As a nurse, Jean Hagerty Francis has accumulated over 40 years of memories associated with the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. She remembers the early years in the 1960s when the hospital was a small but essential part of the Island community. It was a cottage hospital then and is a much bigger place now, with a new $50 million building under construction.
Mrs. Francis, who retired last month, began working at the hospital in 1964 at the age of 21.
“The hospital was gorgeous,” she said recently, sitting in a lawn chair in dappled shade at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury.
“The rooms were wooden with real furniture. You could open the window and you would get an ocean breeze, a Lagoon Pond breeze,” she said. “The Island was smaller then.”
In those days it was proper for a nurse to stand when a doctor entered the room. There was no emergency room at the hospital. “The physicians were called in from home rarely. That didn’t happen very often,” she said.
“There was one person in medical records, one person that did the whole business office. There was no switchboard operator. The phone rang directly in the nurse’s station. There was no plastic. Everything was glass and stainless steel. There was nothing disposable.”
How things have changed.
Mrs. Francis took a break from working at the hospital from 1966 to 1970, when she did some private duty work and had her three children. She and her husband will celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary next Friday.
Mrs. Francis worked in the dialysis unit at the hospital for 22 years. “It is a small unit so I got to see a lot of families,” she said.
She said many of the patients she met through her work have become longtime friends. “You get to know them intimately,” she said, adding: “I was impressed by the level of caring that goes on within families.” She continued:
“In nursing school they told us what you needed to be a good nurse: a good sense of humor and a scar. You had to know some pain.”
And Mrs. Francis has had her pain. She was 25 when her 21-year-old brother William T. Hagerty was killed in Viet Nam. “I was the oldest. He was the second oldest,” she said. She also lost her sister Janet seven years ago.
The loss of her brother had an impact on her. “You appreciate people. I look for him in other people,” she said, adding: “It makes you more sensitive to the pain of others.”
Last Sunday friends and colleagues hosted a party for Mrs. Francis at the home of Susan Bettencourt in Edgartown. “I didn’t want a party,” she said.
Mrs. Francis and her husband Kenneth’s story will now continue beyond the shores of the Vineyard. They are moving to Virginia to be closer to the families of two of her children: Karin Cassidy and son Kenneth J. Jr. They will make their new home in Fredericksburg, Va.
“I have nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. My son Bill lives in Rehoboth,” she said.
Her days of nursing are not over; she said she has filed an application for a license in Virginia.
And she takes with her fond memories of the Vineyard, friends and the growing Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. “I liked being a nurse. It has been a great experience,” she said.