Thursday, January 2, 2020

Nursing School Probies Had a Rough Initiation

Right this way to the swimming pool!
First year hospital   diploma nursing students were affectionately referred to as "probies" which was short hand for probationer. Probies had a rough life and were at the mercy of junior and senior nursing students for their first 6 weeks. Some of the more benign pranks inflicted on the  hapless probies were scavenger hunts to central supply for things like fallopian tubes or enema nozzles and  getting doused with water blasted from an asepto syringe.

Some of the initiation shenanigans were a bit shocking and proved to me that estrogen could be just as potent as testosterone when it came to fueling hijinks aimed at demeaning innocent victims. Groups of hospital hardened young women possessed a mystical herd strength fueled by their clinical nursing experiences and were eager to share the misery with novices. Somehow, the girls who were the most faint-hearted became the most aggressive tormentors.

 Nursing was emotionally and physically challenging and the initiation was designed to weed out the more faint of heart. Steel plating was a prerequisite for the rigors of vintage hospital nursing.

Many hospital nursing schools in Chicago  had beautiful indoor swimming pools. Cook County Hospital had one of the fanciest which  resembled a Roman bath complete with marble columns. What a contrast to the stark Nightengale wards packed to the gills with suffering, impoverished patients. Luxury in the midst of poverty always rankled my hackles.

Unbeknownst to probies, our hospital lacked a swimming pool but did have an old fashioned exterior  fire escape tube connected to the second floor freshman dormitory on one end and the great outdoors on the other. In the event of a fire, the fleeing victims opened the double doors to the tube and flung themselves into the awaiting platform that quickly transitioned into a steep descent. Gravity did the rest as the victim flew through the tortuous tube at breakneck velocity landing, hopefully, safely on the outside.

Junior and senior students knew how to grease the skids, so to speak, by applying pilfered bone wax to the inclined tube's interior with ABD dressing pads. This made the descent even more terrifying, especially to the unexpecting probies.

The probie trap was baited by covering the EMERGENCY FIRE EXIT sign on the escape tube's entrance with an ordinary sheet and substituting it with a sign clearly stating: SWIMMING POOL OPEN. The deception was further enhanced by soaking a washcloth with Clorox and tossing it just inside the opening to the tortuous tube. The tortuous tube even smelled like a swimming pool.

"O.K. probbies it's time for a group swim," was the battle cry as the doors to the cleverly disguised fire escape were gleefully swung open. As the probies made their sudden descent a satisfying ( at least to the juniors and senior students,) cacophony of shrieks and screams emerged from the tortuous tubes. Any probbie further back in the line up was advised the screams were in good fun and initiatd by the cold water in the pool.


  1. One of my great life discoveries happened several months into my freshman year at college. Women were capable of at least as much disgusting or treacherous behavior and language as men. They were just much better at keeping it discreet until it needed to be unleashed. It was a very important life lesson!

  2. We were called probationers too OFRN - also known as Preliminary Training School nurses for our first six weeks, generally referred to scathingly by more experienced nurses (including those only six months ahead of us!) as "those wretched little PTS nurses". The situation was made worse by not giving us our white aprons until after six weeks, so we were the only ones wearing all blue uniforms meaning we stood out like beacons. We victims were easy to spot!

    And what probationer nurse on a women's ward didn't go through the initiation of being told to find a patient called Malaena Stool...

    Regular punishment for any minor misdemeanour (such as your hospital corners on the bed not being an exact 45 degree angle) meant you had to scrub every bedpan in the sluice room with steel wool until it shone sufficiently for Sister to be able to view her reflection in it....

    The patients weren't entirely innocent either - orthopaedics was full of bored young men who loved to frighten a probationer nurse by putting their thermometers in a mug of tea so the poor nurse would be horrified and get Sister immediately - only to then receive a blast about what an idiot she was...

    Thanks for bringing back the happy memories! Sue

  3. And those were the good old days!

  4. At least we had fun in the kitchen in the Nurses' Home over our cuppa and cake in the evenings taking the mickey out of some of the crotchety old Sisters giving us a hard time. Gosh we did have a laugh about some of them - just as well they couldn't hear what was said.
    That camerardery got us through it all I think.

    One of my friends got caught by the Home Sister climbing over the wall to the Nurses' Home after hours at night because she'd been out with her boyfriend. (Everyone had to climb over the wall after hours at some time but she got sprung..)

    Home Sister placed her in a new bedroom next door to her own office and checked she was safely in bed each evening by checking on her with a flashlight! It was like living in a convent...

    She's been married to that man for 40 years now and still loves to remind him how much trouble he got her into back then! They're still close friends of mine too! Cheers from Sue

  5. That reminds me of the "visiting rooms" we had in the lobby of the nursing dorm. a petitioned off area about 8X10 feet with a table in the middle. There was a rule that when boyfriends visited there had to be 2 pairs of legs visible on the floor at all times. There was a 2 1/2 foot gap btween the bottom of the partition and the floor for the housemothers to observe. Some of the more clever students would remove their boyfriend's pants and stuff the empty trouser legs with paper towels inserted into empty shoes to give the false impression of the 4 legs on the floor mandate.