Out Of Her Gown And Into The Void
My second full-time job in life was as a nurse’s aide at Eitel Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Frankly, it was a horrible job. I took the job at the beginning of the harsh 1969 Minnesota winter, and I had to ride the bus to work, so I was quite cold when I got there. In December 1969, the average high temperature in Minneapolis, Minnesota was 0.0°F*; and women wore skirts to work. Although the hospital building does have an interesting history**, when I worked there it had deteriorated, and it was cold, cold, cold. The building itself was cold, the staff was cold toward me, and the nursing procedures were cold-hearted.
My unskilled labor was to wash down the wire-frame beds with a chlorine bleach solution between patients to reduce bacterial transfer (in the days before rubber gloves were in general use so that stung a little bit), to position bedpans under bedridden patients and to clean both patient and pan afterward, to give bed baths to patients who could not get out of bed (one very ill woman thanked me saying, “You gave me as good a bath as I give myself.”—which touched my heart), and to help patients walk safely to the bathroom or to sit in chairs to rest upright, or to guide them as they built up their strength by walking in the hall, if they could. The heavy lifting and turning was easy for me, and I liked being of personal assistance to patients who so obviously needed my help.
After my probationary period, the only shift offered to me was described as the “graveyard” shift; and when I was shocked other seemingly callous humor on the part of the nursing staff I was advised to learn to accept the “mortuary humor”. I am a morning lark so the night owl hours were painful; and I still think that mortuary humor suits a morgue better than a hospital. I feel that a hospital atmosphere should be warm-hearted and encouraging, what do you think?
The floor where I worked was not very busy so I befriended a remarkably pretty young patient about my age who was terribly ill with some sort of organ failure. She could barely lift up her head. But after I had spoken to her only a few times to cheer her up, a senior nurse pulled me aside and firmly instructed me to not speak to her again, “She is a prostitute and you are not to go in her room.” I was appalled that being a "whore" meant that she was forbidden my kindness at Eitel Hospital. I felt that the young woman’s “profession” should not have been relevant or revealed.
I was thinking that I did not want to work at Eitel Hospital, when late one night a middle-aged woman was wheeled onto the floor where I worked. She was strapped to the gurney, thrashing against her restraints, and screaming to high heaven. All of the nursing staff ran to her room. The woman’s family trailed in after her, huddled in conversation briefly with the nursing staff, then left. I expected that the screaming woman would receive immediate treatment for her distress. The patient’s face was swollen and red with emotion and she seemed to be in a great deal of pain. She lay in her bed twisting and moaning. I stood just outside of her doorway and watched as the medical staff left her room. The last one out sharply instructed me not to stand there and not to go into her room. I asked why the patient was not receiving any medical care, and was told that the woman’s family said that the woman "was always acting out” and “the best thing to do is ignore her and she will settle down.” I swear to God that is what Eitel Hospital nursing staff said and did. Their foolish callousness shocks me to this day.
I went about my business as instructed but within the hour I felt compelled to distressed patient’s doorway out of concern and foreboding. I heard her shriek. She was heaving herself up and down in her bed, gasping. I had never seen a human being move herself in such a violent way. I ran to the nursing station for help, Code Blue. The Code Blue team ran in with their crash cart, ripped open the distressed patient’s hospital gown, and applied defibrillator heart paddles to her chest, once, twice, and a hopeless third time, no more. But she was gone. I saw her go. I saw her tormented soul glide glowing out of her body and into the void. What I saw of her transcendence suggests life after death.
But as for that patient’s right to fullness of life on earth, that poor woman was failed by Eitel Hospital. She died while neglected by nursing staff who callously, foolishly took the misdirection of the woman’s family, and left her alone to die.
Shortly thereafter I quit my job at Eitel Hospital. I was in the dark despair of a twenty-year old woman having trouble finding herself in a cold, cold, cold world.
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** See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eitel_Hospital.
Caption: I Saw Her Glide As A Glow Out Of Her Gown And Into The Void
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018