By Marianne Corey Cramer RN
When I was young during WWII, I told my mother I wanted to be a nurse. My wish was to help the wounded soldiers. My mother, Gwendolyn had lost her hearing when she was 9 years old to scarlet fever, but she understood. She set out to make me a nurse’s uniform. She made me look like a real nurse. I was in the 2nd grade and I even got to wear it to school.
I’m not sure where my love of nursing came so strong as we had assignments of physical work on the homestead every day so I didn’t get to play house or with my baby dolls very much. But my step dad was injured at work where a piece of sheet metal dropped on his leg and he was in the hospital for a long time. There was 10 injured men in his ward, and when my mom and brothers would come to visit our dad, the men would give us their ice cream, little dixie cups with a wooden little spoon. We couldn’t wait to visit! Every week we’d also go to Ken Laughlin’s Children’s Radio show, where he’d hoist us on his lap. I’d sing or recite poetry. “Cuddle Down Dolly” was my favorite poem and I’d sing many songs dedicated to “my daddy in the hospital” where Vern always sang “Home on the Range”. We’d sing “God Bless America” even though Alaska was a territory not a state yet.
Another experience I had that led me to nursing, we had won the Nanana ice pool purse (spring breakup). Where the family took a vacation to the lower 48 states and bought a new car in 1950. We went to see some relatives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Where Uncle August took me to Marquette University to look around, he thought I might like their journalism program. But later I saw a “Life Magazine” layout of Marquette University’s nursing program. I loved the uniforms and I was very impressed. I also read about Florence Nightingale and her heroic work in the Crimean war.
I was a senior in high school in Anchorage, Alaska, when my counselor approached me. She had also been my Latin teacher and called me into her office. She told me she had submitted my name for a full nursing scholarship, if I got it, it would be to a school of my choice. She said, there were 3 participants for this PEO scholarship. PEO was a sorority of women (Psi Epsilon Omega Chapter — Philantropic Educational Organization). This sorority was interested in educating young women.
I went home to tell my mother, who loved me dearly and was never encouraging the nursing profession for me. Particularly after I’d fainted the first time I saw blood. She thought I would be a baker as I always loved helping her cook for our large family. I did tell her, if I won the scholarship I would accept it. But if I didn’t win I would stay home in Alaska. In the next few days, I was in the school assembly hall, and sitting there I heard my name called… I won the scholarship. I sat there a moment stunned, and then pleased. I had a lot of planning to do!
Especially as our home was in chaos. My step dad was drunk in our enclosed back porch all the time and my mother was divorcing him. We had lost our homestead a few years before and my step dad wasn’t coping well with all his problems. I took the opportunity to locate my birth father. My two brothers and I had been adopted, so we had no contact with our real father. He was delighted with my scholarship and wanted me to come to California to school. Specifically to apply to “Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital” as his current wife had attended there when it was “Clara Barton school of Nursing.”
I was accepted at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. I prepared for the departure for California. I was counseled by a PEO member to write a letter to my dad’s wife to thank her for letting me stay with them while I attended a compulsory college of chemistry semester. A 5 week cram course.
I flew to Los Angeles, California, a twelve hour flight. It was an emotional reunion with my father. Beth, his wife was nice to me for exactly one day. Well, my dad had not informed Beth that I was coming which was a huge mistake. As… the 2nd day after dinner, my dad and I were sitting on a lawn swing on the patio when Beth came out to give the neighbor dog the left-over hamburger. But instead, she attacked me with it and ground it into my eyes, face, and throat. My glasses flew over a hedge. My dad finally got her off of me. I had massive bruises and scratches.
The next day was my first conference appointment at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. My superintendent, Miss Gooding couldn’t get over my appearance and story. I was holding up well considering my appearance. She must’ve felt sorry for me. I wish I had pictures.
I headed back to the house with the step monster I nicknamed “Beetle”. My dad told me he’d locked up all the knives and scissors in the house to reassure me. I continued to live in terror… The summer was brutally hot, so I decided to sign up for a swimming class at Los Angeles City College along with my chemistry course, since I didn’t know how to swim.
The swim coach assigned a big strong black boy named Fred to make sure I didn’t drown. I had to jump into the deep end of the pool and Fred would hand me a pole to pull me out. One of my future room-mate’s at HPH, Jan Munro was in the class. She later told me it was their entertainment every day to watch me try and swim and Fred having to save me.
On top of that my chemistry class was not going well, I was getting “F”s – a first for me. I told my dad if I flunked out I would return to my mom in Alaska. He panicked and got me a tutor. I got a “B” on the final. The professor called me into his office and told me, he couldn’t understand how I got a “B”, when I couldn’t understand the easy questions and only the difficult ones, which he put in the exam for his bright students. I didn’t know – God’s will I’m sure; because he passed me.
I entered HPH September 13, 1954. Leaving my fathers house to live in the dorm. I had 2 roommates, Jan Munro and Jeannie Rose.
We were housed in an old one-story apartment complex. There were 3 beds in the living room and our 3 desks were in the next room. We had a cafeteria for meals. There were 4 old houses, a cement wall on one side and fencing all around. A housemother lived in and stood guard 24-7 on both ends. The housemother made rounds every night at 10pm to make sure lights were out. We called the front entrance the “date house” because the house mother had to meet and approve of our dates.
We started Nursing Arts class right away at our hospital classroom. Miss Birdie Adair taught us how to give a bed bath and linen change with a patient in bed. We had to learn bed pan etiquette. We needed to breathe through our mouth and never make faces. If we weren’t practicing with a patient we would practice on each other – even injections and nasal cannulas.
I was excited when our uniforms arrived. It was a royal blue dress, a full white starched apron with white shoes and stockings. We wore a 4” band of starched white material on our head to let our patients know we were newbies called “probationers” or “probies” for short. We would receive our real nurses cap in 6 months if we survived.
We were in our new uniforms and on floor duty one month to the day of our entrance of being accepted at HPH. We each had a little black book we carried where the R.N. Instructor would check off and initial each procedure we passed. We had to give enemas, catheterization, injections, nasal cannulas, ambulation, feeding sand bogged patients, TPR’s (temperature, pulse, & respiration), shaving surgical and OB patients, blood pressure, medications (oral and injectable, IV set-up and helping interns administer, charting, 02 (oxygen) set-up, administration, post-mortem care, oral and denture care, back rub techniques, wound care, colostomy care, peri-care, telephone calls with doctors for orders.
We also started our classes at LACC which was five Los Angeles long blocks from our hospital. We took anatomy with dissection of a cat, physiology, microbiology., pharmacology, nutrition with cooking class and always nursing arts. We did get to play volleyball all the first year. We complained about volleyball after all our other physical exercise but they said they wanted us well-rounded and we had tournaments with all the other schools. We never won. We took nursing history at the college in our Senior year.
Our schedule for the first 9 months was to report for duty at 6:50 a.m. to take TPR (temperature, pulse, respiratory) on our ward (15 patients) and to chart them so the Doctors could see them on their rounds. We got our patient assignments and listened to the night R.N.’s report. We usually had 4 patients to bathe and do medications and treatments. We had to finish charting and be in the hospital classroom by 11 a.m. sharp. The door was locked at 11:05 a.m. and if you were late, you had to go back and get a written note from the supervisor stating why… I heard the supers were never nice about this. I was never late.
We then had to change into street clothes. We had to wear a dress or skirt and blouse. We were never allowed to walk into the hospital or cafeteria in jeans, pedal pushers or slacks of any kind. We also couldn’t wear our uniform out in public. We had very strict rules and to disobey was to be immediately expelled. Quickly we ate lunch and changed into our street clothes and ran the 5 blocks to college. We would be at college class until 3:00 p.m. We ran back to the dorm; changed into our uniform and back on duty at 3:30 p.m. sharp to recover our surgery patients. We didn’t have a recovery room at that time.
We then set to do PM care, which was warm wash water, back rubs, clear off bedside tables for dinner trays and feed patients. We then picked up trays and charted how patients ate until 5:30p.m. When we were off to go to dinner in our cafeteria which closed at 6:00p.m. I had a few digestive issues. One rotation on 3E, the R.N. did not come back until after 6:00p.m. so it meant my partner and I had no dinner for six weeks. We could have cinnamon toast and tea at the Date House. We were not allowed to keep food in our rooms. I was famished and I probably lost weight. We were always weighed on the 3rd of every month. At 5’8”, I started at 112# and ended 124# at the end of 36 months.
My first rotation was on 2W which was the GU (Genital-Urinary) floor. The patients were all male with mostly prostrate problems affecting urination. Cysto was on this floor. The R.N.’s were not always nice to the students. I had to take a call from a doctor early on and they said, “you act like you never talked on the phone.” I said, “I haven’t”. I was born and raised on a homestead in Alaska. We didn’t have a phone, electricity or indoor plumbing.
Early on this rotation I had my first experience with death, and it was not pleasant. One of my four assignments was to “watch” this man who was moribund. I had a man in traction and put his good foot in warm water to soak, while I checked on my dying man. We had dutch doors. I looked in, saw an empty bed, looked down and saw his body wedged between the bed and nightstand. I ran for the R.N. She got the intern to pronounce him dead. She told me, “get the orderly, do Post-Mortem care and take him to the morgue.” The morgue was a cubby hole on the ground floor with an outside door. We took him down, put him on the slab. The orderly then put the block which holds the head up against the back of my neck and said, “hey Frieling, try this on for size”. I jumped a foot! I went back upstairs and the R.N. met me and said, “you forgot to put his dentures in.” I said, “I didn’t think he needed them anymore. She replied, “well the mortician needs them.” So I had to go back down to the morgue by myself, open his mouth and put his dentures in. When I got back to my man in traction the water was ice cold and he was livid. I couldn’t tell him what happened but I just carried on.
During one of my rotation periods. I was in the Diet Kitchen. We made jello, rice, vanilla and chocolate puddings, and fried many lamb chops for our private room patients. At this time in the 1950’s our private rooms cost $35.00 a day, which were for our wealthy patients only.
We also wrote out diet menus for diabetic diets and worked the tray line. Our dietician supervisor was very stern and efficient. Her written report to my nursing school supervisors was that my work was satisfactory but that I made too many bathroom breaks.
Capping was in March 1955. My Mother had divorced my step-father and come to Los Angeles for 6 months with my three siblings. Her presence probably helped keep me in training because I was so homesick for my family. I saw them on weekends at their apartment in Glendale. It was mostly a study time.
My eldest brother, Ron, was in Washington state visiting and ran into our step-dad. He told him about my capping ceremony coming up, so he decided to come down to Los Angeles and attend while visiting the younger children. He had sobered up and had updated his Chiropractic skills. He was so mean when I left home that I did not even say “good-bye” to him.
Twenty-six of us were marching 2×2 to the auditorium in our starched uniforms in the pitch black of night. When all of sudden a voice called out, “there’s my little apple dumpling!” The marching column stopped dead in our tracks and I wished that a big hole would open up and consume me. Silently, we composed and marched on to receive our caps. My brother, Vern, told me that when they called my name my step-dad almost jumped up since I was using my birth name. It was a bone of contention.
I continued at school and my mother and step-dad decided to remarry. My brother called and said, “stop them Sis!”. I couldn’t, of course.
We were all very proud of wearing our caps. When we were juniors we got 1 black velvet stripe on the side and 2 stripes would be put on the caps for our senior year. When we graduated we got a black velvet stripe across the top of the cap, its meaning was the mourning of Florence Nightengale.
Meanwhile my grandparents in Alaska were very proud of my progress and asked for a photo of me in my cap. I had a photograph taken in Glendale and sent it to my grandparents. The photographer made a life-size copy and put it on display in their window. Our supervisor, Miss Gooding, drove on that street home every night. She called me into her office and gave me “the what for” for breaking uniform rules. I explained about Grandma and Grandpa Cannon and didn’t expel me. I think maybe she relented because of the first interview I’d had with her all scratched and bruised. I couldn’t get over that of all the streets in Los Angeles, Miss Gooding drove on the photographers shop street home.
My dad and Beetle came over every week to give me $2.00 allowance. (Yes, that’s not an error.) Dad would wait in the car while Beetle would walk me to the back gate and say every week “You’re not going to make it, THnot (she had a lisp), you haven’t got the guts.” My dad thought she was encouraging me, it made me so determined and I said to myself, “I will make it if it kills me!” Beetle had told me when I left for school to never darken their doorway again, and I didn’t.
We continued our schedule until June when we all had 1 month vacation. My young brother drove the 5 of us to Alaska in an old car. We were ten days on the road. I had a wonderful time with my grandparents, family and a church youth group and then I returned in July 1955.
I went straight into my 3 month surgery affiliation. Our instructor was not available so we were scrubbing on our own from day one. I spent one week in the small room where we did T&A’s (tonsils and adenoids), eye surgery and plastic surgery (nose jobs and facial procedures). The following week I was scrubbing alone on a hysterectomy. I handed the surgeon a wrong instrument. He threw it against the wall and it boomeranged and hit me in the back. We could only say, “thank you” whenever a doctor corrected us but I said nothing… and I never handed another wrong instrument. I spent 3 months in surgery and then went to obstetrics.
I spent 1 month in the delivery room. One birth I remember I was shaving the mother and the doctor said, “stand aside nurse, you’re giving the baby a haircut.” At least he didn’t throw anything. Next was the newborn nursery for 1 month. Pati Jones and I got in trouble there. The R.N.’s told us to get extra donuts at breakfast for their coffee break so we did as we were told. I was called into Miss Goodings’s office. Pati came out bawling but couldn’t tell me anything. I went in, stood at attention and she said, “Miss Frieling how does it feel to be a thief?” I had no idea what she was talking about, but then she explained about the donuts, A cafeteria lady had reported us. I did not cry. They could never make me cry. The R.N.’s got in trouble too and had to start buying their own donuts. It was fun working with the newborns. I remember folding huge cart loads of diapers. No pampers for sure. I then did one month on Postpartum, teaching new mothers how to care for their babies.
April 1956 I had a two week vacation home to Alaska. It was during this vacation my step-dad told me that if I didn’t change my name back to my adoptive name of Risch that I’d never be welcome back home even for a visit. I was defiant and said, “okay” but my mother cried and said if that happened she would kill herself. That really scared me, I relented to them. I was very upset over the whole affair. At LACC, the college I was Marianne Risch but at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital I was known as Nurse Frieling.
I went straight to Brentwood Psychiatric Hospital in Santa Monica for a three month affiliation. It was a veteran hospital of two thousand soldiers. Student nurses came in pairs from all over California and Arizona. They came in pairs, but I was alone from Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital as my partner had dropped out. We were assigned patients and had to write everything they said and in turn we were to write our helpful responses. It was a time of socializing, playing golf, dancing, baseball games, beach parties and ping-pong. I thought we would be dealing with PTSD from war but our patients had never gotten out of boot camp. They were either schizophrenic or had total breakdowns. We took a lot of verbal abuse from them. We had two nuns in full habit and the men really verbally abused them as well. They said the F word a lot which wasn’t in vogue at that time or in general vocabulary. They would say shocking things to unnerve us, they had no manners. We were innocent girls who weren’t use to vulgarity or craziness. During games, we all would stay calm and say “No, Thank you” Luckily we had orderlies to protect us. But we had to say a lot of no thank you’s to them as well.
Our instructor told us that we had free access to counseling with a psychiatrist there so I went to talk to one, as I felt I had a bigger history than some of the patients. I was still upset over my visit home. I asked him not to write anything down and I just talked and talked. He just kept telling me that I was strong and to remain strong.
A number one rule was that we were not to date the orderlies. One day my brother, Ron, his wife Gen and my navy boyfriend Jim, came to pick me up. We were in the car at the Veterans hospital; Ron said, “look that girl is getting into that car!” We all looked just as she looked at us and she saw me. She got in trouble with getting in the car with a black orderly. She told her classmates, “I had told on her.” I didn’t tell. But they didn’t believe me and they bullied me the entire stay. This did not help me at all. I had no friends there except my psychiatrist.
Thankfully my three months were up. My next affiliation was Los Angeles Children’s Hospital for three months. But this time I had my classmates Pati Jones and Ann Hayes with me. We were on duty and in the classroom from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. One of my rotations was orthopedics doing Sister Kenny hot packs. Which are hot packs, made from a big kettle of super hot water, and wool material wrung out by twisting the sticks and putting on the children’s limbs. This we did for post polio patients. We would gently talk to the kids while doing this hoping to soothe them.
Taking care of sick and dying children was very emotional for me. The instructors asked me if I’d ever been around children. I told them that I’d helped raise my younger brother and sister. I must’ve been too quiet and reserved. They had sick and dying children coming in from all over the states. But the first time I entered the hospital a woman was wailing over her dead baby in her arms. From that time on, I was in agony with these fragile children. Maybe it was because when I was 9 years old my younger brother was born. Our Dad would water down his formula, he would scream in hunger until he had hernia’s. He weighed his birthweight at 6 months. Our mom was deaf and helpless against a domineering husband; she was also in the hospital several times during this time. My Mom finally persevered to start feeding him better. My step-dad had strange food ideas, he thought less food was better, even for all of us. When my little brother was two years old he would climb out of his crib and crawl upstairs in bed with me.
We had a 1 a.m. curfew when I was working at Children’s Hospital. We got off at 10 p.m. after being there at 7 a.m. They catered to the Seventh Day Adventists in the cafeteria so we got a lot of pressed nuts and grains instead of beef. Late at night we had a “corner bar and grille”, a group of us would go for a hamburger and an alcoholic drink. Dr. Booth who was a Seventh Adventist Orthopedic Resident would go us. He would say, “Miss Frieling, what would your mother say if she knew you were drinking a gin and tonic?” I replied, “What would your mother say if she knew you were eating a hamburger?” He would say we won’t be telling our mothers.
While working at the Children’s hospital I got very sick with with a high fever. And they thought maybe I was coming down with polio. So they put me to bed for a week under observation at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. No diagnosis except exhaustion and I got to eat some real food.
My next affiliation was at Barlows TB Sanitarium. We were in isolation garb and mode the entire time. I was accompanied by my classmate Marcy Berger. We were on duty at 6 a.m. to wash and pan our patients. They were on complete bedrest. At 7 a.m. we had a meager breakfast of either 1 egg or 1 piece of bacon and toast. I was always hungry there. We had class in the afternoon for 2 hours and then back on duty until 10 p.m. Our dorm was 120 steps up from the hospital. Later the sanitarium became Dodger Stadium.
I also had a 2 week vacation in December of 1956 and flew home to Alaska for Christmas. It was a twelve hour flight, where I would be on the “Milk Run” because it was a cheaper ticket. I would fly from Los Angeles to Seattle, where I would then change planes. The “Milk Run” plane would stop all over in Alaska to drop off Milk and supplies, sometimes Juneau, Ketchikan, Cordova, Yakatat and other stops. This vacation was a special and peaceful time as my step dad had made a truce about my name. My parents still lived way out at the homestead at Jewel Lake. But my friends Carol and Arlene Rainey in Anchorage took it upon themselves to be my entertainment committee. They would fix me up with a date and we would have dinners and house parties almost every day.
Upon my return, I moved into the new senior dorm with Sandi Adams. I became a senior with two black stripes on my cap. I was upgraded to general floor duty. I worked ten days straight with 4 days off. We could work one day with R.N. pay which was $1.50 per hour. They always sent me to the operating room so I got a lot of experience.
One day was especially memorable. A man was having his left leg amputated at the hip. Pati Jones was scrub nurse. I was also scrubbed and my position was to hold the leg and then hand it to Mickey, the circulating nurse. Well, when that leg dropped into my arms, I couldn’t get rid of it fast enough. I threw it to Mickey and hit her in the chest, She said, “I said hand it to me, not throw it at me!” I apologized but it was the strangest feeling. Pati teased me about it later.
It was the summer of our senior year, 1957 and we went to Los Angeles City College for our Nursing history class. One day a lady doctor who had a beautiful home near-by told us we could come over and use her pool. She lived in the Los Feliz hills and we joyfully spent our free time there especially when we were working nights. My fellow nurses and I would lay out and it got to be a contest who was going for the darkest tan, that summer I won.
We were all looking forward to graduation when tragedy struck. One of our 1956 graduates from the year before was working at the hospital and lived in an apartment near-by. Marjorie Hipperson was engaged to one of our resident doctors and was preparing to leave for her wedding in Chicago. A prowler entered her bedroom window, raped and murdered her. Her fiance’ found her and he was devastated. We were all heartbroken. We attended the graveside funeral in full uniform and I made her nurse’s cap as she was buried in her uniform. There were a lot of press and detectives present. They eventually found her killer and later executed him. Her fiance’
Dr. Walter Deike moved to San Francisco, we heard he walked into the ocean and drowned a few months later.
We all had worked very hard for our R.N. and as graduation approached us we were outfitted in our beautiful uniforms. Graduation night was finally upon us at Hollywood Presbyterian Church. We had new all white uniforms and a new cap with the black velvet band across the top. We went to the church by bus standing up so that we wouldn’t wrinkle our starched uniforms.
My dad (Rudolph) asked me what I wanted for graduation and I said, “I want you to bring Beth (Beetle). “ He did. My mother (Gwendolyn), sister Jennifer, brother Fred, and Grandma Anna came down for the graduation from Alaska. My dad’s sister Lydia, who had been my nurse mentor who worked at Temple Hospital in Los Angeles. My Navy brother, Ron and wife, Gen came. I also was dating two boyfriends, Jimmy Persinger (who I was crazy about) and Frank Claunch (who was crazy for me). I seemed to be oblivious to how they were interacting together as I was ecstatic I was graduating. Everyone came and it was one of the happiest days of my life. Afterwards we celebrated at my and Pati’s apartment as we had moved out of the dorms and my mother had made lovely refreshments. We had a beautiful party.
Luckily, my dad shortly thereafter divorced Beetle. Which made our relationship so much smoother. My granddaughters still tease me that I had two boyfriends at graduation. I have stayed in touch with all my classmates all these years. We have all led incredible lives as nurses. Helping so many people and we have had many reunions over the years!
Thank You to My Classmates:
Sondra Adams, Joan Andrews, Janice Atkins, Marcella Berger, Jean Harris, Ann Hays, Mary Patricia Jones, Myrna Koehler, Majorie Kreykes, Jan Munro, Margie Prins, Liela Jeannie Rose, Joan Webster, Constance Weiss