Photo by Marcus Larson/News-Register
LAFAYETTE — What Melva Proctor will miss most, now that she’s retired from a half-century career in nursing, is the teamwork.
She loved helping patients deal with their fears, as well as the physical ailments that brought them to the hospital in the first place. And she enjoyed seeing the healing that resulted from the work she and her coworkers did — often near-miraculous outcomes that saved lives.
But the best part, she said, was working with good people as part of a well-oiled team — a process observers said was “like a dance.”
Working together so closely, and so well, creates strong relationships, she said. Her coworkers at Willamette Valley Medical Center became like family. They often celebrated birthdays together. Proctor baked the cakes, using a rose-shaped bundt pan and her secret, extra-rich rum cake recipe. Now Adair Goss, R.N., will do the baking, although Proctor may be available if a rum cake is desperately needed.
She retired March 25 with fond memories. “It’s been a good career,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed it. The camaraderie, the people — I’m going to miss that.”
Proctor worked in nursing for 54 years. She became a licensed practical nurse as a teenager, then went on to earn her registered nursing degree. She worked as a surgical nurse throughout those years. And she spent most of her career — the last four decades of it — in McMinnville.
She was 30 when she took the job at McMinnville Community Hospital, located at the Adams-Baker Y, where Walgreens is now. The old facility had a small, steeply sloped parking lot. When Life Flight came in, employees had to move their cars to make room. She wound up her career at the Willamette Valley Medical Center, which replaced MCH in 1996. She assisted with surgeries the day the hospital staff moved from the old facility to the new, she recalled. Compared to the MCH, WVMC “seemed so huge,” she said. “But it didn’t take long for us to fill it up with equipment.” Surgeries were usually scheduled during the day, between early morning and late afternoon. She assisted with thousands of cataract operations, appendectomies, knee replacements and other pre-scheduled procedures. In the evening and overnight, doctors and nurses readied themselves for emergencies. “I took calls for many years,” she said. She might be called in to help victims of a car wreck or assist with a sudden C-section. Proctor recalled one case in which a woman delivered her baby naturally and seemed to be doing well. Suddenly, she hemorrhaged, requiring emergency surgery. “It was touch and go,” she said. “I was running everywhere” to provide support to the doctor working to save the woman’s life. The surgical team’s efforts worked, and mother and baby went home happily a few days later. “That was very satisfying,” Proctor said. “We were able to save a life.”
Generally, emergencies are more stressful for hospital personnel, she said. But once they are in the surgical suite, team members work together smoothly, their only thought on what’s best for patients. The surgical team includes one or more doctors, an anesthesiologist and at least two nurses. One is a circulating nurse, who helps with preparations, aids the anesthesiologist and takes charge of the room, documenting things as they happen. Proctor has taken on this role most of the time. The other is the scrub nurse, a position familiar to fans of TV hospital shows. She or he gowns up and works alongside the surgeon, handing over instruments at the doctor’s request. These days, the scrub nurse isn’t necessarily an RN, Proctor said. The job might be handled by a technician instead. “The scrub is the more interesting position,” she said. “It’s where the action is.” Proctor didn’t go into nursing for the excitement. Rather, she said, “I wanted to do something where I could be of service.” She made the right choice, she said. “There’s such a satisfaction in knowing you’re helping people.”
Proctor, who spent part of her childhood in Oregon, was in Waco, Texas, when she started training to become an LVN or “licensed vocational nurse.” That’s the Texas equivalent of the LPN, or licensed practical nurse. She later returned to school for her registered nurse degree. During her practical training, one of her duties was waking patients who had been put to sleep using ether. That gas is no longer used, she said. Instead, anesthesiologists use a combination of more gentle drugs these days. It’s one of many changes she’s seen over the decades. “Surgery has evolved a lot,” she said.
In the early 1960s, for instance, she worked in facilities that sterilized and reused needles and other equipment. “Everything is disposable now,” she said. Back then, even minor surgery meant a stay in the hospital. Stays are much shorter now, and many patients go home the same day — in large part because new techniques that are much less invasive. Sometimes people can forgo operations entirely, in fact, she said. For instance, she said, urologists now have equipment that can break up kidney stones, alleviating the need for surgery.
Proctor recalled the first surgery she experienced, when she was still in LVN training.
“I scrubbed in for a C-section,” she said. “I was thrilled.” She said she was “awestruck” by the way the team members conducted themselves, and by the outcome, as well. “A C-section is a happy and scary occasion,” she said. “And when the baby comes out and it cries … that’s exhilarating.” She still finds that true, after witnessing countless C-sections over five decades. She also continues to be impressed by her fellow healthcare professionals. She said she’s been fortunate to work with great people throughout her career.
For instance, she often saw Erik Swensson perform difficult surgeries, such as repairing ruptured aortas. “He has magic fingers and keeps his cool,” she said. There are a lot of people alive today because of Swensson’s skill, she said. She praised many other local physicians as well, including Craig Kiser, Christopher Blake, Steven Teal, Harold Hoover, Harry McCully, James Stonebridge, Michael Passo, Nicholas Grinich, Art Rathkey, Paul and Jonathan Jahnke, George Barker, John Neeld, Kay Case, Elizabeth Ackerman, Peter Van Patten, Daniel Diamond, Sandeep Kumar, Guillermo Higa, Cristian Slough.
“In surgery, we work with everybody,” she said, explaining her long list, which she said is only partial. “All the doctors were really nice people. We’re lucky to have them here in McMinnville.” She was a special fan of Hoover. “We all loved him in surgery,” she said. Coworkers have said the same about Proctor. “Melva never loses her cool,” said fellow nurse Melissa Goodman. Goodman was new to the McMinnville hospital when she started working alongside Proctor. She quickly came to appreciate the longtime nurse’s skills and patience. “Everybody loves her,” she said. Proctor taught her many lessons over the years, Goodman said. The second most important was to be prepared. “She told me to think of every situation that could flip on us, go wrong, and think of what I’d do,” the younger nurse said.
The most important lesson was about attitude, rather than technical skills. “She told us to treat every patient as if he or she was your family,” Goodman recalled. “People may be scared, angry, afraid. Treat them like family.” Proctor said she always tried to follow that advice. “I’d hold patients’ hands and reassure them, tell them they have a great doctor and things will be OK,” she said. She had undergone surgery herself, she said, and that helped her empathize with nervous patients. “I knew everyone in the room, knew how good they were, and I was still anxious,” she said. “Imagine how scared patients could be, not knowing that.” In an effort to help patients cope, Proctor made surgical caps for children to slip over their hair before entering the operating room. She used bright colors and whimsical prints to make the round, elasticized caps. Children liked choosing their very own caps, said Proctor, a mother of four and grandmother of six. It helped calm them at a time they feel most vulnerable. “They’re in control of something,” she explained. Proctor also sewed surgical caps for herself and co-workers. It was a way nurses could express their personality. Otherwise, they wore blah scrubs. Today, sanitation rules require nurses to wear disposable paper caps, she said. But some still wear the pretty caps, placing the paper ones on top.
In retirement, Proctor will have more time to sew for her own enjoyment. She’s been perfecting her sewing skills since junior high. In addition to making surgical caps, she sewed clothing for her children when they were young. She also has created more than 100 “quillows,” small quilts that can be folded into pillows. She’s given them all away, not keeping even one for herself. “Now I’m going to make one for me with purple pansies,” she said, looking forward to a trip to Fabric Depot to choose just the right material.
In addition, she said, she wants to make a large quilt for her bed. She’s put off starting such a lengthy project while working. She’s excited about learning traditional piecing skills — cutting small shapes and sewing them together into a beautiful pattern for the quilt top. She hasn’t decided on the pattern or the fabric yet, but you can bet the predominant colors will be her favorite purples, pinks and blues.
Besides having more time for sewing, Proctor said she’ll be able to tend the flowers outside her Lafayette home, can home-grown tomatoes and play with her pets, including Finella, a Westie. She’ll also be able to travel more. She’s already been to many other countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Eastern Europe, the British Isles and Peru. She also spent time in Germany when one of her four children was stationed there. Now, she said, she will get to see more of the U.S. The Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls are high on her list.
Courtesy of News-Register- Starla Pointer, Staff Writer-April 5th, 2016