July 31, 2013 - Atlas Twp.-Chances are, if medical attention was needed locally over the last half-century Kathleen June was there.
When June retires this summer after 50 years as a registered nurse—it will mark the end of a career that started and was finished at Goodrich's Wheelock Medical Facility which will close this summer.
"It's time," said June. "The doctors and staff have been wonderful—this is a great community to have worked and lived in."
June's connection with Wheelock began after Goodrich General Hospital closed in 1961. Founded by Amos Wheelock, MD., in 1916 the facility was located on Hegel and Ridge roads. A few years after its closure Wheelock Memorial Hospital was founded by the Goodrich Health Foundation, funded by local pledges and support paving the way for a full-service, 53-bed hospital on 8.7 acres along M-15 north of Hegel Road.
June, a Vernon native and 1959 Durand graduate, married Gary June in 1961. She completed nursing school on Aug. 2, 1963 and after passing her state board exams that fall started working at Wheelock Memorial Hospital in February 1964 the first day of operations."Hurley Hospital School of Nursing in Flint cost me $400 for three years," laughs June, now 72. "That included room, board and classes. Not to mention we did practical experience working at Hurley Hospital, too."
The first patient at Wheelock Memorial Hospital was Arthur Coffee, admitted Feb. 17, 1964.
"I worked second shift at first," she said. "There were four beds to a ward. The stays in the hospital were for longer times and people would be admitted for illnesses like migraine headaches. A patient would be admitted for awhile then released. We also would use glass syringes and IV bottles that were washed and reused. Many of the medicines were taken orally, we'd carry big trays of meds. There were not a lot of IVs (intravenous) drugs used like they do today—more oral or injections. Today the antibiotics and other drugs are way stronger than 50 years ago."
June kept a payroll check stub where she earned $2.50 an hour as a registered nurse in 1965.
For about 20 years Goodrich had a volunteer ambulance service. June said she would also get called out day or night to ride along on the ambulance before the era of EMS technicians.
"I enjoyed working in a small town hospital. I'd really get to know many of the patients that came in," she said. "Sometimes I walk down the hall of the hospital and I remember what patient was in that room. I was a bedside nurse and did what I could to make that patient comfortable."
"I'd do what they asked to the best of my ability," she added. "It's not about me. I keep in mind that patients are stressed and very sick—they may not be acting very pleasant. They really don't want to be there or are worried. Some are very angry."
In February 1997, Genesys consolidated its four hospitals— Flint Osteopathic Campus, Genesee Memorial Campus, St. Joseph Campus and Wheelock Memorial Campus— into one with the opening of Genesys Regional Medical Center Health Park in Grand Blanc. About that time Wheelock Hospital became a hospice.
"My job changed in many ways with hospice, primarily it was now all about keeping patients comfortable in their last days," she said. "It took some getting used to, but you still get attached to the patients and their families. But everyone is different with their reactions to what is going on with their life and death. Some are very emotional, some are very calm some are not. Some hang on until a loved one arrives, some can just let go of life. Their families are also part of the process—the support system for us in hospice is absolutely vital. Some families are easy to work with, others are not."
June recalls a patient in hospice for a brain tumor.
"We brought the small family dog in through the window of the patient's room," laughed June. "It was a small dog and just squeezed inside, but it really helped. Sometimes patients ask for the strangest things."
"Sometimes I'm out shopping and a former patient or family member comes up to me and gives me a hug, thanking me for taking care of them," she said.
"Sometimes you just sit there and listen to the patient's story—there's really nothing to say," she said. "If I could make their last days happy then that makes me happy. Often years later I would meet a family somewhere and they would thank me. I just did my job."
Earlier this year Genesys Health Systems announced they will be closing the Goodrich Hospice, moving the patients to a wing of Genesys Convalescent Center in Grand Blanc.
The decision by Genesys was the end of June's nursing career after a half-century.
"I could go on to another nursing home or if I went to a hospital I'd have a lot of changes and technology to catch up on," she said. "I'm going to just stop for awhile and maybe volunteer in a year or so—it's been a great career."