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
$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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.