Chicken soup for the nur.., p.20
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       Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul, p.20

           Jack Canfield
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  Sylvia C. Chism

  Black Stockings

  Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.

  Henry David Thoreau

  There weren’t many things I hated in this world as much as I hated black stockings. And yet I tolerated them for three long years when I was a student nurse in Milwaukee in the 1940s. Our student uniform was as attractive as a shroud. Shapeless, sand-colored, white-collared, short-sleeved and belted, the dress sagged halfway between my knees and ankles while other eighteen-year-olds wore knee-length skirts. The two lumpy patch pockets always bulged with pens, scissors and notepads. We even had to wear cotton undergarments to prevent sparking an explosion of anesthetic gases in the operating room. I tolerated cotton slips, but I detested black stockings. Those, and the black shoes we students were required to wear with the uniform, were the final indignity.

  Sister Emma said we had to have black stockings before we went on the hospital floors in our sixth week. My folks and I searched the stores in our spare time, but black stockings were as rare as chocolate bars during the war. By the end of the fifth week, I still had none. In desperation, my mother dyed six pairs of tan cotton hose black. I was ready.

  My first patient contact: evening care for three patients. This meant helping them with their toileting needs, washing their hands and faces, and brushing their teeth. We, who had never touched a stranger, had to wash backs and give back rubs with rubbing alcohol and talcum powder. Even worse, everyone knew we were only “probationers,” with hairnets, not nurses’ caps, on our heads. I tried to do my assignments perfectly, but other patients turned their signal lights on and doctors stopped me in the halls, asking questions. I was so nervous, my underarms were wet with perspiration. My first three hours on duty seemed as if they were three years. Somehow, all my patients ate their suppers, and I finished their care. The head nurse inspected the ward, found dust on the base of one overbed table, but said I was adequate, and dismissed me for the evening. I hurried back to the nurses’ home.

  Safe in my room, I kicked my black shoes off. The linings were damp. I peeled my garter belt and stockings off. My feet were black as coal! I tried to scrub the color off without luck. With only five minutes before study hall, I dried my gray feet, threw on some clothes, ankle socks and saddle shoes, and dashed downstairs.

  For two months my feet ranged in color from dead black to ash gray. The black dye oozed from the stockings, to my feet, to the lining of the shoes until everything was a dirty gunmetal color.

  By December, things had settled down, but the life of a student nurse in the mid-forties was far from glamorous. The meals were mostly starch, and there was never enough food to satisfy the appetite of a growing girl; I hid jars of peanut butter in my dresser and ate it by the spoonful. It was routine to work eight hours, go to class for three or four more, and then to study. On my two half-days off I slept or studied, living in constant fear that I’d never learn enough to be a good nurse. But I was becoming more skillful with patients, practicing first on our mannequin, and my feet slowly faded.

  Meanwhile, my father scoured the city during his lunch hours until he found some black rayon stockings in a hosiery store downtown and gave me three pairs as a Christmas gift. How I treasured them; they didn’t dye my feet.

  During our second year, we met students from other hospitals, most of whom were also plagued with black stockings, except for those from a fancy Eastside hospital; they wore white shoes and stockings. Our class agreed that our uniform would be far more attractive without black shoes and stockings, and we petitioned the director of nursing. She refused to listen. “Tradition,” she said.

  Counting down our 1,095 student days and looking forward to graduation, we dreamed of white stockings and fashionable short skirts.

  One evening, a visitor handed me a package and thanked me for caring for his wife during her pneumonia crisis. He gave a similar package to every student on the unit, and the head nurse said we could keep them. Inside the box were three pairs of the first nylon stockings I had ever seen—black, but sheer as cobwebs and seamed up the back. Our grateful visitor owned a hosiery store. I wore my precious black nylons every Sunday until graduation. Meanwhile, our class bought fitted, short-skirted uniforms and the much-desired white stockings and shoes, saving them for the big day.

  On August 28, 1947, our class of twenty-one paraded proudly in crisp, tailored white uniforms, white stockings and shoes, and starched white caps to receive our school pins on graduation day.

  The following month, a young Frenchman named Christian Dior showed his first collection, “The New Look,” featuring longer skirts, about halfway between the knee and ankle. His models pranced down the runway wearing sheer black stockings with their pumps.

  Sometimes you just can’t win.

  Elsie Schmied Knoke



  There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.

  John F. Kennedy

  My Mission of Hope

  Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

  Margaret Mead

  When I was in my late teens, a young priest gave me a prayer card inscribed with the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman, a nineteenth-century cleric. Titled “I Have My Mission,” it read in part:

  God has created me to do him some definite service:

  He has committed some work to me, which he has not committed to another.

  I have my mission . . . I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

  He has not created me for naught. I shall do good. I shall do his work.

  The words struck a chord deep within me. The prayer card became one of my most treasured possessions, and I carried it with me for years. The priest also told me about Mother Teresa, the nun who was working with the “poorest of the poor” in India and I longed to do something meaningful with my life.

  A few years later, after I married, I began taking evening classes at a local community college. I started with psychology classes, then took a course that was ostensibly sociology but focused very much on the war in Vietnam. I invested a semester of hard work, earning an A in that class, as I did in most classes, but I took away far more than a good grade.

  I soon became active in antiwar demonstrations and in the presidential campaigns of antiwar candidates. I read everything I could, trying to make some sense of America’s involvement in Vietnam—but the more I read, the less I understood it.

  By this time I had two children and was pregnant with my third; education and motherhood became my equal passions. I continued to enroll in classes, and in a burst of confidence took an intensive biology class. The idea of becoming a nurse grew within me. When I passed that class, I knew I was on my way. I took chemistry and passed that exam, too, with the second highest score in the class. Ultimately, I completed my nursing degree.

  Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam dragged on. I felt helpless, fighting for a cause that most people didn’t seem to care about. Gradually the thought struck me that perhaps I could make a single, small contribution by making a difference in the life of one person. Recalling a magazine article I had read about the plight of poor, unwanted children in Vietnam, I asked my husband how he would feel about adopting one of them.

  We not only adopted one child, but applied for adoption of a second and third. When the process grounded to a halt, it seemed the children would never be released to us. After several frustrating months of waiting, I decided to go to Vietnam and attempt to untangle the paperwork.

  Arriving there in November of 1973, I was immediately enthralled by this amazingly vibrant country and its people. On my second day I was invited to work with a nurse at the To Am (“warm nest”) Nursery, founded by Rosemary Taylor, an Australian social worker who had been working in Vietnam since 1967. That eve
ning I was greeted warmly by Elaine Norris, a volunteer American nurse.

  Elaine was obviously exhausted. The influx of orphaned and abandoned children was increasing daily and this center was overflowing. They had no more room inside and were accommodating the extra babies wherever they could, even outside on the open porch.

  The villa’s living room had become a makeshift intensive care unit, filled with very sick babies. Many of them were receiving IV fluids from bottles hanging from nails driven into the walls. Nothing in my training had prepared me for such a sight, and the enormity of the task ahead took me by surprise. Nervously, I confided in Elaine that I wasn’t sure I was competent to help with so many babies. Elaine smiled and assured me I would learn quickly. We talked while diapering, feeding and caring for the infants. At last, bone-tired, I crawled into bed. As I drifted off to sleep, I listened to the night’s serenade: babies crying, gunfire in the street below and explosions in the distance.

  I woke before dawn to find Elaine working in one of the rooms. Quietly, she pointed to a tiny baby boy and told me she’d been up all night nursing him. The baby was scheduled to travel to a new family soon, but he wasn’t going to make it. The sight was traumatic for me. Before that moment, I had never seen a baby die. I stayed with Elaine, and we lovingly comforted the tiny boy until he passed away. By then I was crying so hard, I was sure I couldn’t continue to work. The emotion was too much for me. But I couldn’t leave the nursery because Elaine was exhausted after a full night’s work. She needed me to get back in control.

  I urged her to rest and told her I would take over while she slept. Alone, I gazed about the room, frozen by the awesome responsibility I had just agreed to take on. Suddenly, I was in charge of a house full of babies. There was no doctor and no other nurses, only the Vietnamese staff, who spoke little English. There was nobody I could turn to for advice or guidance; it was up to me to make the decisions.

  A childcare worker soon approached me with an infant in her arms. She pointed to the child’s forehead. I saw his flushed face and felt his forehead; he was burning hot with fever. Together we sponged the baby with cool water, and slowly the fever diminished. When he was sleeping soundly, the woman gently slipped him into a crib.

  I followed behind the workers as they made rounds, quickly seeing how well these women knew their small charges. Though we couldn’t converse, we communicated through the needs of the babies. A nurse pointed to one whose IV had infiltrated. The area was red and puffy. I knew what was needed, but there was no doctor to do the job. I’d have to do it alone. My hands shook as I pulled out the IV needle and correctly reinserted it into the tiny girl’s vein. It was the first time I had ever started an IV, and I was relieved when I saw the fluid begin to flow into her vein. I fretted, checking the IV every few minutes, and was amazed that it continued working well.

  As I went from child to child, my nursing skills came to the fore, and I knew what had to be done. No sooner had I finished with one child than another would need my attention. The hours blurred into a constant round of nursing each baby. I started recognizing the individuality of each one, and soon could identify them as the unique little people they were.

  Finally, I looked up to see Elaine smiling and watching me, looking refreshed and rested. “You’re a natural,” she told me.

  “I have my mission.”

  At last I had found the “definite service” for which I had been created. I returned to the United States only long enough to retrieve my children and husband and never returned to America to live again. The work in Vietnam in 1973 was the beginning of my lifetime commitment to children in Vietnam and India. I eventually opened my own organization—International Mission of Hope.

  Cherie Clark

  [EDITORS’ NOTE: Cherie Clark was instrumental in implementing Operation Babylift to help rescue three thousand orphans from Vietnam in 1975. From there she journeyed to India where she worked with Mother Teresa. She returned to Vietnam in 1988 where she continues to minister to needy children today.]

  The Heart of a Nurse

  You must give some time to your fellow men. Even if it’s a little thing, do something for others—something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.

  Albert Schweitzer

  My husband worked as an orderly at a nursing home in a nearby town. There were two ways patients left his fullcare unit: by going to the hospital or dying. Most had no visitors so my husband tried to fill that void with a friendly word or smile for each of the people on his floor.

  Easter was approaching. My husband felt sad that there would be little to designate the holiday for his patients and wondered what we could do to help. He had been out of work some time before finding this job, and we were struggling financially. Still, what could we do to make Easter a little more pleasant for the patients? What could we give them?

  I looked around our apartment with plants in every sunny window. “Let’s give a plant to every patient,” I suggested.

  We bought Styrofoam cups and filled each with some stones on the bottom, potting soil and a plant cutting. When we were done we had thirty potted plants, and I still had windows filled with greenery.

  After church on Easter, we took our toddler and headed for the nursing home. One of the nurses found us a utility cart and we wheeled the box of plants around, stopping in each room, greeting each patient by name. Our son, dressed up in his Easter clothes, handed out the plants. Out of respect, he called each resident Grandpa or Grandma, though he knew they weren’t his grandparents. They all smiled while we spent a few minutes talking with each of them and wishing them a Happy Easter. Some of them might not have usually celebrated Easter, but we felt our visit transcended religion. Our little boy enjoyed the pats on his head and kisses on the cheek. It was the best Easter we’d ever spent.

  Later that week there was a nursing strike. The floor was manned by a skeleton crew and per diem nurses. My husband and the other orderlies were pressed into service to help. It was near the end of his shift and he was exhausted, when one of the substitute nurses hurried out of a room. “Mr. Peterson is dying,” he overheard her tell the head nurse. There wasn’t much they could do for the old man other than make him comfortable. After the nurse gave him the medication, she returned to her station. On a normal day one of the nurses or certified nurses’ aides would sit with a dying patient and offer whatever comfort was needed. This day there was no one extra to perform this humane service.

  “I’ll stay with Mr. Peterson,” my husband offered.

  “Your shift’s over, and we can’t pay overtime,” the head nurse said.

  “I’ll stay. No problem,” my husband said again.

  It was a long time before he could tell me the rest of the story. He sat down next to Mr. Peterson. The plant we’d given him at Easter bloomed next to him on the nightstand. He recognized my husband. “I’m dying, son,” he said in a low voice.

  My husband fought back tears. “I’ll stay with you awhile.”

  The old man asked, “Pray with me?”

  My husband had no idea what religion Mr. Peterson practiced, but he took the man’s gnarled hands in his and prayed with him for God’s grace. He stayed with him for hours, talking and praying until the man slipped away with a smile on his face.

  “I felt the spirit of the Lord in that room,” he told me. “I know Mr. Peterson is with God.”

  My husband wasn’t a trained nurse, but surely that afternoon he had the heart of a nurse.

  Beatrice Sheftel

  Nurse Puss ’n Boots

  Do all things with love.

  Og Mandino

  It was Christmastime in 1979, and I lay recovering from “female surgery” in a hospital in Virginia. To make matters worse I got stuck with a wacky nurse. And she was mean as a viper. Her short, chubby body waltzed into my room each morning, waking me and shouting, “Time to get up, Missy! Get up and get outta that bed before you catch pneumonia. You’ve got to move about, or else!”

sp; I didn’t like her much, and I let it be known. Besides, it was plain she didn’t like me. She frequently quipped, “I’m just doing my job, and I intend to do it by the book, Missy. By the book.”

  Outside the snowfall piled higher and higher and half of the nursing staff was unable to get to work. But of course Nurse Puss ’n Boots made it. I called her that because she came in every afternoon with her white boots on, covered with snow and stomped around in them all day. I could see her from my window trotting through the white flakes every day at 2:30 on the dot. What was it about this particular nurse that intrigued me so? I wondered.

  I was sure she didn’t have a life outside the hospital. She was domineering and mean and always eager to start her shift, as if it was so wonderful to be stuck in a hospital with sick people every evening. Sullenly I asked God, Must Christmas come this year? And must I spend it with this gruff nurse?

  Christmas Eve came and I was devastated that my husband and baby boy were stranded at home, an hour from the hospital. There was no way they could drive through the snow-packed interstate. I lay in my bed in a deep state of melancholy imagining how little “Bradley Boy” would look when he opened his train.

  To make matters worse, Puss ’n Boots came marching in and noticed my sadness. “Well, Missy. You’ll just have to do better than this. You’ll have to take what comes,” she insisted. I made a face at her when she turned and walked out the door. I could hear her at the nurse’s station. “That’s right—by the book, always by the book.” I groaned and covered my head with my pillow.

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