Five wonderful things about Beyer Memorial Hospital’s little in-house 1950s newspaper
But in the 1950s, Beyer Hospital produced a newspaper whose quality, depth, and scope would be worthy of a town the size of Belleville. With articles typed on typewriters and assembled in the time-honored cut, paste, and photocopy style, the “Beyer Banner” unexpectedly enchants the reader with five salient qualities:
(Click on any image for a larger version).1. The paper contains stories you’d never read anywhere else. One explains that the different styles of caps among nurses at Beyer are due to each nursing school having its own distinctive cap, not unlike the traditional regimental or club necktie.
“Represented at Bayer are 56 schools by 56 different caps,” notes the article. “The nurses wearing these caps come from hospitals and university nursing schools located in practically all of the 48 United States.” U-M’s official nursing cap, pictured in the top left photo, is a plain, pointy model.
2. The little in-house paper took itself seriously. It had an official masthead listing an editor, assistant editor, an editorial committee of three, and no fewer than a dozen reporters, most of them heads of the various hospital departments. Doctor Russell Miller doubled as the paper’s official photographer. The Banner contained monthly reports from all of the hospital departments, including X-ray, Dietary, Laundry, Maintenance, Public Health/Visiting Nurses, Lab, Housekeeping, and Office. The paper also published editorials on medical topics, monthly features spotlighting one hospital department, political polls, and medical humor.Its editor Joan Hooper was serious about her job. In an article about a change in editorship, the Banner says it “came out each month under Mrs. Hooper’s guidance even in trying circumstances; for instance, on Aug. 30, 1952, she was married to Joseph Hooper, but the issue came out as usual. In the winter ’53-’54 Joan became a patient of this Hospital and was ill for about two months, but the Banner came out on time. One issue was prepared, edited, and composed from her sick-bed.” 3. The paper was democratic, and here is its charm. It did not offer puff pieces about doctors, at the expense of those with humbler jobs. Everyone received equal mention, from the student “tray ladies” in the cafeteria to launderers and lab technicians. One article notes that several employees received pins for faithful service, including Mrs. Minnie DeNike for 10 years’ work in the kitchen and Mrs. Judy Schrader for five years’ work in the X-ray department. Another includes a photo of a bowling trophy won by cook Juanita Ver Vaueke and a track medal won by kitchen aide and college student John Oney. A third includes a photo of Tiny, a dog belonging to laundry worker Ruby Busha. The photo caption says, “She’s proud of the way he can beg for his supper by sitting up on his hind legs and prancing.”
The paper even extended its coverage area outside the hospital walls, to a bird’s nest outside the delivery room. “We have been watching with interest for the return of our robins who have been with us for several years,” says the article. “The nest is high in one of the trees on the east side of the hospital but to date the nest is still empty. Evidently a new family is with us, though as we have learned the employees of the delivery room have been enjoying the rearing of a robin family from their window.”4. The paper covered medical concerns of the time. The January, 1954, issue examined the local incidence of polio. It included polio survivor and nurse Mary Ann Witwer’s description of the disease. “In August I was one of 1952’s 58,000 people stricken with polio. The symptoms—stiff neck, fever, nausea, and headache—were all undeniable and awesomely present. . . my throat became paralyzed and I was unable to swallow, but I was not afraid when the doctor told me he had decided to do a tracheotomy. The local anesthetic stopped any feeling of pain. But feel I did—the cutting of the trachea, the cold touch of the hemostats against my neck, the strange sensation of breathing from my neck instead of from my nose.” The article also included three photos of children afflicted with the disease, one who had entered the hospital at five weeks of age.
5. Last, the paper is peppered with medical jokes and humorous anecdotes. One story is titled Happy Hospital Talk.
“The conversational jargon of a big hospital is the strangest talk in the world. Listen to the X-ray technicians as they plan their day’s work:
“‘How many gall-bladders today?’
“’Four, and three stomachs; I can’t help her even if she has seven chests and four hips. Let Mary do it; she has only three ankles.’
“Wander up to surgery. An Attendant is preparing to bring a patient upstairs for an operation. He takes instructions. Then someone tells him, ‘Dr. Jones’ appendix is in the lobby. And after that pick up Dr. Smith’s finger from the emergency room, will you?’
“In the hall a group of interns are discussing an exploratory laparotomy.
‘Yes,’ one of them says, ‘Dr. Lawrence’s lap is as good as new!’
“Down on the wards, the patients hear conversation about ‘Those cranks on the beds,’ and how they need oiling.
“While to patients, nurses may seem to be ‘angels of mercy,’ it’s still surprising to pick up the phone on a hospital ward and have Dr. Whosit’s voice from surgery say, ‘Hey, nurse, is my tonsil on your wing?’
“Yes, every profession has its own peculiar vocabulary, but the lingo of a hospital is just about the queerest conversation of all.”
Thanks to the Banner, those conversations, and a sense of the close-knit, affectionate hospital community that gave rise to them, are preserved in the half-century-old copies of this scrappy little home-made paper.
You can read the first-hand account by an Ypsilanti woman and her sister of their family's experience with polio here.
Historical Tidbits is published every Friday on AnnArbor.com.