I have so many memories of Agnes Black, it will take more than one blog posting to share.
Agnes Black was the Chief Nurse at the Lexington, Kentucky VA Medical Center for many years. As such, she was my boss.
She was a no nonsense, straight laced leader, who set the bar high for all her employees. And she not only “talked the talk,” she also “walked the walk.” She led by example.
She had a phenomenal memory. She knew every staff member by name. She knew most of our family members by name.
She could reprimand the most wayward staff member and then turn right around and ask them how their sick mother was doing.
Agnes had that mysterious quality we call “presence.” When she entered the room, we had the urge to stand and salute. When she found a problem, there was a particular electricity that filled the air, sort of like the feeling just before lightening strikes.
My VA friends will remember her infamous rounds on all shifts.
When I first started working at the VA Hospital (not yet a medical center then), I was the night nurse on a large psychiatric unit.
The nursing assistants kept things in order by a combination of compassion and control (take downs and restraints if necessary).
At night, after they assured all was quiet, they sat in chairs placed strategically in the center of the hall, where they could see anyone who moved. They feared no one.
Since part of my assignment was to give morning medications to all the patients and there was no unit dose system in those days, I spent a great deal of my night “setting up meds.”
One night I answered the phone to hear a hushed voice say, “She’s making rounds.” The caller then hung up. I was baffled.
When I walked out in the hall, one of the nursing assistants asked me who had called. I relayed the strange message.
I thought I had seen everything, but clearly I hadn’t. In the blink of an eye, those big, burly men came up out of those chairs, and started frantically running through the halls, straightening up things and even waking a few trusted patients to help.
Like a legion of Paul Revere’s, they sounded the alarm, “She’s making rounds!!” Even though the patients understood, I still didn’t get it
… until … I heard the sound of a key unlocking the door. And I heard a slightly out of breath nursing assistant say, “Good morning, Mrs. Black.”
And there she stood, just as formidable at 3 AM as she was at high noon. And in that crisp voice, she said, “Good morning, Carolyn, get your flashlight. Let’s make rounds and you can tell me about your patients.”
We walked every inch of that building together and she saw everything, from a dirty wash cloth carelessly tossed aside (probably by the nursing assistant who had frantically cleaned up the break room) to a spider making its web.
She took notes and said she would follow up with the Nurse Coordinator (the days before they were called Managers), Housekeeping, Engineering, etc, etc. There was no doubt that the impact of her rounds would reverberate through the hospital the next day.
I think Agnes secretly enjoyed the delirium created by her rounds. And she was sneaky. She knew about the warning calls each unit made.
One night when our crew called the next building to report she had left our place and was likely headed to theirs, she doubled back to us. Just as we had all settled down, we heard the key in the door again!
There stood Agnes. She calmly said, “There’s just a couple of more things I wanted to check.” So while the other unit was calling us to say, “What happened, I thought you said she’s making rounds,” we were quite aware she was STILL making rounds. No one relaxed for the rest of the night. We needed medication more than the patients did!
Besides my up close and personal experience with Mrs. Black’s rounds, there was another night of rounds years later that became the stuff of legends. It was recounted by Agnes herself.
She was making rounds on one unit, who dutifully called the next unit to report she had left their unit and was headed their way.
However when the phone rang, no one was at the nurses station to receive that important call except Mrs. Black. She answered the phone.
The caller whispered, “Mrs. Black is making rounds.”
Agnes replied, “I know. I am Mrs. Black!”
According to Agnes, the caller immediately hung up and she never knew their identity. But whoever that anonymous person was, they should know that years later, Agnes was still chuckling at the memory.
I wonder when Agnes got to The Pearly Gates, if she told Saint Peter, “I’m ready to make rounds!”
And if she did, I imagine the angels of Heaven putting out the call, “Agnes is here! Get everything in order. She’s coming your way!”