Niagara Gazette

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December 9, 2013

HAVE MERCY: Three local nurses share memories of nursing school

Niagara Gazette — They’ll never forget nursing school. They consider themselves lucky to have survived it.

But, they have always delighted in remembering the stories, such as one’s struggle to give a bed bath to an unresponsive patient who, it turned out, had unfortunately already died. Then there was the cadaver dropped by several young nurses-to-be as they tried to carry it down stairs during a power outage. Then there was the problem with the mislaid girdle ... .

Some funny, some personal, their collection of stories about nurse training under the strict watch of nuns at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo will live forever in a book three area women have written to share with their classmates and the world.

The book is called “Have Mercy,” and the trio of authors include Mary Herbst of Grand Island, Maureen Ott, formerly of Kenmore, now living in St. Catharines, Ont., and Maureen Weber, a Niagara Falls native now living in Lewiston. The book was born from the strict, rigorous training they received in the 1950s while living in the nurses residence during their hospital training.  

At a recent gathering with their mentor Bob Giannetti of Bob’s Olde Books in Lewiston, they described some of the stories that still make them laugh, 50 years later.

“We left our parents domain thinking it was going to be freedom,” said Ott, known to her classmates by a version of her maiden name, “Mummie.” “Instead, it was like entering the convent.”

“There were a lot of restrictions,” said Herbst, who recalled how one nun always checked to be sure they were studying between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and who revisited at bedtime. “She came back at 11 p.m. and shined flashlights at your bed,” she added of what they called a “boot-camp” environment.  

The book came because the ladies, each a writer of sorts, agreed “we should write a book.” So, five years ago, they sat down and each wrote their version of the stories. Giannetti wove them together.

The book and its authors won a nod of approval from another mentor, Lewiston author Norah Perez, who has written a variety of successful historical novels including “River Burning,” about the War of 1812.

“I really loved it,” said Perez, who purchased the book at a signing at the Lewiston Library and then read it straight through in one sitting.

“When I read how Maureen Weber gave her first patient a sponge bath — a lengthy, complicated procedure since the patient was annoyingly uncooperative — without realizing the patient was dead, it made me almost fall out of my chair laughing,” Perez said about “Have Mercy.”

It was Perez who had originally met Weber at a writing seminar and directed her and her fellow authors to Giannetti, who is also a poet and author. He guided the three women through the self-publication process.   

Giannetti said each woman brought something different to the work.

“Mary was good at setting the stage of what life was like in the 50s and 60s. Mo just had a photographic memory for all the incidents that occurred, and ‘Mummie’ (Ott) was the subject of many of the stories. She was the cut-up,” he said.

The resulting book, now for sale at Bob’s Books and on Amazon.com, was wrapped up and presented to each of their classmates at their recent reunion. As the classmates unwrapped the gift, “you could hear a pin drop,” recalled Weber. “Then you could hear the whispering, ‘oh, my God, they wrote a book.’ “

It was all there within the pages — tales of enduring friendships, life lessons and the fun shared between young women being deeply challenged to learn and grow. The authors hope their tales will enlighten young nurses preparing to go into the profession today, and plan to use any proceeds to fund a nursing scholarship.

Meantime, the book is a little piece of nursing history. “These are such wonderful stories,” Giannetti said.  

Weber will be holding a book signing from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. today at Bob’s Olde Books, 480 Center St., as one of the many events planned for the Lewiston Christmas Walk.

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