1950s nursing

  1. 1 I would love to hear how a nurses day went in the 1940s,50s, early 60s. Any major differences between now and then...any good stories to share?
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  3. Visit  colrainrn profile page

    About colrainrn

    47 Years Old; Joined Mar '05; Posts: 12; Likes: 4.

    144 Comments so far...

  4. Visit  RoxanRN profile page
    3
    Quote from colrainrn
    I would love to hear how a nurses day went in the 1940s,50s, early 60s. Any major differences between now and then...any good stories to share?
    The following job description was given to floor nurses by a hospital in 1887:


    In addition to caring for your 50 patients, each nurse will follow these regulations:
    1. Daily sweep and mop the floors of your ward, dust the patient's furniture and window sills.
    2. Maintain an even temperature in your ward by bringing in a scuttle of coal for the day's business.
    3. Light is important to observe the patient's condition. Therefore, each day fill kerosene lamps, clean chimneys and trim wicks. Wash the windows once a week.
    4. The nurse's notes are important in aiding the physician's work. Make your pens carefully; you may whittle nibs to your individual taste.
    5. Each nurse on day duty will report every day at 7 a.m. and leave at 8 p.m. except on the Sabbath on which day you will be off from 12 noon to 2 p.m.
    6. Graduate nurses in good standing with the director of nurses will be given an evening off each week for courting purposes or two evenings a week if you go regularly to church.
    7. Each nurse should lay aside from each pay day a goodly sum of her earnings for her benefits during her declining years so that she will not become a burden. For example, if you earn $30 a month you should set aside $15.
    8. Any nurse who smokes, uses liquor in any form, gets her hair done at a beauty shop, or frequents dance halls will give the director of nurses good reason to suspect her worth, intentions and integrity.
    9. The nurse who performs her labors and serves her patients and doctors without fault for five years will be given an increase of five cents a day, providing there are no hospital debts outstanding.
  5. Visit  NurseFirst profile page
    6
    Quote from colrainrn
    I would love to hear how a nurses day went in the 1940s,50s, early 60s. Any major differences between now and then...any good stories to share?
    I don't recall how he represented nurses, but a wonderful author, Frank G. Slaughter, MD, wrote novels over many decades and his novels would always describe the "cutting edge" in medicine.

    Having grown up in the 50s and 60s, I can tell you that
    * temperatures were taken with mercury thermometers which were kept in cups of isopropyl alcohol. This was one of the the things which gave a characteristic smell to physicians' offices. (Rectal and oral thermometers were kept separate; the rectal thermometers having, I believe, a blue top and the oral ones a red top.
    * I remember getting a shot from a re-usable glass syringe, the needle sterilized between uses via flame.
    * ICUs and public CPR did not come into existance until the 1960s.
    * Personal Protective Equipment really didn't come into its own until the 1980s, after the AIDs epidemic. There were NOT glove boxes in every room.
    * IVs came in glass bottles.
    If you have seen "The Graduate", you will remember that Dustin Hoffman was given one word of advice, "plastics". That was in the early 1960s; much of the use of plastics and disposable medical equipment did not exist. I remember as a paramedic in 1977-1978, most hospitals had IV solutions in bottles; plastic IV bags were just starting to come in.
    * NSAIDs did not exist
    * Antibiotics primarily consisted of penicillin.
    * Polio vaccine did not come in until the 1950s.
    * Nurses generally wore white dress uniforms with their white nursing caps.
    * I'm not sure when nurses started regularly using stethoscopes, but it must have been during this time.
    * if you can find any of the old Dr. Kildare or Ben Casey series, that would give you some idea of the hospitals of the early '60s.
    * triage nurses did not exist in ERs.
    * personal computers, and therefore desktop computers, did not come into existance until the late 1970s (at the earliest; IBM first's entry was in 1981--which was the microcomputer businesses finally were willing to take a chance on--evolving into "wintel" machines. However, the graphical user interface did not appear on microcomputers until 1984, with the advent of the Macintosh, introduced with a very famous Super Bowl commercial, where "1984 will not be like 1984"--or something to that effect. It was not only a sentinel commercial for microcomputers, but also for superbowl commercials.
    * color tvs did not come into existance until the 1960s.
    * miniaturization and computers, velcro, etc., were all benefits of the space race and John F. Kennedy's decision to go to the moon; many of these things made the modern critical care units possible.
    * zip codes and area codes did not exist. I know in the 1950s you had to contact a long distance operator to make a long distance call. Since cell phones did not exist, and no monitoring equipment, people didn't worry about cell phone usage in critical care units
    * Fathers did not go into labor and delivery with their wives.
    * People would get admitted to the hospital to run tests, because insurance would cover hospitalization; otherwise the tests were not covered.
    * X-rays and stethoscopes were the typical "diagnostic" equipment. There wa a lot more "hands on" doctoring, and emphasis on diagnosing based upon what the physician saw, heard, felt, smelled...and I'm not sure when physicians stopped tasting urine (don't know if it was before or after the 1940s) for diabetes.
    * specialization had not really hit medicine; most docs were "gp"s -- general practitioners; there also, of course, was no such thing as advanced practice nurses.

    That's all I can think of/have time for at the moment...

    Hope that helps...

    NurseFirst
  6. Visit  OC_An Khe profile page
    4
    Let's see how my memory banks are working
    Nurses didn't routinely take blood pressures in the 40's and early 50's as that was considered part of the practise of medicine.
    Patient assessmens, ie listening to lung and heart sounds ,didn't become widespread untill the 70's.
    When ICU/CCU first came about nurses had to wait for the MD to come before giving antiarrhythmic drugs IV, in fact in many places RN couldn't give any drug IV. Unless of course you were a CRNA.
    CRNA's gave virtually all of the anesthesia agents as anesthesia before te 1960's was considered a Nurses job and not an area a MD should do.
    If an MD came onto the floor the nurse had to stand, give up her chair to the MD, open the door for MD, stop using the chart and give it to te MD.
    You had to play the "nurse doctor game" to get an order changed or one you felt the patient neded.
    There was no such thing as every other weekend off.
    Nurses like children were to be seen and definetly not heard.
    Metal bedpans and hoppers.
    Bed rest for weeks after an MI or birth.
    I'm sure there is more, keep them coming
    student forever, Grammyphyl, VICEDRN, and 1 other like this.
  7. Visit  katy_kenemy profile page
    2
    as late as the eighties at our hospital, the doctors and nurses would smoke while they worked!!!! one doctor used to pat nurses' butts and think nothing of it!!!
    student forever and VICEDRN like this.
  8. Visit  LPN1974 profile page
    3
    You could not tell a patient what his medicine was for.
    He had to ask the doctor.
    I'm not sure what time frame this belongs in, but at one point in time, you also could not tell the patient what his B/P or temperature was. He had to ask the doctor for that information as well.
    Last edit by LPN1974 on Mar 19, '05
  9. Visit  mcmike55 profile page
    8
    My mom is a RN from the 50's, so I've heard stories, and a few rural experiences to add.
    Lesssssee:
    Mom told me about taking care of people with polio, and being in "iron lungs".
    She told me about a not real sick woman complaining all the time, while a beautify child died in the iron lung right next to her.
    Mom also talked about hospital run nursing schools....think slave labor here.
    I remember washing and re=sterilizing surgical gloves.
    I remember heart monitors, hard wired to the pt. No telemetry!!
    Nurses, and absolutely students standing when docs came in.
    Nurses and docs smoking at the nurses station.
    Glass syringes and IV bottles.
    I developed xray films by dunking them in tanks of solution.
    I saw lab techs doing CBC's by looking thru a microscope and counting cells.
    Our ER had no nursed dedicated there after midnight. There was a buzzer on the ER door, when someone walked in, it buzzed and the hosptial operator, then called the nurse working first floor, who went down the hall to see what the emergency was. In those days, at that hour, it would have been an emergency!!!!!
    I remember funeral homes also provided amubulance coverage too!!
    Docs really were "capt. of the ship". Nurses did literally nothing, I think, without talking to the doc.
    Good thread, thanks for the memories!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Mike
    P.S. nursefirst blue thermometers oral red rectal.
  10. Visit  prmenrs profile page
    6
    I went to nursing school in the mid 60's. We did have disposable syringes and needles, thank goodness, before that the whole thing was reusable: after the injection, the syringe and barrel were sent to sterile processing, as well as the needle, which needed to be checked for "burrs", and sharpened w/a whetstone--by an RN!! Everything came back in it's own little sterile package w/special tape to prove it had been sterilized.

    Oxygen wasn't in the wall, it was in a big "H" cylinder on a special trolley (which had a very sharp edge on it, I still have the scars to prove it. How many stockings did I wreck on those things?) Patients received O2 in a big tent, like you might see in old movies. There was a certain way to fold the sheets around the bottom edge so it looked neat--and the instructors checked, too.

    Premies couldn't get more than 40% (I think), because of Retinopathy of Prematurity, which was called something else, I forget. The O2 was somehow piped into the incubator, you had to check the O2 analyzer gizmo every so often. My first code-which wasn't annouced, of course--and my first death was in the premature nursery. Maintenence took the bodies down, all we did was get them ready. So we wrapped this little thing in brown paper like a rump roast @ the butcher shop, and the maintenence guy tucked it under his arm, and off they went. I was very sad.

    We used clinitest tablets to check for glucosuria--one of my classmates paniced one day cuz we were due in "conference", and she need to do the clinitest. She completely forgot how to do it: "I just threw the clinitest in the bedpan, I didn't know what the h*** I was doin'!"

    We gave respiratory treatments--there were no Respiratory Therapists @ that hospital. My orientation for my new hospital included meeting RT's for the first time. I was totally thrilled I wouldn't have to mix up mucomist any more!!

    That's all I remember right now.
  11. Visit  barefootlady profile page
    3
    Orderlies did all catherizaton on males. There were aids on the floor to assist with baths and linen changes, these were done everyday faithfully. Doctors gave the IV meds. PO Meds were poured from stock supply bottles. Fathers saw their newborn babies through a glass wall and did not hold them until discharge. Surgery was a foreign world to families, doctors explained very little about procedures, just told the patient they needed surgery and they usually had it. Visiting hours were very strictly kept, polio was serious and NO ONE with fevers, open blisters, coughs or c/o pain or aches were allowed to visit if the nurse heard then complain of these. Clean meant clean. The floors shined, walls were shined, beds cleaned and linens were stiff and hard from being washed in strong detergents. I sure miss the smell of the old hospitals. I miss the sight of a nurse, uniform perfect walking with her head held high because she knen she was respected. I miss the men doing a lot of the heavy work, like pulling patients up in bed and moving beds when needed.
    Some things about the old days were good.
  12. Visit  dbsn00 profile page
    1
    Quote from RoxanRN2003
    The following job description was given to floor nurses by a hospital in 1887:


    In addition to caring for your 50 patients, each nurse will follow these regulations:
    1. Daily sweep and mop the floors of your ward, dust the patient's furniture and window sills.
    2. Maintain an even temperature in your ward by bringing in a scuttle of coal for the day's business.
    3. Light is important to observe the patient's condition. Therefore, each day fill kerosene lamps, clean chimneys and trim wicks. Wash the windows once a week.
    4. The nurse's notes are important in aiding the physician's work. Make your pens carefully; you may whittle nibs to your individual taste.
    5. Each nurse on day duty will report every day at 7 a.m. and leave at 8 p.m. except on the Sabbath on which day you will be off from 12 noon to 2 p.m.
    6. Graduate nurses in good standing with the director of nurses will be given an evening off each week for courting purposes or two evenings a week if you go regularly to church.
    7. Each nurse should lay aside from each pay day a goodly sum of her earnings for her benefits during her declining years so that she will not become a burden. For example, if you earn $30 a month you should set aside $15.
    8. Any nurse who smokes, uses liquor in any form, gets her hair done at a beauty shop, or frequents dance halls will give the director of nurses good reason to suspect her worth, intentions and integrity.
    9. The nurse who performs her labors and serves her patients and doctors without fault for five years will be given an increase of five cents a day, providing there are no hospital debts outstanding.
    WOW...#8 would get a lot of people canned now, huh? I'm so glad it's not 1887!
    VICEDRN likes this.
  13. Visit  snowfreeze profile page
    1
    My grandmother became a nurse probably in the late 1930's. You could not be married while attending nursing school so she didn't wear her wedding ring and did not see her husband often while attending school. I believe they met and married while she was going to nursing school and effectively kept that a secret. I still have a few of her nursing uniforms, I don't think they would be very comfortable. The material is more like a thin tarp than clothing cloth. She never shared much about her nursing experience as that was to be kept quiet for patient privacy reasons.
    I do remember in 1962 I had really bad pains in my abdomen. Grandma thought I was faking so I didn't have to clean my room. After she checked me out further when I began throwing up and had a fever they called the doctor. I was rushed to the hospital in the backseat of the family doctors volkswagon and taken for an emergency appendectomy. (Oh yeh, home visits from the family doctor still happened at that time)
    I was told later that I had cardiac arrested in the operating room as my appendix had ruptured and it was a miracle that I was at the right place to be properly revived.
    I spent a week in the hospital for that surgery and fortunately don't remember much of it.
    How about the 1970's, glass dome transducers. You had to unscrew em, place a few drops of sterile saline on the mirrored glass dome, screw the thing back together, re-zero and level it....every 2 hours. Talk about a pain for an art line, but the best thing going at the time. (this continued into the 1990's where I worked)
    student forever likes this.
  14. Visit  allamericangirl profile page
    6
    In 1950 I was six years old, so I wasn't a nurse, but these are the things that I remember about medical care. Everyone had a family doctor who was like a member of your family. He took care of your mom and dad, aunts and uncles, grand parents and you. Our family doctor was Dr. Riech. He was a scrubby clean, sweetly serious man with a bald head with meticiously cut white hair on the sides. "His" nurse was Alma. When you went to the doctor's office you didn't call first, you just walked in. His office was open from 7am to 4pm, Monday through Friday and from 7am till 12 noon on Saturday.

    The doctor's office: The office was in a small red brick building. It had wooden door with a large glass, like a French door, and Dr. R.F. Riche, M.D. was painted neatly on the door in gold leaf, block lettering with the hours below, and a phone number to call the doctor, after hours, which was his HOME phone number. You couldn't see inside the door because it had a spotless, white, sheer curtain, gathered closely together and tightly stretched, on the inside of the door, between two curtain rods at the top and the bottom of the glass.

    When you opened the door and walked inside, it was a large waiting room with dark oak wooden arm chairs lined up against three walls, and they were always full of patients. The walls always looked freshly painted, and were "hospital" green, a light minty color. There were 12x12 green and white asbestos tiles with little black veins in them on the floor. The floor was so shiny that you could see yourself in it. The minute that you walked through the door, you smelled alcohol. There was a long, dark oak, chest high, counter centered in the middle of the wall that faced the entry door and a closed, dark panneled oak door was in the wall behind the counter. When you entered the office a buzzer sounded and Alma, immediately came out from the closed door behind the counter.

    She knew your name, greeted you with your name, asked how the family was, how you were, and told you to have a seat and the Doctor would see you when it was your turn.

    Alma was middle aged, matronly chubby, impeccably dressed in a starched, never wrinkled, long sleeved, white uniform, a gold nurse pin on her breast, white hose with seams up the back, white oxfords that looked like they were new out of the box, and a friendly, smiling face with perfect makeup, under perfectly coiffed hair, and not a hair out of place under her snappy, white starched nurse's cap. I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Immediately after she greeted you she went back inside the closed door. She would come out that door with a patient and go back in with another one, until it was your turn.

    The office was very quiet, there was no piped in music, people visited with each other in hushed voices, no one's babies screamed, children sat quietly by their parents until it was their turn to see the doctor.

    Your turn: Alma came out and said, Dr. Riech is ready for you now, Mary Lou, and you entered with her through the closed door. You were in the only exam room. It was spotless, furnished with a black upholstered bed / lounge chair kind of looking thing that was on a white porcelain pedestal that had all kinds of chrome plated gizmos on it that could be lifted from the sides, and the doctor pumped a lever on it's side with his foot to raise and lower the contraption. There were several, free standing, white enameled coated cabinets along the walls with glass windows in them like small white china cabinets, and there were all kinds of bottles jars, towels, bandages and amazing things in them. There was a skeleton hanging on a stand in the corner of the room and a skull mounted on a stand on top of one of the cabinets. There was a white refrigerator where the doctor kept medicines and serums, etc. Alma helped you up on the table and put a glass thermometer in your mouth, took it out and told the doctor your temperature.

    Dr. Riech always had on a white lab coat, never a speck or wrinkle. He wore a head band thing around is forehead to the back of his head that had a round shiny silver reflector kind of thing with a light and a hole for his eye to look through, attached to it. He would make small talk with you, while asking your symptoms. He always looked in your ears with a pointy flash light thing, and would say humm, then he have you open you mouth, press your tongue down with a unwrapped clean depressor that he pulled from a jar full of depressors, (no gloves, but his hands always smelled like Lifebuoy Soap), and say, "Say ahh", you said,"Ahh", and he would stick the depressor in, look around, remove the depressor, and Alma would take it from him and throw it in a big white enameled waste can with a lid that she opened with her foot on a lever. Dr. Riche would then pull down the round shiny thing on his head and looked into your eyes.

    When I needed a shot, Alma prepared the injection and handed it to Dr. Riche. He gave the shot. I would cry, he would coddle, pamper, and tell you it was almost over while Alma held your arm still, and looked at you with an angelic-like expression of reassurance. When you looked at Alma, you just knew that everything was really just fine, and you knew that Dr. Riche really cared about you and would never let anything bad happen to you. When it was over, Dr. Riche gave you a new depressor to take home with you and a couple of brand new white band-aids to use on your dolls, and a cherry flavored lollypop on a kind of flexible string handle. He gave you and your Mom a hug and Alma took you to the closed door and let you out and brought the next patient in. If you remembered to, you paid Alma for the visit, if you forgot they never billed you, and never said a word to you about it. We always paid him. It was always about $5.00, maybe $7.00 or $10.00 if you got a shot, or one of those tiny, little white envelopes with medicine that he dispensed right from his office. I loved Dr. Riche, Alma, and going to the doctor. Everyone did.
    Last edit by allamericangirl on Mar 26, '05
  15. Visit  RNKPCE profile page
    2
    In nursing school in the mid 80's there was one instructor/nurse who stood up at the nurses station whenever a doctor walked in.

    Also around the early 90's you had to have an MD order to do a oxymetry check and only RT's have the equipment to do them.

    I worked at a Catholic hospital as an aide in the mid 80's and only male na's could cath male patients. Also your uniform had to cover your butt, no tucked in shirts.
    student forever and Grammyphyl like this.


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