Nurse turned author entertains culture crowd

Most Ponoka residents are familiar with stories of the Alberta Hospital but being able to read about them from an inside perspective

Doreen Scott

Most Ponoka residents are familiar with stories of the Alberta Hospital but being able to read about them from an inside perspective is an eye opener.

Medical advances in mental health treatment have grown by leaps and bounds over the years and a greater understanding of the human condition has given Doreen Scott, a deacon at St. Mary’s Anglican Church, a desire to write about her experiences as a nurse at the Alberta Hospital. She wrote a novella called High Hopes.

The name of the hospital has since changed to the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain injury but in 1953, when Scott first started as a nurse, things were different. She told some of her stories at the Ponoka Jubilee Library Sept. 28 during Alberta Culture days held across the province.

Although her book is not for sale, the library has a copy available to borrow for its members. Scott had three reasons for writing the book: The first was to deal with guilt over the treatment of some of the patients in those days.

“Looking back we did many, many tasks because we were told to, not because it was right.”

She recalls times when her head nurse would place people in an ice bath or were given shock treatment by psychiatrists.

“I didn’t do anything,” Scott recalls regretfully.

Secondly, she wrote the novella to help her children understand her better.

“I was wrong,” she joked. “My youngest son Sam hasn’t even read it.”

The final reason was for a friend who passed away. Scott says she kept a promise to write these stories down. It took approximately two years to compete the novella and Scott read portions of those stories to attendees. “It’s just little anecdotes of what happened in the past.”

Scott writes in such a way that a person cannot help but wait eagerly to what happens next in her adventures. Although some may seem unpleasant, she tells of the practices that worked and the ones that would, in present day, not be allowed.

“There were some wonderful success stories but not that many,” explained Scott.

She cared for patients who stayed for a short time and some who stayed in cold rooms, screaming, with one light bulb in a high ceiling.

One patient would only speak to nurses if they referred to her as Ms. Fart. In the 1950s this was not word people normally used. “I had a hard time saying it.”

Scott would stand in front of this patient until noticed and would then have a conversation.

Despite the odd name, Scott was pleased at this patient’s progress. The woman suffered from postpartum depression and was unable to recover after her child was born in the 1940s. Some years later Scott remembers showing this patient how to put on makeup and transition into a life outside the hospital.

“She went to live with her daughter and lived to be quite happy,” said Scott.

This is just one of the stories in the novella; Scott recounts her first Christmas at the hospital with 700 patients and talks about medical practices that would never be allowed in the present day. One patient – a madam and leader of a prostitution ring – would make the nurses blush with her experiences.

High Hopes may not be published but is well worth borrowing from the library. The sampling of stories Scott read gave listeners a small insight into an imperfect yet growing medical practice. She has a keen sense of the human condition and the challenges patients faced. The novella is approximately 50 pages and is an eye-opening memoir of times past at the Alberta Hospital.

Scott has a doctorate in mental health and three master’s degrees in nursing, education and theological studies.