Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Times, They Are a Changing

It is National Nurses Week. More has changed over my lifetime than the price of postage. The stamp on the left is current. The one on the left was issued when I was a nursing student. First class postage was 4 cents. Sometimes a student nurse had to borrow that amount to write home for money. I always thought the illustration looked like my sister.
There is an ad in the newspaper this morning with two nurses, one male, one female, declaring their pride in being members of the nurses union. While it is fashionable to bash unions, they are probably responsible for lifting salaries and working conditions for nurses in Minnesota.
When I got my first professional job in 1966 a nurse could not afford to pay rent to live alone or own a house. You found several friends and split the rent. I remember well the early days when the union was adopted by twin cities nurses. The year we moved from Minneapolis and I quit working at a major hospital the twin cities nurses union struck for the first time. I was glad not to have to deal with that. Too much of my mom in me. Nurses don't strike, do they? Aren't they angels of mercy? Like it or not, they unions have helped.
Before I retired, I liked to tell stories of the "old days" to young nurses. Sometimes the responsibility we had even scares me. My first job was at University Hospitals. They gave us a good month long orientation. Then they turned us loose and even put us in charge of units on the off shifts. We struggled through with the novice interns. I am not sure that was such a good idea, but boy did we get experience quickly. My next job was also at a huge Minneapolis hospital. I worked cardiac care in the days when they were just starting these intensive care units. When I had my babies, I dropped back to a few part time shifts. They reassigned me to the float pool. There were 22 nurses stations in that hospital and you could be sent to any of them. I worked a lot of critical care because of my background but also found myself a variety of situations such as pediatrics, post-partum. Sr. Kenny rehab , chemical dependency and psych. I even worked charge on psych a few times at night. The psych aides stayed close and helped me muddle through. The only place I never was sent was the operating room and ER.
The education and orientation of today's nurses is a little gentler. We also had a lot of responsibilities as students. One year I worked extra hours as an ICU nurse as a student. I delivered two babies as a student nurse while on my obstetrics rotation. I believe changes in education and practice have done a lot toward safer practices in nursing. I am not sure I would want a student nurse delivering my baby.
Happy Nurses Week to all my younger colleagues out there in the work force. Thanks for your service.

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