Full circle: Lakeview nurses reflect on 40 years of service

Sue Peterson, left, and Mary Wihren celebrated their 40-year employment anniversary at Lakeview Hospital earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Lainie Steffen)
Sue Peterson, left, and Mary Wihren celebrated their 40-year employment anniversary at Lakeview Hospital earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Lainie Steffen)

A lot can change in 40 years, but Mary Wihren and Sue Peterson know they’ve been in the right place since they started at Lakeview Hospital as young nurses in 1974. The pair reached their 40 year employee anniversary mark at Lakeview early this month. They currently work in the oncology department of the hospital.

Though they both arrived at nursing through different paths, they have enjoyed their time serving others as nurses.

“I started as a nurse after being encouraged by my counselor, “ Peterson said. “I wanted to be an interior designer, and they told me that wasn’t a career, that was a hobby. My friend was going to nursing school, so I decided that I’d follow her there. Back then women had two choices, going into nursing or teaching, but it was a good thing that I got to here. I really love my job.”

“For me it was a way to help people, and make things go better for them,” Wihren said. “I had an interest in medicine and helping people in general.”

When they started at Lakeview they were required to wear all white outfits, which is quite different from the accepted uniforms most nurses wear now.

“We always wore a white dress, white stockings and shoes and our nursing caps. Now it’s scrubs and comfortable clothes,” Wihren said.

“You weren’t allowed to add color back then,” Peterson said. “And if you tried to sneak in a little color, like on a sweater or something, the nursing supervisor would catch you and make you change.”

Smoking is no longer allowed anywhere on the hospital property, which wasn’t the case early on in the women’s careers, and though the hospital has grown, both Wihren and Peterson said the collaborative spirit of working together with the staff remains.

Peterson was at Unity Hospital in Fridley before she moved to Lakeview, and she said a lot has changed since she started, but she loves that the hospital has kept it’s small hometown feel through all the changes that it’s experienced in the past four decades.

“When I first started at Lakeview we knew everyone,” Peterson said. “It was a smaller hospital. We didn’t have the different departments or our fancy emergency room. And we were expected to be able to do everything. There was just one nurse usually manning the emergency room, and if something big came in she’d have to call all the doctors and nurses to get in and help her. Sometimes we’d be on pins and needles when we started and the help announcement came over the sound system. We’d have to rush right down there and help out.”

That’s changed a bit since then, with more doctors and nurses on staff at once nowadays. Both Wihren and Peterson said the hospital has been a great place to work. They’ve made many friends, and it’s a very supportive environment.

The support is helpful when they deal with tough cases in the oncology department.

“It can be tough,” Wihren said. “It’s very rewarding to attend to people, and there’s sadness involved sometimes. But there’s times that we’re really happy for people too.”

Relationships with patients and co-workers have made an impact on the nurses too.

“I’ve had so many memories with patients,” Wihren said. “Many will give me recipes. Food is a safe subject with people, and they’ve given me lots of recipes over the years. When I make it I think, ‘This was from so and so,’ and I think of them, and it’s been a good thing for me.”

“I guess that’s unique to any small community hospital, you’re treating your friends and neighbors,” Peterson said. “We knew everyone (at the hospital) when we started, and though we don’t know as many people now it’s still so special to me, and I’m friends with just about everybody. There’s lots of support from everyone, and that’s not always found in bigger hospitals.”

The nurses enjoy providing support to their patients. After all, taking care of their patients and making them feel better is what the job is all about. And they’ve been doing it 40 years.

“Forty years is a long time,” Wihren said. “I just had an experience last week — something was going on with a patient’s wedding ring. I knew I had to get it off. I had learned an old trick with dental floss to get the ring off, and we got it off. It was really hurting her, and it made me so happy to help her. It seems like such a small thing, but I’m still talking about it. I guess it’s good to have years of experience.”

Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]