5 reasons I’m thankful to be a 21st century nurse
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Those uncomfortable skirted uniforms, that unwieldy equipment, the lack of antibiotics…can you imagine?!?!
Here’s why I thank my lucky stars to be a nurse today and not any other time in history.
1. Clogs and sneakers and scrubs, oh my!
Remember that picture of the nurse getting kissed by the Navy guy at the V-J Day celebration in 1940-something? Did you see what she was wearing on her feet? Heels. White heels. Moving up from there, she had seamed white stockings (not even pantyhose, not at that time—those suckers were held up with garters), a skirted uniform and a cap. She almost certainly had on a girdle as well. Just trying to keep your girdle from crawling and your seams straight must’ve been a full-time job.
2. Plastic IV bags
Have you ever tried to hang a glass IV bottle? It stinks. There’s all this jimmying about with bubbles and widgets that you have to flip open, and eventually the machine just keeps alarming. Things were worse back in the Second World War, when bombs would drop and bottles would fall and shatter, and IV tubing was often made of solid rubber. Yikes. (Don’t even get me started on how nice it is not to have to calculate drip rates by counting drops.)
3. Also, hooray for plastic IV cannulas
I have a book on the treatment of syphilis that dates from the 1930s, prior to the invention of antibiotics. In it, there’s a long chapter on what to do if the infusion needle you’re using breaks off in the patient’s body. Needles back in the day didn’t come with flexible cannulas; they were metal. And the arsenic compounds used to treat the Pox were caustic.
4. While we’re at it, let’s hear it for antibiotics
Yes, yes, I know all about antibiotic-resistant infections. They are a problem. They are not, however, as much of a problem as having your metal infusion needle break off in somebody’s spinal canal, because that’s the only way you can get treatment for neurosyphilis to the source. Now we have antibiotics that’ll cross the barrier between blood and nervous system, and everybody’s happier.
5. Soap and water and razors
Remember Ignaz Semmelweis? He was the dude who, back in the 1840s, told doctor types to start washing their hands. Of course, everybody thought he was crazy (and he did end up dying—of septicemia, ironically—in a mental asylum), because back then, the caked-up blood and pus on your doctoring coat was a badge of honor. Beards were seen as a permanently attached surgical mask of sorts.
As you gather round the breakroom table this year for your turkey sandwiches, say a little thank-you to the folks who made modern nursing and medical care possible. You don’t have to mention the uber-gross frock coats if you don’t want to.
Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at email@example.com.
By Agatha Lellis