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Interview with Henrietta Siodlowski [5/28/2002]

Alice Healy:

May the 28th, 2002. We're recording at Lyon's VA Hospital, and we're speaking to Harriet Siodlowski, who served in the U.S. Cadet Nurse, in the U.S. Public Health Service. Harriet, would you like to tell us a little bit about your background?

Henrietta Siodlowski:

My name is Henrietta Siodlowski. I was born Henrietta Fromholtz, in Jersey City, New Jersey, many years ago. I was raised in Hoboken, New Jersey. I had a father, a mother and an older brother who was in the army, and then into the Air Force. Every generation, since my greatgrandfather, had been in the military, and we felt that we were very patriotic at the time. I graduated. I was graduated from A.J. Denerest High School in Hoboken, and I entered a five-year program, a collegiate program, which provided health education and nursing studies. The classroom work and college work was done at New Jersey State Teacher's College in Jersey City, and the clinical work, for three years, was done at Jersey City Medical Center. I was in college when Pearl Harbor happened, and we all wanted to do something. The shortage of nurses was very great at the time, and Congress was ready to pass a bill to draft nurses. However, if the U.S. Public Health Service felt that they could help by initiating the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corp, at that time it was the in thing. Now we never hear about it. We are not considered volunteers, yet we served at the decision of the military. We -- after our two years of college, we were to enter our clinical phase, at which we lived in the nursing home, the nurses' residence of the hospital. In June of '43 the bill was passed, creating this service. It was hoped to increase interest in going into the nursing profession. It was a great step in helping education, because the schools who signed up to be part of the program had to raise their standards. Their staff had to promise that they would not leave the teaching, so that they would have adequate teachers for these student nurses. The program went into existence in August. Our entire class enrolled. This was an enrollment program. We enrolled, and in September we started our work as cadet nurses. We worked the full schedule in nursing. We had our classes. We worked a twelve-hour day. Sometimes we were able to get a service where it was a ten-hour. We had a charge nurse, or head nurse as we called it then in our hospital, and several students to staff. Our hospital had a thousand bed, and we had patients of all ages. We had every service, and there was never a bed shortage because in the winter, when we had a lot of rheumatic fever and pneumonias, the halls were lined with beds and oxygen tanks. We did the same as any other student nurse. In our pre-cadet, first six months' training, we got a stipend of fifteen dollars a month, which we thought was great. We had no time to go any place to spend the money. We were always working. Night duty was a routine. We had -- on night duty we had maybe anywhere from forty to forty-five, fifty patients on a floor, with one or two students. We did not have too many graduate nurses on staff. We had a supervisor for all of the hospital, and maybe she had one or two assistants. Those of us -- in our work we had a half a day off on Sunday, and we had a half a day off on -- during the week. Those of us who were college students had to go one half day a week to the college, for the rest of our college work, so that that half day had to be the day we had off. In other words, we went on duty on a Tuesday, that was the schedule of the week, and the head nurse would make the schedule, and if it happened to be a collegiate student, we would have to say excuse me, but Thursday afternoon is our college class. That made us very, very unpopular. The nurse -- head nurse wanted her schedule, and not having some young student tell her what she had to have. If you were on night duty, you did the classes on your own time. You did not get extra time because you had to sit in a class. If it was a hospital class, you also had to do it on your own time. We did not get any benefits, as far as that goes. Night duty was usually a two or three-week tour, of which you got no time off, but when you came off duty on your last day, it was a Friday morning, then you did not have to come back to work until Sunday noon. That compensated for the half a day that you didn't get off. It was war time. We had shortages of everything, food. Our dining service went from being served at a table to everything cafeteria style. Fish was several days a week, because there was no meat on certain days. Our uniforms were -- the school naturally did the uniforms, the hospital laundry. We were permitted one dress per week, and two aprons and bibs per week, and that is difficult, because you don't always manage not to get spills. We did not have equipment such as now. We rolled the oxygen tanks, and we set up things, and we didn't -- things were different, but we made the best of it. We were all young. We were eager beavers, and we were all doing the same thing. In our next year and a half we were considered cadet nurses. We had beautiful uniforms. They were pearl gray. We had a winter suit. I have pictures in my yearbook of it; a white blouse, straight skirt, jacket, red epaulettes, and we had the emblems on each lapel. We wore regular stockings and black shoes. We had a nice felt beret, with a large insignia on the hat and, of course, that saved us from buying clothes and, in fact, when we went out, it made us look special. Any time we were out of the nursing area, or out of the college area we had to wear the uniform. We also were given a very beautiful, heavy coat, overcoat. We had -- in the summer we had a nice raincoat, gray raincoat. Our summer uniform, we wore the same white blouse, but we had a gray and white stripped straight skirt, and a long-sleeve formal jacket of the same material, and we had a very nice pearl gray boa hat, and it had a red ribbon on, and we had the epaulettes on. As far as what nurses did, I can only speak for my own school. Each school had their own uniform, they had their own routines. The government did not provide the shoes, they did not provide the cape, and they paid nothing toward college tuition for college books. It was purely what they would allow for a three-year nursing student. In that year and a half we received twenty dollars a month stipend. The last six months was spent according to where the hospital was required -- where they had the need. Since I was in a New Jersey hospital, our girls went mostly to Fort Dix, which we were at -- I was at for a short time, with Quonset huts as hospital, and also went to Atlantic City. The hotels in Atlantic City had been converted into hospitals, and I believe it was called Walton General Hospital at that time. During the day you would see nurses, and cadets, and the military personnel drill on the Boardwalk, drill on the sand, and most of the college girls spent their time in doing student teaching in the public schools, because when we graduated our degree was health education and nursing, with a teaching certificate in the State of New Jersey from K through 12. When we went to the schools -- school nurses were hard to find, and it wasn't developed into the status that it is now, and this is where we helped to develop education in nursing and into the schools, and we taught and stressed immunization, tooth brushing drills for kindergartners and first grades; junior high, bed making and home nursing; clinics, well baby stations, things of that sort. Upon graduation -- when we enrolled, this was purely enrollment, we were expected to remain in the program for the duration, and as long thereafter as we were needed, and we were to accept assignments any place that we were told to, whether it be military or civilian. Many of my friends, and classmates, and the like were in the military, and I was waiting, and I thought oh, maybe the Nurse Corp. for me. However, that didn't work. So I went into the field of Public Health Nursing, and I stayed there for thirty-three years, getting my experience, which I could never repeat, and which I loved, and now I work -- I don't work, I volunteer. It's really work, but we call it volunteering here, because you don't get paid, at Lyon's Hospital, work with the veterans. We've been here about ten, eleven years. I have over five thousand volunteer hours in here. I volunteer for the Red Cross in disaster and in blood banks, things of that sort, very active in the Girl Scouts, but all of this stems from good, basic -- and we really -- those of us who went through the cadet program, appreciate it. Nowadays people think -- they don't know what we're talking about. They've never seen pictures of us, and yet it was the best recruitment tool for nursing, and development of nursing education during war time and, of course, during war time in the hospital, being right in the center of a harbor, where the convoys would line up and come and go, we were always in brownout. When we had blackout drills, we were called back to duty. We had to take everything dark. We had to remove all beds from near windows, and that was difficult, when you had fracture beds and heavy patients, and two little shrimpy nurses doing it. Also, we did first aid training. We had to do gym and swimming lessons. We had ambulance duty. Our ambulances were stationed at our hospital, and they were the city ambulances, which were driven by a policeman, and staffed by an intern. At that point interns were no longer available, so we had nurses, or nursing students that rode on the ambulances. If there was disaster, or any huge fire, or any public event that drew a lot of people, the students were sent out to staff first-aid stations, or tents, or whatever we had, and that's pretty much what I did. It's hard to remember everything. Afterwards, I'll remember something.

Alice Healy:

Do you have any special memories, something that was funny, or an experience that always comes to your mind when you think of it?

Henrietta Siodlowski:

Well, when you live in a nurses' residence, there's always something funny. We made our own entertainment, because we had to be in by ten o'clock at night, if we were able to go out at night. Also, we had to sign in and sign out. We did have what we called a house mother, and she patrolled, and we had a gorgeous lobby. Our facilities were beautiful, and we had several parlors, as they called them. Well, the gentleman came to call, he had to go to the desk, and then they had to call us, then we had to come down, and we could visit within the parlor, and there was always somebody floating around. If it wasn't the house mother or a supervisor, it would be a classmate who was nosey, and wanted to get in on the action, and if we went out, they had to make sure that we went out with the fellow. When we were off duty, we were never allowed to wear anklets. We always had to have socks, and gloves, and a hat, and we would try to sneak out, and hope that nobody would be in the elevator with us. Once in awhile there would be a supervisor or an instructor. So you sort of haaaa, you know, and back to your room you went. If you were a daredevil, you waited awhile, and then you snuck out through another door or another elevator. If not, you followed, put your stockings on, you know. Brown stockings took forever to dry, and if you bought white ones -- you didn't have money to buy the natural color ones, so, you know, you save money. However, the formalities, that the Director of Nursing gave for certain classes, at certain times. Whenever you were on duty, if you happened to have two seconds to sit and chart, if an intern, or anyone with an M.D. came, you stood up immediately. You had these starched aprons. Usually, when you sat down, you flapped the left flap and the right flap, so you just sat on the -- you didn't crinkle them. However, you could not flap them, because the instructor would give you a lesson on how you didn't do that, but you always stood up. Many times, as a young student, you would wait five and ten minutes for the elevator, because doctors first, supervisors next, graduates next, senior students next, and if there was space, the middle students, and, of course, the provies usually walked down flights of stairs. When I lived on the fifth floor it was much easier to walk down. Coming up, I did like to use the elevator, although I was younger, and I have been known to walk up the stairs. What else did we do? Oh, I had a very dear friend who was interning at the hospital, in pediatrics, at the time that I was a student, and once in awhile I could get to say hello to her if I passed, and we had one of our Chaplains would have -- had a nurses' service at six o'clock in the morning, one morning a week, and was in the nurses' home, in the auditorium, and I said to my friend, "Wouldn't you like to go," and she came, and we sat together and, of course, the Director of Nurses was also there, and on the way out my friend left, and I was told I was not to fraternize with the M.D.'s, this was a no-no. Well, we got over that. We didn't do that again, but there were lots of rules and regulations, but looking back, our class was almost two hundred, and we were young kids, and we came from all over, and everybody's circumstance was different, but we tried. We really enjoyed it it. I think we had an excellent education. That which we had at our hospital couldn't have been duplicated, because we did not have to affiliate in any other school, although we had many affiliates who came to our school. At night, as students, you never called the doctor or the Chaplain until you called the night supervisor first, and reported, and she would check to make sure you had the right situation. If you -- during the day you had different assignments, but there were usually several students. We had open wards, we had private rooms, we had everything. We also -- I served during the polio epidemics, and we had four iron lungs, and we had every bed in the communicable disease hospital full. We had two to three floors of polio patients, from infants to adults, and we used, at that point, the Sister Kenny packs, the hot packs, which were not easy to do, because you had the heat, and you handle these packs, and they were packed according to what the patients needed. Those patients were with us months and months and months. We had a swimming pool in the hospital which, when the patients got better, were exercised at. We had school classes for the pediatrics, because pediatric children stayed a long time, and being a city hospital, many children were dumped in the emergency room, and left, and we would have one floor of just children who were boarding there until they could be placed. When mother was put in the ambulance to rush to deliver, her fifth and sixth, or whatever child it was, the policeman would just put all the kids in the ambulance with her, take mama, and then bring all the children to the hospital, and we had them boarding until mother went home and, of course, most of us, when we got off duty from pediatrics, would go and check each other's hair, because many of our children weren't too clean when they came in, and head lice were a problem, and nurses were prone to pick up things and, of course, we did not have plastic gloves for everything. We didn't have -- we had to sterilize all our own equipment. We made all our intravenous and infusion solutions, our sterile saline, some of the other solutions. We made our glucose solutions. We made them all. We had to wash, and sterilize, and autoclave all that equipment. Blood letting we did at the bedside, and that blood was disposed of. Later on, when penicillin came, all of us would gather around the bedside while the doctor opened this first vial of penicillin, and we all stood there really amazed. Many things came through at that point, and we were right there to be part of it. At the end, after the war, when we were finishing our term, certain of the soldiers had to come through our emergency room, and go on the urological service. There was a floor of all the fellows who could not be discharged until they had their treatment for veneral disease. We had to take care of them, and they got their injections around the clock. Penicillin wasn't given, you know, once in awhile, it was given like every four hours or different -- and a type of bees wax that was given two or three times a day, and that was a difficult thing to give. Our medications were in bulk. The medicine room was bigger than this room, and all our drugs -- we counted syringes. If we dropped the syringe, and it broke and, of course, they were all glass, we had to hand in the pieces, and twenty-five cents. If we dropped a thermometer, and they were all glass, and you broke that, you saved the pieces, and paid twenty-five cents. If you could not give the head nurse the pieces of what you broke, you had to pay a dollar for it. Evidently they didn't want supplies to disappear, but we had to pay for it. Our codeine, our morphine came, and we had to use the Bunson burner and the spoon, and so many -- so much liquid went in, and your tablet, and you withdrew so much, and you had to know your arithmetic. The drugs were put in little medicine cups. We did not have sealed items, or computers, or any of those things. We had -- let's see, what else did we do? Oh, in the morning report, you had to count how much -- how many tablets of codeine you had, how many tablets of morphine you had, and if you were on a cancer service, that was a hard job to count the narcotics, and they had to check. We also had to count how many syringes, and what size; how many thermometers, whether they were oral thermometers or rectal thermometers, and you had to -- when you took a temperature, you just didn't dump a thermometer, you had to wipe it, you had to put it in a solution, you had to bring it back, you had to soap and water it, and you had to put it in a sterilizing solution. All our instruments; forceps, tweezers, whatever, had to be put -- washed with soap and water, and scrubbed, and I mean scrubbed, and then they were prepared for autoclaving, and then after autoclaving you had to handle them carefully. Operating room, we used to have to make our needle books. We had to do our processes of cleanliness. We had to put up with some very dramatic surgeons. What else did we do? At the time we were all doing the same. We gripped, but we couldn't really complain. We didn't know the difference. What else did we have to do that was -- oh, the first time we went on the floors -- you know, when you first get there, you get a lot of classroom demonstrations, and you practice on each other. Well, Sunday afternoon was our big day. We were in our uniforms. We don't have caps or bibs, and we go, and we go to the floors, and the head nurse will assign us. We want to be there from like one to four or one to five, and it's visitors' day. Of course, we only had visitors' hours one afternoon a week, or two nights a week. We didn't have visitors at free will, and here we are, all -- of course, what was our assignment? First, you went to the hopper room. That's where you dumped the bedpans. That's where you scrubbed the bedpans, and the nurse made sure we scrubbed each bedpan, and then we put them in the sterilizer. We had the Monell metal bedpans, and you didn't keep them with the patients. They went into the hopper room. Then the next duty was to clean the beds. When a patient left, we had to strip the bed. A Lysol solution on the mattress, and we had to take a bottle brush, and go through the springs of the bed. We didn't have electric beds. We didn't have high-low beds. The beds were all high, which was easy for our backs, but very difficult when you had to transfer a patient, or get them into a chair, or if they were in the chair and felt sick, to get them back into the high bed. Nowadays you push the bed to your convenience. We didn't have that. We did have the Gatch beds, and if we had the beds, we could stand at the bottom of the bed and, you know, raise the head, or raise the leg, but the patient had no control over this, and some patients, every two minutes, wanted to change their position. Also, when you left at night -- you were on night duty, and when you left at seven o'clock in the morning, the head nurse, who was there, was in charge of everything. Even though she wasn't there at night, she was still in charge, because we were just students. She would listen to your report, check everything, that it was clean, your charts were right, your narcotics checked, your equipment checked, and she would walk down the hall with you, and you would go into the wards, and into the rooms, and she would ask questions about different patients. She would see that the beds were made properly, also that the casters of the bed weren't facing out, that they were all facing inward. Sometimes you were lucky to be off by eight a.m., even though the shift ended at seven a.m., and later. The dining room closed at eight a.m., so if you got off, you just didn't have breakfast unless you got off on time, and if you had a big, busy floor, most of the time you didn't get off, or if something the head nurse didn't like, she made you do it right then and there, and time was of no value, as far as we were concerned. You just did what you were told.

Alice Healy:

This was excellent training, as far as you're concerned?

Henrietta Siodlowski:

Oh, definitely, definitely. I couldn't do it today. You had to be in tiptop physical condition to get -- they gave us two days of physicals before we ever got in the clinical area. If you were under a certain height, you were rejected. If you were over a certain height, you were rejected, over a certain weight, out. They wanted the cream of the crop. We came out aching, but we had to go in perfect. For the first several months, one afternoon a week we had to go to the student health center, and we had immunizations. They gave us any and everything, once a week, and I had a severe reaction to my small pox vaccination and, of course, at that time it was given in the upper arm, and that's just where the cuff hit, and I had a cellulitis, and I had all the problems, and I asked permission, could I please take the one cuff off. No, I could not, that was not uniform. I had to have the cuff on. It was agony, but I survived, I'm here, and it didn't matter if you had a reaction or not, and then every now and then you would have to report there, and they would check to see if you had your slip on, which was a cotton slip usually, and if you had rolled garters on, because they were forbidden. Of course, I realize now, but we were annoyed at it, and, of course, you never showed up -- we didn't have air conditioning. Our uniforms were heavy. We wore them summer and winter. The poor patients had these rubber draw sheets, covered by the linen sheet. They were hot. We were hot. Our uniforms would be soaking wet, but you could not take anything off. You wore whatever you were supposed to wear, and it was difficult, but we did it. You know, in obstetrics we had a great deal of requirements as to cleanliness, and routine, and what have you, and in our obstetrics, we had at least twenty-five or more deliveries a day. Every twenty-four hours we had at least twenty-five. We had one whole building that was just the maternity hospital. We had psychiatric. We had contagious disease, which now nobody seems to know about. We had it, and woe be to anybody who after serving in contagious disease hospital happened to get measles, or mumps, or chicken pox. They were -- and nobody could be married. Of course, nearer to the end, with war time and the like, we did have one or two that snuck off. We all knew who. We didn't dare say a word until one girl announced the pregnancy. Well, that was quite a revolution in our institution, but we survived it. That's about all I can think -- I'll go home tonight and relive the whole story.

Alice Healy:

Thank you. It's really interesting.

Henrietta Siodlowski:

I'm afraid I talked too long.

Alice Healy:

No, you have a wonderful memory. Thanks very much.

Henrietta Siodlowski:

I think maybe you could remember a little bit of some of the things we did.

Alice Healy:

Thank you. That was excellent.

 
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