Oral Histories

Fern Wood

From “Remembering the old Moab hospital” Times-Independent, August 23, 2007.

Note from Sam Taylor:

Fern Sitton Wood, wrote of her experiences as a nurse in the Moab (Grand County) Hospital from 1939 to 1943. The hospital was located in a former large home on Center Street, just west of Main Street. She describes the operation in detail and in long-hand in the article that follows. I have fond memories of that hospital. It was where I was born, had my tonsils taken out and spent a long seven days in a sweltering room cooled only by a table fan in the window following my appendectomy. Fern was a native of Dove Creek, spent a good deal of time in Monticello, was a sister of Moab’s Maxine Newell, and married to Gordon Wood, long-time postmaster of Monticello. I knew her best when she was administrator of the San Juan Nursing Home in Blanding, where my father was a patient the last few years of his life. The story was given to me by David (Dick) Allen, son of Moab’s long-time physician Dr. I. W. Allen. The following are Fern’s words:

The old Moab hospital: by Fern Wood

I first arrived in Moab to start working at the hospital November 1, 1940. The first person I met was Vera Wood.

The hospital was a home converted into a hospital. The living room was the waiting room and the manager’s office. A small nurse’s station was across the hall. The room to the left was the examining room – it was also used as a delivery room and operating room.

I said “Oh, Vera!” She said “Don’t worry, it works very well and we are all just like a family – you will like it.”

Across from the examining room was a small medication room. The medicines were in alphabetical order and there was a shelf for preparing the patient’s medication.

The room in the corner was Dr. I.W. Allen’s office. This was the old kitchen in the home. The cupboards were still there and were stocked with linens, used to prepare bundles used for different procedures. Dr. Allen’s desk was in the corner.

We walked through the patient’s rooms and discussed procedures used. There were only three patients at this time, so I would have time to go through things.

I was scheduled to go on the 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. shift. While the patients slept, I could read procedures and study the charts.

We then went to the basement and had dinner. Nurses were given their meals and uniforms would be laundered, ironed and hung in a closet for our use. Off-duty nurses would come for their meals and if the nurse on duty was busy, they would serve the patients their meals before eating. It was truly a help to one another.

Vera and I then went to our room. We were both from Monticello but had never met before. We immediately formed a friendship. I then went on duty at 11 p.m.

The nurse going off duty was very kind and gave me the report and showed me where equipment was kept.

Patients were usually in the hospital for bed rest. All had bed baths and used bed pans. All obstetric and surgical patients were kept in bed 10 days – bed rest.

There was a bath tub where basins were washed and the night nurse washed the water pitchers which were quart fruit jars with a drinking straw.

I went through the drug room. It must have been the pantry in the home. It was very clean and all medications were in place alphabetically.

I had hot wet packs to change frequently during the night and pain medication to give.

The next morning I met Dr. Allen. He was a kind, older man with a twinkle in his eye. He showed a real interest in his patients. He proved to be a great teacher – was very particular in how he wanted things done, but always willing to help.

It wasn’t long before I was in the swing of things – we worked a week of 11 p.m. – 7 a.m., then a week of 3 p.m. – 11 p.m. then a week of 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. We had a day off a week. We were on call for emergencies. There was real cooperation and all helped each other.

Soon we were in business. For surgery, Vera gave the ether anesthetic. Norma was circulating nurse and I was scrub nurse and would assist Dr. Allen in routine surgeries. A doctor from Blanding would come for major surgeries.

When an obstetrics patient came in, they were kept in the room until ready to deliver, then brought to the exam table which was cleaned, sterilized and ready for use. Vera would give ether anesthetics if necessary and the nurse on duty helped the doctor. If necessary, we would call another girl in.

Oh yes, when we needed an aide to help, we trained-taught her on the job.

For regular patients to see the doctor, the nurse on duty would take the vital signs, put a gown on the patient and the doctor would examine eyes, ears, tonsils, thyroid, chest, abdomen, legs and feet. He would then give medication or treatment and admit if necessary.

If it was an injury or a minor problem, the whole exam was not done.

We had two private rooms, two four-bed rooms and the rest were two-bed rooms. At times we were full of patients and had beds in the hallway, at other times we had only one or two patients.

Vera and I would come to the hospital when the other was working and would help when needed or sit and embroider or crochet.

Obstetrical patients would often come to the hospital a week or two early since the roads were either dirt or gravel between Moab and Monticello. It was a happy day when the roads were paved.

The doctor would bring patients from Blanding and Monticello. We had several patients from Dove Creek, Colorado.

Treatments in those days included throat irrigations, and steam inhalations using a small electric heater and a can of water. Nurses had to be on their toes to prevent burns from hot cans of boiling water. I never saw a patient burned.

Dr. Allen taught his own procedures for giving enemas. He believed the intestinal tract was very important in treatment of diseases. Dr. Allen used mustard plasters for treating chest congestion. We had to watch carefully to prevent burns.

It was not unusual when on day shift, to have office patients, a delivery and a surgery on one shift. Then office patients were sent home to come back the next day.

When we had a serious or critical patient, Dr. Allen spent much time at the hospital. He would walk the halls and rub his bald head – thinking what to do next.

I remember one time I was on night shift and heard a noise at the back door. I was afraid to open the door, so I called Dr. Allen. He opened the door – it was a local guy home from the army and he had spent too much time at the pool hall. He had fallen head first in a barrel at the back door. We got him out of the barrel and upstairs from the basement door, then put him to bed. Dr. Allen said to let him alone – don’t watch too close, because when he wakes up he will be embarrassed and just leave.

One time Dr. Allen decided to take all the staff not on duty to the river fishing. His wife, Daisy, fixed a picnic lunch. None of us knew how to fish, but Dr. Allen was happy and we all enjoyed a delicious lunch.

On December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor Day – we all knew our lives would be changed forever. I was working as a public health nurse. Vera left for the army.

The hospital was so short of nurses, they asked me to help with surgery at the hospital. I helped teach aides and when they needed to know how to do a procedure, I would use it as a teaching project.

We were still making our own sponges and wrapping, then sterilizing them. We made sponges for tonsils, single sponges, 4×4’s and abdominal sponges.

One day I was asked to go with the sheriff to tell a family their son had been killed in World War II. Dr. Allen sent medication with me to give the family if necessary. This happened three times in one week.

Everyone was concerned about a loved one. Dr. Allen was worried about his son, Dick.

The war ended. The soldier boys were coming home.

I was transferred to San Juan County public health. I still helped with surgeries until more nurses came. I remember Hannah Pittman and Helen Corbin were working at the time.

We started a hospital in Monticello. The commission asked Dr. Allen to come to Monticello and manage the hospital. He said he was too old and would have to retire.

I saw Dr. Allen the afternoon they took him to the hospital. I got to personally thank him for all he had taught me. I wonder what he would have done if he had the modern day technology. It is amazing that he did so much with so little.

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