Thursday, February 28, 2019

Student Nurses Misappropriate Birth Certificates to Imbibe

Vintage diploma nursing schools had rigid, authoritarian  rules for just about everything  that could be construed as fun. From restrictions on outside visitors, especially men, to strict study hours, all recreational outlets were meticulously managed with onerous regulation. The rules regarding alcoholic beverages were especially strict and came from the hallowed chambers of  The Hospital  Board of Trustees. This mysterious and often cited governing body was a force to be reckoned with because just one measly slip up of their regulations could get you expelled from the nursing program.

According to the esteemed board, alcohol was the ultimate in forbidden fruit, especially for stressed out and underaged nursing students. The notion that imbibing in the magical elixir of alcoholic drink was wrong, made it all the more appealing. Diploma nursing students were in the same boat as Eve in the Garden of Eden.

By the time nursing specialties: pediatrics, psych, and obstetrics, rolled around, nursing students were feeling the pressure of their chosen vocation. I was going to say chosen profession, but we were brain washed into submission and nobody really believed we were worthy of such a lofty title. I'm just a nurse was our mantra. Doctors were professional-nurses were not.

All nursing specialties were difficult and stressful. Cures for seriously ill children were few and far between. Leukemia of any variety was a death sentence. Our clinical psych experience was on the back ward of a state hospital and it was your lucky day if your patient wasn't homicidal. I don't know which was more trying on your soul,  psych or pediatrics. It was a toss-up.

Obstetrics was different, especially post partum where the exuberance of young mothers was uplifting. Our time in OB was rotated in monthly intervals through delivery room, nursery, and post partum. Everyone had their particular favorite, but delivery room duty was the highlight of just about any young student  nurse's  training. The miracle of birth was something that stayed with you and served as an antidote to all the pain and suffering in the rest of the hospital. Birth and death were the ultimate Yin/Yang experience.

The delivery room had another up side. Stashed right next to vials of silver nitrate which was used prophylactically in  babies' eyes to prevent blindness from contact with gonorrhea was a stack of blank birth certificates.

The unwritten rule was that each student nurse was entitled to one blank birth certificate at the conclusion of their delivery room rotation. Students treasured documents from their various specialty rotations and I still have a plundered birth certificate along with a sponge count record from the OR and a restraint and seclusion record from psych.

I first learned what could be done with a blank birth certificate from one of my fellow students who had been released from Cook County School of Nursing as being unsuited for the practice of nursing. That "unsuited" business was a catch all phrase that covered a multitude of sins and was a step up from academic failure because some of these students were able to transfer to another diploma nursing program after "maturing." Transfer students were a valuable resource when it came to surviving nursing school because they knew many of subtle ins and outs of getting through the madness of three years of torture.

Light fingered nursing students knew exactly what to do with a poached birth certificate. "All you have to do is fill in your own name with a birthdate of more than 21 years ago and the document becomes your ticket to freedom from the evil clutches of the sanctimonious "dry" hospital environs," explained one of these wise transfer students. Time to unleash the libations.

Barkeepers found the neighborhoods surrounding hospitals as fertile ground for their trade. There was no shortage of stressed out workers that had pay checks to support their bar tabs. These taverns often had clever names like "Recovery Room" or "Barborygmi." The bar of choice near our hospital was "Ratzos" and the barkeep would just wink and pour when presented with a birth certificate with freshly inked infant footprints. This little charade had been going on for a very long time and was one of the dirty little secrets of old school diploma schools. Cheers! as Sue  would say.


  1. I never had need of an older birth cert., but I know exactly what you mean about peds and psych being so blasted stressful! Thank the universe for my best friend in nursing school; he got me through peds, and I got him through psych. And we got each other through OB/L&D/PP.
    Funny that we both ended up as ICU nurses!

  2. Don't get me started on Paediatrics, watching a child die was too much for this nurse, I couldn't stomach it, viscera spilled everywhere... I was in awe of those brave souls who actually trained full time for four years as Sick Children's nurses, I'm afraid this nurse was found wanting... sick children and sick animals, I can't take either without falling apart.

    Do Americans say "cheers" or is it an Aussie/British thing I wonder. Watch out OFRN or I'll give you some truly awful Aussie slang...

    I don't remember that we drank much, it was more cigarettes and caffeine to get us through night duty... sniffing anaesthetic gasses was not unknown either.

    Good post OFRN - on yer, mate! (awful Aussie slang for good on you). Stone the crows! Sue.

  3. Thank you for the chuckle on a bad day.

    My mother was a diploma school RN and she would tell stories about her, my eventual father and their friends going to local nightspots to hear bands (right, Mom) and racing back over pitch-dark out-of-the-way New England streets.
    The best story was her and her VERY drunk friend (my eventual godmother) getting back to the dorm *just* before curfew and encountering the DON. Mom would tell how she tried to keep her friend upright and pretend nothing was wrong while said friend wanted to sass back.
    Not sure if the DON (or whatever she was called then) bought it, but both graduated and had families and careers scaring whippersnapper nurses to death.

  4. Sue, I love the way you spell pediatrics. The orthopods here in the states have latched onto that "orthopaedics" Brit/Aussie spelling, but not the peds docs. I think the ortho guys use it because they think of themselves as international superstars. "Cheers" is widely used and there even was a bar themed TV show called CHEERS.

    Donna, our old dorms were closely monitored by elderly matrons known as housemothers. Behind their back some of the students that had problems with authority referred to them as "house hags." I think there is an old post about housemothers somewhere on my blog. Just type House Hag..OOPS. I mean housemother in the search box.

    There was a stipulation in our student hand book that stated, upon returning to the dorm, students should not be unruly or overly boisterous. We all knew what that meant; Keep your mouth shut if returning from a bar.

    1. I must dig out my old Rules for Nuses booklet OFRN - I can't remember what was said about alcohol (but it absolutely would have been forbidden in the nurses' home) but I do remember the wearing of nose rings was banned - apparently they were in fashion back in the early 1970s!

      We did go to discos where you could dance and drink at night, but looking back Australian pubs were awful places - women had to sit in separate areas as mixing with the men was unseemly and downright dangerous - unlike British pubs which are/were terrific, ours were plain nasty back then. Thank goodness we have nice wine bars etc now, but back then pubs were rough - a legacy of our convict past and the severe lack of women in the early decades of British settlement here.

      We did drink at parties outside the nurses' home - especially with the Irish nurses! Their Irish coffee was lethal - 3/4 whiskey and a tiny dash of caffeine...

      I used to watch that show CHEERS it was great, as was Frasier that came after it (I liked Niles). Talking to a friend last night we discussed the use of "cheers" here and decided it came from the UK where it is used a lot.

      Yes we still have the English (British) spelling for words like Orthopaedics etc - and we never use abbreviations like Peds. We had enormous trouble once when they were putting up new signs in the hospital and for the eye ward the sign they put up read OPTHALMOLOGY - we had a terrible time explaining to the guys who wrote it that it's spelt opHthalmology - they refused to believe the word had an "H" in it until we finally brought out a dictionary and showed them.

      In the nurses' home we were terrorized by (sorry, I mean cared for by) Home Sisters, who were fully qualified Nursing Sisters and always wore full uniform and veils and who were a mixture of kind motherly types or utterly terrifying harridans. Our rooms were inspected weekly for neatness by one of these starched and veiled demi-gods. (It really was military - if one of them had bounced a coin on the bed I wouldn't have been surprised).

      The rules were strictly "lights out" by 10pm, but I am a bookworm and was always still reading by that time - the light under my door was inevitably noticed and my door would be opened and a hand would appear through the crack, switch off my light on the wall, and close the door while the an invisible stern voice said "Nurse, how to you expect to care for your patients adequately if you don't get sufficient sleep?!".

      I learned to read under the bed covers with a torch...

      As we got braver we earnt to hold illegal parties in someone's room via torchlight and candles...and smuggled in alcohol, horror!

      Now I've written too much again, oh dear, cheers again OFRN! Sue

    2. Excuse the typos OFRN I shouldn't type sitting on the couch... Sue

    3. A simple towel or blanket at the bottom of the door would have stopped the light from peeking out under the door :-)

  5. One of my favourite scenes from Frasier - two psychiatrists fighting with each other. Off-topic again OFRN - apologies! Sue

    (YouTube - Frasier You Stole My Mommy)

  6. Thanks, Sue, for all the fascinating details in your comment.

    The only officially sanctioned use of alcohol in our school was the traditional champagne breakfast for graduating seniors on our very last clinical day.

    It was amazing how much I learned from talking with patients. One man who was an insurance company actuary told me if I wanted to extend my lifespan by 12 years all I had to do was avoid bars. I pretty much followed his advice and maybe that is the secret to my longevity.

    1. Heavy alcohol intake is a real problem in this hot country OFRN and judging by the number of elderly people in my town (women especially, interestingly) suffering from alcoholic dementia, your decision to avoid bars was a wise one!

      As a very young junior nurse I was present when an alcoholic man haemorrhaged to death from a sudden rupture of oesophageal varices - a very nasty sight in the middle of a hospital corridor for this new nurse. This was enough to make me wary of drinking much for life... As you say, the things you learn from patients! Sue.

  7. As a very young student nurse (18) my very first patient was an alcoholic with severe GI bleeding problems. After caring for him for a week he dramatically improved and I noted in my care plan that he probably has a favorable prognosis providing he stay away from the bottle.

    He suddenly bled out and died the next day. My instructor badgered and belittled me to no end about for offering my rosy prognosis.

    1. When I look at 18 year olds now I think how young we were to take on the sort of responsibility we did as student nurses - I remember finishing high school and six weeks later I was in a nurses' uniform caring for patients! The first time I walked down a ward and heard a patient's voice calling out "Nurse" I actually looked down at myself, realized I was now in a nurse's uniform, and realized she meant me!

      I think your instructor was pretty tough on an 18 year old student - but they often were tough back then. A lot was expected of us but we were only weeks out of school... yikes. Sue.

      PS: I've wondered why did you choose Theatre Nursing OFRN? Or is there a post somewhere about it on your site?

    2. It's probably most accurate to say that OR nursing chose me. Dr. Salmbow encouraged me as a student nurse and my highest board scores were in surgery. I think as a youngster, I liked quick fixes to serious health problems and with all the infinite wisdom of youth, surgery seemed to be the answer.

      I certainly would NOT think like that today after some of the complications I've seen. Things like that stick to your brain like glue!