Interview with Helena Willis Eiden, June 10, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Interviewee: Eiden, Helena Willis Interviewer: Mims, LuAnn Date of Interview: 6/10/2004 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length: 100 min
Mims: Today is June 10, 2004. I'm LuAnn Mims for the Randall Library Special Collections. This is on our series on Health Services of Southeastern North Carolina.
Eiden: Now Mims...I knew a nurse by the names of Mims when I was doing my Public Health training.
Mims: This is Mrs. Helena Willis Eiden and she was a 1941 graduate of James Walker School of Nursing and we're talking to her today about her time as a student and her career as a nurse.
Eiden: Okay, you want to start with...
Mims: I want to start with...
Eiden: This goes with Lucille too but...it's just me talking.
Mims: Okay, and we have in the room also Mrs. Lucille King Brown and she was also a graduate of James Walker School of Nursing and she may pipe in if she cares to.
Eiden: Everything I say is on there?
Mims: Yea. Um hum.
Mims: Yea, we're going! We're good.
Eiden: Heaven's to Betsy!
Mims: Okay, let's get started with where you are from and what kind of work your parents were doing.
Eiden: Well, I want to go back when I left home.
Eiden: I'll go back when I left home...went to nursing school. I want to go back before that.
Mims: Before your father...I mean, what I'm trying to find out is where you came from.
Eiden: Well, that's were I came from...is to go back...why I was in nursing school. Why I was in nursing school. Can I say that?
Eiden: I grew up, well I can't say I grew up...I was growing...I was a child...I was growing and I wanted to be a missionary so bad in the Baptist church. Well, when I got older I wanted to go to college and I...if I told you all of these things that happened in my life that prevented me from doing anything you would be surprised, but I can't tell in this. I can do it another time, but not in this. And so I was determined as I grew up that I would as most of the age group I was in...they wanted more or less something to happen with the country that would make people be able to live better than they were living. That was my one obstacle or whatever you want to call it in life...was to better, all the way around, yourself and your family and your neighbors...everyone was in the same boat at that time...almost. Well, anyway so when I graduated from high school...I'll have to tell this because that is why I was in nursing school to start with...because I had made the best grades in the eighth grade...we only had eleven grades in my...Lucille had more than that when she graduated...but we only had eleven, and they went to twelve the year after I graduated. And I took a test that the government had sent to the schools. I made the highest grades of any of the high school. I was the highest one. My medal of honor...my medal now...my gold medal showing that I had...Bausch and Lomb gave the medal and...so I had that. And no one...I'm gonna tell some of this...no teacher, no one ever helped any of the farm children, I was a farm child, or the little town we lived in...they were just obnoxious sort of.
Mims: What town was this?
Eiden: Jacksonville, North Carolina.
Mims: What high school did you go to?
Eiden: But anyway, so the teachers...they came because when I was in the tenth grade they didn't close the country school I was in, but they did take the fifth grade on, to the high school which they had the grade school, elementary or whatever they call it now, in there. They had that, so I got to go through fifth grade into that school. And...but the teachers...by the time you got up there they put all of their time in the...I've always wanted to write this story and I'm going to do it some time...I'm telling you a little about it now. But they...the little town children...they put up one and two grades ahead of us that were coming in because they figured we didn't know enough to get in the classes. I'm telling these things and it's true. No one can prove it, I can't prove it, but it's true. And so therefore when I graduated and I had honors. I never took an exam. I was exempt...they did do me that honor. I did have that honor. I never took an exam. I came into nursing school...I didn't know how to take an exam. But anyway so I wasn't...no one paid any attention to me about going to college so...Linda's college...the one she went to...the Baptist College there in...
Eiden: Meredith. So Meredith put a scholarship out to some of the schools that the highest in the class could have the scholarship. Well, they took this one girl...and I'm not saying it just...you know...but her grade was put up a half a point more than mine...angered my classmates so much. Even the town children, they really was in it. But anyway, she didn't want it, so she refused it so I could get it. And all they ever told me was one teacher said, "Well, you can have the scholarship that Ida Earl was going to get if you would like to have it." Well, okay, so that was settled, that was all that was ever said to me about the scholarship ever. And so then I went home and I told my dad. Well my dad was my eyeball and just...there's nothing like may dad. And I told daddy about it. And he says, "Well, I'll see that you...we'll get you there if that's what you want to do." And I had thought about it before I mentioned it to him and I says "No, I do not want to deprive the rest of having something," you know, it would have taken all he had to do me and I didn't want that. So then is when I decided that I was...I had...I knew some family that the girls had come in to nursing...some of them came from James Walker...the older people. Some few other women. And so I decided to go to nursing school. I found out...I mean I contacted James Walker and found out...and to some others...even in New York, I contacted some. But I realized it would take transportation and all these extra things to pay for it so I didn't do that. So I decided I was coming to nursing school. And that's why I came to nursing school. I went...I could go back...'causeI say, I try to tell these things and one thing depends on what happened in the past.
Mims: Well, let me ask you real quick what kind of farm did your father have?
Eiden: Well, a regular farm in the south...tobacco, corn, cotton, and nuts...and what else Lucille?
Brown: That was about it.
Mims: And how many other siblings did you have?
Eiden: There were eight of we children.
Mims: And what number were you?
Eiden: I was the oldest girl.
Mims: So a lot of responsibility.
Eiden: There were four girls and three boys...wait a minute...five girls and three boys. Four of us still living...the girls. Now you asked me...because if I talk, you're going to hear, I mean I just can't...one thing calls for another and it's such a story that my children want me to write...think about when I was born and write it all down.
Mims: Well, it does sound very interesting. So your choice was to come to James Walker?
Eiden: To James Walker.
Mims: The financial expenses to your family to come here were minimized?
Eiden: Oh yea, all we had to have when we came into nursing school here was...I think it averaged to about eighty dollars, didn't it?...something like that for books and the extra things like that we had to have...I forget.
Brown: It wasn't much.
Eiden: It wasn't much, very little. Of course, you know, we had to have transportation. And Lucille and I...I won't tell that how we got our clothes there. You want me tell that one?
Brown: I don't know what you're talking about.
Eiden: That suitcase, you know...we put our clothes...old suitcase we put our clothes...you and I have laughed about it a many a time...anyway it was, we call them suitcases...that doesn't matter. So now what you want me to say?
Mims: Well whenever you...
Eiden: I'll go back. I'll tell...I can tell the whole...
Mims: Whenever you got to the school was the uniform provided or did you have to purchase that separately?
Eiden: Didn't we pay for the uniform?
Brown: We paid for it in tuition...but I remember one thing that was...when we come to Wilmington we had to wait for about a week for the graduating class to get...to move...to leave...the class that was graduating...to take their rooms. So we slept on a porch. A screened-in porch. Beds were just right together and...
Mims: For that week?
Eiden: That week.
Brown: We had...slept on these little beds...little cots until they could leave. But one thing I remember about that is...that night someone came up on the fire escape and there was...I woke up in the middle of the night and there was a light going up and down the porch and there was someone trying to break in on us and I happened to see the light and I punched the girl in the next cot. I said, "Sue does this Ms. Pannill make rounds?" We had someone that made rounds to see that all the girls were in the class...or in the room, and she said, "No she doesn't make rounds like that." So this was just somebody trying to get in...the window...they were shaking the window and...but...
Eiden: Oh, we could go on with stories like that...
Mims: But that's the interesting thing that you can't get in books, is little stories like that because it helps put...
Eiden: Yea, you'll have to eliminate those...I understand what you're saying.
Mims: No, like those! I like those!
Eiden: Right, right, right...that's why I say I'll have to write...
Mims: Yea, exactly!
Eiden: I'll have to write the whole thing. But anyway...
Mims: What were some of your earliest memories of coming here?
Eiden: Coming here.
Mims: Yea, what was, you know, your thought about coming to Wilmington to go to school?
Eiden: Well, I had been to Wilmington, I guess twice, in my life before that. I'm sure I had...yea. But anyway that really didn't bother me too much...coming to school...or coming to the hospital. Things of that sort didn't bother me that much.
Mims: Did you like having the room to yourself?
Eiden: Oh, that was wonderful to have the room because my sister and I had a room, you know, together. Yes, having...in the nursing home...we lived in a dorm, it was a dorm really but we called it the nursing home in Wilmington. So we had a bed, we had a dresser; I think we had a chair, best I remember. And I think we had...the light was well enough that we could study by.
Brown: And we made five dollars a month.
Eiden: They gave us five dollars a month to pay for all the syringes we broke.
Brown: If we broke anything we did...
Eiden: Yea, we paid for all the things we broke out of our five dollars and...
Mims: So this additional equipment you had was the...the syringe...but you didn't have to have your own needle did you?
Eiden: Oh no, no, you don't go into that yet I don't think with your story...I don't think. When we went in all we had to have...everything was furnished in that line of doing the nursing work, you know, but we had to have the uniform and we were...it was almost like the service...later years...almost...I don't think they do that with the service anymore. But, we had to be dressed and we came down...we were dressed and I mean we were spic and span, just so so, so. And we walked...came down and we walked down the steps and our professor, I called her, cause that's what she was. She could have been in a college, but she was in the nursing home, doing that, but she was a college graduate that could have been teaching, you know, in a college. But that was the same thing really. And that was the little bit of extra curricular we got was just to be with her and her way of doing things...and talking and things of that sort.
Mims: What was her name?
Eiden: Ms. Pannill...and how to spell that, I've forgotten..."P a n n e l l".
Eiden: "P, I say...P a n n e l l, I believe, Pannill." She was from Willis...Willis...something Willis in Richmond. She graduated from there and I don't think the university had anything like nursing at that time.
Brown: After her was Ms. Kaufman.
Eiden: But she still got...well now, she was different...yea...but anyway we'll get to that. She would stand there and inspect you as you came down to get on...you went to breakfast...you had your breakfast and...what was that, 6:30 we had to be down those stairs and then have our breakfast and then be on duty at seven...is the way it was. And then what you want to know? I could go into a lot of things.
Brown: If you got caught smoking you went home.
Eiden: Now that I know what she wants I'll try to keep it, you know.
Mims: Yea, just everything that you're saying is very interesting...so just continue along those lines...whatever you can remember about being a student there. I mean, the daily routine...I understand you had to have, like, scissors and...
Eiden: Well, in the beginning was so much...the beginning...(throat clearing)...I have a throat problem, I have a nerve problem. But anyway, the beginning was different. Every...well, when we first went in we didn't have a cap. We didn't wear a cap and I...that was part of our uniforms that was given to us after six months in nursing school. If I'm making a mistake, tell me. We go have our breakfast, then report to duty, and in the beginning I really can't remember...we were taught how to give baths. That's the first thing we were taught was how to give a bed bath to a male and a female and the black and the white...there was no separation there except the blacks had their own part of the hospital.
Eiden: Ward...from the whites. But when we went on duty we did the same for those people we did for the whites. There was no getting around that.
Brown: The doctors were our instructors.
Eiden: Yea, well, they did do book work, mostly the bookwork, except the nursing, now they did the medical part. The...we had Ms. Kaufman was one of our instructors for the nursing procedures.
Mims: Well at this time, was the nurses residence separated from the hospital or was...?
Eiden: Oh yes, right across the...right across...it's a little street.
Mims: Okay, and your classrooms were in the basement?
Eiden: In the basement. And...(throat clearing) I've got this thing and my sinus drains so bad.
Mims: I understand.
Eiden: But anyway we had...I couldn't...I never mentioned a lot of this stuff, but we never had...we had this little bookcase thing with a few little books in it that you couldn't learn anything from...there was...
Mims: In your room?
Eiden: In the classroom. We didn't have anything like that, we really didn't. We were...we were strict and I'll tell ya that...and it gets my throat.
Mims: Do you want to get some water?
Eiden: It won't help because my sinus drains down and goes into my chest...
Brown: We had our textbooks.
Mims: Right. Was there a student library?
Eiden: That's what I say, we had nothing like that.
Mims: Nothing like that.
Eiden: No, no. And no doctor...you would have thought the doctors in those days would have helped.
Mims: Who were some of the doctors in those days; do you remember their names?
Eiden: Yes, I remember a lot of their names.
Eiden: Dr. Sullivan.
Eiden: Koonce, Johnson.
Brown: Dr. [inaudible].
Eiden: Later, he came. We were up there in second or third year when he came. And...Black...and...oh what was the...
Eiden: Evans was the internist. And...
Eiden: He was the intern, Polites. Polites and George...
Eiden: Koseruba...was an intern. And who was the other one...the intern...oh we had several. I can't remember...I know one of them kept me alive...that's all I know...when I went in shock.
Mims: Oh really? Who did that?
Eiden: One of the interns...oh he was so nice...he kept me alive. But that's just my...
Mims: Who were some of the older doctors?
Eiden: Well, those were the ones we named.
Brown: Those were the older ones.
Mims: Those were the old ones? Okay.
Eiden: Yea. And...Moore.
Brown: Let me see...Murchison?
Eiden: Murchison...oh Murchison.
Mims: Murchison, yea.
Eiden: That was the main one. And Moore, there was a Dr. Moore, obstetrician. You remember him Lucille? He wasn't there too long I don't think.
Mims: How about Dr. Fales?
Eiden: Fales. Fales. Yea. The older ones...that's about all I can think of right know.
Brown: Dr. Bear.
Mims: Um hum, Dr. Bear, I've heard of him.
Eiden: Well, really didn't have him when we went in, Lucille, he was later, but...in fact I never worked under him at all...Bear, uh-uh.
Mims: I talked to some of the younger nurses that graduated down in like the fifties and sixties and they said that when they came in to the school, they were assigned a mentoring upper classman.
Eiden: Oh yes, yes.
Mims: Were you guys doing that too?
Eiden: What was it we called her...big sisters?
Mims: Big sisters.
Eiden: Big sisters. Yes, we did have that. We did have that. I can't remember what they did for us, but anyway...
Mims: And then as you got older and you had to reciprocate and take on a new one under your wing, sort of like? Do you recall having to do that...to be a big sister?
Eiden: I can't remember being...
Brown: What did you say?
Eiden: Big sister. Do you remember being a big sister to anybody? No, I don't think it did that, I think you graduated but...
Mims: But you didn't have to take on a junior.
Eiden: I didn't. I don't remember that. We were all so friendly with one another until we didn't need so much that other stuff.
Mims: What were the social activities like during your day?
Eiden: The social?
Brown: We went to the beach.
Mims: Going to the beach?
Eiden: Going to the beach...if you could get a ride.
Brown: And riding the streetcars.
Eiden: Well, you know, that was taken off right after we went in.
Brown: It was just closing about the year we...yea, it was just closing.
Eiden: And later Dr. Koseruba got a car and if you were on night duty he'd say, "All right girls, I'm going to the beach this morning, if you think you can stay awake when you go down to your classes, you can come go to the beach." And we'd say, "All right Dr. Koseruba, are you going to have us back in time to go to work at three o'clock?" And we'd already worked three to eleven.
Mims: Oh my goodness.
Eiden: Anyway, so he would take us to the beach some. And boyfriends, you know, we did have boyfriends. I didn't have too many I don't think in the beginning.
Brown: When we went to town to shop, we had to wear gloves and a hat and high heel shoes.
Eiden: Oh yes, we had to dress.
Brown: The nurses were absolutely spic and span. There was no one went on the floor with any, any ruffles, uniform...
Eiden: And you leave your room and you didn't leave a hair on the dresser because I got called back one day for that.
Brown: Yea, your room has to be clean and your shoes polished...
Eiden: And I couldn't find the hair! Oh I was telling about...we had to look a hundred percent.
Mims: Before you graduated, what color were your shoes? Were they black...?
Mims: Black. And black stockings.
Eiden: Black stockings and black shoes. I mean the...it's hard for me to keep the personal things out, but which makes it...you know...dating...like going out on a date. You only had...it was...you had...to go out in the week, we didn't go out in the beginning, in the weekdays. I mean, we had to wait till the weekend...
Brown: There was a soda shop across the street.
Eiden: But later when you got older you could, you know, go out.
Brown: We had a soda shop across the street and there's where we met too.
Eiden: Yea, the little soda shop across the street...the little soda shop.
Brown: The height of our buying was a package of buns and a Pepsi and we divided it with everybody.
Eiden: Oh yes, everything was divided.
Brown: Everybody...we shared.
Eiden: And, now when we...I can tell my side of it here about what happened to me at six...before six months...right before six months we were there we weren't called to do any kind of nursing, not really, you know, baths, but that was about it. But it was a little before I'd been there six months, they called me to go to the Emergency Room and I almost fainted, scared me to death. And...so I went and I couldn't think of...now that doctor I can't think of his name, but he was the head of the interns at that time...I can't think...it started with an M...
Eiden: No...it may come to me...but anyway, so I went to try to help in the emergency room and I had not idea what I...was a leg from an arm, or whatever, you know. But anyway they started asking me for this, that, and the other...and the interns, they were pulling my leg, you know, along with the doctors. And they wanted me to go... "Ms. Willis, get me some lap sheets"...and so I was running around there trying to find a lap sheet that night, scared to death, and Polites...and I was looking and he came up behind me and says... "Oh! I know you don't know what a lap sheet is."
Brown: He was so sweet!
Eiden: Yea. "So I'll find a lap sheet for you"...and so he did. And he said, "Follow me now and see what we do with it, be sure you see what we do with it." And that type thing you would go through, you know, and it would scare us to death when we first did something that was unusual. Fun, it was fun.
Brown: And one thing, we were very...we gave a lot of tender loving care to the patients. We wrote letters to their families, we bathed them, we did everything for them, everything.
Mims: Total patient care?
Brown: Total was what we did.
Brown: Rubbed their back and rubbed their limbs...
Eiden: And I mean good care.
Eiden: Good care. And all we did with the privates would...unless they were...so they couldn't do it, we'd do it, like we would a baby, we'd take care of 'em, but ordinarily we'd tell them...we'd hand them the cloth and everything...
Brown: Of course if they couldn't go to the bathroom, we'd give them bedpans...we used bedpans.
Eiden: Yea, we used bedpans. But we didn't leave 'em on the bedpan like they did later.
Brown: No, no.
Eiden: No, you didn't do those things...let 'em sit there for hours.
Mims: And the whole time you're working, you're being supervised...?
Eiden: Yes, we never did a procedure that we were not taught. An enema...we were taught how to give an enema. We were taught how to do a douche. Now they don't do douches, which I'm disappointed that we don't.
Brown: We gave blood transfusions.
Eiden: Well, we didn't stick...we didn't use the needle to stick the vein; we were not allowed to do that. So we didn't learn that, we had to get out before we ever learned to do any of that. I didn't do it until I did Public Health. It was the first time I learned to stick a needle in. Now they do it when they go in I think.
Mims: I understand that the student nurses mixed up the IV solution...
Eiden: We had to do the IV solutions, we had to measure and drip and all of that to get all the impurities out.
Mims: Filtering and...
Eiden: I couldn't think of the filtering word so I was trying to use something else, that's what I try to do...
Mims: I think Ms. Lockfaw talked about this a little bit, so...
Eiden: Yes, we did all of that and we had to supervise the infusions when they were going in and some things of that sort and the IV's also, we had to supervise that.
Mims: And this is in the days before disposable stuff?
Eiden: Oh we had to...I'm glad you brought that up because we had to use the...someone mentioned that on television last night...something I was listening to...and you had to sterilize. You used your syringe and your needle and you sterilized the whole bit and then you had to be sure they were sharp. We had a little thing to sharpen them with and so on and so forth with that. Anything the doctor used we had to be sure to write. You know, that was our duty.
Mims: Well, some people's concept of the nurses was to do wound care, bandaging. Did you...were you guys taught that?
Eiden: Not in the beginning. Not in the beginning. We learned that more when we went and had our time in the Emergency Room. That's when we were taught and shown about those things. That's the best I remember that...is when...with the Emergency Room. Tell me something else and I'll...
Mims: I understand that you had to rotate through the various areas of the hospital.
Eiden: Oh yes, that's the way we got our training for different sections of the human...well...like TB, for instance. In our day we had the ward for TB, a separate building for the TB patients because they were so infectious, you know. Had to wear gowns and caps and masks...we had to cover ourselves completely. And all of the things...of course the other things that were not less, but that was less infectious, you could treat in a special...have them in a special room on the ward or just a bed, but you had to learn how to control each one, in other words.
Mims: Well, out of all the rotations, which do you recall was your favorite that you liked to...
Eiden: Surgery. Surgery was my favorite. It was really...I have to tell this, it's true...because when the war came along...well now I'm going ahead of our time now...
Mims: That's okay.
Eiden: When the war came along, well the talking of a war, whatever...they took our interns. And so Dr. Hooper, that was an old doctor...did we mention him while ago?
Eiden: Dr. Hooper and Dr. Johnson. They said, "You're going to be in that operating room at seven o'clock for us because you're going to be our intern," so that somebody else had to do the...we didn't talk about that either...about how we were taught how to do surgery...scrub nurse...you called 'em scrub nurses...that scrubbed just like the doctors...procedure. Fifteen minutes scrubbing and all that, your hands and everything. And helped the doctor and then keep yourself sterile. Put a sterile gown on in the operating room...and the...there'd be some we called a scrub nurse, that's the one that would handle the instruments that helped the doctor like that. But with me, I had to nurse...I don't know where Lucille was...but I had the nurse hand me the instruments...but we were out of nursing school at that time.
Mims: Oh, okay.
Eiden: It was about...we were out. And I was trying to decide what to do. But anyway, so we had to learn how to do that. And learn how to set that table up to take to that patient in the operating room without contaminating the covers or any of that. And put that sterile...that table that went over with a sterile towel draped over it...or encased...it was encased with a towel.
Brown: We never had infectious disease.
Eiden: Never. We just didn't have it like they have...
Mims: Like hospital borne...?
Eiden: We didn't have it.
Eiden: We did not have it.
Eiden: We very seldom had anything like that.
Mims: And you would think with our more technical knowledge now, we wouldn't have as much as what we do, but we do. I forgot to ask...I spoke with a lady the other day by the name of Margaret Banck. Would you recall her?
Eiden: Oh yea...and I would love to go see Margaret.
Mims: Well she's in town.
Eiden: I know she is, I...
Brown: Have you interviewed her?
Mims: I have interviewed her. I interviewed her the other day.
Eiden: I'm going to have to get in my car and come see her. Her brother died.
Mims: She's just right down the street here...so
Eiden: I know she did. I've tried to move in one of those apartments...at the time she wanted me to and I didn't do it...I wish I had.
Mims: Okay. We're there's an available spot now, as a matter of fact.
Eiden: Oh is it?
Mims: Yea, on the second floor.
Eiden: I've got to sell my house before I can do that, but I would take it right now.
Mims: Well would she...did she do instruction when you...
Eiden: She was the instructor for chemistry and I was the...I don't know about Lucille, but I remembered, I think I was the only one who didn't have chemistry in high school. Did you have chemistry...?
Brown: I didn't have it.
Eiden: You didn't? Well, the best I remembered was I was the only one that didn't have chemistry. And so I was so afraid because I had no idea what chemistry was. So, she was our teacher but she worked in the lab, that was what she'd majored in.
Mims: Right. And you know she was about your age too.
Eiden: Yea. She was. And a great gal. And so the day we took our final exam on chemistry and she knew how frightened I was...and that night, and we were...you know, we were supposed to be in that bed without any lights or anything...that night, by what, eight o'clock, ten o'clock...and so the knock came on the door and I got up and... "Who's there?" "Margaret." And so... "Open the door Helene, open the door." So she opened the door and handed me my paper. And she had the...I forget what grade...B plus, I believe, B plus! "You passed!" That was the...I think that was one of the happiest days...I've had some happy days in my life, but I think that was one of the happiest. Because I just knew if I failed that when we went to take our...
Eiden: Yea, that I would fail. I was happy...yea, she's wonderful. Yea, she's a wonderful gal.
Mims: Well, in your rotation series, what area do you think was your least favorite rotation?
Mims: Really? Didn't like Peds?
Eiden: Well, that goes for the newborns. I didn't like newborns. Pediatrics I didn't like, cause one of 'em died on me one night. I could tell you a lot of stories if you want stories. But the doctor expected...we had a doctor...I think some of the Crouches are around now...but the sons are all dead. His sons are all dead too. And but anyway, he was slow and messy and he came on duty and I was on night duty with the babies and I had made my rounds and checked 'em all, you know, and next time I starting to make my rounds, he came in about that time, it was at night, he'd do things like that. I guess they had turns too, they had to check...with the others...the doctors took turns. So he came in and I just checked that baby and I came to him to him...I said...I forget the name of the baby or anything, but I said, He died, he died!" He said...oh, he says...what was it he called us...Dr. Crouch? There was a name he had for us...it wasn't sister, that's what my daddy called me. But it was some name, like; you know, just a good name, a good... "I expected that"...he was slow talking... "I expected that." And I told him...I said, "Well Dr. Crouch, why didn't you tell me?" I was about to cry, you know, I was about to cry, I guess I was teared. He says, "Well, we're going to lose one now and then, but the baby just couldn't live."
Mims: I wondered how, you know, working in such an environment...I mean, it's a grown up thing...you guys are being pushed right into this.
Eiden: Oh yes.
Mims: How you guys were able to deal with the whole life and death and serious illness and you're just immersed into this immediately?
Eiden: Oh yes, we were, we were.
Brown: We had a screened in...screened in back porch all along one side of the hospital. And we had the children; this was in Pediatric ward that was my favorite. And there was one bed right after the other and we'd have as many as fifteen or eighteen children, side by side, take out...one day was tonsillectomy day and we'd take out tonsillectomies all day.
Eiden: That was my major...tonsillectomies.
Eiden: I loved surgery. I loved surgery. I could have been a doctor and done surgery so easily.
Mims: Well, lets move forward a little bit. I know you went through all your rotations. Then it came time to graduate. What do you recall about your graduation?
Eiden: You know, she's asking me questions that...most I remember back to...we didn't call 'em proms in those days, you know...but we had a dance...
Mims: Like a social?
Eiden: We had a social, a dance. And I think of those things.
Mims: Okay. So there...that...well see, I don't know...I'm just going from what I know...
Eiden: And the best thing I remember about that...it was so hard to get a pretty dress, you know, evening dress to wear and my sister had had one in high school...the dress for the prom...and her name is right on the end of my tongue...she died...her son died the other day...that married Margaret Bancks sister...what was...Polvgot, Polvgot...Polvgot was there...she had come there then.
Mims: So you had to have a real formal type dress for this occasion?
Eiden: Well, you wanted to dress up. It was what they called proms now, but we, just, it was our big day or big dance, you know. And this...I dated Ms. Polvgot's son a few times. I'm going tell you a secret...and this is embarrassing in a way...in a way it....and he liked me, I'll tell you, he liked me. And so my sister had this black dress, cut...not show anything, but nice...beautiful black dress and I thought I looked good. And so he took me to the dance at the Lumina.
Mims: At the Lumina?
Eiden: It was at the Lumina. It was a big dance. I think we had a band, a little band...we did.
Brown: I don't remember too much about it, but it...
Eiden: But what was so aggravating with me about it...I had a great time...David, that was his name, nice fella...that morning when I was supposed to go on duty in the Emergency Room, she was supervisor of the Emergency Room that morning, and she took me off and said, "I want to talk with you." And I said, "Well yes, Ms. Polvgot, what have I done?" "Well I don't want you dating David anymore. I do not want you dating David anymore. You're not high...you're not class enough for him." I swear she did that. If you ever thought anybody would say that to me...because I always, at home, I always went with the...if you want to call 'em class...we were not class...I always thought of myself as good as the next one...my daddy taught me that. And so boy did that hit me, I'll tell you. Now that's when I wasn't...it wasn't a happy time. And yet, I didn't give...cause I didn't care for him. I liked going with him, he danced. He was a good dancer and he was nice and everything. But I just...
Mims: Was she a nurse?
Eiden: Yea, she was a supervisor.
Mims: A supervisor?
Eiden: Yea, but that's the way she was and she had already had her eye on Louise, Margaret's sister. She already had that.
Mims: So there's a lot of social constraints that you're placed under too because of the dynamics of family and everything.
Eiden: Oh it was...it was doctors in those days...you were not supposed to date a doctor.
Brown: We stood up when they...a doctor came in, you stood up.
Eiden: Oh yes. You were very respectful.
Mims: Very respectful.
Eiden: And your supervisor...we.
Brown: Well, we stood up...
Mims: Now, do you know Beadie Britt? That name keeps coming up...
Eiden: Yea, she was my big...now she was my big...she had...she was my big sister. I mean, I was her child. But I loved her. She was such a wonderful person.
Mims: She stayed at James Walker a very long time.
Eiden: Well, she was at Babies before that.
Mims: At Babies?
Eiden: Oh yes, she was at Babies, she really learned her baby work before that. Of course Dr. Sidbury only had that in the summer time.
Eiden: And that, that was the saddest thing...I could just take these old people around here and hang 'em off the tree nearly for not saving that hospital.
Mims: I know, it's incredible.
Brown: It was awful.
Eiden: It saved my child's life, I'll tell ya, and some friends of mine, their children, I'll tell ya. It really...and if they had done it a different way...why don't we have people who can organize things?
Mims: I don't know and there's nothing on that site now except the little house that was beside it, that's the only thing there.
Eiden: These people, these families, these old families, and their children who grew up in that hospital...if they had gone to bat and put it in the magazines and put it on TV, they would have made enough money to have done...now that's the truth.
Mims: I know, it's really...
Eiden: And I wasn't well at the time, I haven't been with my eyes, and I just couldn't get down here and complain. But I'll tell you, I...
Mims: A number of people made complaints but the guy who bought the place just wouldn't...
Eiden: Well, they didn't do it in the right way...they didn't organize it, the didn't organize it, you have to organize it, you have to organize everything.
Mims: It's very sad. Well, after graduation, what did you end up doing?
Eiden: A sad thing. Instead...I didn't know...we did not get a magazine. There wasn't a magazine sent to the nursing home so that we could keep up with what's going out...
Brown: No TV.
Eiden: Well, there wasn't TV in those days, so I can understand that, but magazines, there were magazines and we should have had magazines. There was...the worse thing happened to us...is going through a technical school, a technical school, no formal education whatsoever. We should have never had it like that, never. How they ever started it like that I'll never know, you know. I can't write today because I didn't get it in schools, in pubic schools and you certainly didn't get it when you went to nursing school. We got nothing in that way. Well, I've fought that...I've not done it with organization...well, no one did it in organizations, I had to do it on my own, but I did it. And when they started to put in the Wilmington College...and I'm one of the ones Lucille...see I had Joe sick at the time; I had my husband sick with Alzheimer's. They didn't know what Alzheimer's was. I know more about it than Nancy Reagan ever knew, cause I had it and I had to do it myself with two teenage children. Well, anyway, so I would run into the doctors, we'd have 'em coming in and out and then we'd have patients...the Alpers...and all of those, and I'd go to 'em and I'd talk to 'em about putting nursing in that college out there. I really did it. But no one...I don't get credit for it, because I didn't do it organized, you know. Nurses didn't organize and do these things. So if you had a desire to do these things, you'd try to do it on your own. And I've always been that way...tried to do things on my own to get something done. I've gotten a few things done...but I did do that and I know it helped.
Mims: So after graduation without having magazines so that you know what was?
Eiden: There was nothing, there was nothing...there was nothing telling me what I could go into...except what was right there in our school. If we wanted to stay there and work, like I did to start with, with the doctors, you know. And I set up the first...while I was doing that...we didn't do surgery all the time. And so...now what was I going to say...?
Mims: Well, after you graduated...so you went to work at James Walker?
Eiden: That's what I did with the doctors; I was the intern, helping them with surgeries.
Mims: Oh really?
Eiden: Yes, I sure did. I mean I was...knife...scrub nurse was right there. I didn't have a lot of that to do because it was only Dr. Hooper and Dr. Johnson that I did that for. I didn't do it for the others. But otherwise I worked in the Operating Room and did the solutions and I set up the supply room where we had the sterile supplies. I set that up, up there. If they'd let me do things, then I could do 'em. And so I asked...just leave it to me.
Mims: So how long did you work there after you graduated?
Eiden: I think it was three months I believe and then I decided I'm going...I was trying to find what to do and then one of the...what was the...she was a friend of yours...and her husband had died and she come there where...but she was going to Chapel Hill to study Public Health. That's the way I found out about Public Health coming to...it was the first class...I believe it was the first class they'd had in Public Health at that time at Chapel Hill. And we didn't have the building that they got in a few years and things like that. But I went there...what was her name, cause I roomed with her Lucille? I can't think, we had...we couldn't get a dorm room so we had to get a room out, you know, out. And doctors, there were doctors in that class and social workers, men and women, and nurses...at Chapel Hill. I forget who it was...but you...in order for me to be able to do that, they gave us a stipend of a hundred twenty-five dollars a month, which is more than I was making in the Operating Room anyway. But I had to pay my...well I was still having to pay my room after we got out of nursing school. Lucille, she gets married on us! But we struggled along with it and I...
Mims: Was that a graduate program?
Eiden: Oh yes, that was the major, yea that was your major.
Brown: But you went in the service too.
Eiden: Well that was after. Right after I did that.
Mims: So you went into Public...the class of Public Health in '41 or '42?
Eiden: Well I guess it was '42 because we graduated in '41, so it was '42.
Mims: Okay. And that was a one-year program?
Eiden: Yea. And then we...before that program, we had to go out several times...spend three weeks or something, in another town...and do public health...that was part of your training.
Mims: Right, like an internship.
Eiden: But we did get...they didn't give us any English or any writing or anything like that, but they did give us some good psychology and sociology and I would argue with the sociology...I forgot his name...but I used to be sort of...not so much in nursing school, like that I wasn't but...but I was in high school, if I thought something was not quite right, I didn't mind saying it. But they were teaching then, that you didn't inherit anything, not even these crooked teeth. You didn't inherit. Well, that sociology professor, I'm telling you, he'd keep me sometime and talk with me. But I knew you inherited things, I had so much of it in my family, I could see it!
Mims: Yea, the genetics and...
Eiden: Absolutely! It's there.
Mims: So when you completed your time in Public Health, where did you go after that?
Eiden: Well, I only had to here, but you could go on further with it and get your degree, but I...the war was coming and all that kind of stuff. I really didn't work much...I came...
Mims: Did you come back to Wilmington?
Eiden: No, I gradu...I got...we really didn't graduate...after that, you had to go on further, you know, but that's all I got. So...but I knew I had to go to work at that time. But mama got sick and she had this breast thing and I thought oh that's cancer of the breast and I just know, I'm going home to take care of my mother. I didn't go use public health for what ever they wanted. So we're not supposed to go home to do Public Health, that was a no-no. So I called Mr. Hansel, our superintendent of the schools, well I knew everybody, I grew up with all their children, I grew up with everybody, so I knew 'em...well I called Mr. Hansel and he says, "Helena if you want to come to Jacksonville, you can come to Jacksonville, I'll see to that." Well, in those days they were the head of actually the Public Health in their counties or something...
Mims: Oh really?
Eiden: They didn't work but they were the overseers making sure it was done right and everything. So he said you come right on. So I did. I went home and I think it was about three months...and then I knew I wasn't going to stay in Jacksonville. I wanted to leave when I graduated from high school. So I made up my mind...well I...I don't guess I made it up as much as the Red Cross girl we had working in our office at that time in Jacksonville. I'd love to tell you about...I could write a book on all what I've been through. The office we had, the Public Health office. When I got there we had a secretary, and...I don't know what Pauline did, she didn't do the secretarial work but she did something to help the secretary and we had one nurse and she was leaving, and so I took her job, and a doctor. And we were...these old buildings in Jacksonville at that time, they were built two...one on top of the other, you know. So downstairs, they had a drugstore on one part of the whole thing, and then right under us was a bar. A bar where they drank beer and all that kind of stuff. We had to go up these steps to get to it...now that's the type of provision that you got in those days to work. And Dr. H.W. Stevens...see names will come to me sometimes, but then again they won't...but he was
Mims: Does for me to, so...
Eiden: Such a fine fella. And then his wife killed herself later but that's beside the point. But anyway, so we were up there and I didn't like Public Health. I thought it was a waste of my time because all we were doing was taking the doctors cases that they didn't want to do. Now you talk about dressings...all of those bone cases...what is the name of that disease where they had in the bone...it was prevalent in those days and I can't think of it right now.
Eiden: No, well they did have that, I had a cousin who is in a wheelchair today because they didn't know what to do about it and she's still on a wheelchair. Today she'd be a good secretary somewhere at least. But anyway, no it was a much more severe...this was a thing that rotted, just rotted the bone and everything. And anyway we had quite a bit of that. Quite a bit of cases like that. And then they gave me...the gave me these...they'd make sections after we got another nurse...and they'd give us sections. I had the section of mostly Richlands, but I'd have to go anywhere they needed me when the time came. So I had Richlands...so they gave me the office there...they gave me an office...they gave me this old doctors...it was a...what's an eight-angle building? What's the name of it?
Eiden: That's the type building it was. Well it was a mess. So I had to go in there...well I got help. I told 'em, I'm going to hire some help, now you can pay for what you want to but I'm going get it but I'm not going to pay for it. So they got it and they let me have it. So I got some help in there and cleaned that up and fixed it up for the office.
Mims: Was that in Richlands?
Eiden: In Richlands.
Eiden: The first one. And I really enjoyed that part of it, to take over and do things and put in programs. Now I put in a program...and I wasn't there but several months really...I really worked hard. But anyway I put in a program teaching the high school girls home nursing.
Mims: There in Onslow County?
Eiden: That was...no, that was...yea, in Onslow. That was on my own that I did that. I had to use my own time in my apartment with a bed to teach them how to make beds and things...and that was the first they'd ever heard of home nursing, you know.
Mims: How long did you say you worked there?
Mims: How long did you say you worked in Onslow County?
Eiden: The best I can remember is about three months. It wasn't very long. I did a lot of work in three months. I could tell you some stories. It was rough.
Mims: Well, I know that whole area is pretty rural.
Eiden: Well, and the service with, you know...had just come in. They'd just come in, the Marines and everything. And they had all these...one particular man, and I can't think of his name, but that guy...this is...it's not personal, it's the truth...but anyway he had all these, what they called...the houses, you know, there's a name for 'em. And he was doing all...making money that way. I mean he got rich. And we didn't have a man in there to investigate communicable diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis and that type stuff and we had a lot of syphilis in those days. And we had to give...what was it we gave...what was the medicine?
Mims: This was before penicillin?
Eiden: Now I did...I said...now I was wrong with that...with the veins. I did, Dr. Stevens taught me how to do that, because I had to give that intravenously.
Mims: The penicillin?
Eiden: It wasn't penicillin.
Mims: I know they had a Mercury treatment for a while.
Eiden: I think that was it.
Eiden: I believe it was the Mercury, but anyway it was very serious. And in Richlands I...ooh I had them coming in and getting that shot.
Mims: And now you're still a really young girl at this time, I mean, you know?
Eiden: Yea, I was too young to be having all this res...but I loved responsibility. I didn't mind that. I was the oldest daughter in the family and I sort of had to do...
Mims: Well, so after you left there, where did you go?
Eiden: What, you mean the Health Department?
Mims: Yea, after you left Onslow.
Eiden: Well, let me tell you this...it isn't a joke, it's the truth, but it sounds like a joke. But we had this one nurse, she was a stout girl, she was from Wallace North Carolina, and she came...but she was there...I think I took her place...not right then, but she left some time after that. And...but one morning she came in and the secretary, Naomi, her name was, she said Marie, that was her name, the nurse, she said, she came in and says, "these damn," she used some bad words or something. "These drawers are going to fall off me, elastic is all broken," and Naomi says, she says, "Well I don't see why you don't take 'em off or go home and get you something to put on or something," something to that effect. Well, she didn't know, she was going to go...and she grabbed her bag...in those days you had to carry these black bags with everything in it...stethoscope, and all that kind of stuff. And, so she grabs her bag and she's going to go on her duties, because he had to do home visits. And, so she grabbed her bag and she takes off down those steps. She got down to the steps...Naomi said she ran to the...we had a window that looked down on the street...we were upstairs...and she was looking down there at her and said she got down there and those drawers fell off of her right there in the street. And some of the guys today, there are two of 'em still living that were...one of 'em owned the store and the other was working in the store across the street over there, and they saw that that morning. We get together and laugh about it sometimes. But they saw her do that. Those men really had a fall on that one, I'll tell you, yes indeed! So anyway, now what?
Mims: Okay, so when...ah, you stayed there for about three months, where did you go after that?
Eiden: That's when I joined the Navy Nurse Corp.
Mims: The Navy Nurse Corp. How did you find out about that?
Eiden: I joined the Red Cross when we got out of nursing school...two things I did when we got out of nursing school was join the American Nurses Association and I didn't know if you wanted to talk with me about something about that or not, because I guess I'm the only one that did that...I don't know how many did it, but I did it and I joined the American Red Cross and did volunteer work. I've done that all my life until I can't do it anymore, but I did it all. I did it all, really and truly. When we had hurricanes...I was telling Lucille about that lady that was written up in the paper...do you live here?
Mims: Are you talking about Ms. Snead?
Eiden: No, did you read that Sunday...the one in there Sunday...Dr....what did I say...?
Mims: Oh, Dr. Sinclair, yea.
Eiden: Yea, Sinclair.
Mims: Yea, he and his wife. Actually I've interviewed him.
Eiden: Oh you did? I don't see why they didn't have them on television.
Mims: But I know a lady who was very big in Red Cross here locally but this may have been after your time a little bit...
Eiden: I was always the chairman of the nurses when I was down there.
Mims: Well, she worked here in Wilmington. I don't think she came into this until like fifties or something.
Eiden: Yea, probably yea.
Mims: But her name is Ms. Snead. She lives in Wilmington.
Eiden: Yes, I remember her, yea. She was head of the Red Cross.
Eiden: Yes, she was...and then Ms. Sears was there most of the time when I was there...
Mims: I talked to a couple volunteers...a couple that volunteered up at the air field, one's name was Peggy Purdew, her maiden name was Moore...Peggy Moore. She was there during the war years.
Eiden: The war years? Well, I probably wouldn't have been there during the war years see, I was in the service.
Mims: Right. So you joined the Navy Nurse Corp?
Eiden: The Red Cross girl told me, she says, "You just aren't the person...you want a different life, I know you do," and I did. I was just that type, you know. The guys to date...I was having to date the boys I grew up with. You know? The ones...they were being dragged into the service at the same time...and one of 'em waited for me. Well, anyway that's all right. So...
Mims: So we're moving into 1943 about then?
Mims: Pearl Harbor had already been attacked by this time.
Mims: Just happened that December?
Eiden: Yea, because the things were hanging in the trees when we got there...when we went over there...when our ship went over there. We went in the ship...we went...when I joined...
Mims: Where did you join at...through Jacksonville?
Eiden: Through Camp Lejeune.
Mims: Camp Lejeune?
Eiden: Uh-huh. That's were I had my physical. And then I went on...they sent me on up to Portsmouth Virginia...(whisper)...personal things that I can't talk about...well I could but it's not for you right now. I forget how long I stayed at Portsmouth.
Mims: You had like an indoctrination kind of...?
Eiden: And as I say, my personal life was always mixed up; sort of...some old Marine followed me...he had to join the beach jumpers so he would have something to do. He'd call me a four o'clock in the morning. I thought the girls would kill me, waking them up at night. But anyway...
Mims: So where did you go from Portsmouth?
Eiden: From Portsmouth they sent me to Bainbridge and that was where they taught corpsmen mostly. Corpsmen came in there from the farms or wherever they were, you know, born and raised. They'd come in there, they wanted to be corpsmen. Because they were sent out on the ships where they didn't have any help, any kind of doctor or anything, so the corpsmen did it all on the ships. So we had to train them pretty well. We had to train them to deliver babies and everything. But I didn't do that. I worked in...I did the operating room. I taught 'em operating room technique...is what I did.
Mims: But this was a training facility to train the corpsmen?
Eiden: Yes, and other service parts too, but they did do that there.
Mims: That must have been interesting because you seem like you like teaching.
Eiden: Oh I loved teaching, I could have been...that's what I really...when I didn't get around to ya about the missionary that would have been my next thing...but I wanted to do it on a high level. I didn't want to do it with children, or...you know, little children. I wanted...math was my favorite subject in high school, math and history. Math...I could just do math...I taught math at Miller-Motte for six months one time. I went over there...those kids coming out of New Hanover, they couldn't do fractions. And I just went in there...teaching 'em...I could remember Lucille, all that stuff and I went over to Miller-Motte...I wanted to stay, but anyway...family things, you know, caused me not be able to do anything really and truly. I'd do something that I liked and then I'd have to quit it and that was hard.
Mims: What kind of uniform did you wear when you were here at Bainbridge? Was it a military uniform or was it a modified nurses uniform?
Brown: I wish I had her picture. I had her picture in uniform...a bust and it's good looking...I wish I had it, but I gave it...
Eiden: Well, the sad thing is that's...I'd never had one made after that first one which is sort of...I don't mention it to anyone, you know...it gripes me though because I got another stripe and I was ready for my full lieutenant. If I'd have gone one more month...stayed in one more month, I would have gotten my full lieutenant, and I didn't.
Brown: I wish I could put my hands on this picture, but I don't know where it is right now.
Eiden: But I only had the one stripe on that uniform.
Mims: So you were ensign level, or...?
Eiden: Yea to go in. Yea I went in, then I made Lieutenant JG. Well, anyway I didn't get full lieutenant cause I didn't stay...that was so crazy of me. But I never cared about myself really...trying to, that way...I wanted to do what I wanted to do, but I never thought about...cause I could have stayed, you know.
Mims: So how long did you stay in the military?
Eiden: I got out in '46 and I don't remember what date. But if I'd stayed another month I'd a got my full...
Mims: You would have made it.
Eiden: So I think...I had...I think about January or something like that...February or something...
Mims: Did you stay and Bainbridge the entire time?
Eiden: Oh no, no, no. I was at Bainbridge and they had...the built five hospital ships that year. They built five hospital ships because they thought they were going to go...had to go into Japan. And that was what was on...that's why we were put there like that. So they built the five ships at...I believe it was at the shipyard in Philadelphia I believe...that they built those ships, best I can remember.
Brown: We didn't build any ships...any here did we? Not hospitals...
Mims: No, they were just liberties.
Eiden: Yea, that was liberties, this was the hospital sh...I think it was in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania yard. I know it was a Pennsylvania yard, I don't remember just which one.
Brown: And what was the name of the ship?
Eiden: USS Repose, mine was. I've got a copy...Joey found a picture of it on his computer. I had...I've lost so many of my pictures...everything...so much of it...I've moved so many times.
Mims: So you were placed on this newly commissioned hospital ship?
Eiden: Newly commissioned hospital. We had to...we stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel for, I think, it was three weeks before we were put aboard ship. And those were three great weeks but we'd have to report, not every day, but sometimes we'd have to report over there and decide what to be done with this or that or the other, you know, type thing. We didn't have...
Mims: Where was it launched from?
Eiden: New York.
Mims: In New York? There at...
Eiden: Yea. New York harbor there. We took our shake down crew up in Chesapeake Bay around Annapolis, in that area, then went back to New York before we went...really went to work.
Mims: Did you continue as an operating room tech?
Eiden: No, they wouldn't give...they didn't give that to me. We've had...I've had...that's one disappointment I really did get...was they gave it to a girl that had...she...instead of...see I majored in Public Health and she majored in Operating Room Technique. Of course, she would get that job. 'Cause you used corpsmen for the rest of if, just one nurse in the operating room to supervise and everything. So I didn't get that, but I surely regretted not getting that. But I could understand it too.
Mims: So what was your role?
Eiden: My role was...still...all of the Navy nurses were really teachers, you know, you had corpsmen to do the work, and you really were a teacher but it was...it would be anywhere you were needed. And that's when we had...still...like we did in nursing school. We had to make all or our dressings, sterilize everything, all of our fluids, we had to do all of that. Set up our cart for changing dressings, and the whole bit. And we...
Mims: So basically everything you were taught at James Walker you were able to apply here?
Eiden: We really...at James Walker, what we were taught there...but I learned when I went in...what...I was always the type that...I learned more than they wanted, you know, I learned...and I learned that in Public Health, I learned a lot of it in Public Health, because we would have...Lucille was talking about in nursing school, I didn't remember doing tonsils in nursing school, but she does...she might have, you know, in her...but we had to do...out in the country, set up just a little hospital like to do tonsils and things like that in Public Health.
Mims: Where was the ship sent to?
Eiden: We left New York, we came on down the coast and they let us stop and get off and enjoy St. Thomas a day or so and then from there we went on into the canal and we stopped...what's that big city down Panama Canal in the that area...what is it?
Mims: I can't think of what it is.
Eiden: Anyway we went in there and then we went through the canal and on back around to San Francisco. And I'm trying to think, it must have been at Bainbridge that we ran...we had a hospital. They sent a lot of the wounded Marines there from the islands...where they'd be in Guadal Canal...all of those...they took all those islands. They sent us a lot of those patients there at Bainbridge. I don't remember how that worked. But I remember having them as patients and showing the corpsmen and all how to dress 'em. They would come in there and they would have...there back bone was just...decubitus had eaten 'em away. It was so sad, so sad, so sad. When I see all this money wasted up there in Washington.
Mims: But the goal of the hospital ship was to try to alleviate some of this so that the servicemen had better care...
Eiden: Actually we were there to...if they had gone...like, they had...they had one hospital ship that they had converted to an Army hospital ship. It wasn't a hospital ship, it was some other ship. They had con...and I can't think of the name of that ship...and they had been using that as much as they could around the islands with the wounded...and bringing 'em to San Francisco. That may be where I saw these cases...and how bad they were.
Mims: The decubitus?
Eiden: Yea. We would go there and we would stay there maybe a week or so and take care a lot of that that was coming over at that time, it was rampant. And then we'd go back to Hawaii and bring some more back...back and forth like...from there.
Mims: So that's where you guys kind of went...from San Francisco to Pearl, and then to San Francisco again?
Eiden: Yea, back and forth, back and forth, yea. And then we were called...I don't know if we were the only ship that was called...I doubt it, but I never heard of another one that was called to be with the seventh fleet. The 7th fleet was what we were really attached to...to that point. And then they were all there in San Francisco, the 7th fleet, I mean...and that is when we heard of D-day...I believe it was...we were there. It must have been D-day. In July...June of '44. I won't go into what happened that day...
Eiden: It was crazy.
Mims: I imagine.
Eiden: It was crazy! My son took me back to the Top of the Mark. That was a big hotel in those days where all the service people would go to...to enjoy, you know, have dinner and dance. So we'd go to the Top of the Mark, and he'd heard me talk about it so much, once in a while, so he took me to the Top of the Mark. That was after the war. After I had my children, they were grown. But anyway, so where was I?
Mims: Well, we're going back and forth between Pearl and San Francisco. So that sounds like a wonderful way to utilize your nursing skills.
Eiden: It was great. It was great. It was great. It was great all except a few things, like the commander aboard ship. That was when we had...we left to go on over, I believe that that happened...than incident. I was fine, but on board ship, since I didn't get surgery, I did ear, nose and throat...I did whatever. I could do...I had learned to do anything...I could do it today I guess in my...in my...I dream of it and I still operate. Well, anyway we were making the supplies, you know, 4 X 4's and what all and that stuff. We were making those and we had a sewing machine. Well the doggone sewing machine would not work. And mama never would let us use the sewing machine at home. "No way, you can't use my sewing machine and tear it up." So anyway, I had learned a lot about the sewing machine, I don't know how, but I remember I learned. I guess it was when she had to leave...when somebody died in the family and she had to spend the night or something. So I was working on the sewing machine...we didn't have anyone, any fella, any corpsmen, any but the engineers...no one could work on a sewing machine. I never heard of such a thing. And so I was sitting there trying to get that sewing machine to work so we could...we needed dressings. I mean we didn't know what we were coming up next...time we stopped. So we needed dressings and I was helping them so the corpsmen could start sewing. And the commander...she came...it was a nurse commander...she came through...they'd check you...and I taught the corpsmen, I said...now, in the beginning...I learned that in the very beginning...I says, "Whenever the captain or anybody comes along...high ups...checking, you gra..." I says, "you take you a rag and stick it in your back pocket (I think that's where the whole thing came from) and you start polishing...and you be busy when they come." And they did. Well anyway, so they had been...she had been over in the operating room and I was over in the supply room, trying to get that sewing machine to work, so I could get 'em, started...well they were carrying on back there in that...they had done all their work and they didn't know she was around. And so she had been in there fussing with them...I heard her. So I didn't pay any attention to it because I knew I was fine, I was doing my job. And...not to her opinion, I wasn't. She had no idea that things had to be made. Those people don't know. Well anyway, so I was sitting there and she... "You're just a lazy as they are," she says.
Well I don't know why I'm like that, there's some things you can say to me that really gets my gall and that is calling me lazy! I thought of my daddy, just like that, daddy thought I was the smartest thing...in that field or anywhere he put me, I did the work. I'm not bragging on myself, I'm just telling you how it was. But I did, and he was proud of me. And I...I didn't say anything to her, I knew better...there. So when my four o'clock came along and I got off duty I went and knocked on her door. She says, "Enter," and so I went in...and stood right in front of her desk. And I've forgotten her name, wouldn't you know it, can't think of it to save...I'm glad I did...forget it. But I said, "Commander so-and-so," I says, "don't you ever call me lazy again because I'll tell you one thing, if my daddy had been here and heard you say that to me, you would've been sorry, because he thought I was a smart girl." I did! And that was unheard of! You just never would have done that! I was out in the ocean, I could have cared less what they did with me, out in that ocean, I really didn't. I didn't even think of it that way. I never heard any more about it. Now that was a person...never heard it again.
Mims: Well, it seems like you acquired a lot of discipline somewhere along the way. I don't know whether it was your training at Walker with having to be in such a regimented routine there and...
Eiden: My daddy...we were disciplined as children.
Mims: As children?
Eiden: As children. We didn't do...I can't get over these children running wild. I can't get over it! We didn't do that and my children didn't do that. Lucille's didn't do that, did they?
Mims: I see a lot of similarities with, you know, when you were in nursing school you got different...acquired different things at certain times, kind of ranking you, and then you go into the military and you kind of accruing certain things to give rank, so I see that this was a natural kind of progression, especially for you, that seemed like you had...
Eiden: Well, they all had told me if I would stay in that I'd go right on up, and I think I would have.
Mims: You could have continued with...
Eiden: Yea, I could of. But I'll tell you, it comes to the lot in your life, you've got to decide...I want to be a mother, you know. I want to be a mother. And of all the ones...I chose the Joe Eiden and it was his fault. I don't know why I did it, Lucille. But when we came from that dance that night, Lucille, you're not even hearing me.
Brown: I'm listening.
Mims: Did you meet him in San Francisco?
Eiden: No, no, no, no, no. He wasn't in service. And that bothered him. It really bothered Joe Eiden, because he wanted to go in service but he didn't have but the one ear. He had lost an ear when he was a child. But they owned a company that had the franchise on anything...any...marble, stone, sand to build with, like now they go out and dig it out of the swamps out there, you know. But in those days they didn't, they had to buy it. It was shipped in here. And he had franchise on all of that, so the government said you take care of the ships with what they need and that'll be your...
Eiden: And they wouldn't have taken him...it was about his hearing. It was a problem.
Mims: So he was from Jacksonville or Wilmington?
Eiden: Wilmington. Yea. And I had met Joe, Lucille, somewhere...with Adam Sunday...somewhere. But that night we had that party that Ms. Pavard got me...but he and Adam Sunday...I had to come home that night from the party...I was on duty...I had two more days...no that wasn't the same party, that was another party. That was when I was leaving...yea that was after we had our prom...that we had a dance...Ms. Harris gave us...who was it...Smitty that went off when I did, or who was it? Somebody else went. She went, I think, in service. She was going...anyway we were leaving, so they gave us a dance down at the beach at this nurses cottage. And Joe was there, I met him that night. And he and his friend...I told 'em I couldn't, I had to go home. I had to go to work. I had to go to work. So, I don't know...I don't know if it told 'em where I was going to be working or not, but anyway, I went on duty in the children's ward. But that wasn't the night that the sad thing happened. But they were standing down there and yelling up at me. Scared me to death. I just knew somebody was going to catch 'em. And that's...that's sort of...but I didn't date him...lord that was a long time before I dated him.
Mims: Because a lot of the nurses I've talked to...as soon as they graduated from nursing school, they got married.
Eiden: Well, they did that from high school. The girls I...I don't know how it was with Lucille...I think it was the same way with her community. But once they graduated from high school, boy, they got married. Lucille did too when she graduated from nursing school. But they did. And I...I didn't want to get...I'll tell ya...I really and truly...I think I could have lived a life, and been happy, if the times had...if things had come along that I didn't get married or something, you know. I don't know if...
Mims: Well, this brings up a good point...in all my interviews, I always ask people, if you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?
Eiden: Well, you can't say that I would do differently. You know, I was...
Mims: Would you have gone into Public Health? Or would you have focused on something else?
Eiden: No, I would never have gone into Public Health, never. That wasn't satisfying at all to me. It wasn't satisfying to me. Not the way it was done. And not the way it's done now. We don't even have anything like that, I don't think. But anyway, no...oh I would have gone on with education. I would have definitely gone that...in fact I had my...all my work to go back to Chapel Hill all ready to go. I really did. It was hard for anybody to talk me out of it I'll tell you, and the one I thought I was coming back to, Joe put a damper on him, so that made it hard, you know, for me to decide that...
Mims: Well you said that one of the problems was lack of communication, lack of information regarding what you could do after you finished your...you received your diploma. So now in today's day & age there's a lot more information about scholarship and expanded roles and...
Eiden: If I had even...if I had graduated from high school with what they have now, I could have...with that honor I got...with making the highest grades, if I had known then what I know now...see we didn't know anything!
Brown: See, we did not have television. Once in a while you'd see one scattered...but we didn't have 'em in our homes at that time.
Eiden: Well, there wasn't any at that time. But anyway...what was I going to say...
Mims: Just talking about, you know, the information, what you would have done had you had the information and the...
Eiden: With that, with my...that honor I got...with that...if I had called that company...I know enough about the company now because my son had thought about going there and working with Bausch and Lomb. If I had called that company and told 'em about that honor, they would have taken me. But you see I didn't know that about...no one had told me anything about the collages. No one. And with the Baptist one, they didn't tell me....they didn't, you know, really tell me.
Mims: What it was...what the scholarship...?
Eiden: What it was like? Because my mother could have made me some skirts and blouses and I think we could have managed if I had known what I know now...and if my parents had known. They could have managed and I could have gone to Meredith.
Mims: Well, this has...this has been very interesting...
Eiden: And it's sad. It's sad, because I have regretted it. I regretted it all my life I've regretted it.
Mims: Well, as an outsider looking into your life, it seems like you had a very interesting time...
Eiden: Well I did, I made...I'll have to say I made the best of what I had.
Mims: Well, after...after you got married and had your family, did you got back to work at all?
Eiden: I didn't go back...I worked if...I never stopped working and volunteering. I volunteered for the Red Cross...I did everything out there.
Mims: Right...I mean...did you ever go back and work as a nurse?
Eiden: No, no, not...not until Joe died did I got back, you know, cause he had Alzheimer's and I...we didn't know anything about Alzheimer's but yet when he had it I had sense enough to try to keep reading and reading and I finally found...and I have not been able to find or remember anything about the book I found that in, but it was sort of a history book on medicine or something. And I had read about that disease and this is why I blame myself for not getting...even now, not getting out there and joining the Alzheimer's organization because I saved a lot of women from getting in the condition I got in. We lost everything because of it. And...but if these women know ahead of time, to get a doctor to help 'em and get 'em declared mentally incompetent before they lose their...that was going on when this man wrote this in 1889...he wrote that...a doctor...had found these people that this was happening to. Getting this mental thing and their family ended up in poverty and everything because they had lost everything. That happened to my husband. They did him, you know, they did him, the people who could do him, did him. And it's sad, it's sad, it really is. Because I didn't get a thing...not out of his company or anything. I didn't get a thing.
Mims: Well, I do want to thank you for talking with me today. I think we've covered a lot of ground here.
Eiden: Well, I hope you don't put all this stuff, cause I want to write something on it. I want to write it so the children maybe...or granddaughter...
Mims: Right. Like I said, you'll get a copy of this tape and maybe that'll help you...spark your writing.
Eiden: I'll bet it will make me stick my head in the sand... Lucille!