October 1951: Sister Sylvester Recalls New Teaching Methods #throwbackthursdays



Several times a year Dr. Will or Dr. Charlie visited hospitals in the East in order to observe the work of experienced surgeons and to learn of advances in medical management of patients. After such a trip Sister Sylvester, one of the first sisters of St. Francis, recalled that Dr. Will would return to the hospital in the evening, and sitting with the Sisters around their dining room table, would tell them all he had learned on his visit. Invariably there would be new methods which he would wish introduced into the hospital routine, so invariably that the Sisters would remark to each other: “Dr. Will is back, there’ll be a lot of changes now.”

The Mayos would come home from a trip with as many samples as they could carry. Sea sponges, which had to be washed and sterilized in carbolic solution for repeated use, were replaced with disposable gauze sponges. Rubber gloves were introduced after a visit to Johns Hopkins.

In the early days of the hospital all supplies, such as dressing, were made by the Sisters. Instruments were sterilized in a wash boiler on a gas stove. There was liberal use of such disinfectants as carbolic and bichloride solutions. After the doctors finished operating, the Sisters had to wash the operating room linen for use the next day—a memory often recalled by Sister Sylvester as she listened to the hum of machinery in the laundry next door.

Of local doctors who sometimes assisted the Mayos or brought their patients to them for operation, Sister Sylvester recalled best Dr. H. H. Witherstine. “He had the biggest hands I have ever seen—Dr. Will used to say they were like the hand of providence.” In describing a patient’s symptoms, Dr. Witherstine would say, “The trouble is here,” and the broad hand would cover an extensive area on the patient’s diaphragm—not too satisfactory for differential diagnosis.

Sister Sylvester remembered in particular the great kindness of the Mayos to their patients, to their assistants, and to anyone seeking to learn from them. So anxious was Dr. Will to reassure fearful relatives that he would allow them to come into the operating room while he operated. However, this practice had to be abandoned, Sister Sylvester said, because too many persons became ill from the smell of ether and the sight of blood, and a hard pressed nurse would find herself with another patient.

Dr. Charlie, remembers Sister Sylvester, liked to reach the operating room before the young doctors, and he would pointedly consult his watch on their arrival. But this was just to tease them, she says.

Kelley Luedke (@kschrib)

Kelley Luedke

Kelley Luedke is a Marketing Channel Manager at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. She is the principle editor and writer of Insights and leads social media and direct marketing strategy. Kelley has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2013. Outside of work, you can find Kelley running, traveling, playing with her kitty, and exploring new foods.