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Margaret Ann Caniff - Elliott


     My cousin Ruth Caniff graduated from Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes, Indiana.  She was my inspiration and mentor.  She became Director of Nurses at Boehne Camp Hospital in Evansville, a tuberculosis sanatorium.

     I had just graduated from high school in Spring 1939 when she called my father, telling him I could get work there as a nurses aide.  She assured my father I would be safe there from disease.  We all wore long gowns, masks and a cover over our heads when working with the patients.  I did not contract any diseases, but many other young girls did.  I experienced my first death here.  The patient, with advanced tuberculosis, had a pulmonary hemorrhage and the R.N. set him straight up in his bed and all of his blood came rushing out until he died.  It was an experience I can never forget to this day.  My experiences there gave me a desire to become a Registered Nurse.  I used my knowledge to care and aide the sick for the rest of my life.
     Earning $25.00 per month, plus room and board, I saved my money the best I could.  I applied for admission at two hospitals, one in Evansville and one in Vincennes.  I was told my skin was not acceptable (acne), so I lost one year there.  Later I wrote to Saint Anthony's Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana.  They required I send a picture since I lived so far away.  In those days Terre Haute was a long trip.  The picture I sent was not very clear and I was accepted.  I left the sanatorium and so did my cousin, she joined the nurses corps and was sent overseas.  She and doctors and nurses that landed in Normandy on D-Day arrived at dusk on the beach and had to sleep in the wet sand until daylight, when they could set up tents to care for our wounded soldiers.  St. Anthony's accepted me and my mother and father drove me there.  It was sad to see them drive away.  At that time, I felt as though I was a long, long, way from home.
     The first day was like a mob to me, with girls coming and going.  I started upstairs and a beautiful girl passes me going down.  Then I met the same girl at the top of the stairs again!  I stopped--wondering if I was losing it, but later learned they were identical twins and were with us throughout training.
     I did well in my practical training (past experience).  I was one of the first to go on in charge of a unit on the evening shift.  The sister supervisor told me it would be one of my duties to take a snack to the Father at 10:00PM who lived in the hospital.  At 10:00PM I took a cake snack and juice drink, knocked on the door, and I heard him say, "Come in".  He was standing at a table near his bed and told me to place the tray at his bedside.  I cannot describe the fear I had when I noticed he was only wearing his underwear.  I hurried out of his room and from then on, I knocked when bringing his snack, but never entered.  He never complained to our sisters for not bringing it in.
     Our food was sufficient during the war but skimpy at times, especially on Sunday evening when we mostly had tuna salad or salmon cakes, potato chips and an orange--the only orange we had all week.
     Our hours were long, but nursing was not too difficult most of the time.  We had older doctors who, when I scrubbed for an appendectomy, almost never found the appendix in a timely manner.  We nurses giggled behind our mask as they searched.  Most young doctors had been drafted, there was a gasoline ration imposed, so there wasn't as many traffic accidents.  At that time, Blue Cross, Blue Shield or Medicare did not exist, so some nights, there would not be any admissions to the emergency room at all. 
    
Most young men in town were gone, so we girls had a difficult time getting dates.  Finally, I met a young man who had just started as a teacher.  He came to see me at the hospital without calling first.  I was on duty at the time, so when he entered the hospital a group of the other girls told him to take them out instead.  They all crammed into his car, causing a big ruckus and he never called or came back to see me again.
     During the last year when the war was winding down in 1943-1944, the hospital benefited from knowledge gained by doctors returning to our hospital.  One evening, I was told to operate a 24-hour penicillin drip.  It was the beginning of the continuous infusions of medicine; we had the long straight miserable needles.  The IV's that the doctors started for us had rubber tubing and glass connectors that had been autoclaved.  I was told to watch very closely to see that bottles never ran empty.  It was frightening to me, but years later I learned that the tubing would not run empty due to the blood pressure of the patient and air would not get into the patient's vein that way.  I was very proud that I was a part of the progress.  Later we had a young doctor arrive who could do an appendectomy in ten minutes and have the skin closed.
     I am ever grateful for the Sisters of St. Francis.  Their positive influence and religious guidance were a great help in shaping my opinions for the rest of my life.  I have tried to follow their example throughout all of my life situations.
     We received our white caps on March 17, 1942.  After a year, one narrow black stripe was added to the cap and two stripes on our senior year.  It meant everything to me, sad to say that it was lost along with my pen in our house fire in 1982.  I had kept them and used them for 38 years.  We were very proud of our uniforms and the gray and red capes our class was immortalized with in the Terre Haute Tribune on April 5, 1942.  We were positioned in front of the hospital in the form of a "V" for victory.

 

Thank you for my life grams, I love you.

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