Charity Nursing school had a rule that for your first 18 months that you could not work in any capacity. This rule applied to working at Charity as well as any other job. Looking back, I’d say that that policy kept me from quitting. As an 18 year old, I’m not sure I would have been able to handle the challenges that I was getting ready to experience in the largest inner city hospital in the country right off the bat.
As soon as I could work, I applied for a job at Charity. My first was in the Admit Room. On the first floor at the rear of the hospital the Admit Room occupied one side of emergent care and the Accident Room the other. The AR was for surgical emergencies and the Admit Room for medical emergencies. After only a couple of evenings of what appeared to me to be complete chaos, I soon began to understand the rhythm of the Admit Room. The residents seemed to have everything under some degree of control. Of course, what did I know? I was 19 at this point!
Several treatment rooms of varying sizes were dedicated to cardiac patients, diabetic patients, Gyn patients who needed pelvic exams, and patients needing simple treatments for colds, venereal disease, etc. The number of patients never seemed to lessen, only increase as the evening wore on.
One evening I was approached by a young black male patient with a prescription note in hand. It directed me to give him 2.4 million units of Aqueous Penicillin for his contracted VD. I introduced myself and escorted him into one of the smaller treatment rooms to prepare the injections. Aqueous Penicillin was tricky to draw up and administer because it would “freeze” in the needle if you weren’t careful. Successfully drawing it up, I had the young man lower his trousers and explained what I was about to do. Understand, no more than 600,000 units were to be given in one injection, so I had to give him FOUR injections. Needless to say, he was not thrilled, nor was I. If any of the needles froze up, I would have to give him another injection. I chose to divide the medication into both his quads and his vastus lateralis muscles.
As I bent down on one knee (there were no beds) and commenced to give the shots, he said to me, “Nurse, I have crabs. Can I use Lysol to get rid of them?” “Excuse me?,” was my cautious reply. “Will Lysol get rid of my crabs?,” he again questioned. Now, being from N.O., I did realize that the delicious blue crab I was so familiar with was not at all what he was referring to. I told him that I would find out exactly what he needed and quickly exited the treatment room while he dressed himself. Seeking a resident was sometimes a challenge because they were always running from one crisis to another, but I located one who was enjoying a brief moment alone in the doorway of another treatment room. I explained the conversation between my patient and I and asked, “What are crabs?” His look was one of curiosity followed by, “How long have you been a nursing student?” Apparently not long enough, I thought. Waiting for his recommendation, he went on to describe, in great detail, what “crabs” were. Needless to say, all I wanted to do was run back to the dorm for a shower! My understanding at this point in my training was that body lice were called “pediculosis.” Never hearing the term “crabs,” I didn’t know the street jargon. Trying to conceal my embarrassment, I returned to the young man to tell him what to buy at the local drug store. The next evening, I marched into the Admit Room and was greeted by my chief resident who was holding a 2′ x 3′ poster with the enlarged picture of a “crab.” As he stood holding it for all to see, I had to laugh because I’d never forgot what crabs or their treatment were.
Another condition and treatment that was shocking to me was a decubitus. Early in my training I saw “sterile” maggots used for the debridement of serious bedsores. It worked beautifully and the patient, after a skin graft, healed well.
Many things I witnessed were never to be seen again and as my education in urban trauma continued, I was prepared for a 45 year career in nursing and nurse anesthesia. From an air-hungry asthmatic child to an Angola inmate who had his throat slit with a homemade knife and brought in DOA, I learned to care for patients in almost any situation.
In the summer of 1976, in the operating room, we decided that the “knife and gun club” of N.O. was alive and well. When we finished fixing one gun shot wound (GSW) victim or perpetrator, there was another. The stretchers lined the halls of the OR with stab wounds, head injuries, auto accidents and many other kinds of trauma. All OR’s went 12 hours straight all night for 2 months. One woman was shot by her husband, from the side, through the mandible. It was completely detached, suspended by only her skin. There was bleeding everywhere. Intubating her was one of the most frightening and challenging things I ever did. I was told “Aim for the bubbles.” I did and it worked, and she survived. The blood bank was always running short of blood and we were always running short on sleep!
I'd never trade the training that I had at Big Charity. They'll never be another place like it. It saddens me that we've lost this great institution which trained doctors and nurses together to become the best practitioners that the world would see, as well as a facility that the indigent community could count on to be there for them whether in need of mental or physical health care.