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Interview with Thelma S. Briggs, June 1, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Thelma S. Briggs, June 1, 2004
June 1, 2004
This video taped oral history with Mrs. Thelma Briggs took place at her home on June 1, 2004. It was conducted by LuAnn Mims for the Randall Library, Special Collections. Mrs. Briggs is a 1953 graduate of Community Hosp School of Nursing. Her nursing career spans 32 years of service at different facilities including Public Health, Brunswick Comm College, Commission for the Blind, Well baby Clinics, School nurse. She likens the military like aspect of nursing school to her success as a health care professional.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Briggs, Thelma S. Interviewer:  Mims, LuAnn Date of Interview:  6/9/2004 Series:  SENC Health Services Length:  60 min


Mims: Today is June 1, 2004. I'm LuAnn Mims for the Randall Library Special Collections, series on Health Services of Southeastern North Carolina. We are speaking with Mrs. Thelma Smith Briggs, a 1953 graduate of Community Hospital School of Nursing.

Mims: Good morning.

Briggs: Good morning.

Mims: I would like to get started this morning by asking you where you grew up and what kind of work your family did, how many brothers and sisters you had, etc?

Briggs: I really grew up here in Wilmington. I attended school here from the 2nd grade. My parents lived here for the most part, but then my last year in high school, they moved to Leland, North Carolina. So my mother was just a homemaker and my father was a public worker.

Mims: What kind of public work?

Briggs: He worked for Wilmington Creosote Plant. A company that made poles for the electric company, creosote poles for the electric company and my mother was more or less a homemaker.

Mims: Brothers and sisters?

Briggs: One brother so there were just the two of us.

Mims: So how did you get interested in nursing?

Briggs: Well, in the beginning my mother really wanted… I got a scholarship at my high school graduation to Elizabeth City State Teacher's College and my mother really wanted me to go there cause she always wanted me to be a teacher. I didn't go. I didn't go because I felt that even with the scholarship, my family might not have been able to support that. They just had meager funds, salary. My father's salary was just meager.

I don't think they would have been able to send me even with the scholarship. It would have been costly even with the scholarship. So I worked for three years and after working for three years as a domestic person, then I decided to go into nurse training after I had worked on my own for three years. Then I went into nursing training.

Mims: So what made you think that nursing would be something you would like to do.

Briggs: Well, after I had worked three years, then I had gone to some programs that were talking about nursing that was encouraging young ladies to go into nursing and that sort of got my interest in nursing. I knew too that if I had gone into nursing, I could be both in the medical field and combine teaching so I knew then that I could combine the two.

Mims: So you never gave up your idea of teaching?

Briggs: Not for teaching because I knew that could be a part of nursing. So then hat was two occupations combined really, a chance to do the both of them.

Mims: And how did you come by the Community Hospital School of Nursing?

Briggs: I worked in Norfolk, Virginia for three years and then I came back home. See this was…I was coming back home to go to school. I left home for three years and then came back and went to school.

Mims: So you had known that they had the nursing school over there all along?

Briggs: Yes, I knew it was there and then while I was away working, I wrote for some information. They sent me information. Then according to that information and with my interest, I came back and started school because then I knew that the tuition was minimal and it was not as much, wouldn't cost as much.

So there I think I need to inject that the cost was less I think for going to school because we provided a lot of the labor.

Mims: Exactly, for the hospital.

Briggs: Yes, so therefore your tuition was less because you were providing the labor. They had some …required less number of nurses because we took care of the patients. Therefore, that it was a combination for us for training and experience really as a nurse to start with because we took on many responsibilities. I cannot begin to tell you how much responsibility we took on as students.

Mims: I'm hearing this time and time again that you were totally immersed.

Briggs: It was … totally. I have been on a service maybe with 15 patients maybe…alone, which meant it might have seemed disastrous. I think by nursing criteria today it would seem disastrous, but to us, it was an opportunity really to learn. It was on the job training really.

Mims: Exactly.

Briggs: That's what I would say. But then it wasn't a disastrous situation as such because the doctors helped us so much. They taught us right along, the doctor’s taught, all situations were learning situations.

Mims: From what I understand, they were very extending of themselves where it wasn't that they chastised, it was always a learning, giving.

Briggs: If they chastised, it was a learning situation and they taught all of the time. It was just amazing how those doctors taught all the time.

Mims: Well, tell me what your earliest memory is? When you're accepted to this school, you have to stay in the residence facility?

Briggs: Well, to me it was different. Yes, we had to be in the facility. My parents were in Wilmington, but I just went for visits because they didn't even allow you to leave but so much.

Mims: You had been working on your own though and living away.

Briggs: But now I'm here, now I’m here and I'm living in a supervised situation, controlled really. I went home…I couldn't go home when I got ready. There were certain times when they would allow it. This was complete discipline. I've got to say you were disciplined. So I went home when I could. Then there were certain times that you couldn't leave the dormitory.

But to me it was discipline and then it was a chance to be with sisters because I didn't have a sister so there I was with a lot of sisters.

Mims: But there wasn't a time when you thought, “Oh, what have I gotten myself into?”

Briggs: Never. That never ever occurred to me, that I had made a wrong decision…ever. It was just always that this is it. The main thing I need to do is just conform to what they required of me and sometimes we might have gotten into a little bit with the conformity, but it wasn't a problem.

Mims: It sounds like you were self-motivated… accepted this.

Briggs: Yes, because I was determined.

Mims: Yes, and for other girls it may not have been…

Briggs: That’s important. But there were few who were not determined. Most of the time when they went in and got into the routine, it just did something to your determination just sanctioned it and then we were all there together and we taught each other.

Mims: I wondered about the camaraderie years all living in the same quarters, like new girls….

Briggs: Well, that was tremendous because okay when the new students came in, then they had to obey the senior students. That was interesting. You obeyed whatever they say to you, you obeyed them. So they sort of were in charge of you, the seniors. So that was like incentive for them and good for us because whatever they say first to do, we did that. They would help us with our lessons. So it was an advantage.

Mims: So it wasn't a jealousy kind of thing either with the ‘new girl.’

Briggs: Well one thing about nursing, nursing really requires a lot of obedience. It requires conformity and it requires a lot of self-control and obedience and that has to go for your entire time, your profession. You've got the doctors to obey when they say something to you, you need to obey them or you've got nursing supervisors, you've got directors of nursing and it's a military life really.

Mims: I haven't thought of it like that, but you're right.

Briggs: Well it started, didn't it, from the beginning and it's still military like.

Mims: So by the time you started there, the school had been in operation for like 30 some years so they had pretty much established their routine.

Briggs: Pretty much established. So it's really military like.

Mims: Now you had to wear a uniform and I know a replica of your uniform is on display in the concourse at the hospital. Tell me a little bit about that uniform.

Briggs: Even the uniform was sort of a disciplinary way. You got your first uniform, which was not the complete uniform. You got portions of the uniform. You never did get the entire uniform. You just got a portion of it. You got a portion of the uniform, which was just the dress, the shift like dress and the apron. That's all you got. Well, first thing you just got the shift, the dress.

Then you got the apron and the bib, and that was progress. See as you added on the uniform, the more you added on, you had to be a certain level to get into it. So it was added on gradually. So then you just had a blue shift. The color and the cuffs, that's all you had. We were like pre-clinicals they called you. Then you got a junior, the apron, the bib. When you got the apron and the bib, then you were capped.

You got your cap. It didn't have a band around it, just the cap. Then when you were a senior then you got a band around your cap. The band was very significant it was an indication… well before the band, you got a stripe; you got the cap with nothing. Then you got one stripe, then you got two stripes. Then you got the band

The band was significant. The cap, it was an indication that there had been some disciplinary action because they’d take your cap. The cap could be taken for disciplinary action. So when you didn't have a cap, that was indication, that something had transpired because you didn't have a cap.

Mims: Do you remember that happening to anybody?

Briggs: Oh…yes, I'm going to say this. It sounds traumatic, but it needs to be disciplined then you are dealing with people's lives. It needs to be disciplined.

Mims: And it had to have been something probably pretty serious to take that step.

Briggs: Yes, it means that you have not done something. There's something that you haven't done. Whatever you haven't done could be detrimental to this patient's health so I want you to know now the seriousness of this. You must know this now that this cannot be. I think the whole concept was you have people's lives in your hands and you're going to need to realize that your decisions are crucial.

Mims: As an outsider looking in, I also see that the uniforms served two functions. One it helped to identify the level that a student was on to any doctor or other nurse, but it was also personal, like a badge, that you were gaining this knowledge. You know so it seems like to was more than just the face value - oh it was a uniform.

Briggs: Oh it was far more than that. You never saw that as just a dress. It was always symbolic of something.

Mims: I've also heard comments of people that said that when they put that hat on, they fell into that role.

Briggs: The cap was very significant. You were in a whole different arena. I don't think anybody could understand that who's not been in and it's hard to explain. The cap put you in a whole different arena. In fact, the students who smoked, if you smoked a cigarette, you didn't smoke with your cap on. You took that off.

Mims: Very interesting.

Briggs: Yeah, you took it off. That cap was just so significant and meant so much. It just said a lot. The uniform spoke loud and clear and I think there again the whole emphasis was on taking good care of people and that you are assuming that responsibility and you need to do it seriously.

Mims: And from a pretty quick point of view because you were thrown right into it.

Briggs: You were thrown into it so you had to make decisions. I mean you really had to make decisions.

Mims: Tell me a little bit about like how the rotation policy worked. Do you recall any of that? Like you had your pre-clinicals and then what did you do?

Briggs: You had your pre-clinical period where you had mostly studying, your classes. And that took place mainly at the pre-clinical lab with the things for the chemistry and all. We went there for classes and we spent so many hours there in the classroom. Then we went on the ward. We were taken on the ward by the instructor. My instructor had been in the service. She had been in the Air Force. So that was a double dose of military (laughter). I'm serious.

Mims: From a young girl's perspective I'm sure that was tough. You flew right.

Briggs: I can see now that it was … what can I say? An asset to my training, to be in a military situation. It was an asset. You took orders; you realized you had to take orders from someone. You realized that you had to take responsibility for your actions so at all times you had to be mindful of what you were doing. You were serious about it.

Mims: It seems like they were putting you into the nurse persona. What about the professionalism? I've heard that they basically conveyed, you know, you would respect your elders; you would act a certain way in front of the doctors. Was that all in the pre-clinical setting?

Briggs: From the very start, from day one. You had discipline from day one and to respect the people in authority over you, even the seniors. They help you and that was incentive for them, you see. So everything was incentive wise. The very fact that we took on lots of responsibility and we learned rapidly because see you were on the job you learned rapidly, but some were protected then because you had the doctors right there to help you even when they came just routinely to make rounds.

When they came to make rounds you got the patient's chart and you went with them to make rounds. Even making rounds to see the patients was a teaching bit for you. I remember Dr. Sinclair who did the x-rays. Well whenever we had to take a patient to x-ray, we knew the day before. They'd say you're going to take a patient to x-ray for Dr. Sinclair and I would advise you to be ready and I'm letting you know a day ahead of time.

See it wasn't spontaneous. We knew the day ahead. You would be up reading part the night. You see what I'm saying. You see what a learning situation it was. Even though you didn't go to a college as such with the students with the BS degree, but you were learning constantly. Your instructors were right there and then you were learning and you were doing to. It was equivalent to a BS, and I’ll tell you later about that.

Anyway we went to take a patient to x-ray, here we were with the patient, we read, you know we had read, because he'll start asking questions, do you know this part of the gastrointestinal tract. So we knew to read before you went. Every situation even to take a specimen to the laboratory, they're going to say, wait a minute, they'd ask you so many questions, you had to read a lot.

Mims: And it wasn't where they said, “You read up on this,” you took it up on your own self.

Briggs: You knew to read according to where you were going, you knew. So we read a lot. Then we would help each other because if I had an encounter where I went to x-ray and I was questioned, they'd ask me so many questions and I got through that, then I would go back and tell the others, "You know I went to x-ray," "Oh, you did," then my room would be full (laughter). That was a class. Look at the learning opportunities.

Whoever was disciplined, we gave IV fluids. Well, we made the IV fluids. So we made them.

Mims: Pharmacy didn't do that?

Briggs: We made them. You had to add the saline or you had to put so much glucose in it and then you had to know the percentage. So here we are in pharmacy. The experience was just wide. I did a scrapbook the other day and I thought I cannot believe this. I really I cannot believe it.

Mims: Well, when you talk about doing IV fluids, so you're taking on more responsibility.

Briggs: Yes and not only do you make the IV's, we started the IV's, fluids. You gave the transfusion, you gave the drug, you did the drug transfusion, you did the IV fluids. You delivered the babies. I'm sure Johnnie Fields must have said. If the patient was in labor and the doctor didn't get there then you delivered the baby.

Mims: That's a lot of responsibility.

Briggs: Honey, when I think back, I thought, "Oh boy, you really had it." There again we taught each other and the doctors had us up right under their wing. But now all of this was just a huge amount of responsibility.

Now I graduated and I came back to Community and worked. The graduate nurses were always in charge of the students, but here I am back and I’m automatically in charge of the students. If you're a graduate nurse, you're automatically in charge of the students. When they come on your floor, you're in charge of them.

Now you're a graduate and you are writing, getting ready to work, getting ready to get them sending information for your job. When I got my first job, I worked at Community as a graduate, now I'm getting ready to leave and when I applied for a job. On my application, I had to write a description of it - I'd been a switchboard operator (laughter).

I'm a student, I’m on duty and the night supervisor is the switchboard operator, she does that. And I'm the student and I'm sitting here over to the desk and she's gone to do something and the switchboard is ringing and she said, "Did you hear the switchboard ringing?" I said, “No,” and she said, "Well, let me teach you right now." Now I'm going to learn how to work the switchboard.

Mims: My gosh.

Briggs: You had it. Now I did this application and you put down, and I got to the point, it is one lesson I learned from all of that is don't bother worrying, get upset about somebody telling you, “I wouldn't do this and this is too much,” don't you worry about that. I would advise that you get all the experience you can. Just get it because it's a treasure. Any experience you can get, get it.

Mims: Where did you go from Community?

Briggs: Well, I went to Norfolk. I went back to Norfolk, Norfolk Community Hospital and I did my application. I put down my experience, filled out the application and all. When I got there, I did not know that from my application, from the experience, they had a job…they knew what job I was going to have to start with.

Mims: What did you do?

Briggs: Well, I went down for orientation and I had a supervisory job from the application. Well, I was ready for supervision.

Mims: Wow!

Briggs: I was ready to be a supervisor. Look what I had done.

Mims: Did you have to pass their boards too?

Briggs: No.

Mims: They reciprocated the North Carolina boards?

Briggs: Yes, I got a license. I kept two licenses actually, I kept a Virginia license. All of the experience so I did not know what they had in mind for me. So when I went I did an orientation, they just had me do all the orientation bit and I was a supervisor.

Mims: Wow, that says a lot.

Briggs: That was a lot and I was a supervisor and I did that in Norfolk and their Director of Nursing left and I was acting Director of Nursing (laughter).

Mims: Oh my gosh.

Briggs: I was a little leery of taking that and I went to the administrator and he asked me if I would fill in, be the director temporarily. He said not to worry, that I could do it and I did.

Mims: Did you like that?

Briggs: It was a wonderful experience. And then now all of these things that I had done, you see what I'm saying? I was in this military like bit and I am having to set up all of this. So look at all of this experience.

Mims: Right and I don't know, it kind of exponentially grows from one little seed of wanting to be a nurse …

Briggs: Yes, so my nursing experience was inclusive so that it was inclusive of care of all levels and administration. I'll bet you if we counted up, there must have been … I don't know how many nurses, when they left there, they were supervisors for the most part. Whenever they left, the hospitals they worked, most of them ended up supervisors. Then a lot of them went on and did some more training. They were supervisory material.

Mims: Well, talking about Director of Nursing, were you here when Miss Taylor was here?

Briggs: I came just after she left so Miss Mack, Emmeline Mack was director. I know you must have, Johnnie Fields had done so much experience. Well, you know experience at Mental Health, Director of Mental Health. All of that was just…

Mims: Again a supervisory standard role and this is a diploma school that we're talking about.

Briggs: Yes, a diploma school!

Mims: The BSN really wasn't as popular as it is now.

Briggs: Yes, but it was equivalent. When you left there it was equivalent, you could match any BS, any person.

Mims: Do you remember how many ladies finished school with you in '53?

Briggs: There were 10 of us, just 10. I had one classmate who went to Tuskegee, Alabama. We're affiliated in psychiatry.

Mims: Did you travel to Tuskegee?

Briggs: Oh yeah, I went to Tuskegee for three months for psychiatry.

Mims: I know it changed because I read that some classes went to different places. I even read once where they went to Bellevue up in New York.

Briggs: Yes, they did. They went to Bellevue, then the last affiliation was in Tuskegee in psychiatry. That was interesting.

Mims: That was a three-month rotation.

Briggs: Yes, three months and as a junior, I think I went to Oteen in Asheville and affiliated in communicable disease and it was specifically tuberculosis. I went there for two months.

Mims: You guys were just busy, busy, busy and if you weren't in this dorm type situation, you know, do you think you would have developed the discipline you needed to take these travel trips away? You were sort of expected to maintain when you were away.

Briggs: See after we had been there in this disciplinary bit, anywhere you went discipline didn't bother us because you were already accustomed to that. It's a habit and it becomes a part of you so when you go somewhere where there's discipline, you just fall in line, it doesn't bother you.

Mims: Were there a couple of girls that felt like "Hmm, nobody is going to tell me what to do anymore,” but not that frequently is what you're thinking?

Briggs: No, I think when they went there, they had a goal. You know, if you have a goal, you have a vision of your goal; you will do what it takes to accomplish that. But we had some who had fallen by the wayside, maybe one or two. And if you couldn't be disciplined, you were sent home permanently. And this is their rationale, if you cannot be disciplined, if you cannot adhere to discipline, then you have no place in nursing. Nursing cannot use you, no way.

You must be disciplined or you cannot be used as a nurse. One nurse went because she didn't obey a doctor's order. When you mentioned it to her, she didn't beg a pardon. It was important that you acknowledge your wrong. You know, you have to acknowledge it, I was wrong and this is the situation and then he would teach it again and say, “Okay.” But she was adamant about it. If you are too stout to beg someone pardon, then you're too stout to be a nurse.

Mims: Now let me set up a time frame too. You're here during a time when women typically stayed at the house. They were supposed to be mommies. So how did that come into play? I mean surely there was that thought in the back of my head, I'm doing this, I'm not doing the other thing.

Briggs: Well that didn't, I don't think that bothered… this is one reason; the ones who went in were single for the most part. So that meant this is a part of your life, this is a station in your life. Okay, you had all that grammar grades, you had high school, now you're getting ready for your life's work and when you get that, you can move into marriage. That was like a stage.

Mims: So this was something to do before you got married.

Briggs: Yeah, something you do.

Mims: Yeah, because you think that the women's movement really didn't come until about 10 years later.

Briggs: No, this is something you do, you do this and you get this and then you move into marriage because this marriage is going to be a big responsibility and you're not going to be able to do these two things adequately we thought. It was too much to do. It's too much to concentrate on a home and the husband and make this work and prepare for this profession. This is rigid stuff.

Mims: Right, so you had to be really motivated to do this because you know, hopefully I guess your parents supported you in this; you mother wasn't, "So when are you going to get married?"

Briggs: Oh, they didn't mention, you know, and I think this is one reason that they hesitated to take married students and they didn't take many. When they did, they had to just give up. They had a husband and if they had a child, then they just had to give that all up and forget that almost. Because you can't go home. The married students couldn't go home anymore than the single ones could.

Mims: But you were there, you were not supposed…

Briggs: I was there and when you went out of the building to go somewhere, you signed. There was a book there for you to sign in when you went out and when you came in you signed.

Mims: But not to mention, you did have fun though, right?

Briggs: We had fun. We had fun. We went…they had dances at Camp Lejeune and they would come and get the girls and they would take us to the dance and we had fun. We had socials there. It was fun.

Mims: Was there any organized recreation cause I heard later on there was like a basketball team?

Briggs: It was required.

Mims: Really?

Briggs: It was required that you participated in sports.

Mims: Wow, so what did you do?

Briggs: I played softball. What else? …I did softball, but it was required.

Mims: I've heard about the socializing with the military. When Camp Davis was running, they would bring guys down here into Wilmington. What would you do like if you wanted to stay in Wilmington, can you remember where you'd go to have any social activities in town?

Briggs: Where did we go? Let me see now… the Boys' club was the USO Club.

Mims: I didn't know whether that was still open or not.

Briggs: The USO Club that place was there for recreation. Now where else? I don't remember.

Mims: I mean you really had a limited time to do anything.

Briggs: It was limited. We had socials there, the boyfriends could come. They could come and they could take you out and there was a limited time of course, but you could be out.

Mims: I think it was Mrs. Fields that said that in the…like the living section of the residence of the resident home, they had a music machine or something?

Briggs: Uh-huh, there in the lounge. We had dances, it was fun.

Mims: So there was a time to have a little bit of fun along the way.

Briggs: It was. And we were expected to go to worship. Now how often we had….like going to chapel, what did we call it? But every so often you had to go to service. It was military. Every so often you had to go to chapel for a service.

Mims: The thing about all the responsibilities and all the stuff you're seeing as a young person, to have that kind of outlook was important.

Briggs: Yes it was. And you needed the recreation too to get yourself out of the whole thing.

Mims: Now with Community Hospital being torn down, there's not too many visual images left of the hospital. Can you give me kind of an overall description of what it looked like inside? I know there were like two ways to get in from what I understand, the main entrance and then there was like a side entrance.

Briggs: The main entrance you went in, there was the administrative part because you walked right into the right, there was a switchboard operator and then you got right into the patients' area really. There were the secretaries where Miss Bee was. The bookkeeper was down on that first level. In the basement level was the emergency room.

Mims: Really?

Briggs: Yes, the lower level. But up on the first level was administration, the switchboard, the bookkeeping and then right off into the rooms on the first floor and the second, then in the basement.

Mims: But they had their own entrance, the emergency room?

Briggs: They had their own entrance on the side, on the side ER entrance.

Mims: There was another floor above that?

Briggs: There was another floor so there were two.

Mims: Is that where the operating room was?

Briggs: The operating room was on the top level.

Mims: Where were the mommies and the babies?

Briggs: On the top level too.

Mims: I guess surgical patients were on the top level.

Briggs: Yes, the operating room, the surgical patients and obstetrical patients were on the top level.

Mims: And then you had your medicine, orthopedic…towards the bottom.

Briggs: You had your medical and surgical, because they were sort of combined. What you had was a female ward and the male ward and the surgery and the medical were sort of combined. But we had a female and male ward.

Mims: Isn't that interesting?

Briggs: A female war, male ward… yeah, I think about that sometimes. I thought about that seriously. When I went to the nursing home a lot to visit mother, I thought about that. As I sat there, I thought I know now why the hospital had females and males…because the females were there on the wards if the ward was mixed and the doors were open and the females just had no privacy. You know what I'm saying, how mother was right across from a male and sometimes he'd wander into her room and I'd think if she were…on all female ward.

Mims: It makes sense.

Briggs: I'm inclined to believe to think as I get older the things that were done back then and we say it's obsolete and we say, and well, we certainly need to change. But I think before we change obsolete things, it would be good to look into the real reason that they existed.

Mims: Well, that's interesting because I interviewed Dr. Bertram Williams and one of the things he pointed out was that the old ward system where the nurse could see, visually see so many patients, he says it's odd that the newer hospitals are designed kind of with that in mind, kind of like the Intensive Care Units. So you know you think about the wards kind of in a negative sense, but maybe it wasn't.

Briggs: No, it wasn't.

Mims: Because the nurse could look at everybody and not have all these doors closed.

Briggs: Sure, you want, as I sat…when I made my rounds to see my patients and I sat, your desk is always sort of in the center…the ward is down this way and some of it is down this way, but your desk is in the middle. That's so immediately you could just get up. My desk was here and there was a room there and I would put my sickest patients across from me.

Mims: See so what you're talking about is before we rule something obsolete, let's look at…

Briggs: You need to take a good look at the reason. I put my sickest patients right across from me or right next to me and then I could do my work and I'm still observing my sickest patients.

Mims: That's a way to multitask because you can concentrate your efforts you know.

Briggs: Well, I think then your goal, you have to really determine, sometimes I think of nursing and I think of some things that are being done differently and I wonder what the goal is -- what your goal is is to keep your patients in your…

Mims: …like arm's reach almost.

Briggs: Yes, and the reason is you want to make sure when they need you, you are accessible and maybe you can see them even when they don't think anything is wrong. You can just -- I like to keep my hands on things at all times when I had a ward. I want to look at my patients.

Mims: Do you remember any of the other hospitals in town? Did you ever go to any of those to work or visit?

Briggs: I visited James Walker and Cape Fear.

Mims: Was Bullock's still open?

Briggs: Yes, I visited there, but Community was the only hospital that I worked and the Health Department.

Mims: Well, okay I know that James Walker had, you know, not only male and female, but they had the blacks in a whole other section.

Briggs: Colored Ward.

Mims: In this day and age, that seems just unbelievable that you would have that separated and the situation. I'm trying to put into mind given the option of going to a hospital that you didn't have to be segregated, why would you choose one over the other. Why would a patient go to that situation if they had the option of Community? Why would you think?

Briggs: Ok, are you asking why would they go to…

Mims: Why would an African American choose to be put into that situation at James Walker when they had their own hospital?

Briggs: Because of the doctor.

Mims: I guess that's what it comes down to then.

Briggs: If their doctor had gone to Community, they would have chosen Community. But then they needed to go where their doctor went. Their doctor didn't go there.

Mims: And that comes down with the issue of not credentialing African American doctors.

Briggs: That puts in a whole…

Mims: …whole different.

Briggs: Yes it does, but they would have gone if their doctor had gone and they didn't want to change doctors.

Mims: Because I understand the facilities were pretty much the same with the services they were able to give and I even read at one time with the help of Dr. Sinclair and Dr. Perritt that the x-ray department at Community superceded anything James Walker had.

Briggs: It did.

Mims: I'm just trying to figure out in today's day and age why somebody would put themselves in that position.

Briggs: Because of the doctors. Sometimes we just have to sacrifice. I think they wanted to go and they would have gone, but then they needed to go where their doctor was.

Mims: Very interesting. And then there's that whole issue about other people. Like I'm talking about Hispanics and Asians as well as whites come to Community to be treated or would that again be determined by whichever doctor. I've never read anything that said Community would not allow you into their hospital.

Briggs: They would not have. They would not haven't excluded anybody. And I'm trying to think if we ever had… I don't remember having white patients.

Mims: Towards the end of the hospital's career, I think they were designated the indigent hospital and they started taking more whites in, but again it probably goes to the doctor. Who were some of the doctors you worked with? Do you remember?

Briggs: Uh-huh, Dr. Eaton, Dr. Roane, Dr. Gray, Dr. McKay.

Mims: He died, didn't he? He died young because I think I read something about the wife revealing the plaque.

Briggs: Yes, Dr. Wheeler.

Mims: He's an ophthalmologist, right?

Briggs: But he's also a medical doctor you know.

Mims: No.

Briggs: Oh yes, he was a medical doctor, one of the best. And then he did ophthalmology as a specialty. He just added that on, but he was one of the best.

Mims: Well another thing, I'm kind of generalizing about was that it seemed like the African American doctors that were here in town were general doctors…

Briggs: And added on a specialty.

Mims: Like Dr. Eaton did general medicine, but he also did surgery and he delivered babies and now you think about it and a family practitioner doesn't even deliver babies.

Briggs: Well, they called it a general, but they just did everything and that's what we were accustomed to the doctors did everything. But I think it was sort of maybe at that time, in the ‘50s maybe when they started really generalizing, I mean specializing. Maybe for a long time, for the most part, they were general practitioners who did everything and then went into took on some specialty. Then later there were doctors who just did specialties.

Mims: Like some doctors, all they did was surgery. I think that's one of the first ones that they had to be board certified. Surgeons.

Briggs: But I certainly love to have a surgeon who was certified. But then there again, the other alternative is, you're a surgeon, whatever you don't do is not in your field, then you have to refer.

Mims: Now there a number of white physicians at Community Hospital. Do you remember any of them, working with any of them?

Briggs: I mentioned Dr. McKay, Dr. Mebane, Dr. Lounsburg, who was an obstetrician. Have you heard of him?

Mims: No, I haven't heard his name mentioned yet.

Briggs: Oh, that was interesting. He didn't come to Community often, but every now and then he would have a patient. It was so different. When he came, his expectations, whatever he expected was excellent for the patient, but his expectations were different. We even did separate autoclave material for him. He just came with a whole different demeanor. When a patient came in and said - Dr. Lounsburg, I'd think, “Oh, oh!”

Mims: I don't think he lasted long. Did he stay in town?

Briggs: I don't know, but to me that was good. The things he expected for excellent for the patient. It just puts you through a turmoil, you know what I'm saying, to get it ready. But we had everything all set up with his name on it, very special. And I think you were saying his whole idea was, “I'm not worried about how much I'm putting you all through because what I'm needing, you should have it for everybody,” and I agree.

Mims: I see what you're saying.

Briggs: I am a starch believer of good service.

Mims: And it's great that you're able to have that because I can just see where it would be like I am tired, I've got all these things to do and now you're making me jump through more hoops, you know.

Briggs: No, I just thought all of these things are special, it's putting us through all of this, but it's good for the patient and I think whenever you will have that attitude when your goal, there again, your goal has to be good care. My goal is good care and as far as I was concerned, if that was an in inconvenience, then so be it.

Mims: Well, how did you end up in public health?

Briggs: Wow, well I knew that we were going to move with New Hanover and I thought you know, I don't think I want to do that. I don’t think I want to work there. I thought now here we are and I probably have to say this much, here we are getting ready - and I could see progress, we are progressing, now medicine is progressing now, here we are getting ready to absolved. You know what I'm saying with this facility and I'm not sure I want to be absolved in this facility. You sort of lose your identity, you understand? I was thinking about that.

Mims: So you were at Community when it was closing?

Briggs: Well a year, okay…I knew then and I don't wait until the last minute, no ma’am. Whatever I do, I'm a year in my plans. So I thought I'll just do something different. At that time a position became available at the Health Department and it was Johnnie Fields who made me aware of that and I took advantage of that and went. I thought you all go on.

I'm going to say this. This is something that we will need to live with forever. There are some things that are never going to change. Therefore you need to change your attitude and get it situated to go along with that. I think we'll always have some discriminatory ways. I think as long as there are different races, you're going to have it, you know what I'm saying? We have it among your race, different levels; you know what I'm saying?

Mims: And as new races come in, like Arabs, there seems to be more discrimination.

Briggs: So I thought in some situations I set up a situation to deal with it and sometimes my dealing calls for just escaping and doing some different, whatever is going to make me comfortable enough to cope and still do well.

Mims: Right and meet your goals.

Briggs: Right and meet those goals.

Mims: So what was your goal at the Health Department?

Briggs: Well, it was general public health and I was a school nurse. That was the experience of the century. I will never forget that.

Mims: Was it positive?

Briggs: I loved it. I was a school nurse.

Mims: Now you had to go to different schools, right?

Briggs: Yeah, I went to different schools and I was a visiting nurse. I did home nursing. I went to schools I went to the housing areas and did well baby clinics. I was assigned to the Eye Clinic. I worked at the Eye Clinic at, well originally it was down in the Bullock Building when they first started the Eye Clinic here, the Commission for the Blind. Dr. Bullard did the first eye clinic. I was assigned to the Eye Clinic.

Mims: His office used to be downtown.

Briggs: Well that's where we did the Eye Clinic. The first eye clinic was done in his office and I was assigned to that. I worked there for eight years I know and then they moved it over to New Hanover there. I was part of the Eye Clinic.

Mims: So how many years were you in nursing total?

Briggs: Thirty-two.

Mims: Wow and just all that time you spent at Community in training, you were able to do all these different things…

Briggs: Honestly, I'm going to tell you something… my training at Community was like a bank, you know what I'm saying. It was like gathering a lot of things in a bank and then I was just able to pull from that bank of experience all of the time.

Mims: Wow.

Briggs: Everything I did, I was pulling from that bank of experience. I cannot believe it. I am evermore grateful. I did some health classes from Brunswick Community College. I tell you… at the Health Department, at Social Service, I did some classes for social service in Brunswick County.

Mims: What did you think whenever you found out the School of Nursing was closing at Community?

Briggs: Well, I thought it was unfortunate, but there again as far as the School of Nursing is concerned, I really think, I'm very adamant about the School of Nursing being updated with what they're needing; you see what I'm saying? So there nursing has a different need now. The needs are different. You have different equipment, you have them treating different diseases and all and we need to be in tune with it.

We need to be knowledgeable. So you need to be where you can learn whatever is necessary. It's unfortunate that we closed that, but then you really need to be where you can function adequately. That's the way I feel about that, you need to function adequately.

(End of Tape)

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