Nurses share lifelong passion for their profession

Published 3:42 pm Monday, May 1, 2017

Written and photographed by Michael O’Hearn

Each May, St. Luke’s Hospital in Columbus celebrates National Nurses Week, and this year chose Ruth Cantrell and Jean Shumway, both volunteers at the hospital who have had long and varied careers as nurses, to highlight for their longevity in an ever-changing career field.

Shumway is the chair of the St. Luke’s Hospital Board of Trustees, serves on the St. Luke’s Foundation board and has been a St. Luke’s Hospital volunteer since 2006 after owning a Curves franchise and then working directly in a corporate capacity for Curves International, the fitness facility franchise. She received her bachelor of science degree in nursing at the University of Cincinnati. Shumway will be 75 years old in October.

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At nearly 90 years old, Cantrell is still as nimble as she was in the mid-1940s when she began working at St. Luke’s when it was located in Tryon behind the IGA grocery store. She has a firecracker sense of humor to match an infectious personality, and her memory is as sharp as a needle—like those needles and syringes she and other nurses boiled before using on the next patient!

Nursing has changed and patient safety has a high priority—safety covers and disposable syringes have replaced the glass implements, but both Shumway and Cantrell remember sterilizing and sharpening needles. For both nurses, healthcare delivery has changed through the years and definitely for the better!

“I started working at St. Luke’s in 1948 at $163 a month and that was good pay,” Cantrell recounted. Since that start, Cantrell retired twice during her nursing career, and worked in various capacities with St. Luke’s. Her last stint was as employee health nurse, taking care of new employees to get their immunization and TB tests. She now volunteers at the outpatient call desk, calling patients after they have been discharged from the hospital to check if they are doing well and taking their medications, and to answer any questions they might have about their recovery. 

Shumway and Cantrell recounted changes in the nursing field including records becoming automatically stored in a computer. Cantrell also remembered the first defibrillator she ever received, as well as when Medicare took effect in the 1980s.

Cantrell recalled working in the emergency room and taking in patients with gunshot wounds. Today, she said trauma centers would handle those situations.

Shumway emphasized, “Probably the biggest change is disease management and medications. Some of them I would not even know what they are. Education has changed, and so have the responsibilities.”

“When I went back to New York City, I was working at NYU and I was asked to train with the open heart surgery team to run the heart and lung machine,” Shumway remembered. “I did that and I did not stay with it very long because you lost that patient contact.  You are controlling the patient’s heart volume during surgery, and it became a stressful experience for me.”

Segregation was another unpleasant memory. African American patients were housed on the ground floor of the hospital and Cantrell explained they had three rooms to themselves while all other patients were on the second floor.

“They had a buzzer in their rooms by their bed and it would make a loud noise in the nurse’s station on the second floor,” Cantrell remembered, “and so we would run down the stairs and take care of them. I remember that, and I didn’t like that the patients were segregated.”

Shumway remembered going through three months of psychiatric training in Newtown, Conn. and recalled having to wear uniforms that were starched. In addition she worked for three months at a tuberculosis sanatorium in Shelton, Conn. in the early 1960s.

“In the early ‘60s, the TB sanatoriums were winding down and becoming more long-term care for things like MS and polio, as well as TB,” Shumway recalled. “I remember the big open windows that let the fresh air in. I remember cleaning the glass syringes and sharpening the needles. Because of that exposure, I am positive for TB, not that I’ve had it but because I’ve been exposed to it.”

From there, Shumway headed to New York City where she worked the night shift in the Intensive Care Unit at Mount Sinai Hospital right out of the Norwalk Hospital School of Nursing. She then headed to San Francisco with her roommate.

“I worked in the cardiac surgery unit there and unfortunately contracted hepatitis from a patient. In this day and age, you put the needles in special containers that are protected,” Shumway recalled. “In that day and age, you put needles on a tray next to the sink. The patient had coded, I went to wash my hands and the needles fell into my hands and I got stuck.”

Shumway eventually had to come home after getting sick six weeks later. This was in 1967, and she was unable to work for more than a year. She now has no residual effects, and she is in good health. Her career included being head nurse of a cardiac surgery unit, orthopedic/neurology unit, and ER.

“So many things have changed in my lifetime from the disposables to the new diseases and medications to the responsibilities,” Shumway said. “Before computers, nurse’s notes had to be handwritten. Even the education for nurses has changed from an RN diploma program to BSN.”

As a St. Luke’s Hospital volunteer, Shumway has worked at patient registration and in the outpatient surgery department, in addition to the former St. Luke’s Thrift Shop, where she organized and sorted donations to sell and bring in income that was used to purchase needed items for the local hospital.

Cantrell now has close to 2,000 hours of volunteer service under her belt since she started volunteering in 2012. That’s amazing for a retired nurse who will turn 90 in September of this year.

In 2014, Shumway was honored for having 6,250 hours of volunteer service at the hospital and was inducted into the Second Wind Hall of Fame. She now has 8,250 hours as a volunteer.

As the medical field has been in a constant state of change, so, too, have Cantrell and Shumway as they adapted to the new innovations and challenges, sometimes even putting their lives in harm’s way. 

St. Luke’s Hospital celebrates staff during National Hospital Week

According to Kathy Woodham, director of marketing/public relations with St. Luke’s Hospital, the hospital is celebrating National Nurses Day, Saturday, May 6, during National Hospital Week from May 7-13. The hospital is celebrating by:

Monday, May 8
Monday Sundae with ice cream treats!

Tuesday, May 9
Vendor Fair for community partners to introduce services and specials for our teammates

Wednesday, May 10
It’s always fun to have the cookout in the courtyard! For a $5 donation to the Employee Fund, teammates can sport jeans and a St. Luke’s T-shirt.

Thursday, May 11
2nd annual Cookie-Plus Challenge followed by a bake sale to raise funds for planned renovations on the 100 Patient Hallway. All departments will compete for bragging rights when they turn in a departmental poster focused on the hospital’s Guiding Behaviors.

Friday, May 12
Posters will be judged and a winner announced by the members of St. Luke’s Patient Family Advisory Council. Once again, teammates can enjoy wearing jeans and a St. Luke’s Hospital T-shirt with a $5 contribution to Employee Fund.

“At St. Luke’s Hospital, we have many positive reasons to celebrate,” Woodham said. “Our patient experience (satisfaction) scores are always leading other facilities! Our quality initiatives and core measures, food scores and employee engagement indicate St. Luke’s is focused on the right things to make sure our patients receive exceptional care, close to home, their friends and family.”