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Nurses enjoy time to reminisce

By DAWNE LEIKER
dleiker@dailynews.net

For 36 years, a group of local nurses have held close their ties to nursing and to each other as they meet monthly to share a meal, play cards and reminisce.

One Saturday afternoon in April, seated around a Professor’s Steakhouse and Saloon table, members of the Hays R.N. Club discussed their love of nursing and the changes they had seen in the medical field since they began as nursing students, some more than 60 years ago.

Patient care in the days before sonograms, heart catheterization and computers is a distant memory for some, but club members seemed to recall easily the challenges they faced early in their careers. Not a small component in those challenges was that of graciously accepting the role women played in the health care field.

“At first, we didn’t even take blood pressures,” said Bonita Jensen, member of the R.N. Club since 1947. “Nurses weren’t allowed to do that, only doctors did.

“And you never told (patients) what you gave them if you took them a medication. The doctors did not want patients to know what they were taking.”

It was a time, the women agreed, when a doctor was in total command of a patient’s health care, and nurses were expected to show complete deference to his authority, addressing him only as doctor and not by his first name.

Ellie Gabel laughed when she remembered an incident during her early days as a nursing student at St. Anthony Hospital. Gabel, who wasn’t a Catholic, had been told to kneel down and kiss the ring of clergy who would come into the hospital.

“And I see these doctors, I’m a little farm girl from western Kansas, and I knew nothing,” she said. “A doctor walks in in a three-piece suit, a hat and a cigar and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, that’s the Pope … so I kissed his ring.”

As the women laughed, one member shifted the focus to changes in nurse attire through the years. Prior to the 1970s, nurses wore the familiar white uniforms, hose and hat, and, as nursing students, faced strict dress code guidelines.

“Skirts had to be 13 inches from the floor,” Shirley Bollig said. “No fingernail polish, no jewelry, no earrings.”

Bollig remembered her days in training at St. Anthony, a solid three years that started at breakfast time and lasted until a 9 p.m. study hall. Students who married automatically were dismissed from the program. Drinking and smoking strictly were forbidden, as was staying out past 10 p.m.

Although the regimen was tough, nursing was one of few careers outside the home available to women in those days. The only other options, the women said, were teaching, secretarial positions and, during World War II, factory jobs.

Jensen retains the distinction of being the member of longest standing. Although member Diane Pfannenstiel is engaged actively in nursing as a nurse practitioner with Western Kansas Urological Services, most members are retired from a broad range of nursing specialties.

“I worked OB for 12 years, surgery, head nurse of medical pediatrics, all kinds of things,” Jensen said. “I worked till I was 70, and if you work till you’re 70, you work a lot of places.”

Started by nurses of St. Anthony Hospital, the R.N. Club often has served as an opportunity to discuss new medications and procedures as well as to play pinochle. It now serves a purely social function.

“I love the nurses, and we are just a different group of people,” Gabel said. “I joined for the camaraderie.
“We have so much in common.”

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National Nurses Day, also known as National RN Recognition Day is celebrated annually May 6, opening National Nurses Week, which ends May 12, the birth date of Florence Nightingale.