Saturday, February 27, 2010

Mary Jacobs: A Day in the Life of a Country Nurse


Mary Jacobs was the first writer to join our group back when it consisted of my mother and me, period—the photograph above was made by my buddy Jack Rowell during a three-day shoot at the Senior Center last December; Jack's photos of the Hale Street Writers will be on display at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury later this year.

Mary was a nurse at Gifford Hospital in the days when my dad was the valley’s busiest ob-gyn. I went to school with her kids, but I didn’t know Mary until she turned up at the Senior Center one October morning and said she had been thinking about doing a little writing. Seventeen months later, she has become a part of my life.

Mary faces life’s challenges with the steadiness of a general, but she has the heart and soul of a comic—her appreciation of life’s funnier moments is like a welcome shot of caffeine when the Monday group gathers around the craft-room table at 8:30 a.m. Rather than sailing into a long narrative, Mary has been writing short pieces, one per week, about whatever gets her pencil going. Many are about her nursing career. Below is one of her earlier pieces, about her first day as a “home health” nurse in rural Vermont; next week I'll post her story about the day the circus came to dinner:

"For thirty years, I had been a hospital nurse, the last of these in a combined coronary and intensive care unit. Here, assistance and equipment were readily available in a clean, orderly unit. I decided to make a change and transferred to Home Health. My territory included South Royalton, Tunbridge, Sharon, and Strafford. Much of this territory was very rural. In fact, I had lived in Vermont most of my life and did not realize the poverty and poor living conditions of some families.

My first patient lived in an unpainted, rundown farmhouse. I was greeted by several mangy-looking, barking dogs. The only entrance that I could find was through the woodshed. I opened the door and was in the middle of a flock of hens. I am very afraid of anything with feathers, and it took all my courage to go through the many feathered clucking hens.


My patient had had both hips replaced and was being cared for by her five-year-old grandson. The bedroom was wall-to-wall 'stuff' with a path from the door to the bed. As I was changing her dressings and wondering how I would ever find an empty spot for her to walk a few steps, the grandson entered, holding a chicken by its feet in one hand and a golf club in the other hand.

He says, "It died."

My first question was "Where did you get the golf club?"

"In the corner, and the stove needs wood and I can’t touch the stove."

Finishing with the patient, I went to the kitchen, where on the table was a partially assembled car engine and a deer carcass.

Then he says, “The ashes need emptying.”

My reply: “I don’t do ashes, and where is your grandfather?”

“Cutting wood.”

I saw this family many times later, when the father had a massive stroke. I was always amazed at the love and care given to him by all of his family. They even took off a portion of the living room ceiling and, using a beam, had a block and tackle arrangement to move him in bed.

The next stop was to the home of a retired navy admiral for cardiac assessment and teaching. This home was beautifully furnished with antiques and objects from around the world. Such a contrast to the first visit.

Next on to draw blood from an obese lady with hidden veins. This was a real challenge, and where was the skilled phlebotomist from the lab when I needed her? Luck, not skill, was with me on that visit.

Two more short visits and I was done for the day, weary but proud of myself.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This one just gets better every time I read it! Thanks, Mary. You are such a good writer.Idora

Rae said...

This brings back many memories, good and bad, of my 13 months as a home health nurse. Thank you for sharing Mary. I can't wait to read more!
Rae Hartigan Frazer