Twenty-seven years ago today…

Not my school’s cap, but you get the idea.

May 17, 1984.

Three grueling years of education at the Northeastern Hospital School of Nursing in Philadelphia, PA has come to an end.

I remember going to our graduation breakfast in the hospital’s cafeteria that was put on for us by the school’s alumni association. We excitedly – and nervously – donned our white graduation uniforms, along with our new white shoes and stockings (can’t have scuffs, dirty laces, or runs today!) and walked as a group of 21 soon-to-be graduates to the breakfast. Upon entering the room, I think we all caught out breath in our throats: The sight of the tea roses as table centerpieces was trumped only by the starched white caps with wide black bands sitting at every place set for us. The alumni rose and applauded us as we walked in and took our seats. I honestly don’t remember much about the rest of the breakfast because I was too busy staring at that cap…MY cap…I know they gave us a necklace with a porcelain rose in the center, a pen and pencil set, and a year’s membership to the NEH alumni association.

We spent the rest of the day getting our yearbooks signed, cleaning out our dorm rooms, visiting with classmates we knew we’d not see after this night ended, visiting with our “little sisters” and wishing them luck over the upcoming year…and looking back at 3 years of our lives that we alternately loved and hated. We hated the monthly Wednesday 0500 fire drills in the dorms when we had to be at clinical by 0700 and we were up all night doing care plans, often not rolling into bed until 0200. We hated doing care plans, drug cards, and dissecting our formalin-soaked cats (poor babies). We loved gaining confidence in clinicals as we gained knowledge from the classroom. We loved that we actually had time to sit and talk with our usually elderly patients. We especially loved looking at the freshmen and junior classes, who looked at us as “the lucky seniors” with our two navy-blue bands on our caps. Surely we didn’t ever look as scared as they did! We loved some instructors, feared others, and hoped that still others would retire before our “little sisters” had to suffer through their senior rotations or classes with them. We loved our profession despite the weekends, holidays, and odd hours we knew we’d have to work.

Now we’re lining up in the dorm’s main lobby, the juniors and freshmen students wishing they were in our spot. Little did they know that we were probably scared to death. After tonight’s graduation ceremony, we’d be graduate nurses waiting to take our state board exams. What if we failed?! What if three years of hard work went down the drain on our first try at the boards?! What if we – God forbid – killed someone with a medication error?! I think we imagined every kind of nightmare while we waited for our “Parade of the Roses” to start…

…and now here we are, walking down Allegheny Avenue to the church where we’d be having our graduation ceremony. Since most of our patients were from the neighborhood – and frequent fliers to boot! – they were out in force waving, cheering, and calling out their best wishes for us. We carried a half-dozen tea roses in an arm bouquet, our caps proudly on our heads, our uniforms standing out white against the blue and white of the students who walked behind us. Filing into the church, we sat up on the alter. We sang a couple of songs really badly (we were never known for our singing anyway), listened to speeches, and were suddenly being called up for our diplomas and school pins. Awards were given out, the alma mater was recited, the school song sung, and suddenly it was over. Maybe 90 minutes max and we were finished.

No more dorm-mates. No more text books. No more Sunday night shifts in the library. No more commiserating with classmates about a rotation, an instructor, or a course that was vexing us.

We were graduates of the Northeastern Hospital School of Nursing. Alumnae. Former students.

None of my instructors are teaching any longer. I’m not even sure how many are still alive. The school has changed and they no longer wear caps. Times may change, and I may change fields within critical-care nursing, but I my heart will always be with my school. Here’s to the NEH SoN Class of 1984, wherever you are!

5 thoughts on “Twenty-seven years ago today…

  1. Just wanted to say thank you for this fine story. I am currently the Recruiter for Northeastern Hospital School of Nursing. We are still going strong. This story tells me it is really worth all the hard work that is put into keeping the school going. I would like you to contact me b/c i think we still may have two of your teachers here at NEHSON. Great job on the story. I would like your permission to print copies for the students currently studying nursing at NEHSON. Please reply. Thanks again, Pat Fleetwood

    • Hi, Ms. Fleetwood! Thank you so much for reading and leaving your comments! Of course, you absolutely may reprint this and give to out to the students! I’m honored by your request. Oh yes! I absolutely cherish the education I got at NEHSON! My parents wanted me to attend a BSN school back then, but I told them I was not spending all that time – and money – to fail my boards on my first try. I was going to a diploma school and if I had to pay for it myself, I would. My first year was covered by high school scholarship money, my second year by a student loan, and my parents helped me pay for my last year ’cause they saw I was serious about my education there. When I went into my first job after graduation, I was the only new grad out of 12 going into the SICU who knew how to give a bed bath, change a bed with a patient in it, administer meds of all kinds, start an IV, had a baseline knowledge of dysrhythmias and basic, basic critical care knowledge. I was off of orientation before the rest of the group and I was doing charge on my night shift shortly after coming off of orientation. *laughs* I was petrified! I was only ready for all of this because of my time at NEHSON. That is truly the only reason. I’m proud of my school and I always will be.

      Regards,
      Beth

  2. In response to your comment that none of your instructors are still teaching well I am still here. You knew me as Marilyn Brown and I am not sure if Pat Wesolowski was here then but she is still teaching. If she was not here at the school you probably knew her from Maternity department. And everyone that was here as to the best of my knowledge is still alive. Also, I would know you but you do not post a name.

    • MISS BROWN!!!! How great to hear from you! You might remember me as Beth Ann Coyle. I still have a picture of you pinning my cap onto my head the night we had our capping ceremony. And yes, I still have my caps (200 level ribbon, 400 level ribbons, graduate cap). They’re a tad on the yellowing side, but they sit proudly on my bookcase in their plastic carrying bag our big sisters gave us the night of capping. *LOL* Pat’s name sounds familiar…I would probably recognize her if I saw her ’cause I’m bad with names. I had heard that Mrs. Joyce had died. I knew she had sarcoidoisis – she got diagnosed in, I believe, our last year of school. I have lost touch with everyone that I went to school with.

      This year will be 28 years and I’m still in critical care nursing, although I’ve shifted from the adult ICUs to the PACU. I told Ms. Wojnar that I was going straight into an SICU after graduation and would never look back. *LOL* And I haven’t. My specialties are cardiovascular-thoracic ICU and neuro/trauma ICU. I’ve been an organ procurement coordinator, a clinical education consultant for Hewlitt-Packard, and even a critical care instructor at a small north TX hospital.

      I’ll have to see if I can scan some old pix of me and post them to this blog. I have to get dinner made and get ready for work, but I’ll fire up the scanner in the AM when I get home and post them. You’ll probably recognize me from the pix, ’cause I’m sure you’ve had a lot of names pass your office over the decades.

      I wanted to be like all of you when I grew up. I like to think that there’s a part of all of you in my practice today. You ladies shaped my views of nursing and my practice, and I’m damned proud of the education I got from NEHSON and the stellar instructors. I remember you, Miss Brown, telling us that when we looked at our patients, we should envision our parents lying in those beds, while you told us, “Would you want your parents’ bed wrinkled? Would you want their faces dirty? Would you want their room dirty? No. You would not”. When I’ve been a preceptor to students and new graduates, I’ve echoed those same words. My students and orientees gave baths, washed faces and hands after meals, offered a washcloth for hands after using the bedside commode or bedpan. They changed gowns that were soiled with remnants of meals. They pulled up those clean gowns so that chests weren’t exposed. Sheets were pulled tight, covers were straightened. Bedside tables were wiped clean. I’d tell them, “You want to know my pet peeve? Messy patients, messy rooms. Would you want your family member laying in that bed with a soiled gown, a dirty face, unbrushed teeth and a nasty bedside table? No. you would not. I got taught that in nursing school and I’m teaching you now: This is how it’s done in my unit.” *laughs* I was probably their worst nightmare, but I’ve had some students come back and tell me that they never forgot those “little things”….and I have not, either.

      Thank you, Miss Brown, and please thank the rest of the instructors for me. If not for you, I’d not be the excellent nurse I am today. A belated Happy Nurses’ Day to all of you!

      Beth

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