I am 18 years old going on 19. My mother is driving me from Pawtucket to Providence on the 95 freeway; in the car she makes a statement “My experience has been you will not enjoy sex till you are 50”. I guess this is her way of talking about sex, I am silent, not knowing how to respond, and taken by surprise. I am still dating Joe and remain a virgin. I have read medical books and novels about sex. I am not comfortable discussing the subject with my mother. Are you able to talk about sex with your mom?
We arrive at Rhode Island Hospital School of Nursing off of Eddy Street in Providence. We make our way to the beautiful old fashion assembly hall made out of wood: the stage, walls, floor and chairs. We are attending orientation when one of the instructors talks about “some girls will quit, and I encourage the parents to be supportive of the decision, when it is expressed, and not pressure your daughter to stick with it”. My mother turns to me and says “you will not quite, you will finish and become a nurse”. We are told that 25 % will flunk out, and we have 100 students in our class. My anxiety is compounded with this statement.
We go to my private room which already has a single bed, bureau and a small desk, she helps me decorate: putting up curtains, placing a rug in the center of room and a few mementos from my Dad; a foam pillow that has decomposed over the years and an old fashion favorite radio that does not get good reception; these items are hard for me to let go of, besides being beyond useful they are still comforting. She leaves and I begin by exploring my surrounding and meeting my classmates.
The student nurses quarters consist of 2 building for sophomores and juniors; my room is in Aldrich house and the other one is called Middle house, they are situated behind the hospital and made out of red brick probably built in the late 1800s. The elevator has a large heavy outer door that you can only open when the elevator is there and has stopped; there is a manual metal latticed door that you squish together before and after getting in and out of the claustrophobic contraption, which has you wondering if it will work. As you come off the elevator, turning right into the long corridor, you will find the communal bathroom on the right side furnished with wooden stalls separating a few toilets that are equipped with old fashion locks for privacy, there are many sinks with mirrors in a row, and a huge bath tub area.
The old beautiful wooden interior, of the long hallway, has high ceilings, so sound travels amazingly well. The door to each room is solid wood, with a window above that can be opened for circulating air on those hot muggy nights. My room is humongous with a large walk in closet and a window looks out back into the trees and neighborhood. I feel right in the center of things, and can see everything going on down the long passageway, which is the main thoroughfare, that has many rooms on both sides; I am at the crossroads of two halls, the other hall leads to a corner room and in the opposite direction it leads to the lounge: where there is a TV set, a small kitchen, lounging chairs, couches, and a kitchen table with chairs, which is where many congregate to share stories and socialize.
I live on a floor with many other newbies, and we meet our big sisters, who initiate us by wrapping saran wrap on the toilet seats so we wet ourselves peeing, and placing water balloons to break when we opened our doors getting me drenched. A few of us get together looking for their pranks before going to bed. They told us that our life will change drastically and the boyfriend we have now will not be around at the end of the year because we will have changed. They end up being right because I end my relationship with Joe within a few months.
I connect with a group of 5 girls: Debbie, Donna, Marlene, Meme and I. Together we: studied, eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in the cafeteria, and created our own study group. Whoever is good at a subject helps those who aren’t; it works out pretty fairly, seeing we are all bright women with great minds. We figured out our nicknames, by taking the last name and using its opposite meaning; for example mine is “Weakie”. We developed a strong bond that gets us through difficult times. There is a tiny powerful housemother who goes around before 10 pm when we are to be in our own rooms, instructing us on being quite and within a short period of time, she is taking our names down because we are noisy and I am hiding my friends in my closet. We are very amused by her and imitate her when she turns her back to us to write our names down.
Most of the walking around campus and the hospital grounds is all done in the tunnels underground. We tend to stick together due to the dark dank atmosphere and explore every nook and cranny in order to get familiar with our surroundings, we know where the morgue is but it’s locked and that means mystery and curiosity. The entrance to and from the hospital is locked so we push the button and the housemother at the main desk buzzes us through.
Our first year of clinical started out slow. We spent 2 weeks on how to make a bed on an empty ward, by the tallest woman nurse I have ever known, we have a great giggle when she pulled the sheet so tight that it ripped apart, our hospital corners were assessed and the tightness of the bottom sheet is evaluated by the ability of a penny to jump up when made right. This was before we were ever allowed on a hospital unit and able to touch a patient.
Our first year is learning the foundations of nursing; we have clinical sessions one day a week. The night before we go to the hospital floor to look up our patient assignments, going through the chart writing down all information presented and making sure nothing gets missed. Then we go to the library and our rooms to research what it all means, which takes a great deal of our evening time. We prepare by gathering information on: any possible questions the instructor may ask about the patient; the meaning of lab results; understanding of the disease process; surgeries performed, preparation for tests and surgeries that will be happening, with the nursing care required and why; the medications being given and reasons; and to develop a nursing care plan which includes physical, mental, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs.
We arrived on the assigned floor at 7 am and received report on our patients from the nurse in charge. The most anxiety producing part of the day is the interaction with the instructor questioning us on what our nursing care plans are for the day shift and answering any questions we have for her. We literally staff the hospital, except for the medication nurses on each wing and the Senior Student Nurses who are learning on the job as charge nurses. We assist the medication nurse by administering medications to our own patients. We set up the patients for breakfast; sitting them up with the over-bed table in place; delivering the hot food trays and removing the lids, placing everything within reach, with straws in the liquids; constantly assessing and anticipating the patient’s needs; and feeding those who need help.
We do full bed baths, always being aware of the importance of privacy by keeping the person covered with a large bath-blanket, except for the body part we are working on, we used a basin, wash cloth and large towel, changing the water frequently before it cools off. We begin with the person brushing their teeth then handing them the facecloth to do their face, if unable we do it for them, before we proceeded to their body. We work on each arm, then the chest and belly, then each leg, and if they are able we hand the person the facecloth to do their private area, otherwise we do it. At this point we changed the water and assist with turning them onto their side or by using the pull sheet. We wash the whole back and buttocks followed by a full back massage from the neck all the way down to the end of their buttocks. If they are bed-bound we change the linen at this time. Then we turned them onto their backs again and assist them into a Johnny gown. If not bed-bound we get them up into a chair, making sure they had a water pitcher, call button and anything else they required and soak their feet while we make the bed.
When it is lunch time we go through a similar ritual we used for the morning meal and assisting as needed. After meals we eat our lunch, which are staggered so there is always a few sophomore students around to cover the floor while a few are eating. We are very supportive and learned to work well with each other, helping to care for the more difficult patients together like when it takes more than one person to move someone. We walk with those who have orders to do so, helping those to the restroom who had bathroom privileges, and responding to call buttons for use of a bedpan. We help those back to bed that have sat up all day and give another great back massage before we chart, give report to the charge nurse and leave around 3:30pm, so the patients are basically ready for the evening shift. Our care is compassionate, sensitive and excellent and within that first year we function as a well greased machine with a strong team approach. The more we learn the more difficult our patient assignments get, we do 3 month rotations in different wards in the hospital: learning all aspects of medical, surgical, orthopedic, and neurology nursing care.
Four days a week we attended classes: which include nursing theory with our own nursing instructors; and non nursing classes from the University Of Rhode Island instructors who come to our campus to teach us. Almost all our classes have a lab class attached to it. In our nursing classes we use holistic nursing care plans on whatever area of nursing we are learning about covering mind/body/spirit.
When it comes to anatomy and physiology we all take a system, using my room’s wall as a chalk board to draw on, and explain it to the group. In anatomy lab we work hard studying for 2 weeks, memorizing the bones of the body, using the skeletons in the lab. We study so hard all the way up to the day we take the test. Later we realize we have over studied creating anxiety and confusion. So before our next test we decide to go out and party, feeling that we needed to relax and see if that worked better, which it does so before a test ritual. Our muscles test is just one essay question to describe the muscles used and how used when doing a pushup, which is every muscle in the body extending and contracting. In lab Meme and I: dissect a cat we call dog; we pith a fog much to our disdain; and waste many clams doing chemical tests on their hearts while we had them hooked up to a small graph machine that records the heart rate.
On the first day of Chemistry lab the teacher instructs us on the 3 rules: keeping the water in the sink, no breaking anything, and no laughing. Well Mimi and I work together, she knocks the rubber hose attached to the faucet out of the sink, while rinsing out our supplies, causing the water to spray out wetting me, I drop and break the beaker, and we both burst out laughing. This puts a stress on our relationship with the lab instructor: when she would ask questions like “I don’t get that, can you explain it?” he’d response with “you’ll never get it”; and when she got her test papers back we could always find a right answer marked wrong and she’d have to point it out to him. Thank God high school gave me a great foundation in chemistry and since I excel at it I pass. In microbiology lab I contaminate everyone’s Petri-dish with my organism; luckily I did well in those lectures and pass. In the college classes the lectures and lab scores are always combined and as you can imagine the lab scores brought down the excellent scores I get in the lectures.
We go out at night walking arm in arm, singing and dancing down the street to the tune “we’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of oz”. We walked through downtown Providence on the way to the Eastside which is called College Hill and hang out. We get involved in the International Student Union where we meet people from all over the world. We have Hot Fudge Sundays or bagels and cream cheese at the little Bob’s Big Boy. We have a 10 pm curfew on weekdays and midnight if we stayed in the dorm on the weekend, which I preferred and do frequently. We only get 2 weeks of holiday vacation and two weeks in the summer off from our training schedule, so we make the best with whatever free time we have. Can you identify with any of my experiences, how are yours different?