1. Yohe, Melodee

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Do nurses today know what it was like to develop strong ties in 3-year diploma nursing programs in the mid-20th century?

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In September 1954, around 92 of us 17- and 18-year-olds arrived from all over the United States at the West Suburban Hospital School for Nurses, Oak Park, Illinois, with our checks for $336, the total cost of our first year. By the time we survived being probies (probationers) and were capped in March 1955, we were 84. When we graduated in September 1957, we were a class of 77 young women-supportive, close, and one that still has newsletters and reunions.


Oh yes, we did our grousing about life. But those years grew us up as we lived, studied, and worked together. We divided into "rotations" after basic science classes and went to "med-surg," obstetrics, pediatrics, and "psych." We carried procedure books ("Student Experience Records"), marking each required task we accomplished.


This was an era where nurses, especially students, were handmaidens to physicians. We gave up our seats, gathered charts, waited on doctors. We weren't hazed but were reminded we were newbies. An unsuspecting classmate was sent to Central Supply with a requisition for fallopian tubes, producing a hearty guffaw. In the OR a classmate was assigned (with a wink!) to scrub for a surgeon with a penchant for throwing instruments.


Most of us were Christian families and attended church. We had meetings of Nurses Christian Fellowship, usually with a missions emphasis. Group and private devotional times with God were key to survival. One wonderful outlet was the West Sub Nurses' Choir. We practiced weekly with a terrific director and did concerts in local churches.


Our lives broke down into three major areas. The first was academic. From chemistry to anatomy labs to philosophy, sociology, and Bible survey with Wheaton College professors, we were always studying. Lights out was 11 p.m. To study longer we'd block the window at the top of our door with butcher paper so the dorm mother couldn't see lights on after curfew; another trick was rigging a desktop over the bathtub in the bathroom between dorm rooms to study.


The second area was hospital work. Probies worked dreaded split shifts (7-10 a.m. and 4-7 p.m.) to be of most help passing fresh water, feeding patients, answering call lights-with classes in between! By the time we were juniors (second year) we worked 3 to 11 p.m. or 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., often in charge of a hospital floor. If you worked all night, you still might have class 10 to 11 a.m. and then another 1 to 2 p.m. Many a student wore a trench coat over pajamas so she could jump back into bed right after class.


The third area of our lives, small but essential, was goofing off in the nurses' home. We sunned ourselves on the seventh floor roof; had creative parties where we invited young men; went out for TPRs (toasted pecan rolls) at the Coronet a few blocks away; had pizza delivered to the alley and sent down our laundry bags from the window to receive it (after curfew!). Some dated. Some babysat (against the rules). We talked into the night and developed deep relationships.


The impact of our class has been amazing-missionaries to Australia, Kenya, Ireland, Ecuador, Colombia, and Guatemala whom our class supported financially, and leadership roles in the U.S. Over the years, classmates who weren't especially close to God during school have come to deep faith in Christ.

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Might it be that the loving relationships within our class added fuel to our faith? Galatians 2:2 (NLT) says this is God's desire for us: "I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God's mysterious plan, which is Christ himself." We are grateful for our heritage as West Sub lassies.