Nurse retires into part-time role of dedicated volunteer

Grace Gregor, 71, has decided not to renew her nursing license, although she continues at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction as a volunteer. “If I sat home, I’d just be talking to my cats,” she said.

It was quite a different world in 1960 when Grace Gregor earned her nursing license. Back then, nurses and doctors — much like everyone else at the time —  smoked cigarettes. No one batted an eye when nurses started their shifts, eyeing the charts with a cigarette in hand. Ashtrays were an ubiquitous fixture in patient rooms.

Fast forward 50 years. Gregor is still caring for patients, yet in a more behind-the-scenes role.

Gregor, 71, will not renew her nursing license when it expires in September. She could have continued working as a registered nurse.

However, the Grand Junction woman enjoys volunteering for St. Mary’s Hospital, working when she wants, which is Sunday mornings. She said the opportunity gives her a different sort of satisfaction than punching in on the clock. She also is a mentor for junior volunteers at the hospital, youths who are considering entering into the medical field.

“When I leave this place, I feel really good,” she said about the hospital. “If I sat at home, I’d just be talking to my cats.”

Gregor grew up among five brothers and none of them continued their education beyond high school. But Gregor, then Grace Tomshack of Michigan, became intrigued when a friend passed along a brochure from, Mercy School of Nursing of Detroit. With tuition, room and board at $300 for three years, Grace’s mother also eyed the school’s literature, figuring it would cost less for her daughter to go to nursing school than to live at home.

“Back then, what were my options?” Gregor said. “I could work at Ford Motor Company. I could get married. My mom had told us that once we got out of high school, we had to pay room and board.”

Much has changed in the nursing field over the years, including technology. Also, relationships between nurses and doctors were more strained, Gregor said. She remembers being trained by other nurses not to pick up a chart if a doctor flung it to the floor or to physically stand behind a nurse who was being berated by a doctor.

“We were like their servants,” she recalled of doctors.

What hasn’t changed is the massive amount of work expected of nurses. That’s where Gregor knows she can help the most. If a patient has vacated a room, Gregor can go in and ready the space, pulling the sheets from beds. She answers patients’ call lights and passes on the requests to nurses. She checks and fetches supplies.

By working Sundays, Gregor is helping at a time when there is fewer staff, but the patient load remains the same, she said.

“We like her, she’s one of us,” said Pat Gardner, a registered nurse who was working as charge nurse Sunday on the hospital’s second floor. “She understands what’s going on with patients. She’s not afraid to go do things.”

Gregor has enjoyed her life’s work, which has included stints in Durango and at St. Mary’s Hospital.

She remembers the thrill years ago of using a defibrillator on a patient who had gone “code zero,” bringing the woman back to life. The devices can be found most anywhere including businesses and airports, but then were only available in a hospital. Even more amazing, Gregor said, she had only been certified to use the then-new technology a day before.

“... It was my duty to call the patient’s husband, who replied ‘You mean she won’t be coming home today?’ ” Gregor recalled of the incident.

Nurses used to wear capes and hats, the more stripes on a hat indicating a higher level of experience.

Gregor recently donated those items to her school during a reunion of the Mercy School of Nursing of Detroit, the Ann Arbor Unit.

After retiring, Gregor swung by the hospital’s volunteer desk, not really thinking that she wanted to volunteer.

“Ironically, I did not come to volunteer that day I came in,” she said. “Somebody was a no-show.”


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