Friday, March 15, 2019

Fun in The Sun at Diploma Nursing Schools

"After I sink this one, let's  visit the sun deck!"
Old time 3 year diploma nursing schools lacked the recreational amenities  of modern learning institutions, but they did provide some outlets for brow beaten,  harried students to unwind. The notion of fresh air and sunshine as a curative modality was a core value of the traditional Nightengale mindset; hospitals had solariums and almost every nursing school had a sundeck.

As sundecks were the common denominator at diploma nursing schools, most hospitals had at least one other diversional activity. Cook County School of Nursing had a magnificent indoor swimming pool. After a brief journey through dingy, rat infested catacombs an elegant facility complete with Romanesque columns emerged. The lavish pool was a  unique oasis oddly situated in the midst of a dingy, depressing, medically underserved environment of intractable social problems and abject poverty. A true diamond in the rough.

 Our hospital had a lowly pool table located adjacent to the sun deck entrance and students often picked up a cue and attacked the racked balls before sunning themselves. Nearby Ravenswood hospital had dual purpose sundeck that also served as a badminton court. Weiss Memorial Hospital had a combo shuffleboard court sundeck.

Most all sundecks in Chicago hospital nursing schools  were located on the roof of the nursing school as a concession to the cramped urban environment. The nurse's sundeck was on the roof and 4 stories off the ground at our beloved learning institution. (If you could even call it that.) The operating rooms on the seventh floor overlooked the nurse's residence sun deck and provided geezer surgeons an unobtrusive vector for ogling the scantily clad students. An amorous break from the rigors of the operating room was only three stories away and many took advantage of the opportunity.

A generous sized cedar wooden deck that occupied about a third of the roof top made up the formal deck. This structure was surrounded by a chain link fence that prominently commanded a sense of forbiddance. A few deck chairs and a large phony looking  plasticized   palm tree provided atmosphere. A tropical paradise amongst the Chicago concrete jungle seemed to be the idea.  Just toss a dime in the nearby beverage  vending machine for a can of Tab soda and stretch out on a beach chaise. Life was good.
Tropical Bliss Comes to a Chicago Nursing School
Sundeck activities, like everything else, were governed by the rules set forth in every student nurse's bible, the official student hand book. Here is what the powers at be had to say:
A sundeck is provided for the convenience and pleasure of the students. It is open from 8AM to sunset. School linens, pillows and blankets are not to be taken out on the sundeck. Radios are permitted on the sun porch if played softly. Suitable chairs, chaise lounges, and mats are provided and must be returned after each use. Some type of beach coat or covering must be worn to and from the sundeck.

Like Baptists, diploma nursing schools firmly believed in total immersion, not in water, but in the hospital milieu.  I think any oppressed minority cultivates  a latent rebellious streak and student nurses were no exception. The sundeck overlooked the faculty entrance to the hallowed halls of the lecture auditorium where bitter, hardened, old instructors put their students through their paces. After a severe ear beating on the clinical unit for a pillow oriented the wrong way  toward the door, one of the students, Rose, hatched a diabolical plot for revenge. An Asepto syringe and a bath basin created a sluice of water that cascaded over the sundeck just as the formidable Miss Bruiser made an appearance. She was an aficionado of flowing capes, but nevertheless received a generous soaking

Soon after Miss Bruiser's unfortunate encounter with the cascading fountain of water, a warning sign was posted; Any  student caught propelling any substance off the sun deck will be referred to the student disciplinary committee for possible expulsion. As young Rose loaded her Asepto for another aquatic volley she replied with a snicker, "They have to catch us first!"


  1. Haha, brings back memories! Our sun deck was located on the roof of our nursing residence in full view of both the medical school and 7th floor of the hospital. We, however, had a typical tarred surface that was about 9 degrees cooler than the sun. Students provided their own beach chairs.

  2. Thanks for the laugh, I like Rose! This made me think how different it must have been living in a building that from the description must have been several stories in a large city like Chicago, whereas we lived in a two-storey nurses' home where buildings were mostly ground level (like in the New Zealand video) in what was then a small quiet Sydney with easy access to outdoors.

    The grounds of our hospital even contained a hot-house where the gardeners grew only orchids for decorating the desks of the Matron and Deputy Matron. One of my nicest memories is coming out of the Spinal Unit (then a small cottage near the orchid house) and falling asleep (in full uniform, a hanging offence!) under a tree on the grass on a particularly lovely day (I think student nurses can sleep anywhere/anytime). When I woke up, one of the gardeners had spotted me and had laid a bouquet of orchids beside me. How sweet! I never found out which gardener it was but I still think what a lovely gesture! Perhaps he took pity on a tired sleeping young student nurse. Cheers! Sue

    1. that is so very sweet! I can picture you laying there, waking up to the flowers. Thank you so sharing.

  3. Sue, I think that hospitals with some access to the outside natural world are more therapeutic for both patients and nurses. Our school was smack dab in the middle of a concrete/asphalt jungle. No green space for many blocks in just about any direction and the multistory buildings often blocked out the sunlight. Under these conditions a visit to a roof top urban sundeck was refreshing, even the noises of the city down below faded away. I like your story about the flowers.

    Flowers were few and far between in Chicago, but it was a graduation tradition that each graduate was presented with a bouquet of roses after the awarding of our pins. As a male I received a couple of blue carnations and felt cheated out of the roses (just kidding, I was so euphoric after receiving that hard earned pin that little else mattered.

    1. My old training hospital is now a tower block surrounded by high rise apartments OFRN - sadly the old brick and stone buildings and lovely gardens that existed in my day are almost all gone. The spinal unit was wonderful in that we could wheel the patients in their beds outside on a nice day and the nurses could chat to the them while they were able to enjoy the fresh air and hear the birds... when they built the tower block they went into a dark 7th floor air conditioned ward and I remember the nursing staff objecting vigorously as there was no nowhere to easily wheel the beds outdoors anymore. By then I was working in Psych and we still had a two storey circular building with a pond and garden in the middle which was lovely.

      I can imagine the roof top sun decks must have been wonderful for you all - and gave the nurses a chance to get even with the Miss Bruisers of this world! Gosh we had a few of those too...

      Our graduation was a bit of a non-event in that you only came off-duty for the duration of the ceremony, got your veil, badge and certificate, then went back onto the ward immediately after - for the first three months after graduation you were a Probationary Sister and still wore the student nurse's uniform but with veil not cap - after that you went into the light blue-and-white Sister's uniform.

      But usually there was a celebration on the ward and the patients would give you flowers! Sue.

  4. Re flowers OFRN (I do talk a lot don't I!) - our hospital was built next door to an old unused (ie. full up!) cemetery in which grew the loveliest flowers and shrubs which had sprouted from the ones left in the past by people on the graves.

    When the new tower block was built it was discovered to our dismay that the Oncology Ward was positioned so that every patient's window looked out over the cemetery … you do have to wonder about architects sometimes don't you...

    But anyway, in the old days when we had patients who had no flowers or we wanted to decorate the wards (or our rooms in the nurses' home) we used to wander into this old graveyard and pick the flowers to put in vases. The graveyard was always known affectionately by us as "Matron's Garden". Sue.

  5. I treasure your comments Sue. In Pittsburgh, St. Francis hospital was also constructed right next to Allegheney Cemetery which was huge. Almost very room in the hospital had a graveyard view. St. Francis Hospital is long gone and a huge hospital megaplex UPMC Childrens has taken it's place. The cemetery is still there, but most of the windows facing it have been obscured by colorful murals. It's sad to think of all the charity hospitals that have bit the dust or taken over by corporate monstrosities.

    1. I just Googled both those hospitals OFRN and the St Francis Hospital looks like it had a beautiful chapel and has a website devoted to its nursing alumni. What a shame to lose all that.

      We are not safe here either, the government is privatising our free public hospitals by stealth and they turn into money-making institutions. The nearest big public hospital near me, the Port Macquarie Base Hospital, was privatised some years ago and was so badly run (due to profit making being the major priority, not patient care) that the government was forced by public pressure to take over the running of it again and turn it back into a free public hospital. So we fight to keep our tradition of free healthcare for any who need it.

      Thanks for bearing with my long comments OFRN! Sue.

      PS: I nearly bought a house once when I was living in the lovely town of Bathurst, NSW - but what put me off was that the view from the kitchen window was over the town cemetery - it didn't seem to be the most cheerful view as you were making breakfast, although it would have been quiet ... Cheers! S.