Gertrude - Retired, but Still Nursing
I grew up in the south during days of segregation, and had to leave home at eighteen to attend nursing school in another city because I was not allowed to attend the school in my hone town. I made up my mind nursing was what I wanted to do, and no sacrifice was too great. I attended a three-year nursing school in Kansas City, MO, and received my diploma in 1951. My father died that last year of my training, and at the urging of a sister living in Seattle, where my mother and two teenage sisters had also relocated, I moved to the Pacific Northwest to help my mother.
I was offered a position shortly after my arrival in 1952 in the operating room, which was my first love in nursing, so I was happy to find a position there. It was a real awakening for me; I had never worked in an environment of desegregation. It took me awhile, but I adapted well.
After working for eight years as a staff nurse, I took the opportunity to promote to assistant supervisor. Back then dedication and hard work were the standards used for promotion.“Nursing is part of my spirit and has made my life full.” I did not have to interview for the position, I was chosen by my supervisor, even without a college degree. My supervisor saw potential in me I never knew existed. I’m grateful to her for her foresight. Her vision helped me grow into the person I am today.
Harborview was a teaching hospital and I enjoyed the student nurses. Over the years there were many student nurses, exchange nurses from other countries, medical students, and newly hired RN’s and surgical technicians to train. This was stimulating to me. I loved teaching and watching growth. I tried to keep them confident in their ability to perform. At the end of the day I wanted them to know they had done a good job.
I also was the peacemaker among staff. I was taught to treat people the way I would like to be treated and it bothered me to see people being harsh with co-workers, because I knew if that same burden were put on them they wouldn’t be able to take it. I think I did more peacemaking than almost anything else because people discovered they could talk with me.
Things have changed a lot since I first became a nurse. In the early years we were so busy setting up the room for surgery we did not take time to speak with our patients until they were wheeled into the operating room, and many times they were already sedated. I was so happy when that changed and we were required to do a pre-op visit with our patients, either the day before and/or in the surgery waiting area. To me, the patient connection is what makes nursing meaningful. Nursing is part of my spirit and has made my life full.
Nursing is why I was put on this world. I love the people I work with and I love the patients. I feel passionately that it is what I’m supposed to do, and I feel spiritually connected to the patients. Many times, when patients had difficulty facing surgery, the staff would ask me to talk with them. Sometimes I would pray with them or say the 23rd Psalm. I’m a dedicated Christian and providing comfort to patients is a gift God gave me to use.
I retired from nursing after 30 years. But I didn’t stop working entirely. I continued part-time work as a staff nurse and thought I would continue working until I didn’t want to work anymore.
Part-time work can be a problem because there are days when the staff is short and I was constantly asked to work extra days. I would fill in even though I knew I was getting too many hours to keep my retirement status. I just couldn’t say no. I was finally told to either return all the money I had received for retirement, or quit. So I quit. I was only 52 and not ready to retired. I loved my job so much, and was sad to leave. I tried not working for a while, but finally decided retirement wasn’t for me. I took an operating room position and worked for 13 more years. I would have kept working because I enjoyed my job, but at 65 my arthritis was progressively getting worse.
By then equipment and instrumentation was getting so technical, I was ready to really retire. I came into nursing during the days when we were sterilizing instruments by boiling and making our own saline solution.
After my final retirement, I spent my days visiting nursing homes and people who were sick in their homes. This was a commitment I made long before I retired. I called on people in the evenings and on Saturdays, but after I retired I had even more time to do it.
The best nurses have a calling to help, or contribute, or give. They are able to put themselves in the patient’s place. When I was in the hospital last year I had many nurses, but only remember two who really showed that they cared about me as a patient and a person. The rest would come in and change bottles and put up medications, but even if they asked, “How are you?” they didn’t look at me or wait for an answer. I didn’t feel respected by them. The two that showed they cared would come in and spend time talking with me. They were reassuring and took time to answer my questions and talk with me about my concerns.
My advice to those who want to enter the nursing field is to think hard about it, speak with veteran nurses and get a feel for the profession. Don’t take the same route I did to decide my future. I spotted a billboard with a nurse in a white uniform, looking so professional, and decided that day I was going to be a nurse. I decided without ever having been in a hospital. I now feel God was with me as I decided, because while still a student I knew this was what I was called to do. That conviction never changed, only grew stronger.
Power Strategies: Achievement, Commitment, Compassion
go back to main page