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Helen Hampton’s mother, Elizabeth, began her career as a nurse in Maine at a time when she had to travel by buckboard to visit patients. A plaque on the wall at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center commemorates her memory. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns
My precious, sainted mother, Elizabeth, was born in 1883 in Canada off the coast of Maine. She traveled to Augusta, Maine to attend nursing school at the Augusta General Hospital and she graduated as a Registered Nurse in 1913.
At that time she lived in a room in a boarding house and various doctors would send her out in the community to make house calls. Elizabeth would take her black bag with medical supplies and drive her buckboard to help deliver babies or do whatever else was needed.
In 1918 and 1919 there was a small pox epidemic, and Elizabeth visited many homes to administer aid. It is a wonder that she did not catch the disease herself.
My mother and father met when he was a patient in the hospital and she was his nurse. She was 38 years old and he was 52 when they married in 1921. Papa had been married for 20 years when his first wife died in 1919, but they had no children.
You can imagine my father’s delight when Mama gave birth to a son, my brother, in 1922, and then a daughter in 1924. Our family lived in the small town of Winslow, Maine.
But Papa’s happiness was short-lived. He died when my brother Danny was seven years old and I was age five. Mother was 47 years old at the time and left alone with two small children to raise. Mother decided to put her nursing education to good use, and she made our large home into a nursing home and took in elderly patients.
Mama did all of the cooking herself after my brother and I went to bed. She baked bread, pies, cakes, and puddings. Then she would sleep as long as no patients rang their bells for something they might need in the middle of the night. She seldom had enough sleep.
I tried to help her as best I could, as a little girl of eight and nine years old, before going to school. On Mondays, washday, I would separate the clothes that came out of the wringer so that it would be easier for her to hang the items on the clothesline that went from the kitchen window down to a pole in the vegetable garden.
Many times as a child I remember hearing various doctors consulting my mother about the symptoms of their different patients to confirm a diagnosis. I did not find this strange at the time, but years later I realized how much respect these doctors had for my mother’s opinion.
When she had just a few patients who could be left alone for a short time, my mother was the neighborhood “doctor.” She would answer various calls, such as attending to a person with a gallbladder attack. Or she would care for someone’s sick child. As a consequence of her responsibilities, she was never able to come to my school to hear me sing, but I knew she would have loved to, and I understood.
When I married in 1946 my husband and I moved to Florida. My mother came to live with us and worked at the Flagler Hospital during the five years that we lived there.
In 1951 we moved to Long Beach, California, and Mama came with us again. By then she was 68 years old. She worked at the old Seaside Hospital and did private duty nursing. She was such a wonderful nurse that the doctors would ask the nursing registry for Elizabeth Walsh. It did not take long for the word to spread to other doctors who also wished to use her dedicated services. She worked at St. Mary’s and Long Beach Community Hospital as well.
Mama was such a devoted nurse that many times she would call me from the hospital and tell me not to pick her up after work because someone called in sick and she would be working a double shift. Sometimes when I picked her up after work she would still have the same lunch that I had packed for her. I’d say, “Mother, how come you didn’t each your lunch?” And she would tell me that a patient was so ill that she didn’t have time to eat.
Mama retired the day my babies were born, in 1958. She was 75 years old. Nine years later, in 1967, she died at age 84.
In the lobby of the Long Beach Memorial Hospital there is a wall with plaques commemorating charitable donations of a certain level. It took me years to finally be able to contribute enough to get a plaque in my mother’s name.
I go down there several times a year to donate books and coloring books to the Children’s Hospital, and every time I stop by the lobby and say “Hello” to Mama. Her plaque says “Elizabeth M. Walsh, R.N.”
I wish she had lived longer so the girls would have known her better. They were 9 years old when she died, and she had been in a nursing home for three years. Her contact with them was far more limited than I would have wished.
I feel that she is in Heaven and has helped me through some very tough times over the years. She truly is a saint in Heaven!
Published: May 8, 2014 – Volume 13 – Issue 04