SPOTLIGHT: Illinois woman nurses for half century

By Teri Maddox

Belleville News-Democrat

Published: Friday, March 9 2012 5:01 a.m. MST

In this photo taken Feb. 10, 2012, recovery room nurse Jan Stewart smiles during a coffee break at Anderson Hospital in Maryville, Ill. Stewart, 70, of Hamel, Ill., was recently honored for 50 years in nursing.

Belleville News-Democrat, Derik Holtmann, Associated Press

BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Jan Stewart wore a white dress, white hat, white shoes and white stockings when she went to work as a nurse in 1962.

Barnes Hospital in St. Louis prohibited jewelry other than wedding rings and makeup other than lipstick. Nurses had to keep their hair pinned up or cut short.

"Everything was reusable," said Jan, 70, of Hamel, a mother of three and grandmother of seven. "IV tubes, needles, syringes, catheters. Nothing was disposable, except dressings."

It would be decades before doctors practiced laser surgery or laproscopy. Most operations required hospital stays.

People who underwent cataract removal had to lie still for seven days with sandbags around their heads.

"There was no CPR," Jan said. "Every floor of the hospital had a chest tray (with a knife and chest spreader to get through the ribs). You just cut open the chest and did an internal cardiac massage."

Today, Jan is a nurse in the recovery room at Anderson Hospital in Maryville. She recently was honored for 50 years in nursing.

Her career has taken her to hospitals and doctor's offices in St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, Mo., and Macomb.

"I've been everywhere but obstetrics. I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies," she said, borrowing a line from "Gone with the Wind." ''Unless you have a C-section. Then I can help you."

Jan joined the Anderson staff in 2003. She switched to part time in recent years, working one to three 10-hour shifts a week.

Co-workers describe her as a calm and caring nurse with a wealth of knowledge and experience.

"(Jan) mentors other staff members," said nurse Barb Jackson, 60, of Roxana. "She pats their hands and passes out chocolate. Whenever our younger nurses are having a bad day, she's just there to reassure them and tell them everything's going to be OK."

Jan keeps a stash of dark chocolate at the nurses station at all times. She's also coffeemaker-in-chief.

Katie Ward began working with Jan on the night shift when Katie was only 25. She learned about more than nursing.

"(Jan) taught me about life," said Katie, 33, of Staunton, who now serves as the recovery room's nurse manager.

"She was widowed in her 40s. She taught me a lot about finances and being financially prepared. When I lost my dad, she taught me about loss and how to pick myself up and keep going."

Jan keeps her hair short but takes advantage of today's relaxed dress codes by wearing blue pants, patterned smocks and tennis shoes.

She recently cared for Alice Reno-Howard, 73, of Brighton, who underwent surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome.

"(Jan) was just so upbeat and cheerful," Alice said. "I asked her, 'Don't you want to retire?' And she said, 'Oh no, I love my job.'"

Jan Largent grew up in Southeast Missouri and attended Sikeston High School, where she was recruited for Barnes Hospital School of Nursing in the late '50s.

Students attended classes year-round for three years. Total cost for tuition, books, room, food and uniforms was $400.

"There was a trade-off," Jan said. "We were on staff at the hospital. We were getting on-the-job training."

Her first employment outside Barnes was at Malcolm Bliss Psychopathologic Institute in St. Louis. She studied the effect of drugs on mental illness for Washington University.

Jan met and married Wendell Stewart, despite his being a resident in psychiatry and neurology.

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