My First Life as a Nurse
March 24, 2015 11:05 AM   Subscribe

I am in my first month of nursing school. It is the early 70s and this is a three-year program, hospital-based, all practical training. It is my first day in my first ward...
A remembrance, by English professor and disability studies scholar, Janet Lyon.
posted by Toekneesan (15 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
This is very haunting and human. Thank you for posting it. I have probably left nursing, but routinely miss it; and also don't.
posted by byanyothername at 11:21 AM on March 24, 2015

Soul crushing and true. I mentor pre-nursing students, and I constantly wonder which of them will make it and which will not be able to handle it. I know I would not be able to handle it.

I didn't notice the author's name before reading. Janet Lyon's work is always impressive, but I had no idea about this part of her history. Others may recognize her name as the spouse of Michael Berube (who is also, among other things, a disability studies scholar) and mother of the incomparable Jamie Lyon Berube.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:38 AM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have worked in the medical field for a quarter of a century and thought this was fascinating. A lot of it took place in areas of the hospital where I rarely venture, but for a number of them i thought "Wow, that would never happen today. Thank goodness!" For others (fortunately mostly more positive) my response was "That just happened here last week." And of course, the teenagers snickering at the psychiatrist's name is timeless.
posted by TedW at 12:42 PM on March 24, 2015

My mother went to a hospital-based nursing school at exactly the same time, and left the field at about the same time. I remember being puzzled, as a child, why she would do all that hard schooling only to quit soon after. It actually was my first lesson in how she operated: to this day, she has never held a job for more than a year or two, and it's always the other person's fault when she quits.

But actually, I think there was more than that to nursing in the early 1970s. Women were fresh out of the 1960s revolution, wanted to support themselves, had nurturing instincts, had no internet to do research, and then when they got there were like, wha?

Actually mom's always saying now that hospitals should bring back their programs, because they were better than the disconnected schools. But I think that nursing is a profession that will always be fucked up, because health and egos are involved.
posted by sockerpup at 1:00 PM on March 24, 2015

That first incident -- experienced at 17 -- I can only wonder how she was able to see and process and contain that, and then the rest. I hope that Janet Lyon has had good support. This is so articulate and human and heartbreaking. Thanks, Toekneesan.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:12 PM on March 24, 2015

Wow, that's amazing. Inspiring and horrifying.

My mother was a nurse in the mid-to-late 50s in Manhattan, and then again in the 70s-90s in suburban Massachusetts. Her final placement was at a state school for the physically and developmentally disabled: really they were people with a variety of problems whose families couldn't care for. It was hard, messy, painful work that she rarely talked about.
posted by suelac at 1:28 PM on March 24, 2015

'DO NOT FEED' - that's horrifying
posted by thelonius at 2:49 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I remember my first (and only) cpr as a student nurse in the ER. Every compression sent a fine spray of blood all over me because his lungs were so punctured, they wouldn't stop for 30 minutes. He died. I became a hospice/palliative care nurse and never looked back. I have nightmares about ending up as a patient in an ER, unable to tell them to stop. I have no idea how those nurses do it.
posted by yodelingisfun at 4:03 PM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

In full disclosure, I know Janet. Not well, but I hired Jamie after reading the piece linked above that Michael wrote for Al Jazeera. That was how I met her. While I have moved on from Penn State, Jamie still has a job in the department I used to run at the Penn State Press. I suppose I know Jamie best. We worked together for a good part of last year.

One of the reasons I hired Jamie is because both of my brothers also have Down syndrome. They both worked most of their lives in a plastics factory back home because they were assisted in the beginning. And because my mother was was able to teach them to take care of themselves and how to be disciplined, they lived on their own for most of their lives. Jamie also has great potential and is a super cool young man. He was recently seen in an audience shot onJeopardy when his brother was on the show.

When my mother had my brothers back in the Sixties she was encouraged to put them in an institution and forget about them. They are four years apart and she was told that both times. She didn't and they both had very full lives. My younger brother has both been married and divorced. They are highly functional, and were lucky to have my mom, but after growing up with them, when I read Michael's piece I knew I could and should do something. So I hired Jamie. I am incredibly grateful to my colleagues back at Penn State for keeping Jamie on staff.

I knew Janet back when I lived in Pennsylvania and also worked for Penn State. I met her when I interviewed Jamie and saw her again at Jamie's birthday party. We've kept in touch since I left and she posted this to facebook, where I saw it. I hope it's copacetic that I posted this. I admire her a lot, and I would be honored to call her my friend, but I shared this because of the quality of this piece, not because she's Jamie's mom.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:12 PM on March 24, 2015 [18 favorites]

That part where she was told not to talk to the dementia patients in case it 'encouraged them' - to do what, exactly?
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 5:57 PM on March 24, 2015

HypotheticalWoman, my guess is that they didn't know what caused dementia. They didn't realize it couldn't be controlled through sheer will. So they didn't want to encourage "bad" behavior, just like you wouldn't encourage "bad" behavior with a toddler.
posted by CautiousClam at 7:21 PM on March 24, 2015

hydropsyche, thanks so much for the link to Jamie's story. Powerful. Toeknee -- you are good people.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:08 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Holy cow.

My aunt is a nurse, and two of her daughters are, also: one just passed boards this month. I always knew that their work was hard but this just makes me catch my breath.

Every nurse I know well is pretty matter-of-fact about their work, but I remain so profoundly grateful for the care they deliver to people (including me) in terrible situations that it makes me well up every time I think about it.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:36 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

My first CPR on a living person: I feel the ribs of an old woman crumble under the force of my palms. (This feeling stays with me my whole life.) She doesn’t survive.

There have been a lot of articles and essays and radio programs in the last few years about why so many healthcare providers have chosen DNR status while most lay people want full resuscitation. You can talk about it for hours, read about it for days, but in the end this pretty much covers it.
posted by vytae at 3:56 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

On dementia: Pearl was an old lady who had married a lumberjack and moved all over the Rockies with her husband, cooking in lumber camps, having her babies in tents and hastily-thrown-together wood structures along the way. When I knew her she was in her 90s and in a nursing home. Her mind had her back in the lumber camp, getting breakfast for "the men"; "Have you got the biscuits ready?" she wanted to know, "because these men are hungry and ready for their breakfast." Or, "Are you doing the pancakes? Because you'd better get busy." Those of us who loved her always assured her that we were all set for breakfast and sometimes we'd tell her the syrup was getting low - she'd tell us to get busy and make some to carry us over until we next stopped for provisions - or something similar. It pleased her to be "doing" something important.

But the administration didn't agree with us. We were told to always "orient the person to time and place." So we were supposed to tell her that we weren't in a lumber camp, that she was in a nursing home and she was 92 and the year was 1983. We learned to avoid the nurses and administrators (not that the administrators were ever on the floor where the residents were anyway) and save our breakfast time with Pearl for private moments, just as we did with other residents and the time period they were living in, simply because if Pearl were my grandmother, that's what I'd want for her.

Now that I'm old, I shudder to think of being told that this world that I'm inhabiting right now isn't the one I'm inhabiting at all; it's actually 2070 and that plastic thing is my supper and no one ever heard of chocolate-chip cookies.
posted by aryma at 10:54 PM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

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