By Ashley Rader
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Lula Belle Street has lived by this Bible verse, found in Matthew 25:40, as she worked as a registered nurse for 50 years.
Street, now 72, felt called to care for the sick from the time she was a child. She followed her dream of working in health care, reaching out and helping those in her community since 1962.
She worked in hospitals, private homes and military bases during her nursing career. Not only has she worked daily as a care-giving nurse, she also teaches nursing classes for nursing homes and support groups.
When Street enters the room, she presents a different picture from the typical nurse of today.
While on duty she wears the white nurse’s uniform dress she earned attending college to be a nurse.
She works mainly as a nursing care teacher now, but maintains her registered nurse’s license through the state so she can still help those in need if necessary. She said she wears the uniform because it was something nursing students earned as they progressed through their classes.
“We started with a probie (probation) cap that just fit on the top of our head,” Street said. “If you made the grade, you got the hospital cap that nurses wore. When you graduated you got the colored band that goes around the top of the hat. The first dress the girls wore was a simple muslin dress with an apron. You had to earn the uniform dress.”
Street said nursing has changed dramatically in her half-decade in the profession.
She said one of the major difference is the advance of technology for diagnosis and treatment. New medicines and therapies are available to help patients and drugs and vaccines can prevent or stop diseases that could be serious or even fatal when she first started working as a nurse.
Another major change is today’s decided preference for disposable gear: 50 years ago almost all equipment was reusable – even the syringes and catheters used on patients.
Although that might make patients today a bit squeamish, Street said the items were sterile before being used on a patient because of the disinfecting process used.
“We didn’t just boil them and reuse them,” Street said. “We would send everything to central supply and they would put the materials in the autoclave. It was sterile.”
Other differences she pointed to included the fact hospitals had no intensive care units for more critical patients when she first started work, and infection control protocols were not as strict as they are now.
Street said she felt pulled toward health care as a young child.
She was born in the Carden’s Bluff community of Carter County in 1940. She said growing up she heard stories from her parents, Rhoda and James Smith, about the lack of care in rural communities during the times before she was born. Street said she noticed that women and children would die during childbirth, that childhood diseases were serious and often fatal and the elderly struggled to find the care they needed.