Nursing Voices

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Learning the Tricks of the Trade

I enjoy reading a good book, and it looks like this nurse does, too. I found a book on eBay that made my heart gallop with glee when it was delivered to my postal mailbox. It was the ultimate handbook for nurses who were preparing for their state boards back in 1929. The book is full of tricks of the trade from the turn of the century. It’s entitled State Board Questions and Answers for Nurses, Being the Actual Questions Submitted at the Examinations of 31 State Examining Boards For Nurses, With Answers. It was compiled and edited by John A. Foote, M.D., and it was published by J. B. Lippincott Company. The previous owner, Miss Estey C. Cox, a student nurse at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, wrote notes about her days as a nursing student throughout the book. In the chapter about psychiatric nursing, she wrote, “Hardest of all. More power to me.” Some things never change.

I’ve read this entire book and I have concluded that I would have failed the boards. But really, did you know that the active ingredient of Dover’s Power was opium and that Fowler’s Solution was made from arsenic? And I bet none of your nursing instructors taught you how to give your patient a sulfur bath, or how to prepare a cream enema. I’m sure that this young nurse knew all of that stuff. Doesn’t she look confident? I bet she could have answered this question from the book:

As a district nurse, how would you give a sweat-bath with dry heat in the patient’s home?


To give this bath, a small alcohol lamp will be required, also several blankets, rubber sheeting, ice-cap, towels, a piece of stovepipe elbow and, if procurable, a piece of asbestos. Place a rubber sheet covered with a blanket under the patient, remove patient’s gown, place several chairs over patient to form a cradle for the blankets, place a blanket covered by a rubber sheet well over these chairs, standing well below patient’s feet and up to his chin and coming well down on either side so that a closed chamber will be formed. Arrange lighted lamp on chair beside the bed, place stove-pipe elbow over the lamp and let the other end pass under the blanket near one of the chairs, about three or four inches over patient’s feet, being careful not to leave the blanket over the opening of the pipe. Tuck the blankets around the patient so as to leave no opening and place a towel between the blankets and patient’s neck. Wrap asbestos or a wet towel around the end of the pipe as it passes under the blankets and fasten blankets about the pipe in an airtight manner.

Place ice-cap on patient’s head, and thermometer, if obtainable, in an accessible place under the blankets. The temperature should be 130-150 degrees F. Holy cow! An alcohol lamp and flames near bed linens? Asbestos? I wonder what JCAHO would think. I enjoy learning these old fashion tricks of the trade. This is just one question out of my 582 page book, so be looking for more test questions soon.


Blogger mielikki said...

What a great find!
Nurses run in my family from long ago. I wish my great aunt Hallie was still around, so I could pick her brain about how far we've come, and possibly how far we've gone from the original intentions of "nurse". I'm so glad we don't all have to be nuns, anymore!

12:51 AM  
Blogger poody said...

I can't wait to see the other questions! And I tought I was old. 30 years nursing this year! Yeh me!

12:52 PM  
Blogger Jean-Luc Picard said...

Right...I'll give it a try.

2:16 PM  
Anonymous gypsygrrl said...

oh my...
thank you for easing my mind a little about nursing school in 2007!!!

holy crap. asbestos????? alcohol and open flames. sounds like fun.

LOVED the notation about psych nursing.

More Power To Me. indeed.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Kris said...

THAT must be where Dr. V got his "Milk and Molasses Enema" from. Otherwise, I can find no other use for it..other than torturing nurses: I mean, as if cleaning up after an enema isn't enough...make it STICKY....

6:50 PM  
Blogger raecatherine said...

Ha ha! What a hoot. I'm sure things we are doing today will be laughable 70-some years from now too....but asbestos! that one takes the cake.

11:40 PM  
Blogger Vatan said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:20 AM  
Blogger pixelrn said...

And I thought working in the MICU was hard. At least I never had to give a "cream enema."

10:44 AM  
Blogger Doc's Girl said...

Very interesting...! :)

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Cinder said...

I have my aunt's Reference Handbook for Nurses(my absolute role model for entering nursing),9th ed.,1st copyright 1905. It includes the Removal of Stains describing each solvent that must be used to remove said stain.Ech!
Also includes an insane amount of steps to provide oxygen,including keeping an ice chest stocked,soda lime(it notes protect floor,what about nurse?) reading tank pressures and checking a motor(?).Also IV tx mentions solutions commonly used,physiologic saline,glucose,acacia(?),mercurochrome(?!),uretone,novasurol and Salygan(??).Oh and the doctor had to start the IV and regulate it.
Wow I can't imagine working back then.

12:33 AM  
Blogger MadMike said...

I wondered where you got these great books MJ. I think I will go Ebaying! Great read as usual!

2:58 PM  
Blogger Shrinked Immaculate said...

Wonderful post there, it is very interesting to note that in some decades past the attitudes towards certain drugs were much more liberated than now. For example opium and opioids including heroin were commonly and legally sold and used. Mercury and arsenic were commpnly used as well.

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Tracy said...


I was wondering if you'd be interested in posting any articles from the website. There are lots of relevant articles for todays nurse. The great news is that using nursezone content on your site is no cost. We'd just like to have a link back to our site for those of your bloggers interested in finding a community of nurses, CE opportunities, travel nursing and other relevant nurse aids. A partial example of a nursing article is below:

Nurse Overcomes Cancer—Twice—to Provide Care to Others

By Nancy Deutsch, RN, contributor

Many people yearn to make nursing their career, but few have to battle the odds like Valerie Bush.

The Independence, Kentucky, woman, who was a medical technician for six years and a nurse’s aide “on and off forever,” waited until her children were raised to return to nursing school. When she finally entered the Gateway Community and Technical College, it was unbelievably stressful. Not only was the single mother dealing with her course work, but her father died, and her youngest daughter was dealing with medical problems, including bipolar disease.

Bush, now 42 years old, was “disgustingly healthy when I started” school in 2004, but quite overweight, and she started to lose a lot of the extra girth.

“I lost massive amounts of weight in just a few months,” she recalled. “I was a pretty big girl. I lost 100 pounds.”

At first, Bush chalked up the weight loss and constant belching to stress, but when she shed all the weight, she found a lump in her breast. “I decided to see a doctor over break.”

Bush was diagnosed with DCIS, and beneath that, metastatic breast cancer.

“I lost everything in a week,” Bush said. The diagnosis sent her daughter off the deep end, upset her boyfriend, and meant she had to stop the classes she had waited so long to take.

“As a nurse, you think you know what a cancer diagnosis entails,” she said. “But you don’t. It affects every single thing in your life.” … (more article to come)

© 2007. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Let me know what you think.

Tracy (

4:13 PM  

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