Her hands are a bit more gnarled, but her touch is as gentle as it was 39 years ago when Glenna Klein was medically and lovingly soothing the pain of the patients at Primary Children's Hospital.
Klein, whose career spans nearly four decades, will be one of thousands of Utah nurses honored May 2 through 7 during Utah Nurses Week.But for the 61-year-old veteran, who's witnessed everything from the introduction of the polio vaccine to the recent advent of the ECMO technique (which puts oxygen into the blood, outside the body), it will be business as usual in Primary's intensive care unit where she helps keep the tiniest, sickliest babies alive.
"I really enjoy nursing. It has been my life, and it's good for me because it makes me study and improve myself," said Klein. "It's a challenge to be on top of things."
Klein keeps pace with her ever-changing profession through continued medical education. She attends classes once or twice a week to keep up with rapidly changing technology in the field of newborn intensive care.
"Glenna probably has forgotten more nursing than most nurses ever learn," said Dr. J. Michael Dean, intensive care physician. "Most of the time if you ask Glenna something and she gives you an answer, you can doubt her but you will usually be wrong."
Dean, who has also been on staff at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles, said Klein is the most senior nurse he has seen in critical care. "And she has been in critical care longer than any nurse I know. I haven't seen many ICU nurses still in the business after age 30 or 35.
"She's remarkably dedicated," he said.
That dedication was in her breeding. Klein's mother, who graduated in nursing in 1925, also worked at the first Primary Children's Hospital the Hyde Home where Klein began her nursing career.
The stately mansion, located at 40 E. North Temple, was renovated into a long-term, convalescent facility where children recuperated from rheumatic fever, congenital defects and crippling, frequently fatal polio.
Death, said Klein, wasn't necessarily a discouragement for a nurse then. "You didn't know any better," she said. "You just felt bad that the family hadn't been immunized."
Really sick children whom physicians had any hope of saving were transferred to LDS Hospital. Primary Children's didn't even have a supply of oxygen. That didn't deter Klein.
To help a little dying child who was fighting hard to breathe, Klein called a supply house and obtained a tank of oxygen. She was reprimanded for prolonging his life, "but I felt better because he had one restful night," she said.
Some 38 years later, Klein is monitoring the sophisticated equipment at the bedside of each child in Primary Children's ICU and reacting quickly to any medical emergency.
"It's a high-pressured job; you are really pushed, and you constantly hope that you have enough skills to handle it," she said. "I think nursing is also about the most rewarding profession, partly because it gives you some skills to raise your own children, and then you can work flexible hours."
Klein, who reared 12 children, works 40 hours a week, straight nights from 11 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. so she can play tennis during the day.
She is considering reducing her hours in the future. But then again, she may not because Klein too is concerned about Utah's severe nursing shortage.
Like other medical professionals, she's advocating more nursing education opportunities. Bigger salaries would also be a big drawing factor, said Klein, whose first paycheck was $187 for one month's work.
That salary increased when she went into private duty; she got $10 an eight-hour shift. "But the trouble with private duty is you couldn't take a day off because if you got started with a patient, there was no one to relieve you," she recalled. "You stayed until the patient got better or died."