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Thinking Back on the "Old Days" of Nursing.

When you have been a registered nurse in the Detroit area since 1954, like I have, you have seen a lot of changes in the profession, hospitals, and entire health care system. I am now 86 years old, and although I retired three years ago, my nursing license is still active.

I always wanted to be a nurse, ever since I was seven or eight years old, because I wanted to take care of people. I would bandage my dolls and dog, Buzzy, as my patients. I grew up in Detroit and graduated from Dominican High School, an all-girls Catholic school, in 1949.

Tuition for the three-year nursing program at Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital in Detroit was $250. We had to pay the rest of the cost in hours worked at the hospital. A nursing student could not get married while in school or she would get kicked out.

Our uniform, white and starched, included a skirt that was below the knees. We wore white nylons with a seam in the back, white shoes, and a white cap. We did not have stripes on our caps until we graduated. Our capes were light blue. We had to wear our hair short and could not wear jewelry.

Nursing students ran the hospital alongside a few head nurses. We all lived at the hospital and had our classes there. First-year students had inspection every day. We stood in the lounge for inspection before daily Mass, during which the nuns took attendance.

I received specialty training at a New York City psychiatric hospital, where my job was to prepare people for shock therapy. In one instance, a patient put his hands around my neck, choking me. I also trained at the Herman Kiefer tuberculosis hospital in Detroit.

We nurses introduced ourselves to patients, colleagues, and classmates as "Miss" and our last name. We never wore name badges. At the hospital, there could be as many as six patients in a room--three on one side and three on the other. The windows could open, and patients could smoke in their rooms, except those who were on oxygen. New mothers would often stay in the hospital for five to six days, even if there were no complications.

My fellow nurses and I never wore gloves or worried about getting diseases from patients. But, when a patient left an isolation room, we had to "sterilize" the room by cleaning everything from top to bottom. And, after someone died, I had to wash the body and take it to the morgue. That was terrifying for me.

I took patients' temperatures with a glass mercury thermometer and gave medicines, though only a few were known at that time. I also gave full head-to-toe baths and made beds every day with new sheets and mitered corners. Blood pressures were not taken every day--only when a patient had surgery. After surgery, there was no recovery room like there is now. Patients were simply taken to their regular rooms.

We kept track of everything we did for the patient, called "charting," and had to write in perfect print. We even had classes to learn how to print clearly. When a physician came by the nurses station to look at a patient's chart, we had to stand and give up our seat. Physicians could smoke at the nurses station and in patients' rooms. They never asked our opinions--we were expected to be silent.

I got my first nursing job in 1954 at Jennings Hospital in Detroit, where I was paid $3.50 an hour. I worked there for about six months but had to quit because I was married and became pregnant. Back then, you could not work once you started showing.

My first experience working in an intensive care unit (ICU) was at Bon Secours Hospital in Grosse Pointe. I had been working afternoons on a surgical floor when I was told to go to the ICU without any special training. There were five beds in the ICU, and I was by myself. I worked at Bon Secours for five years and then took time off from my nursing career for another five or six years because I had a daughter who needed medical care until she was in first grade.

When I went back to work in 1970, I was hired at St. John Hospital in Detroit, where I could walk to work. I started on a medical surgical fioor and then moved to the ICU, where I took care of heart surgery patients. I enjoyed working in ICU the most, and I worked there for 20 years. I next went to the same-day surgery department and finally split time between endoscopy and eye surgery.

My husband, Jimmie, and I had six children. One followed in my footsteps to become a nurse. She is now chair of the bachelor of science in nursing pre-license program run by the University of Detroit--Mercy in Grand Rapids.

Helping people in need was extremely satisfying and has provided me with many memories. Nursing was a great career for me, and while I cannot say I saw everything, I did see quite a bit.

By Delphine V. Counsman

Delphine V. Counsman lives in Clinton Township. Her father, Henry Orlowski, came to Michigan from Poland when he was 16. He owned Henry's Market, a butcher shop on Harper Avenue, and the Bulldog Bar in Detroit near Hamtramck.

Caption: Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital in Detroit, where the author attended nursing school. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Michigan.)

Caption: The author, Delphine V. Counsman, at different stages of her nursing career in Detroit. (Both photos courtesy of the author.)

Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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Title Annotation:REMEMBER THE TIME
Author:Counsman, Delphine V.
Publication:Michigan History Magazine
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Jul 1, 2019
Words:954
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