|Miss Bruiser, a proud member of The Greatest Generation|
Battle scared nurses like these aroused paradoxical emotions among lowly student nurses. We held them up as the ultimate in role models, yet we wanted to be nothing like them in their surly approach to nursing care and life in general. Their level of dedication was without question, but their demeanor left much to be desired as they were a frightening assemblage of care givers.
These nurses had sacrificed and paid the price on a daily basis. Trivial pastimes and activities for amusement were unheard of. Today's notion of self care for nurses would have ignited a hearty belly laugh from these nurses and a stern rebuke, "Spend more time with your patients and stop thinking about yourself. It's not about you!!" The notion that caring for others required caring for yourself was the ultimate in tomfoolery.
These nurses were masters at giving up personal comfort for what bordered on self torture. Sacrificing ease for discomfort to benefit patients was second nature to this intense hard core group. Their footwear, Red Cross shoes, were metatarsal unfriendly to say the least. Remember that Pulitzer Prize photo of the nurse kissing the sailor at the conclusion of WWII? Those were bunion busting Red Cross Shoes and a podiatrist's nightmare. Those heavy, white starched uniforms looked very official, but on those wards that were brick oven hot, cotton clothing acted like a sweatsuit. I don't know how they functioned with pools of sweat dripping from overheated extremities.
Vintage diploma nursing schools were ruled by a set of rigid authoritarian regulations. Marriage was prohibited any time during those tortuous 3 years and pregnancy meant an automatic expulsion. One of my fellow students had a fascinating tale about her mother's determination to graduate from nurse's training. Mary's Mom was a large-scale sized person so a few extra pounds on her was like an extra suitcase on a Boeing 747; not something noticeable. Near the end of the nursing program she became pregnant with Mary. She delivered the baby at nearby Ravenswood Hospital a couple of weeks prior to graduation and was present for the final awarding of her nursing pin with not a soul the wiser. Mary was in the graduation audience cradled in her grandmother's arms.
Nurses from this era had a sense of consecratedness to their profession where persistence was one of the primary themes. These folks had a never say die mindset and persistent nurses never quit when it gets rough, when they lose, or when it hurts. I've known older nurses to continue working despite disabling arthritis and physical disability that would hobble just about anyone else.
Older nurses were highly skeptical of anything new. I remember the outcry over the installation of nurse call lights when wards were being divided to semi-private rooms. These nurses thought it was ridiculous for a patient to summon a nurse by pressing a button. The nurse should always be close to the bedside. Team nursing, disposable needles, anything made of plastic, and swadged, atraumatic sutures were other useless new fangled ideas. Why tinker with something that worked for decades.
It's a good thing that Press Ganey patient surveys were unheard of in this era. Old nurses were in charge and always knew what was best for their patients. Any health problem that could be construed as self-inflicted drew a particularly tough, unsympathetic rebuke. As a student caring for an alcoholic patient with draining wounds on his legs, I was enlightened by one of the older nurses, "That's all the filth and evil leaving his body," Rita knowingly advised. I was belittled when coming to the patient's defense. Clearly, these nurses were not ones to tolerate dissent.