My Grandma ...
A Veterans Administration Nurse during WWII
by Stefani Sanford
"I remember hitch-hiking to Army bases during the war so I
could see my husband ..."
These are the first words out of my grandmother's mouth when
answering my question of what things were like during world War II. She continues by
saying that she had to get jobs in cafes for little pay since she was a woman. While
Granddad was in the army, two children were born-my Uncle Ed and Aunt Judi. Grandma was
left to raise them alone for the first two years of their lives. They were without the
normal things most children had back then, namely a father. He was not there to help raise
and discipline the children. Living in Tampa, Florida at the time, right next to an air
base, many soldiers came by the house and looked directly into the windows of my
grandparent's house. This probably occurred because they knew that many women lived alone
at the time. Since her husband was not there to protect her, she called the police
immediately. Later on, my grandparents moved to California because of my Granddad's job
My Grandma took a nursing job in the V. A. Hospital in Palo Alto. She trained for this
at Washington Missionary College in Washington D.C. She received offers either working
with patients in a physical aspect or a psychological aspect. She choose the psychological
aspect. I asked her why. She answered, "it was something I was always interested in.
I wanted to help with things other than physical ailment. I felt it was my main interest.
I thought I could do the most good there."
"Nursing was something I was always interested in. Yet, I wanted
to help with problems that went beyond physical ailments. I thought I could do the most
good that way."
Her duties included: Co-leader of family groups, administering medication, and working
in the lab testing blood.
Many of the patients she treated were I the hospital for drug abuse, depression, stress,
and hepatitis. So I asked her if it was hard for her to detach herself from her emotions.
She told me that it really wasn't. She said she always was sure to take her break. She
never became involved with the patients when she was not on duty, not even to eat lunch
Grandma told me two of her success stories:
She helped with a vet who was very sick from the stress of fighting in the Vietnam
war. He was very nervous all of the time. He became afraid because he would have
flashbacks of the war. He also had a hard time concentrating. He had a hard time
expressing what really happened in Vietnam. He suffered from insomnia a lot of the time.
Something that made his problem worse was that while he was fighting in Vietnam his father
passed away. He had a very hard time dealing with this.
To counter these symptoms my Grandma helped him in various types of therapy, including:
therapy through cooking, music, art, and one-on-one counseling. The simple task of making
dinner made him feel as if he accomplished something, which was very helpful to his
recovery, especially since it was YUMMY and his peer group enjoyed it.
He only had one physical symptom. It was a leg wound that eventually healed.
"After only 3 months he got better and moved on."
Then she spoke of another patient:
He "was a man who had one leg (an amputee). He had been a pilot in the war and
was very depressed about his accident and losing his leg. He, through counseling and
encouragement, was able to leave the hospital and live a normal life." Grandma's role
in this was working with him a lot in his one-on-one therapy, which included giving him a
lot of encouragement. He became very fond of my Grandma -- always asking her to go with
him wherever he went.
Since retirement about ten years ago, Grandma says that "the reduced income has made
an impact (but life has been) better than I ever dreamed life could be, even though I miss
my job." In reflecting on what her job has helped her gain, she says that, "The
kind of work done has helped (me) in figuring things out about life." Sometimes when
facilitating small groups in therapy she found herself getting mad -- mostly at her
supervisor. She had a "How did I help create this?" kind of attitude. This
helped her to realize where her anger was coming from and take responsibility for her
Grandma recommends nursing to others "because it is a very
rewarding thing to do. It makes life much more worthwhile."
Grandma recommends this
career to others "because it is a very rewarding thing to do. It makes life much more
worthwhile. Although, I know it is not for everyone." Grandma feels and with good
reason, that she had a big impact on her patients lives. After leaving, some former
patients would come back and ask for her. This is because she had been so patient with
them. Today, she still is called if one of the younger nurses needs to know what she can
do for the psychiatric patients.
The story Grandma leaves me with is that she would often take 11 passengers with her
in a big white van. Two of the passengers were always a doctor and another nurse. Grandma
said she would take forever backing out of the driveway because she was so nervous. They
would often do this on their way to breakfast or the beach. At the beach they would play
volleyball or go deep sea fishing. "The patients had to do busy things in order to
prepare themselves to get out of the hospital. Nursing our vets was a very rewarding