Of Nurses, Nuns, and Peas

I know you’ve all been on the edge of your seat wondering how my patient has been doing.


Well, it’s been up and down. He got better after this last bout of sickness, made it through Christmas and New Years, and then got a NEW flu and sinus infection about a week ago, and has been unable to breathe, sweating through the night, and coughing up a storm. Is it my poor home nursing that caused this relapse? Is it his Danish genes being attacked by some awful American bully strain of flu they’ve never encountered before? Did someone cough into his mouth on the Metro? Possibly all of the above.

He has since decided to go a ‘real’ doctor, who gave him long-named prescription drugs starting with Z, and some over the counter Claritin D, which has helped with his breathing. I am not offended and understand this completely, because clearly I have no idea what I’m doing!

Hence, I segue into Home Nurse Badge requirement #13: Demonstrate the preparation for use, application, and care when not in use of a hot-water bottle, an ice cap or an ice bag. Make or improvise a cover for one of these. Be able to set up a neat, orderly treatment tray for giving cold or hot compresses, inhalations, or gargles. Know why it should be a doctor who orders the use of these things for a sick person.

I know it’s a doctor that should be handling things if they get severe. Why? Because I don’t want blood on my hands, literally and figuratively. In the meantime, I’ll be a wife in home nurse’s clothes. I have doted Florence Nightingale style, but more in the sense of, “here’s some juice I bought you, and some soup, and some takeout, so you don’t have to move,” and I think I’ve done a pretty good job there.

Onto the hot water bottle or ice bag. While I was home for the holidays, I improvised a cover for an ice bag by unzipping a living room pillow, and putting it in there. You could also use a frozen bag of peas or other such veggies/fruits from the freezer if you need to. A helpful tip for a hot-water bottle replacement is heating up a bag of rice, as my fellow scout Shawnte informed me. It works really well and stays heated for a long time.


Ice in Ziploc bag goes into Pillowcase


Frozen peas, please!

As for a ‘neat and orderly’ treatment tray, I’m going to have to assume this hypothetical ‘patient’ (not my own) is really sick and my tray is only so big! The imaginary diagnosis I’ve made is he fell down the stairs so he’s banged up his knees, he’s having trouble breathing (see nebulizer), and he has a sore throat, so he can gargle with salt water.


L-R: Morton Salt + Cup of Warm Water, Nebulizer, Pillow Ice Bag, Ice Pack and Ice ‘Light Bulb’

I also learned about different types of nurse uniforms through the decades, and sought inspiration on how to make my own to fulfill requirement number #10: Study types of uniforms worn by nurses, and plan a simple type of dress for your own home nursing outfit.

I thought of this gem in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and by coincidence, I happened to be watching two shows with nurses in them: American Horror Story: Asylum, and Getting On on HBO. Little did I realize I was watching the bookends of nursing uniform history in action. The first nurses were nuns after all, and as we know, nurses wear scrubs today, in either solid colors, or patterns featuring everything from floral and paisley prints to Winnie the Pooh. Vintage photos I found of women in the older uniforms seem more glamorous, but I get that it’s probably difficult for fashion to stay a top priority when you’re taking care of humans. I respect that eventually, nurses would want to turn to something lightweight, hygienic, easy to put on, and most importantly, easy to wash. [Also, I’m guessing even if you, as a grown-up, really like Winnie the Pooh and are ‘expressing yourself’ as such, the sick kids in the hospital probably cheer up when they see you, so who am I to judge. Go on with your bad self.]

Here’s a brief timeline of nursing uniforms through the ages (with some help from Affordablenursingschools.com). Also, notice there are no men shown below. Men were forbidden to attend most nursing schools until 1982. The American Assembly For Men in Nursing, organized in 1971, supports and promotes men in American nursing today.


Nuns = The Original Nurses

The hats are a weird one for me. I can’t quite find out how or where they originated, or what the benefit was of them looking like coffee filters in the early days. They look like thin paper in these photos, but were actually cotton until the 1970s, when disposable paper hats came into existence.  The larger nursing caps that came later make sense because they keep hair back, but these tiny ones don’t seem to serve a purpose. Maybe it alerts the patient that you are arriving, like a flashing light on top of an ambulance.


Six Asylum Nurses (1890s)


Photograph of six nurses from the late 1890s. (Oshkosh Public Museum)


Navy Nurses 1918 – More of a Cowboy Look


British Red Cross Mobile Unit During WWII


Red Cross Nurse On Break


Nurses in the 1950s-1960s

The 50’s era was the Golden Age in America. For nurses, it was an era of style and elegance. Typically, the nurses wore a grey and white dress with white collar buttoned to the neck and grey, black or white belts.

The post World War II era saw a progressive clothing industry. The long length of sleeves was compensated with a tight belted waist. The skirts had flair, yet there were pockets to make them look practical. Dress length began to decline. Shorter dresses were customary and kept getting shorter until the 21st century. Smartly fitting uniforms and spacious hats defined the industry personnel.


Nurses in the 1970s

Although colored uniforms had been introduced, white nursing uniforms were still popular. The war with Vietnam required even more nurses to care for the wounded. The added pressure required practical, yet stylish dressing for nursing professionals. American nurses wore dress-shirt button down collar, with hemlines just above the knee. Those little hats kept kicking around as well in certain places, as you can see below.


Nurses In the 1980s

By the end of 20th century, nurses began wearing scrubs that were not only more comfortable but also more trendy. Most British and American hospitals argue that scrubs are easier to clean than the old nurse uniform. Case closed.


Modern Day Nurses in Scrubs From Getting On

For my nurse’s outfit, I culled a bit from the Red Cross era of WWII into the 1950’s, as that seemed to be the least ridiculous hat to make or wear. My mom helped too, and she was pretty excited. I also put on a white lab coat, black belt, and black cardigan:


Supplies To Make Nurse Hats


Mom and I




Nurse B with a Tray Full of Remedies

Last, but not least: #8. Make a child’s game or a craft kit to be used by someone who is confined to his bed.

Though I’m sure children in this day and age would want a Game Boy, or some other type of handheld video game, I don’t think Tic Tac Toe or Hangman will ever get old and boring. I’ve proved this point time and time again. Here’s hoping anyway. Home Nurse badge complete!


Tic Tac Toe + Hangman

One comment

  1. It’s so fascinating to look at the uniforms over the years, plus I LOVE the one you created 🙂 I hope the patient is on the upswing!

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