I graduated from Charity Hospital School of Nursing in April, 1969. During my junior year they conducted a pilot program which allowed 20 student nurses to attend school year round rather than having the summers off. That meant that a 10 week rotation was condensed into 4 weeks by doing our clinical five days a week. I applied and was accepted and during that summer I completed my OR, Recovery Room and Pediatrics rotations. I graduated in April rather than the usual June.
I began working holidays and weekends in Labor and Delivery during my junior year. This was the beginning of my 43 year career in women’s health.
After graduation I was hired as a nurse in L&D on a rotating shift basis. I loved everything about my job and Charity Hospital. Some of the friends from those days are still in contact today. I know the education that I received at Charity Hospital was as good as it gets and even today when I mention that I am a Charity grad people will say “wow, you must have seen it all”! And I believe I did.
On August 17, 1969 I was working a double shift, 3pm – 7am. The weather was so bad that the evening shift couldn’t go home and the night shift couldn’t get in. Everyone knew that Hurricane Camille was headed for the Gulf Coast but no one was sure where she would come in, somewhere between the Mississippi coast and New Orleans. The strong winds caused the lights to flash and the generators to kick in. Labor and Delivery was on the 10th floor and only one elevator was in service for emergencies only. The charge nurses of L&D and the Emergency Room decided that we should establish a makeshift L&D/Nursery in the ER on the first floor. Those of us with the least amount of experience were “chosen” to make the trek up and down the stairs with equipment, freeing the elevator for larger items such as incubators. In no way was it to be a quiet night with no deliveries. First, because it was never quiet in L&D at Charity and second, the extreme drop in the barometric pressure is known to result in pregnant women breaking their water and progressing into labor.
Around midnight Camille came to shore in Pass Christian, MS as a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of ~190 MPH and a surge between 20-24 feet. Because New Orleans is only about 60 miles from the point of landfall, the winds were a primary problem.
As predicted, we had a busy night in the ER with the winds howling outside. We felt proud of ourselves that we had remembered most of the critical supplies needed, however, one important item was forgotten — ID armbands linking mother and baby! So, back up the stairs I went– in the dark! For a young, relatively new graduate everything was very exciting and obviously an experience that I have not forgotten.
One other thing to note is the configuration of L&D then as compared to birthing centers today. As you entered the department along the left side were 6 delivery rooms, the right side was divided in to 4 rooms. The first was the recovery room which held up to 20 stretchers and was staffed by one nurse, the second room was the Tulane labor room which had 5-6 hospital beds separated by thin curtains each bed being about 4 feet from the next, also staffed with one nurse. The next room was the LSU labor room, 5-6 beds, same size and staff. The last room was the surgical recovery room for Cesarean section patients. Along the back wall were two Operating Rooms. There was little or no privacy for the patients, no fetal monitors, epidurals or visitors (including fathers). It was a different world from what we see in hospitals today. I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the 2-3 labor rooms along the side for “VIP” patients. These rooms were primarily reserved for wives of staff, nurses, physicians, etc.
I left New Orleans in 1973 and have returned only for conferences or vacation. The last time I was there was just prior to Katrina, in May, 2005. I always felt the need to walk by Charity and that time my husband and I went in to the lobby where it was still a bustling environment — what a difference 3 months would make. It pains me to know that Charity is standing there empty. I can’t imagine the devastating damage it sustained in Katrina vs. Camille. I can’t possibly know what it would take to restore it to its former grandeur. Even if there was enough money to completely renovate the building or make it in to a high tech bio-med facility, it wouldn’t be “the old Charity”.
I have nothing but fond memories of my time at Charity, both as a student as well as a staff nurse.