Florence Faux Pas

Florence Faux Pas

by Virginia Lasher


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Come along with author, Virginia Lasher, and illustrator, Nancy Fisher, on an enjoyable mid-century visit to the streets of San Francisco where you will join nursing student Ginger as she tackles her studies at St. Luke's Hospital.

Accompany her through hospital corridors and hilly streets as she discovers the inner workings and challenges of a major teaching hospital amid the charm of the city by the bay.

As part of the adventure with Nurse Ginger readers will experience times of excitement and trepidation, laughter and calamity, and will laugh with her sometimes hilarious escapades and share in her difficult human moments.

Fast paced, witty and compassionate, Florence Faux Pas is a great read for everyone.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452006413
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 05/25/2010
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.34(d)

Read an Excerpt

Florence Faux Pas

By Virginia Lasher


Copyright © 2010 Virginia Lasher
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4520-0641-3

Chapter One

It was a perfect San Francisco day that morning of September 4, 1945. The sun shone, the fog hung steady a few miles off shore, and the bay sparkled. That is, it would have been perfect if my father's friend hadn't left me waiting at the Oakland depot. He was supposed to meet me when I got off the train and escort me and my luggage to St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco. Either he forgot or he decided he didn't really owe my father a favor. After hanging about for long enough, being seventeen and fearless, I decided to go it alone. Selecting an amiable looking older driver, I climbed into his taxi and directed him to St. Luke's.

He frowned. "You don't want to go there, young kid like you. That Mission district is tough. You should let me take you some place that's safe."

I shook my head. "I can't go anywhere else. I start nurses-training there today so that's where I have to go."

He started the car. "Well, I wouldn't take my daughter there."

As we drove through the Mission district toward the hospital, I could see his point. It looked tough, but it also looked interesting. Soon we were at the corner of Army and Valencia streets and there was St. Luke's itself, four stories of dingy yellow bricks. In spite of the handsome staircase leading up to a wide front door, there was a Victorian feel to the place, reminiscent of Oliver Twist's living quarters - probably due to the bars on the basement windows.

I leaned forward. "We go around back to the nurses' residence."

Still muttering about his daughter, the cab driver unloaded me at the door, shook my hand and wished me luck, a kind thought with which I agreed. I would need it.

Once inside the residence, I met the housemother who directed me to my room.

"It's on the fourth floor."

The pecking orders of the hospital and the nurses' home were exactly the opposite. In the residence, students started on the fourth floor and worked down a story a year; third year students living on the second floor near the bridge to the hospital. No stairs for them.

Over in the hospital, the first floor had the Men's and Women's Wards. Clinic patients bedded down here and others without much money. The diet kitchen and dining rooms were down the corridor. The second and third floors had rooms. Also on those two floors were the surgery, the nursery and obstetrics. By the fourth floor the air was getting rarified and the rooms were larger. People paid big bucks. Here, where student nurses seldom went, rested the well known, the wealthy, and the sons of prominent families busy drying out. Sad to say, in true Victorian style, the Spartan children's ward was in the basement behind those barred windows I had seen earlier. Also in the basement, down a spooky passageway were the morgue and the giant generator which lit and heated the hospital and sometimes even heated the nurses' residence with its own direct current electricity. D.C. was guaranteed to blow your iron and hair blower in a wink if you forgot to have them changed over from the A.C. you had always known. The best place in the hospital was the little chapel with its dark wood and shining altar; St. Luke's, being an Episcopal hospital, had a neighborhood priest.

The first days remain a blur except for the reception given to welcome the new class, all twenty-five of us. We were probies, which stands for probationers, which means in plain English, after six months you either go on or you go home. My memory of the reception has a mistiness about it almost like an impressionistic painting. I remember flowers on the tables, thin china cups, and a roomful of people who would be important to us. The doctors remain just a group of dark suits. We stood around in our best dresses and high-heeled shoes, smiling and trying not to spill our tea. My strongest memory of the afternoon is of the graduate nurses who had come from the hospital to meet us. In their starched white uniforms and medley of different caps they are as sharp and clear in my mind's eye now as they were then. The pride I felt that afternoon for the profession of nursing has never left me. As the youngest new recruit and one, according to my stepmother, with absolutely no common sense, I had a lot to live up to.

Soon the party clothes were back in the closet and life was about to get real. Classes were starting and we got ready to unpack the blue cotton uniforms we would wear for the next three years. No replacements so we hoped they would fit like gloves and wear like iron. Once we felt the strength of the material, we realized this stuff could easily outlast us, much less a mere three years.

The first morning of classes dawned bright and very early. I was feeling a touch high strung not having slept too well, but the excitement of putting on my uniform got me up. My roommate, a tall, dark, lovely girl from Arizona, opened her package while I watched closely. The acceptance letters we had received some months earlier had included explicit directions on how to measure for a perfect fit. My father had run his tape measure all over me, up, down, and around, until he was satisfied we were mistake proof. Of course we were. Margot lifted out her top uniform, which was starched to within an inch of its life. She bent it into shape and slipped into it. It fit. Back at the factory they actually read measurements.

Confidently, I lifted out my top uniform which was starched stiffer than beaverboard. It seemed somewhat bulky. At 5 feet, 4 inches and 102 pounds, I was expecting a size six, but the more I stretched this wad of cloth the bigger it got until it would have accommodated a six-foot tall, muscle-bound field hockey player. Having no choice, I put on my new uniform, which almost reached the floor. The belt went around my waist twice, which divided the uniform into two huge bulges, the lower one belling out like a hoop skirt. The top swelled around me. I had a bust Mae West would have been proud to own although mine was only starch and air. One look in the mirror and I almost went back to bed.

"I'm not leaving here looking like this!"

Margot shrugged. "You have to go out sooner or later. Come on. We'll go downstairs together."

Finally I crept out into the hall, a caricature of Florence Nightingale. More like Florence Faux pas.

Chapter Two

One by one my classmates and I found our way down four flights of stairs into the basement of the nurses' residence. In our variously fitting blue chambray uniforms, crackling with starch, we gathered around a high hospital bed and stared at the figure stretched out on top. Our Nursing Arts instructor, erect and unsmiling, introduced us to the only patient we would ever meet who would never complain. Mary Jane, a life-size doll with every opening known to woman, would be our first project in learning to care for a real person. Sooner or later we'd have to deal with every one of these openings, but happily we started with back rubs. Mary Jane did have nice skin and she was certainly easy to get along with. Some of us had trouble turning her over without flipping her like a flapjack.

Gradually we grew into our new role. We got up at 6 A.M., had classes, and went on duty in the hospital two to four hours a day. Duty meaning bedpans, wheelchairs, water pitchers, and whatever chores the head nurse thought up. Sitting by the bedsides of returned surgical patients and trying not to pass out from the surrounding cloud of ether turned me into a really dizzy blond. Textbooks on Anatomy and Physiology, Sanitation, Microbiology and the History of Nursing littered our rooms and glazed our eyes. Introduction to Pharmacology was a real beast as I fought a losing battle with the Metric System. We lived for our one day off a week.

I explored San Francisco by streetcar and cable car. I'd get on, ride to the end of the line, then get off and wander around. Years ago the movies along Market Street weren't porn but old silent comedies. For small change I watched Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and the Three Stooges. Money was almost nonexistent in my purse. My father was buying a bankrupt civil engineering lab in San Diego and the government sponsored Cadet Corps didn't offer much of an allowance. The Cadet Corps was funded by the Congress to provide nurses to join the services in return for their education. This was a wartime measure, but because the war had ended, we became the last class. Our allowance those first six months was $5.00 a month. I did find a local Italian restaurant up the street where I could eat a complete dinner with a glass of house wine for ninety cents. I became a regular.

Mornings of my days off I always ate in the small breakfast room. It was on the sunny side and light came through the blinds and made patterns on the table where I spread out The Chronicle which came every morning. It was strange to read a peacetime newspaper after four years of war. Hats were fancy this season and the summer shoes were $3.95, not bad looking. 1945 had been a remarkable year and it wasn't over yet. Deadly enemies President Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler had both died in April only a few weeks apart. In August on the sixth and the ninth, Atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then on September 2nd, two days before the morning I first came to St. Luke's, the war in Japan officially ended. It was V.J. day and the Second World War was over at last.

General Wainwright, gaunt from his time in a Japanese prison camp, had returned and would lead a victory parade down Market Street. Hundreds would march. I got downtown early that day so I wouldn't miss a single marcher. General Wainwright rode by, flags were carried proudly; returning servicemen and women and other important people passed by. Thousands of us lined the curbs from the Ferry building toward the far end of Market Street. When the returning servicemen and women marched past, we all cheered. Heads leaned out of windows. Finally there was lull. A Military Policeman, hurried me across the street and I rushed to catch my streetcar. Even though I had some difficulty explaining my long absence to the superintendent of nursing, I was glad I went. It was a wonderful celebration at the end of a horrible time.

Chapter Three

Zero Hour! I always knew the day would arrive when I would be given my first, my very own patient, to take care of by myself, with no head nurse barking over my shoulder. It was a proud moment. No, change that to it was pretty darn scary. Breakfast (the only decent meal of the day) was quiet and contemplative that morning as we wondered what our patients would be like. There were some big girls in our class along with a few runts like me. Unlike the army where rocket scientists were peeling potatoes and ex-chefs were driving tanks, we hoped that some higher intelligence at the nursing school had paired us with patients more our size.

At 7:00 A.M. with my long blond hair in a professional braid and my arms stacked with clean linens, I stood outside my patient's door. In my blue cotton tent with the toes of my white shoes peeping out from underneath, I hoped I exuded confidence and not just perspiration. I need to describe those shoes. They were a big mistake. Shortly after arriving in San Francisco, I went downtown to buy a pair of serious nurse's shoes. Being financially strapped I wanted them to wear like iron: Wearever for feet. The salesman soon had my size fours tucked into a matched set of old lady tie ups shaped like sweet potatoes with slightly turned up toes and brown Cuban heels. They were the ugliest things I had ever seen. Before I could ask if he had anything nearer my age, they were wrapped up, money had been removed from my limp hand and I was back out in Union Square. Needless to say he was right. They were indeed ironclad and I could wear them on my eightieth birthday. No way. Once I came into some money they were gone.

So, to return to my waiting patient. In I went and looked nervously at the high bed. What resembled a beached white whale, (was that Moby Dick?) with a round friendly face, smiled at me over the top sheet.

"Hello, you must be my nurse today."

"Yes, I am."

I smiled back and we talked for a minute. I checked her chart. Congestive Heart Disease. Do not excite, I thought. The chart also listed her weight at three hundred plus pounds, which was two hundred pounds more than I weighed. So much for matching patient with nurse. We immediately liked each other, although she seemed somewhat anxious when I returned with my basin of hot water and began to wash her down. This was soothing and took a while, but we both knew the backrub and bed linen change lay ahead. I would have to turn her on her side, roll up the dirty sheets, put on the clean ones, maneuver her over the hump and reverse the process without letting her roll off the bed. My plan if she kept on going was to race around the bed and try to stop her. If that failed, I could fall on the floor and let her land on top of me. I only hoped someone would be alive to ring the bell for help. Fortunately she knew how to hang on. When the two hours were up, she was bathed, back-rubbed and safely tucked into her clean sheets. We parted the best of friends. Feeling as washed out as a limp noodle but definitely triumphant I was soon back with my classmates, all of us talking at once. Everyone had made it through, no catastrophes.

"Hey, Gin, how was it?" somebody called.

"No problem," I called back. "Nice lady." Which she was.

Gradually we got used to standing at attention in the chart room at 7:00 A.M. to be assigned our patients for the morning. Doctors sat, head nurses sat, students stood. Our vocabulary consisted of yes, sir and yes, Miss or Mrs. whichever head nurse it was. At 9:00 A.M. we headed to the nurses' residence for daylong classes and a session with Mary Jane.

I knew the war was over but I hadn't really felt it yet. Returning servicemen were everywhere and some of the ships were back from the Pacific, however the big important day was still ahead. On October 15th, Admiral "Bull" Halsey would bring the 3rd fleet home to San Francisco. Early in October he gathered the ships in Honolulu. Even a typhoon near Okinawa didn't slow him down. On the 15th, everyone who could waited on Telegraph Hill at the foot of Coit Tower. Three of us climbed higher to see over the crowd. People around us talked, ate sandwiches, sat on the hoods of their cars, and waited, binoculars in their hands. The sun shone across the bay and east of us we could see huge banners: WELCOME HOME, WELL DONE, but the fog, San Francisco's trademark, wrapped itself around the Golden Gate bridge and lay low over the bay. We waited.

At ten minutes to 1:00 P.M. whistles began to blow from ships and boats moored along the embarcadero. Suddenly a destroyer escort crept into view, its low dark hull leading the way. One after another the great gray battle wagons came through the Golden Gate, each destroyer's railing thick with lines of Navy men staring at San Francisco and at all of us who stared back. First came the South Dakota, flagship of the fleet, then the Alabama, the Colorado, the Wisconsin, and the cruiser Vicksburg.

We heard murmurs of "Thank God," as they moved majestically past us on their way across to the Oakland Navy Yard.

"Look, look, there's Admiral Halsey himself."

Binoculars turned toward the South Dakota where Bull stood proudly on deck. Finally the last ship was gone but for a long time no one moved.

When people turned to leave, I saw their tear wet faces. I realized my cheeks too were flooded with tears, but the spell cast by those mighty ships had been so strong I hadn't noticed. The tears we shed were full of joy and relief, but also grief for ships which should have been there but weren't. We cried for the U.S.S. Arizona on the floor of Pearl Harbor quietly sheltering 1,177 men who had died almost four years earlier. Inching our way down the hill to the bus stop, we stood silent, bound in our hearts to the crowd around us. For me the war was truly over at last.


Excerpted from Florence Faux Pas by Virginia Lasher Copyright © 2010 by Virginia Lasher. Excerpted by permission.
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