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The Good Old Days

Perhaps it is the upheaval brought by the coronavirus, or maybe it’s my age. Perhaps it’s because I recently read a memoir titled “Nightingale Tales” by Lynn Dow who graduated from nursing school in 1959. Whatever the reason, I increasingly find myself pondering the “good old days”.

I graduated from a hospital-based nursing school in 1973, and the times - “they were a changin.” Unlike those who graduated in the 1960s and earlier, student nurses no longer staffed the hospital on the afternoon and midnight shifts. We had two clinical days per week and plenty of classroom time. The white cap was still with us, but its demise was just around the corner. Demerol was the pain reliever of choice and valium was handed out like candy. Stomach ulcers were thought to be the result of eating spicy food, and heart attacks were considered an affliction of white male executives. Intravenous (IV) pumps were new and hard to come by. I was often the only registered nurse for 40 patients. It’s no wonder the entire liter of fluids, meant to infuse over 8 hours, so often did so in an hour!

I’m not exaggerating when I say just about everyone smoked. Patients all received an ash tray with their admission packet (which also included a bath and emesis basins, toothbrush and tooth paste, and skin lotion). And it wasn’t just the patients who smoked (right up until the moment they went to the operating room I may add). Change of shift report took place in a cloud of smoke. Doctors could be found having a cigarette with their patients, or with one another as they made their rounds.

After many years of policies prohibiting nurses from telling the patient what their blood pressure was, we were encouraged provide patient education, however, patients were often not informed they had cancer. The family members were told, but patients were kept in the dark. In those days before the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA, health information was anything but private.

Today, I rarely see patients standing outside hospitals with a cigarette in one hand and an IV pole in the other. We have better pain relief methods and we know valium isn’t the answer. We treat stomach ulcers with antibiotics to eradicate H pylori. Women with chest pain are taken seriously and patients with terminal diagnoses receive hospice care at end-of-life. When I was in the hospital as a patient a few years ago, I was glad my nurse only had four patients to care for instead of 40.

The good old days – it’s fun to reminisce, but I’m happy to be living today - coronavirus and all.

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