A graduate of the Misericordia Hospital School of Nursing, Betty Scharf recently celebrated 60 years as a nurse. Of the 24 students in the class of 1959, six graduates attended the reunion to reminisce and brought their daughters along to hear their stories. The 84-year old Edmontonian shares her thoughts on what is was like to be a nurse and provides some sage advice for patients today.
Tell us about your nursing career.
When I graduated from a two-year nursing program in 1959, I initially worked as an Emergency Room (ER) nurse, and was occasionally called on to be a ward nurse at the Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton. I then worked at a doctor's office, where I did blood pressure tests, gave allergy shots and the like. After that, I worked at the old Sturgeon Hospital in St. Albert, again as both an ER and ward nurse. When the hospital moved to 12-hour shifts, I had to leave as I had a young family and it was difficult working those long hours. I moved to the Medi-Center walk-in clinics and was the Head Nurse there for almost 20 years.
What challenges did you face in your early years of nursing?
When working on wards and even in emergency, the nurse was responsible for the sole care of the patient. We provided more of what I call total care. From daily changing of bedding; three backrubs per patient per day; bathing patients daily, or as called for; distributing and assisting with all meals and medications; and moving patients to the operating room, or from room to room. There were orderlies in those days, but they were mostly assigned to the men's wards to assist with bathing or the occasional bed move.
(Betty Scharf (left) with her daughter Charlene at the
Nurses did two rounds per day, assessing their patients and recording the results on paper after each round – there were no computers then. Checks were frequent to ensure patients were doing okay and that the equipment was functioning – we did not have the bells and whistles to alert you to any problems or if the patient was in distress.
During the day you could call on another nurse to help if they were available, but at night, there was only one nurse assigned to a ward of 30 to 35 patients. Needless to say, some nights were a bit crazy, especially when you had wanderers or patients with special needs. I remember one gentleman who possibly had PTSD from the Second World War. He would hide under his bed and you had to figure out how to get him back to bed.
When I worked in Emergency in the 60s and early 70s, there were two to three nurses per shift during the day, and only one or two at night. During the night shift, the doctors were on call. This meant the nurses had to triage and keep the patient stable until the doctor arrived. If the injuries were really serious, you could try and grab a doctor from the floor. Mostly, you had to rely on your training, past experience, and gut instinct.
How would you compare your days of nursing to the nursing today?
There are more teams now. I like how the role of the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) has evolved and their connection with the patient. The equipment is amazing and that makes it much easier to keep a watch on patients and monitor their progress.
There seems to be a different kind of busyness today. There are so many different people coming and going. The staff are doing more with less. There is no real time to establish a patient/caregiver relationship, or have real communication or face time with any of the team. The relationship element is vital for the patient, both physically and mentally. Chats and time for real observation of a patient can tell a caregiver far more than what a machine will tell you.
What did you learn from nursing that you are most proud of?
I would say my ability to engage with people. I was able to truly communicate and empathize with people from all walks of life – you never knew who would come through the ER door – from biker gangs who had been in a knife fight, to a family with a sick child, etc. When I worked in ER, there was no doctor at your elbow and I am proud of the triage skills that I developed.
When you become a nurse, you never stop caring about people. Once I retired, I kept on working with people, serving tea to patients in the hospital and listening to them; driving and caring for those with Meals on Wheels; and doing foot care and taking blood pressure readings at the Senior Centre.
What advice would you give to others about being a partner in their care?
Ask questions and don't stop until you get clearly explained answers. For example, if you need a surgical procedure, ask why it is being done, what can be expected, and what you must do as the patient after the surgery. Always bring an advocate with you to an appointment. It is always better to have two sets of ears. The same goes for medications. Ask: why am I being prescribed this drug; how will it help me; are there any side effects; and what do I do if I think there is an issue.