1948, community nurse, Rose Pavlesic. The volume was called, “Chats…With a Public Health Nurse” by Elizabeth H. Rath. The tales of hope, compassion, and industry showed the nursing skills and services that were available to the public during the mid-20th century.
Rath used these “chats” to tell her and other nurses’ tales in a way that wasn’t preachy or heavy-handed. They told cautionary tales like the one about a man who waited too long to see a doctor when he had months of tuberculosis symptoms. Another detailed the way a nurse made one hundred fifteen visits to a girl who’d been hit by a truck. “The head wound was still open and occasionally bits of bone would work through the wound.” Eventually the nurse could turn the care of the girl over to her family.
The stories show the simple, practical needs of patients. “My sister is willing to pay anything if a nurse will come up and show her how to bathe her baby,” said one young girl to a public health nurse.
Some accounts are light-hearted—one nurse’s uniform caught fire while tending a child too close to the stove—she seemed nonplussed (I could almost hear her chuckling) about having to pin her uniform together to finish her calls that day.
Other stories were serious and showed the respect given to the nurses. “The nurse can enter the worst section of the town or the most notorious house and not be molested…In our uniform we have nothing to fear.”
Yet another story reveals that sexuality and diseases related to it were important topics well before the sexual revolution. In one story titled, “Taboos,” Rath addresses the need to discuss the treatment of syphilis—to not be afraid to use the word even though the use of it was banned on radio shows. “Syphilis can be cured…prevented. It is a disease, not a moral.” Rath closes this story with an invitation to discuss this topic with any public health nurse.
Other anecdotes show the autonomy nurses had in charging for services—a sliding scale that was applied at the nurse’s discretion. The tales were attempts to let the public know that care was available to all—those with money or not.
These nurses were improvisational artists. “Backrests are made with chairs, suitcases or boards. Cradles to prevent bedclothes from touching the patient are made from wire coat-hangers; bedpans from oven dripping pans with a padded board across one end…” Inner tubes and raincoats were used for ice packs; the list goes on for paragraphs.
Reading these accounts of nursing life provided me with a way to bring realism to Rose Pavlesic’s fictional experience. The stories allowed me to imagine how Rose’s capable hands would have crafted medical tools out of kitchen implements. And, in reading such research I’m reminded of what we owe nurses—past and present. The “chats” are precious reminders of the work all nurses do. Even if they don’t come into our homes anymore, they are always in our lives in some way. Happy National Nurses Week!
Enter to win the health and wellness giveaway throughout May at www.kshoop.com!
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