July 6, 2006, 4:29 am

Convent Capers and More Greetings From Ireland!

Ireland

Yep, I’m still here in Ireland!

This time I’m writing from Cahersiveen, County Kerry, only 2.5 kilometers and a ferry ride from where I am staying.

There is a new Internet Cafe next door to where I am sitting (which is like the Chamber of Commmerce) but as it was not open, the kind women working here today gave me a desk!

The two hospitals I saw are actually small clinics and are”nursing home” facilities. To see a large Emergency department I must travel to Tralee, a bit of a ride.

I have lost all track of date and time here. It is amazing. I am up at 0430 every morning, bright as day. I would definitely be a day nurse here. I’m not rushing about the country, but enjoying the “down time” and being a part of the local scene.

Man, I needed this vacation!

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Hey! I made into the Carnival of the Vanities this week, hosted at The Business of America is Business. The Carnival hosts many varied subjects, you just have to be vain enough to send a post! NO problem with that here! The topics are varied, the blogs may be new to you – always a good way to discover even more of the blogosphere!

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Over dinner (I’m here with 16 in-laws – my hubby, all his siblings and their spouses), my brother-in-law, the Priest (yes, I married into a huge IRISH, Catholic family) regaled us with tales of the old nuns who taught in grammar school.

I immediately remembered my job as a student nurse in a Convent infirmary.

The stories that follow are true.

All of the lovely Sisters I had the honor to work with are now deceased, but I shall refrain from naming their convent and I shall change their names so as to protect their privacy and dignity in death.

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It really was quite a bit of responsibility. As a student nurse (second year of a two-year program), I was responsible for administering the medications to approximately 12 elderly nuns and assessing their status, assisting the CNA with their care and reporting any problems to the Mother Superior.

An RN and an aide ran the day shift, covering doctor’s orders and doing rounds with the doctors who would come to visit the sisters at the convent.

“Infirmary” is not exactly a correct term. While we did have sisters with health issues, some bedridden and some requiring meds, it was actually the area of the convent that was their “home”.

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My first day on the job, I asked what the policy was regarding bed sores. How did we handle them, how did we treat them? I had worked with the elderly in nursing homes and had seen horrendous pressure sores in the hosptials.

The RN looked over her glasses at me and quietly said, “We don’t have them here.”

Oh.

And they didn’t!

The care these women received was the best I’ve ever seen. Anywhere.

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There was Sister Mimi, who would never in her life take Valium, but she sure appreciated her diazepam!

Then there was Sister Alice who, although perfectly able to give her own Insulin, would always watch the students and make them give it. Until you earned her trust and then she’d give it to herself. My first experience with passive-aggressiveness.

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Poor Sister Belinda. She went to bed one night in 1977 oriented and woke up in 1906 in the middle of the San Francisco earthquake and fire.

She ran about the infirmary screaming that she must save the babies, all the babies…oh where were the babies?

Nothing we could say or do could reoriented her to the present.

Medication didn’t work. Nothing could ease her torment. She never realized that it wasn’t 1906, no matter what we did or tried.

So I thought bringing in a baby doll would help. Forget reality orientation.

But I brought in a small doll.

“Oh dear!”, she cried. “This child is undernourished, who will feed it, how will we save it?”

I brought in a bigger doll. That helped a little.

And then began the “discussions” with Sister Agatha.

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Sister Agatha was five feet high and five feet wide and not quite all together oriented herself.

One day Sister Belinda decided she had a husband and a child.

Sister Agatha was appalled!

“You are a Sister, Sister!”, she cried. “You’ve no husband!”

While the details of the argument following are lost to me now, suffice it to say that Sister Belinda’s response was that Sister Agatha was so ugly she could never get a man!

We were rolling in the halls with laughter!

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Halloween was a fun time. All the younger sisters were dressed in their costumes and would come to visit their fellow sisters.

The infirmary sisters dressed in the old fashioned long, black habits and veils. Their idea of dressing in costume was to don a “Lone Ranger” type mask with their habits and figure no one would know who they were!

Sister Agatha was easy to spot.

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The elderly sisters were never allowed to speak of their lives prior to entering the convent. It was an old rule that was no longer enforced by the Order, so the Mother Superior of the Infirmary would tell the stories of the Sisters. Those who came from Europe, how old they were when the entered the convent.

The best story was of Sister Letitia, who had been on her way to become a prima ballerina when her “calling” was revealed to her.

These stories made these women so much more than just a “nun in a habit”.

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And then there was Sister Rochelle. Bedridden and incapacitated by strokes, unable to speak except for “Thank you, dear”, she would reach out and hold the hand of anyone who walked past her room.

The hand was rarely empty.

Her family of Sisters, young and old, made sure of that.

She was old and frail and unable to care for herself.

But her life was still lived in dignity.

One day I received a call from the RN. Sister Rochelle had passed away during the night.

She had died, with dignity, her Sisters by her side.

Now she was holding the hand of the God she had pledged her life to over seventy years before.

She was buried, as was the custom, in a plain pine box.

Her Mass card is in my scrapbook, along with a Christmas card signed by all the infirmary Sisters.

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I soon went onto working as a CNA at an acute hospital.

But I never forgot the Sisters and their devotion and sense of family.

Over the years, I would see their obituaries in the local paper, one-by-one, including Sisters Belinda and Agatha.

They sacrificed their lives to a “calling” from God.

And while not living a life of poverty, chastity or obedience, I was also following what I thought was a “calling” from God, the “calling” to be a nurse.

And while there were times I would have given anything to just be home with my children full-time……

……..the “calling” is still there after all these years.

11 Comments


  • Dan

    July 6, 2006 at 6:03 am

    Oh how I miss the UK and Ireland. I use to live over there when I was growing up. The greenery and the laid back atmosphere is to die for. They know how to live in Great Britian. Thanks for the post and enjoy the rest of your trip!



  • Shauna

    July 6, 2006 at 9:30 am

    I love your blog…..and though not Irish, grew up in a Catholic family, with our own “Sister”, my aunt. Attending a Catholic University, living in a women’s residence with a nun on each floor and more behind the scenes, your stories of your “Sisters” bring back great memories. As well, I often visited my aunt while at university when I needed a break and loved how all the nuns in the convent would pop in to say hello and inquire about my studies…or boyfriends. Thanks for the smiles.
    Shauna



  • Linda

    July 6, 2006 at 10:19 am

    Great post as always! I went to a strict Catholic school and the nuns were always the nicest- they get such a bad reputation from the media. Anyway, I hope you are enjoying your vacation!



  • Shannon

    July 6, 2006 at 5:57 pm

    Great post. I’m so jealous of the overseas trip. I could use a vacation right about now. Enjoy the rest of your trip.



  • MotherJonesRN

    July 6, 2006 at 6:48 pm

    Dear Kim:

    Sounds like you’re are enjoying your trip. What great stories. Thank you for sharing.

    Mother Jones RN



  • Julie

    July 6, 2006 at 11:20 pm

    What fantastic memories. Glad you are having a great time on the ’emerald isle’. Hope the rest of the trip goes well!



  • Karen

    July 7, 2006 at 11:27 am

    What a lovely experience you must have had at the convent infirmary. Thank you for sharing – it brought a smile to my face and warmed my heart. 🙂



  • Annemiek

    July 9, 2006 at 5:30 am

    First, have fun in Ireland!
    I love your stories about the nuns. The area where I grew up was very Catholic. I worked in a convent in the Netherlands as a LPN for a short time, and my sister in law still works in one. It sure was different than working anywhere else!
    Some of my teachers in nursing school were nuns, and I’m still in touch with one of them.



  • Jen

    July 9, 2006 at 7:54 pm

    how cool it must be to be on vacation in ireland! wow! This entry was wonderful, and it made me see different things. I grew up catholic, studied with 2 sisters in my home town for a few of my sacraments. It sucked when i went back to my hometown and asked my grandparents about my favorite sister and they told me she had died.

    your clinicals were way different than mine. yours seem much more rewarding. WOW! i’m sure you’ve seen so much in your time as a nurse i can’t imagine. i’ve only been a nurse 3 years this month, but i still look at the hardcore ER nurses with a “wow! factor”.

    This post was beautiful! I love hearing about this. Do they still have infirmaries like that over there? sorry if this is a niave question.
    Thanks for the enlightenment!! have a wonderful, safe vacation!!



  • ThirdDegreeNurse

    July 10, 2006 at 7:38 pm

    Loved the post! We were just talking about some of the nursing schools offering programs in Ireland…

    My question is: have you seen any Kerry Blue Terriers yet? (I am owned by one.)



  • colleen

    July 10, 2006 at 8:09 pm

    Hi Kim…found your site while searching for “Beulah France”….I remembered reading the baby book when I was a kid…I guess it was my mom’s owner’s manual for us.

    Anyway. I spent the last 24 hours in ER, OR, and the surgery ward. Thank you. Thank you and all nurses who take care of us when we are sick and scared and whiny, and never make us feel like we are being silly and whiny, when we’ve been through an appendectomy just fine, but a blown IV and the freaky looking mickey mouse hand makes us cry and tremble. Thank you for holding our hands as we go under, and bringing us ice chips when we wake up.

    Just thank you.


About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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