First a brief history, of Rhode Island Hospital, which was built through the generosity of the community, begins in 1857 with a bequest by Moses Brown Ives, to establish a fund for a hospital in Rhode Island. On October 1, 1868, the founders of Rhode Island Hospital gathered on the hospital grounds to dedicate the new hospital, founded to serve the citizens of the state and to provide care to the region’s most seriously ill and injured with the latest medical technology available.
In 1882 Sarah Gray, the first chief of nurses, is appointed and opens a nursing school.
In 1895 The Department of Orthopedic Surgery for the prevention and cure of deformities in children and adults opens.
In 1915 Rhode Island Hospital becomes the first hospital in the region and the third in the United States to offer an EKG machine.
In 1922 A Tumor Clinic is established by Herman Pitts, MD, and George Waterman, MD.
In 1931 The Joseph Samuels Dental Center opens at Rhode Island Hospital to provide comprehensive dental care services to Rhode Island’s underprivileged children and individuals with special needs.
In 1934 Dr. Minot, Dr. George and Dr. William Murphy of Rhode Island Hospital, win the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology for their work on pernicious anemia.
In 1941 The Potter Building opens to care for children.
In 1945 Modern research begins when the Rhode Island Medical Society approves the creation of an institute of pathology within the hospital to make laboratory services more available.
In 1948 The Trustees approve “dedicated to the care of the sick, education and research” to Rhode Island Hospital’s statement of purpose.
Collectively, the community supported many special campaigns, including drives to fund the $8.75 million, which is one of the first 10-story patient care buildings in the country, the hospital opened in 1955. This is the building that I was trained in.
In the 1800s the first uniform at Rhode Island Hospital School of Nursing was a long black dress, heavy black stockings with garter-belts, white starched pinafores, and they carried a kerosene lamp that they had to dray around where ever they went. The style changed to what our big sisters’ wore: white starched uniform with the pinafores and their caps were white starched winged things, which most schools had adopted since the beginning of training.
Our class is the first to have a more modern uniform that is easier to care for: made of polyester; the pattern is small pink pinstripes, which you really can’t see; there are buttonholes down the front center on both sides where 2 sided plastic white buttons go in, holding it all together. Our caps look like a paper cupcake holder upside down on our heads, that I have to hold onto my hair with 2 long pointy white hat pins that are out to get me, never really keeping it in its proper place.
This year we have received a thin burgundy velvet ribbon that is place on the cape to show our accomplishment of completing our first year of nursing, we are so proud of it. We wear heavy white pantyhose with freshly polished white nurses’ shoes, no deviation is allowed. Our nails have to be short, clean and without polish, our hair has to be off our collars and out of our faces.
Now we are big sisters to the new class that enters the school, feeling jazzed that we get to pull pranks on the newbies, and in line with tradition we do the water balloons over the doors, the saran wrap across the toilet bowl and petroleum jelly on the toilet seats. We develop a supportive bond with our little sisters and share with them what we have learned from our big sisters. We really do not get to see our little or big sisters much because we all have such busy schedules but connect when the opportunity presents itself.
Our class numbers is down to 75 students remaining which means 25% flunked out with a small number quitting by the end of the first year. We are in our 2nd year of nursing school and our clinical experience working with patients has increased to 4 days a week with the 5th day for our nursing classes. It is freaky that after a slow paced year of one day of clinical a week we are now working 4 days a week and my group is thrown into the lion’s den where student nurses are eaten alive and its full steam ahead.
Our 1st 3 month rotation is surgery in the OR at Rhode Island Hospital. We are assigned a locker, given 2 sets of the basic green scrubs that were the only color at the time, which includes hat, booties for over our shoes, top and pants. We change into our scrubs, put on the covers for the shoes, and tie back our hair before putting on the caps. Then we enter the scrub area and are instructed how to scrub down our hands and forearms after which we keep bent at the elbows, before gowning up and putting on our gloves, now we are “sterile” enough to enter the OR.
Our first day starts with us above a large OR room in the Gallery watching an open heart surgery, the surgeon tried to have us believe that he is the famous Dr. Christiaan Barnard who performed the First Heart Transplant, he has us all go down into the OR room and look into the open chest of the patient, to the amazing visual of the heart beating loudly in our ears as we peek in. It was a rare thing to behold and all I could wonder about was how much outside contaminants’ the patient was being exposed to while 20+ students peered into the man’s chest, and the subsequent discomfort he will experience from the amount of time he was being held open by those large retractors pulling on his ribcage.
The doctors are always teasing the student nurses or trying to freak us out. The hardest thing for me is when a woman had a mastectomy and large breast is handed to me in a sterile steel bowl with the large nipple in the center like a target which jiggles like Jell-o as I carry it to the pathologist. I feel that in Surgery there is no person, there are sterile drapes placed all over the body, except where the surgery takes place, that somehow it is seen as a heart, a breast, or just some body part, in order for a human being to be able to do such a thing to another person. I wonder if some type of dissociation may take place, but I am not a surgeon, so I do not know what they experience, they are excellent at what they do, their hands are sacred, and help many people live a better life. Each surgeon has their own way of relieving the tension and stress while in the OR room some of them joke, some listen to music while others focus on the student nurses.
The most embarrassing moment is, when I am assigned to prepare an OR room with all sterile equipment, fully gowned and gloved, I covered all the surfaces with sterile drapes, when I get to the instrument tray and push the sleeve over the table top, both of my gloves rip, I am humiliated for I have contaminated the whole room and have to start all over. I have poor body awareness boundaries, some type of hand eye coordination problem, besides having been mostly into brain/mind focus while not been into my physical/body development. So I perceive myself as a klutz.
I dread the training of being the surgeon’s assistant, responsible for giving him the right instrument that he calls out for, while putting his hand out to receive it, we have learned the proper way to smack it in his waiting paw. I memorize all the instruments that are used for each surgery I assist with and do OK. We learn all the jobs that are involved with surgery such as: circulating nurse, setting up the sterile field of the whole room, autoclave the instruments to be used, assisting the Anesthesiologist and the surgeon. We have the privilege of observing brain surgery which is a long tedious process and awe inspiring to see what the gray matter looks like through the square window that has been drilled out of the back of the patient’s head.
We complete our OR training having matured in more ways than we could of imagined, nursing is proving to be a form of culture shock by being exposed to things the average person has no awareness of, which brings us together as a group, connecting us on a deep level, knowing we are not alone and being able to process by sharing what is going on around us.
Our next 3 month rotation is ICU. It has been a whole year and now we are allowed to be the medication nurse for the ward, after a great deal of pharmacology classes and experience on the floors. I find myself being the death nurse for whenever I walk into a room when someone is near death, they start flat lining and seeing I am the first person to arrive I start CPR and within a few minutes there is a group of people around the bed working to save a life. I am teased by the staff that will send me into a room to initiate the process, this is very anxiety producing, and I do lots of wondering about what is going on that I am not seeing and why are they encouraging it. I do all the right things and am relieved when this rotation is over while looking forward to our Psychiatric/Mental Health rotation next.