When Norma Englejohn was just a little girl, she knew she wanted to be a nurse.
“I was born and raised in Loogootee,” she said, “and I honestly can’t remember when I didn’t want to be a nurse.”
That goal never changed, and further influenced by her pastor’s wife, who was a retired registered nurse, she attained her goal, graduating from Deaconess School of Nursing in St. Louis in 1960.
Her career with Fayette County Hospital actually began in 1958, when she worked as a nurse’s aide while attending nursing school.
When she graduated from nursing school, she applied at FCH. As a registered nurse, she was unfailingly compassionate, caring and conscientious.
Norma officially retired on Oct. 29, and FCH will celebrate and honor her nursing career next Thursday.
She reflects back on good memories and some poignant ones, some special memories about patients who became special to her. She has high regard for the doctors, her co-workers and the other people in other departments, who are also vital to patient care.
“I worked 48 1/2 years,” she said. “I started at Fayette County Hospital, and I stayed there the whole time. I did do RN consulting at the nursing home, and I also did a lot of private duty, off and on.”
Norma took some time off when she and husband Don started their family. She went back to FCH part-time, but on a regular basis.
Although Norma’s compassion for her patients was usually felt and recognized by the patient and the family, it never affected her professional manner, her duties or her conscientious commitment to serving in the patient’s best interest.
She was a willing, knowledgeable and helpful assistant to the doctor. She has a contagious, friendly, smile and expressive eyes that reflect her empathy when caring for a patient.
It has not proved easy for her to suddenly withdraw from that kind of dedication to caring for others.
“I do still care, and it’s been pretty hard for me to stop. I get pretty depressed about it,” she said. “It’s part of life,” for which she was well-trained.
“When I went to nursing school, you had to go for three years, and it was year-round,” she said. “You couldn’t be married, and you had to live in the dorm, and a lot of people can’t sacrifice all of that.
“You could get married the last six months of training. If you started, they wanted you to finish. You were called “probies” (on probation) for the first six months, and they expelled you then fairly easy.
“We had “sisters,” but they were not like nuns. They dedicated their lives to the hospital and to God. They lived right there in the dorm with us. They were our instructors.”
While Norma was fulfilling her dream of becoming a nurse, there was also another dream, waiting in the wings – Donnie Englejohn, who lived east of Loogootee.
“He went to Altamont schools, but they attended the Lutheran Church, and that’s how we met,” she said. She had graduated, Donnie was home from the service and she wanted to come home to work and live.
“After graduation, I chose to come back home. Don and I wanted to get married.
“Mom and Dad went to the Vandalia hospital (when they were ill). Dr. Rames was Mom’s doctor and he was there, and there was just nowhere else to work,” she said with a smile.
Two of her most poignant memories of patients lost involved younger people. A full career in nursing, she worked in the ER, SCU and OB departments, and on the medical and surgical floors, serving as supervisor in the emergency room, a floor supervisor and as permanent house supervisor.
…And now at home
Don and Norma’s children are: Doug, an electrician who helps his dad, and serves as St. Elmo fire chief (following in his dad’s footsteps), teaches in the schools and formerly worked as a paramedic; Donna, a nurse at the Hart Institute in Kansas; and Darrell, who is an obstetrician in Belleville.
“I always worked every other weekend and on Christmas Eves. Don and the kids would wait up for me on Christmas Eve,” Norma said.
“You don’t realize how much you’ve miss out until you’re not working. Even now, I think, ‘Gee I really missed out on a lot.’ But, again, you’re helping people, so in that respect, you’re doing right.”
Fayette County Hospital invites everyone to the retirement celebration for Norma Englejohn next Thursday from 2-4 p.m. in the hospital’s conference room.