Poly Memories - Captain Bob Olds
Cal Poly Health
A couple of years ago, I put together
some of my family history for our kids and grandkids, and it included a section
on college life and my days at the health center. I've modified it a bit, added
some more specific detail, and offer the following recollections of an engineering
student who was one of several "night corpsman" providing night and
weekend service in the Cal Poly Health Center in 1950-1953.
and I went to Cal Poly on a "track scholarship" - the promise of a campus
job - which in my case turned out to be that of a corpsman in the college Health
Center. I don't know how the coach picked this job for me, and the head nurse
was very displeased that someone without past medical training was supposed to
be a corpsman. The other two corpsmen, and the one I was replacing, all had been
military corpsmen in WWII. She clearly told me that I wasn't getting the job.
I don't know what the campus politics were, but the Athletic Department won.
there were no more military experienced corpsman available. I had paid attention
to first aid in Boy Scouts, and it benefited me now. Although the head nurse had
understandably been very negative at the start, eventually I fit in and did well,
and it became a friendly and professional relationship. I did not include names
in the write-up I did for my family, so here are the names I remember: Head nurse
Imogene Gow, R.N.; Kathryn Westcamp, R.N.; Dr. Maxon (daily sick call and on-call
1950-51); Dr. Lovett (1951+); and live-in corpsman Bob Levy, Otto Ambiel, George
Murphy, Charles Griffin, and myself, Bob Olds. Levy and Murphy were former Navy
corpsmen, and Ambiel had been an Army corpsman. I believe the nurse that replaced
Westcamp when her husband graduated was Cathryn Rogalla, but I don't recall the
names of the corpsmen that did not live in the center.
The Health Center
was one of the dozen or so WWII Navy pre-flight school barracks buildings that
became college dormitories, except for one that had been modified into a medical
facility for the students. Initially, the building contained a 10-bed ward, two
isolation rooms, two-three treatment rooms, a shower/bathroom area, two night
corpsmen rooms, and the head nurse's apartment. Three corpsmen were employed.
Initially I think all three of us lived in the Health Center, however it soon
became two. Our "regular" work every third day was from about 4 p.m.
until 9p.m. or so (when we locked the door), all day on weekends, and about 6-7
a.m. for in-patient care until a nurse came on duty weekdays. With the third corpsman
residing elsewhere, we two "live-ins" alternated being on duty every
other night, available for emergencies (who rang the night bell) and for necessary
care of the in-patients. The head nurse was technically on for emergency calls,
which we very rarely received.
In my second year, we gained a full time
doctor, and many improvements were made to the health center and the services
we provided, including provisions for an X-ray room, waiting room, pharmacy and
diet kitchen. To make this expansion one corpsman room was given up, so now two
of us lived in an approximately 100- square- foot room with two tables, one closet,
some built in cabinets, and a bunk bed. The job provided me the room at no cost,
which was very helpful, and I believe I was paid for "regular" hours
worked, but not for the nighttime on-call duty. I learned a great deal, and as
I gained experience, did a wide cross section of medical things over the three
years. In addition to the nighttime care of in-patients, and responding to evening
and weekend "walk-in's," I routinely gave shots, took and developed
X-rays, patched up cuts and abrasions, and independently provided medications
for aches, colds, etc. I also assisted the doctor in a couple of tonsillectomies
and other minor surgeries (sewing up wounds, etc.), and under his direction, administered
treatment to the players at football games, boxing matches, etc. For the football
games we would get a station wagon from the motor pool, remove the rear seats,
add a Stokes litter, and park it in the stadium. Working in the Health Center
gave me knowledge and experience that proved to be of considerable benefit to
me in my Navy career.
A couple of Health Center stories:
One night the emergency bell rang with such intensity, along with banging
on the door, that I expected to see some guy standing there with his bloody head
in his hand. I opened the door to a very agitated student, who yelled at me, "You've
got to help me. I can't sleep. I've got a final tomorrow, and without sleep, I'll
flunk. I need a sleeping pill." Well, I couldn't give out the few narcotics
we had without the doctor's OK, and this clearly wasn't an emergency, no matter
what the student thought. He obviously needed to calm down, so I talked very calmly
to him while gathering patient information, etc. Then told him that I could help,
even though I wasn't really supposed to give out "the strong stuff,"
because I really understood that he needed to get some sleep. I got two APC's
(aspirin, penafalene (sp?), and caffeine - one of the all-time favorite military
pills for fever, aches, etc., of which we had three colors - normally using white),
and put two green ones in an envelope, which I labeled "For sleep only."
I then calmly, but emphatically, stressed to him that he must not take these until
in his dorm, ready for bed. I also made sure that he wasn't driving, told him
that if he took them before getting to his dorm he might go to sleep wherever
he was, etc., and insisted he check in with the nurse In the morning, as a follow
up to using "the strong stuff."
By the time he left the Health
Center he was very calm, thanked me profusely and was a little drowsy. I gave
the nurse a "heads up" on the night's events, and we wondered if he'd
come in. Well, he did - very displeased that the corpsman had given him too much
of "the strong stuff," causing him to miss his final. He'd overslept!
The nurse "sympathized" with him and gave him a medical excuse for missing
the exam. I learned from this that a little psychology could go a long way toward
solving a problem. Calm, understanding, quiet, etc. really worked.
shots. Another of the medications coming out of WWII, penicillin shots were
given often for infections, etc., using a fairly large diameter one-and-one-eighth
inch-long needle that put the medication deep into the buttocks. I gave a lot
of these and was told that I did them "with the least 'ouch." Once we
had an in-patient, ill but not overly, that just gave the nurses and corpsman
a big hassle, particularly about shots. So one night, when it came time for his
penicillin shot, I decided to get even. I came to his bedside carrying the usual
syringe, but I'd put a spinal tap needle on it - some 3 inches long. I made sure
he saw it, and told him that we had decided that the medication wasn't giving
full benefit, otherwise he'd have been out of here by now, thus to improve it's
effect we were going to start injecting it deeper. I then told him to roll over,
and get ready for the shot. He very unhappily did, and when he couldn't see, I
put on the regular needle, gave the shot, and quickly put the long needle back
on while he still had his head buried in the pillow. I don't recall if this really
caused him to get better, but there was less hassle, and he was released the next
day (or two).
Food service. My first year, we had to go next door
to the mess hall (the term "cafeteria" would come later) and get a tray
(old metal Navy compartmented trays) of food for each in-patient. Pretty time
consuming if we had many in the ward, and the patient got only warm food at best.
Once we had the diet kitchen, we were able to tell the mess hall staff how many
patients we had. They would then fill up suitable pots or other containers with
enough food for our patients and load it on a cart, which we pushed back to the
diet kitchen. We'd tell the patients what the menu was, then give them what they
wanted (if OK for their illness). We could also store food, reheat it, etc., which
made the service to the patients considerably nicer. And - the mess hall guys
occasionally gave us far too much food, and the patients didn't have big appetites.
So, some of my meals came from "leftovers" - which sure helped financially.
several occasions when fellow students or teachers learned that I lived in the
Health Center, rather than a dorm, they would ease back a bit, pause, and then
suspiciously ask if I was sick/diseased and had to be under regular medical care.
So I just had to tell them, "I'm fine, it's my job." -- Bob Olds