ELYRIA — Imagine hospitals washing and sterilizing medical gloves to reuse. Or sharpening needles to use on one patient, and then another and another.
It was the norm not that long ago.
Yet, medical professionals today are often surprised to hear the stories of our not-so-distant past.
That’s why Nancy Swan White decided to write her book, “‘Starched Caps: A Nurses Memoir.”
Born in 1943 in Minerva, White and her family moved to Elyria in 1955.
From the beginning, it seemed her life was surrounded by the medical profession.
Her brother, who had cerebral palsy, often was visited by the local doctor to check in on his health. Her older sister eventually enrolled in nursing school and became a nurse. Between that and other encounters throughout her young life, White made up her mind fairly early about what she wanted to do.
In 1960, White completed a two-week nursing aide course and began working at Elyria Memorial Hospital and Gates Hospital for Crippled Children in Elyria.
She graduated from Elyria High School in 1961, and went on to graduate from the M.B. Johnson School of Nursing in 1964. She then earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Ohio State University in 1966 and master’s degree in psychiatric nursing from the University of North Carolina in 1980.
“Before I retired 10 years ago, I would tell my co-workers about things we used to do, and they were just shocked,” White said. “I just decided I need to write all of this down.”
She wrote for seven and a half years, and the result is an entertaining and heartfelt read about a time that seems both long ago, but not that far off.
“I practiced nursing for 50 years,” she said. “I spent a lot of time going back and verifying my memory on things. But I worked pretty consistently on it and would try to write every day. I may have gone a week or two here and there where I had dry spells, but I was always working on it.”
On one occasion, White recalled coming in to work as a student nurse and seeing a man lying in a bed in the hallway in front of the nursing station. This was before emergency rooms. Seeing no one around, she tended to the man and admitted him to the hospital.
On a different shift, White remembers a patient who had just had his leg amputated the night before. He wasn’t doing well, and before long he took a turn for the worse. The man stopped breathing. A doctor rushed in and began pushing on the patient’s chest over and over as the nurses looked on. The patient began breathing again, and the doctor stopped.
He told the nurses, “I just read about it in a journal last night.”
He was talking about cardiopulmonary resuscitation. But this was a time before CPR — and it was less than 60 years ago.
White’s book is about more than just those tidbits that we take for granted, like the fact that nurses rarely wore gloves.
It’s her memoir, told in chronological order from the birth of a nurse to finding her niche, and all of the history in between, including tackling the once very real issue of segregation.
“There are a lot of recreated conversations,” White said. “It’s very conversational.”
The career nurse never thought she would write a book.
“It first started with me writing a few of my stories, and then it was like, ‘Now, what do I do?’ ” she said. “I’d think about it and write some more and then add to it, and then add to that. And one chapter turned in to the next. I didn’t know that I’d ever get it done.”
But she did, and the result is a book that appeals to nurses and non-nurses, historians and non-historians, and really anyone with a pulse.
White, who now lives in Pleasant Garden, North Carolina, with her Marine husband, Byron White, is the mother of Steven and Tara White, and grandmother to 7-year-old Stephan White.