In the half century since Wynemia Waidelich first fastened on her nurse’s cap there have been startling advances she never dreamed of in the medical field.
The one constant, however, has been her passion and dedication to the job, something she is not ready to completely let go.
This month, Waidelich is celebrating a 50-year career at the Fulton County Health Center. The 77-year-old Wauseon native said caring for others and helping them to wellness appeared to be a calling she was meant to follow.
“I thoroughly enjoy what I do. I enjoy nursing, per se, all the way through. That was something I had planned, and everything seemed to fall into place,” she said.
Along the way she has witnessed medical and technological progress that eased the workload and made for increased outpatient recovery, but offers less time to connect with people.
“Years ago, you got to know the patients. Well, now they’re not hardly in the hospital long enough to get to know them,” Waidelich said.
The 1957 Archbold High School graduate started nursing school in Toledo that summer. After completing her studies as a licensed practical nurse she worked at Toledo Hospital for three months, then moved to Evanston, Ill., where she worked at the city’s hospital for a year.
Married to Leon, her husband of 40 years until his death in 1998, and with two children, Waidelich moved back to Archbold and tended house for a while before considering a return to nursing. “I wanted to see if I could possibly take care of a home and kids, and the whole ball of wax,” she said.
She applied in 1960 to Detwiler Memorial Hospital in Wauseon, but was told by the director of nursing, Mrs. Feathers, there were no openings. That situation changed quickly, however, and three days later Waidelich was an LPN working a medical-surgical floor for $1.40 an hour.
It was a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves position in which nurses performed numerous duties.
“You set up your own oxygen tents. When a patient went home, the nurses were responsible for cleaning the units. You did everything,” Waidelich recalled. “And you didn’t have anybody in the central supply area to bring stuff down to you. If you needed anything, you had to go up to the attic to get it.
“Once you got respiratory therapists, when they started, that was great. We thought we were on Cloud Nine. We didn’t have to do all of this stuff, and set up the big oxygen tanks that we used to have to wheel down the hall.”
Her work there continued until Detwiler Memorial was replaced by the Fulton County Health Center, a brand-new hospital that opened just down Shoop Avenue in 1973. To the knowledge of FCHC administrators, Waidelich is the only current employee remaining who made that transfer.
Once there, she worked on the fourth floor for years, until transferring to the intensive care unit. It’s when she began helping out in the hospital’s emergency room during busy periods that Waidelich found her niche.
“I found out I kind of liked that,” she said. When an employee quit, she filled the spot.
It was an era without scheduled ER physicians, when family doctors on call were available.
“If we really got in dire straits…if we needed someone immediately, if there wasn’t anybody in the hospital, we could call one of the local docs and they would come in,” Waidelich said. They included Dr. Richard Vogel, who lived next door to the hospital, and Dr. Robert Cotterman.
The ER pace was slower then, maybe half a dozen patients in a night, since people still preferred to see their family physicians. But her early days in the position offered a wealth of knowledge that helped guide Waidelich through 30-plus years in the unit.
“I learned a lot from our family doctors…what I needed to know to take care of patients that came in. They were very open to explaining things,” she said.
When the hospital planned to phase out LPNs in the emergency room, Waidelich decided to return to school to earn a registered nursing degree. In her 40s she took basic classes at what is now Northwest State Community College, then transferred to the nursing program at Owens Community College. It was a time of balancing her studies with part-time work in the ER and the responsibilities of raising four children,”(but) I worked as an LPN, so I had a lot of information,” she said.
After graduating, Waidelich returned to FCHC, and moved to the facility’s Cardiac Rehab center about 15 years ago. She now works part-time but has no immediate plans to stop.
“I enjoy it. It gets me out of the house. It gets me up, it gets me moving,” she said, adding with a laugh, “I hate housework.”
Waidelich said she still feels passion for her work, and continues to marvel over the advances in medicine she’s witnessed.
“In the old hospital, if (a patient) had a heart attack, it was not unusual for them to be hospitalized for three weeks. And you fed them so they didn’t use their arms,” she said. “Now they’re back to work in a two-week period, some of them, which kind of blows you away.”
In the days before bypass surgery, (patients) went home and sat in a rocking chair, she said. Stroke victims met the same fate.
“They didn’t do anything. That’s not the case anymore. They get you up and they get you moving,” Waidelich said.
As for today’s open-heart surgery, which can include robotic techniques, “What they’re doing is just unreal. And that’s exciting to see,” she added.
Her role as a nurse changed as well. Waidelich remembers not being allowed to divulge a patient’s blood pressure, which was considered the doctor’s duty. As a young charge, she gave people baths, took their vital signs, and followed the doctors’ orders.
“It used to be, the doctors were up (in status), and the nurses did what the doctor said. And you hardly ever disagreed with what the doctor said,” she mused. “But it was a different time. That’s how the doctors were trained then. The doctors did respect the nurses even back then, but you earned their respect.
“Now I think there’s more interaction between the doctors and the nurses, as far as talking about the care of the patients. That’s a positive. I have the utmost respect for the physicians we had over the years, and the new ones are great, too. We’ve got such a great group of physicians that work here, and I think that’s important.”
Waidelich is also pleased with a health care trend that encourages patients to become involved in their cases. And advances have lightened the load of medical professionals, narrowing the ratio of patients per staff member.
And while she appreciates the advanced role of computers in her field, “Sometimes, people get so engrossed in computers they forget that eye contact is important, and you find out a lot by listening to what people say.”
Angie McWatters, a registered nurse and the unit manager of FCHC’s Cardiac Rehab, praised Waidelich for her wealth of nursing skills and experience. “She is wonderful to work with. I still consider her a valuable asset,” McWatters said.
The hospital’s director of nursing, Jo Short, said Waidelich “has loved every job she’s had in nursing, and it shows. She really cares about her patients. She’s just really a compassionate nurse.”
In her leisure, Waidelich keeps busy with the activities of eight grandchildren. But she’s not quite ready to give up her nursing post.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed working at the hospital,” she said. “I don’t know when I’ll retire. You can feel when it’s time.”
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.