Towards the end of summer school I got a notice to report to a uniform shop to pick out my uniforms. The basic dress was a plain navy blue with a white apron, white nylons, and white shoes. I was proud of three things. One, I was able to follow directions and actually find this small shop on the north side of Chicago, (a formidable task for someone used to a city 3% the size), two, my weight was still under control and the tailored uniform fit nicely, and three, I was actually on my way to becoming a nurse. Our uniforms were short sleeved without the cuffs shown above or the white collar and just below the knee but other than that, they looked like the familiar Florence Nightengale’s picture. My dream was coming true. I never did have my picture taken in my uniform.
We met for orientation that fall. Talk about a downer. They were more DIScouraging than ENcouraging. We were told to look to our left and to our right. Statistically one and sometimes two of us wouldn’t be in the graduating class. I felt in a way they were setting us up to compete with each other so that we wouldn’t be the one leaving. I had no sense of teamwork. “Well”, I thought smugly,” that’s not going to be me. I’m going to graduate with no problems.” Little did I know they were talking exactly about me.
My freshman year I was paired with a sophomore music student who played in the band. She hung out with her band friends and never once included me in her social network. Except for bed at night, we were seldom in the same room.
Here it was my sophomore year in a similiar situation. My roommate lived in Chicago but chose to stay in the room four nights a week while going home every weekend. Once again I had little opportunity to get to know her. I still was in a position where I was not making many friends. I rode up the elevator of the hospital one day and just stopped on the floor to look out the window. I was very concerned about my dad and his heart, and I was very, very homesick for a home I never really felt comfortable in. Go figure. I leaned against the glass window and let out a heavy sigh. Knowing this wasn’t doing any good, I pulled myself together and went on to class.
The work load was tough. High school had not really prepared me for this level of study. I was in the top 10% of my high school class but I was much further down the list of accomplishment among the girls in my class. Little did I know when I applied and got in the class, the school was ranked in the top ten of all nursing schools in the nation. I also didn’t know how anonymous I would feel in this sea of students. I thought by transferring from a very large university to a smaller school of nursing I would be in a better position. I was wrong. There was still no one I felt I could turn to.
That actual year is much of a blur. I made friends with the pharmacy student across the hall and her roommate, Lilian, who was from China. I also made friends with the pharmacy student who lived in the single room at the end of the hall. I was acquaintances with the rest of the girls in my class. There weren’t all that many on my floor. There were only four more. In both rooms the girls were already friends and stayed with each other. Most of my classmates were in the other wing. I was always too shy to ask other girls if I could study with them. By the second quarter my roommate didn’t like staying in the dorm and decided to become a commuter. I had the room to myself. I didn’t like it. I wanted someone to bond with. I tried to do all of it all by myself.
I can’t remember most of the classes. They were very strenuous and I was maintaining a C average by the skin of my teeth. The As I got in high school were a thing of the past. I really never had to study that hard. Now I didn’t know how to study. Nor did I have the self discipline to be a good task master to myself.
My self confidence was at an all time low. For the fall quarter nursing final we had to draw slips of paper to determine the skills we were to demonstrate to our instructors. I prayed, “Please, oh God, don’t let it be giving a shot.” I had only given a few and still could not do it to my satisfaction.
The first time I had a saint for a patient. He lay there calmly on his side with his hip exposed. It was a VA Hospital that all the sophomore student nurses used year after year. I guess the guys got used to being guinea pigs. Three times I started the process and three times my arm froze as if something were grabbing it. My instructor finally hissed in my ear, “Just DO it”. The patient lay there not saying a word. The fourth time I was able to accomplish the task albeit rather slowly. Poor guy.
I drew the slip. It said, “Make a bed”. I had done this as a volunteer for several summers but I froze under the pressure. It seems that everything the instructors told us not to do, I did. I can still remember feeling the panicked daze I was in. I held the pillow case close to me as I put in the pillow. My hospital corners weren’t tucked in tight. I shook the sheet out over the bed instead of laying it down and unfolding it. I carried the dirty linen up against my uniform to the hamper. I was a robot gone bizerk. I was almost a nervous wreck by the time I finished. It was almost like I was willing myself to fail.
I didn’t fail but my grade was not very far above it. During winter quarter I participated in some new fangled scheme called computer dating. Several of the girls in my class filled out questionaires and our answers were transferred to punch cards. I was matched with a young man from the University of Chicago. I went out with him several times but after about the fifth date we were both so snowed with work we decided to call it quits. It was taking too much time away from our studies. It was not like we were on the same campus and could have a few moments together during the day. It was just one night a week and a few phone calls in between. Those were the days before phones in rooms. Two phones were at the end of the hall in uncomfortable booths, designed that way on purpose. The girls had to keep their conversations short. Don, by the way, I still remember you.
I discovered a girl willing to loan her driver’s license to her underage lower class friend. That was before photo IDs. I would go with a group across from Cook County Hospital. I think it was called “The Greeks”. We would share pitchers of beer and I would sometimes buy mixed drinks…not good for the head the next day. Winter quarter I was back on track with my C average. I wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire. Partying with the med students at their frat was more fun. I was beginning to form an idea in the back of my mind that I always wanted to be a nurse. I just never wanted to work in a hospital. I’m slow and clumsy. At least that’s what I believed about myself. Not good enough to be quick in an emergency. I wasn’t dumb by any means. I just wasn’t a fast thinker and I dreaded the thought of ever having to perform in a code blue emergency situation. Spring quarter actually ended with my third and fourth B at this school. I made it through my sophomore year. Over the summer at the college in my home town I took two more courses to lighten the load a little the following year. I was ready to go back and face my junior year. I had been in college non-stop year round for two solid years with no break in sight.
Lots of stuff to do today. I’ll tell you about my junior year tomorrow. Namaste. Attic Annie