Betty Giffin, November 6, 2021


Betty Giffin, November 6, 2021
Betty Giffin
Gabriel DeJoseph
Animal Lab
Consolidation Coal Company
Cooperstown, NY
Dreams Park
Fairmont State College
New York City
Open Heart
Operating Room
Patient Care
Presbyterian Hospital
Rural Healthcare
Elisabeth Giffin worked for decades as an operating room nurse at Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, NY. Giffin was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1929. She completed her education at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City before moving up to Cooperstown and accepting an Assistant Supervisor position at Bassett. Giffin performed many operating room nursing duties during her long career, including sterilizing instruments, handing instruments to the surgeon, and pre-op patient care.

Healthcare evolved, improved, and expanded during the mid-20th century. Throughout her time in the operating room, Giffin witnessed cutting edge advancements in surgical techniques, some of which were pioneered at Bassett. Giffin also comments on the expansion of both the Bassett Healthcare Network, now comprising over five separate healthcare facilities, and the Village of Cooperstown itself.

Giffin's anecdotes about the healthcare field demonstrate the transitioning role of hospital nurses. From initially being viewed as simple "handmaidens" to the doctors, many female healthcare professionals fought to establish nursing as a "free and independent profession" worthy of respect. In addition, some of the most fascinating points in the interview came from her humorous stories of life as a nurse, including a memorable incident during the 1960s where the Bassett Chief of Surgery performed an emergency operation on Giffin's beloved Sheltie to remove a steak bone from its esophagus.

I interviewed Miss Giffin at her longtime home in Cooperstown, NY. Bassett Hospital lies almost directly at her doorstep, close enough that Giffin recalls frequently running across the street to respond to late night emergency calls. During our interview, the hospital served as an ever present reminder of her former profession.

Miss Giffin speaks clearly and eloquently, and I have attempted to recreate her tone and cadence in the transcript. However, many of Giffin's anecdotes are punctuated with a dry humor difficult to reproduce textually. I encourage researchers to consult the audio recordings for a fuller sense of Giffin's humorous storytelling style. In addition, Giffin sometimes refers to her Bassett friends and former colleagues by solely their first name or last name. I have chosen to include these colleagues' full names and titles in brackets to prevent confusion with other local healthcare professionals who may share the same first or last name.

*This interview is not authorized to be used for public programs or to other educational institutions for use in programs.
BG = Betty Giffin
GD = Gabe DeJoseph

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

This is the November 6th, 2021 interview of Betty Giffin by Gabriel DeJoseph for the Cooperstown Graduate Program's Community Stories Oral History Project, recorded at Betty's home in Cooperstown, NY. Betty, thank you for talking to me today. Why don't you tell me about where you grew up?

I was born in Baltimore, but at about the time I got to be two the Depression hit, and my father lost his job. But he had an older brother that was involved with or worked for Consolidation Coal Company, so he found a job for my father down in a coal mining town in Eastern Kentucky. Van Lear. That town name may be familiar because the singer Loretta Lynn grew up there. I didn't know her though.


For about eight years or so we lived in Kentucky, and then my father got a promotion to come and again work for Consolidation Coal Company overseeing the housing in the West Virginia Division. So, we lived in Fairmont. I lived there until I went off to nursing school. I went two years to Fairmont State College. I had thought I wanted to go into biochemical research, but somewhere along the way when I realized how much science and math I was going to have to take, I realized I didn't have the brainpower for that. Growing up I had always said I wanted to be a nurse. Changed when I went to college. Changed back to being a nurse when I discovered my brain power wasn't up to biochemical research. At the advice of the Director of Nursing at the hospital in Fairmont, she told me that if I wanted to teach nursing to go to a certain school. If I wanted to do any kind of research, go to another school. If I wanted to be an all-around good nurse, go to Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing in New York City. It's connected with Columbia [University]. So, with two years of college behind of me, I went into nursing school for three years. I got my B.S. degree from Columbia when I finished. I liked working in an operating room, but they had cut it short with my class. I thought if I ever wanted to work anyplace else, every other nurse is going to have had better education. So, I said okay, I'll stay a year.

[TRACK 1, 3:26]

Five years later, I decided I had learned everything I wanted to learn that Presbyterian could teach me. I needed to leave the city. I said I wanted to be able to come out my front door and put my feet on the sidewalk instead of having to take an elevator to get out. So, I started looking around for jobs, and Bassett had a connection with PH [Presbyterian Hospital]. The second year of surgical residency here, Bassett's residents came down to New York, to PH for a year. So, I got to know a couple of the residents and heard them talk about what Bassett was like. I said okay, that will be my first stop looking for a job. That was back in the days if a nurse wanted a job in nursing, she talked to the Director of Nursing. Never mind going to HR [human resources] or Personnel, or whatever you want to call it. I came up with one of the surgical residents when he came back up here for the weekend, and stayed with another family that I had met over the weekend. Monday, I went over and talked to the Director of Nursing. The previous Friday, the woman that had been the Assistant Supervisor in the operating room had come in and said that she wanted to come back from her maternity leave, but she did not want that position. She just wanted to come back and work. So, the assistant position was open. And because Miss Wilcox was a PH grad she knew what my experience had been having gone through the OR there herself. She said, "Okay, if you want this job you can have it." Easy peasy!


[TRACK 1, 5:34]

When I went there, it didn't make an awful lot of difference what your position was. You did whatever needed to be done. If you needed to circulate, be the unsterile nurse, you did that. If they needed somebody to scrub and hand instruments, you did that. If the orderly was busy and he couldn't take the patient to the recovery room, you did that. Everybody worked together, and we had three ORs. Then they built the new hospital, and we increased from three ORs to five. It just meant doing more of the same thing. So that's what I did until we got a supervisor that, we didn't click. I had a feeling she was going to fire me, so I decided it was time to retire, so I could retire with whatever benefits I had. Which were really great. I discovered later that one of the reasons why the supervisor and I didn't click was because she had never worked in an operating room before. Working in an OR is entirely different from being a nurse anyplace else, no matter what level you were working at.

[TRACK 1, 7:24]

So, I retired maybe a couple years sooner than I had anticipated, and didn't quite know what to do with myself until somebody told me that they had heard Harry Tisch, who had Snowden Hill Greenhouse, talked to the Lake and Valley Garden ladies saying, "If any of you want to get your hands dirty before you can get out in your garden, I could use some help." This was in January or February. So, I went out and talked to Harry and said, "I'm used to planting and taking care of plants that are five, ten inches tall. I'm not used to helping with plants that are two and three inches tall." He said, "Come and give it a shot, we'll try you for a couple weeks and see." So, I worked for him, and I thought as soon as we got finished planting these little buggers my job would be finished. He said, "No I'd like to have you stay and help sell these plants." Okay, well you usually finish selling plants in July. [He said,] "No, we still have to take care of the perennials that haven't sold, and we're going to soon start planting chrysanthemums, so I still need you." So, I stayed with Harry at Snowden Hill until he closed everything up for the winter in October or November. Then the next year we just repeated it, and I think that I worked for him for about five years. Initially he paid me, but somewhere along the way he was told he had to pay [for] hospitalization, things like that, for his employees. I didn't need that. I had better healthcare coverage as a retiree from Bassett than anybody could give me. So, he said, "Okay, I won't pay you, but I'll tell you what let's do. Take any plant you want!" So, I was able to develop a garden out front, and some of the plants that are still there [are] from the ones that I got as a volunteer helper at Snowden Hill. That's my history up until now. Now unfortunately I can't do the garden work; however, I have two fellas that come spring and fall, and they'd come any other time if I wanted. It's Jean Lyon's husband Tom Lyon, his son, and grandson Elijah that do my garden work. They come in the spring and get everything ready. They plant any of the annuals and repeat perennials that need to go in the garden. They come in the fall and clean everything up. I'm fortunate; I can still have my flower beds without having to do the work. So that's great.

[TRACK 1, 11:14]

Have you always lived in this house since you've come to Cooperstown?

No. When I first moved here there used to be three houses over on Church Street. It's where the Hall of Fame parking lot is now. There was an apartment in one of those buildings, and I lived in this semi furnished apartment. Then after that, I can't remember exactly why I wanted to move but somebody told me about an apartment that was getting fixed up down on Elm Street, across from the Baptist Church. So, I moved into that. Then somewhere along the way, and I can't again remember why I decided to leave there, but [I] decided to buy a mobile home. One of the first of the fourteen feet wide ones, and that was down in Hartwick Seminary. Up on the hill opposite the Lutheran Church, where [Cooperstown] Dreams Park has cottages that they have people staying in in the summertime. Then at that point in time, this house came on the market. I was still working, and it made it extremely easy to get to work. I could fall out of bed and fall into work practically. I can't remember when that was but I've lived here for quite a long time now. The interesting thing about rental houses in Cooperstown is that they're frequently called by the name of people that lived there for a long time. I don't know whether this one has gotten to be the Giffin House yet or not, but when I moved in it was Mrs. [Ruth] DeSena's house. The other interesting thing about this house, I think, is that Mr. [Ralph] DeSena was part owner in an automobile repair shop, and I think he also sold cars. But it was DeSena and Gil [Motors]. Unfortunately, Mr. DeSena died, and the fellas that worked with him asked [Mrs. DeSena] what they could do for her. She said, "Well you can fence in my back yard." Because she had small children. But she said, "Do not include the back door." So, the fenced in backyard is fenced all the way around…parallel to the back of the house, but about twelve, fourteen feet away from the back door. She had small children and said, "I want to have them out in the yard playing securely, but I don't want them to be able to run in and out of the house all the time." I think that's a delightful story!


Now, have I covered everything do you think?

[TRACK 1, 14:38]

Well, I'd like to hear more about some of your duties once you got to Bassett initially.

Bassett was small at that point in time, and we had three ORs. The operating room was in the wing that pokes out towards Fair Street. At that point in time, it had three stories. It has two more since then. Bassett was small enough then that you knew everybody. You knew who the nurses were, the aides were, and the doctors were, all along the way. As a matter of fact, we used to come in and work on Sunday to get things ready for the week. Re-sterilize things that we needed to, make sure we had everything. We would go down to the cafeteria for lunch, and we made sure that we got there early because at that time, the house staff doctors and their families were given lunch. So, everybody came in. That was also when more people went to church. After church the doctors and their families would come in. It was such a small community then, that we could be sitting there eating our lunch and see little kids come in, and we knew who they belonged to. So we knew each other, and we knew each other not just from work, but also because we lived in the same community. Bassett was small enough then that we could do that. For instance, in the OR you even knew about the staff that took care of the patients. And we knew which OB [obstetrics] nurse was the one you hoped was on if you had a baby. We knew which nurse's aide, that worked on such and such a floor, was absolutely excellent. She was as good as any nurse, just couldn't give meds and that kind of stuff. But we were small enough that we knew each other.

[TRACK 1, 17:16]

And of course, Cooperstown was small enough then, well it did have the Hall of Fame, but it was small. We didn't have the baseball camps. If you wanted to buy a pair of shoes, you went down on Main Street and found a shoe store or two. If you wanted to get a magazine, a book, there were a couple of those stores. There were at least a couple of practically everything. For instance, there was an A&P store, which was one of the so-called supermarkets, but it was in a small store. But we also had locally owned grocery stores, not a Grand Union and not an A&P. We had three hardware stores that were locally owned. We had a couple liquor stores locally owned, a shoe shop. There were decent restaurants too. But you could get practically anything you wanted right here in Cooperstown. And you knew people. You could go in the 5&10 and go around a corner, and you knew who was ahead of you or coming towards you. Can't do that anymore. Progress, I guess.


We had enough different variety of churches so that if you came to live here and you were a Presbyterian, there was a Presbyterian Church you could go to. If you were a Baptist, Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, they were all here. The Lutheran church was down in Hartwick Seminary, but that was close enough to go to. And there were different organizations. If you were a man, you could be a Lion, you could be a Rotarian. I could be an Eastern Star. It was all right here. It was a small enough place that when I first came here I did not have a car. I didn't know how to drive. The Second World War interrupted my learning to drive because when I got old enough that I would have learned, we didn't have a car anymore. Gas rationing and all that kind of stuff. Everything that you needed was right here, so you didn't have to go. If you wanted to go shopping anyplace [else], there was a bus that came through. For instance, if I wanted to go visit my friends that still lived in New York, I could catch a bus that got me to New York and back. Initially, it let you out and you picked it up in Oneonta. So, you had to somehow get yourself there. And we had a taxi service that would take us there. I don't know how newcomers that come to Cooperstown to live how they manage when you don't have all these things I've been talking about. The shoe repair shop. We still have drug stores. But it's [all] in Oneonta, and it's easy enough to get to Oneonta I suppose. I don't.


Anything else you think I might know that you'd like to know?

[TRACK 1, 22:02]

Well…you've been talking about Cooperstown kind of expanding. How did you feel Cooperstown eventually expanded and grew to bring in other people that maybe you didn't know?

I'm not sure that there are fewer, there can't be fewer people that work at Bassett. Although, for instance with the nursing staff, they are coming from further away. For instance, one of my friends who has since retired lived in an apartment up above Route 20, outside of Springfield. So, there are more people now that commute. The people that worked in the OR, I can think of only one that lived outside of Richfield [NY]. Most of the rest of us lived either in the village or just maybe in Fly Creek or maybe in Hartwick Seminary. They come from further around now. Plus the fact that, as far as I understand, Bassett has nurses that come from [out of the area]. What we call "travelers." I'm not sure how it works, except that I think that there is an organization that provides the travelers. They have nurses that say they would like to work someplace other than home. They connect with this company, which connects with different hospitals. I know I was visiting a friend maybe a couple years ago that was in the hospital. Two nurses came in, and one was obviously showing the other nurse. Since I was nosy, I said, "Excuse me, can I ask you why you're telling her things?" She said, "Because this is her first day." I said, "Oh that's nice, I'm glad you're working for Bassett." [The other nurse] said, "Well, I'm a traveler." I said, "Where are you from?" And she was from Oneida [NY]. And I said "Excuse me, but you pass at least two hospitals to get here. You come from your home in Oneida here to work and you pass these others?" She said, "Money, honey. Pays more." The girl that was showing her, she said, "Well I live in Albany [NY]." I said, "And you come here? You've got bigger hospitals in Albany, a couple of them anyways, than we are. Why?"

[TRACK 1, 25:20]

It's nicer to work for a smaller hospital that does bigger things. That's one of the things that Bassett, as far as I've known it, has been noted for. They've always done things, taking care of sick patients, that a hospital that size wouldn't necessarily be doing. When I first came here, we did any operation that was being done anyplace, except craniotomies. We didn't have a neurosurgeon initially. That didn't last terribly long, we got a couple neurosurgeons. So, we began doing things like that. They were just beginning open-heart surgery in New York when I left. About the time I was ready to leave we were just beginning to think about it. And Bassett did a lot of [procedures] early. We did [surgeries] on dogs that were the same as people. For instance, the open heart type surgery. I'm not going to be able to remember, but we had a doctor here that was one of the first doctors that did the particular procedure. He left us and went out to the State of Washington and was in charge of this procedure. It's too bad I can't remember what it was. Unfortunately, as you get older you forget some things that you wish you wouldn't or didn't. But I'm sure we had more fun working for Bassett back in 1958 than anybody has working for Bassett now. Not that it's bad to work for Bassett, but nonetheless you don't get to know each other the same way.

Why is that? That you don't get to know each other?

It's bigger, the OR increased to five when we built the new hospital. And since I've left, I think they have added two or three more ORs. We're also doing open heart surgery. My open-heart surgery was done there. A friend of mine, actually she was a nurse that I worked with, needed to have some kind of cardiac surgery. And I said, "Well, you're going to have it done here?" She said, "No, I'm going down to New York, to Presbyterian." It's not called Presbyterian Hospital anymore; they built a new one and I've forgotten its name. But anyways, she said, "I'm going to go down there. They do more of it." I said, "Did it ever occur to you that you might have the doctor that this is his first time doing it?" She looked at me kind of startled. When she came back, I asked her how the procedure went and she told me fine. I said, "And? Was it a doctor who did it for the first time?" She said, "Oh no, it was the chief!"


[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

But they've increased the number of ORs, and they're doing bigger things than we did when I was there. Some of the things that are being done now, they weren't done when I was working. Which is good. We now can treat things, diseases, that couldn't be treated before. Let's say when I first went into nursing school. If anybody needed to have any kind of cardiac surgery, we didn't know how to do it. So, they didn't have that chance. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's continuing to be like that. I know it's changed. For instance, [with] a friend of mine they discovered she had an aneurysm, which is an outpouching of her aorta, which is the major artery. She needed to have that taken care of surgically. And I said, "I hope they're going to schedule it promptly." Because I could remember being called in the middle of the night for a stat aneurysm resection where I ran to get to work. [She said], "No, they scheduled it for such and such." She had this surgery in the early afternoon. She was discharged the next afternoon. And I said, "Woah! How did that happen?" She said, "Oh they did it laparoscopically." I said, "What?" Because we used to do it with incisions that went from your breastbone all the way down past your umbilicus. Wide open. Her biggest complaint was she was in a room with another patient, of course because that's the way most of the rooms are set up. She said [the other patient] wouldn't get off the phone. It was during Covid so they were not having visitors. You really curtailed the number of visitors. This woman was on the phone all the time, calling, "You've got to come and get me! I'm dying!" My friend said, "She wouldn't shut up, it was going all night!" So, she just wanted to get out of there, and they discharged her the next day. And I'm saying, "What? How could they? You had a big incision." She said, "Didn't have a big incision." That's when she told me they did it laparoscopically. I still don't know how they did that based on the kind of surgery I knew. Obviously, they've changed how they do it. Again, it's good! You don't have to recover from a cut that's so big.

[TRACK 2, 3:45]

So not only has Bassett changed and Cooperstown has changed, but I think Bassett has changed more for the better than Cooperstown has. I'm not a baseball fan, so I don't get enthusiastic about the baseball camps that are around. The people that get part of their income from the baseball camps I'm sure would disagree with me. By and large, any of the visitors that I've seen when I've been downtown or when I've been in the grocery store have been pleasant people. I haven't any complaint[s] about them. Nobody bumped into my cart at the grocery store because they had to hurry to get someplace. My biggest complaint was in the summertime when Pop's Place was open down below Hartwick Seminary. I'd go down there for my supper and of course I'd hang around and talk. The wife of the couple that owned it was somebody that I had worked with in the operating room. But anyways, we'd chit chat, so that I would be coming home after dark. And the headlights of all the cars that were leaving Cooperstown to get down to where they lived closer to Dreams Park was my biggest annoyance. So, if I had just managed to quit talking so much and gotten myself home earlier, that wouldn't have been a problem. No Dreams Park this summer. They sold [Pop's Place]. Not the buildings, but they sold the business to somebody that I think I heard had intended to open, selling some kind of Southern chicken barbeque. But they didn't open because Dreams Park didn't open until late, and I think they figured it wasn't worth all that they had to do. So, we'll see what happens next year. Anything else you'd like to know that I can dig up?

[TRACK 2, 6:33]

Well, you mentioned that working in the OR as a nurse was a lot different from working as a nurse elsewhere. I was just curious what you meant by that.

Well, there was less direct patient care, because most of our patients were asleep. And even when they came into the OR it was the anesthesiologist and the nurse anesthetist that took care of the patient. So, you didn't have that kind of direct care. However, your job was important enough that you were providing care for the patient. And there were still things that a nurse knew that somebody else coming in that didn't have any nurse's education wouldn't know how to do or what to do. You'd have to start all over and teach them. They wouldn't even know that, you can't pick up something from the floor, a sponge, and throw it away, because you had to know how many of them were being used. So, you had to account for them. If they scrubbed and they were handing instruments to the doctor, you had to teach them what those instruments were used for, so that when the doctor asks for a certain thing you know what to give them. But, better than that, you watched, you learned, you tried to anticipate what the doctor needed. For instance, he'd make an incision, and something would start bleeding. Then you knew he needed a clamp to clamp off that blood vessel. Then you knew he needed to have something to tie off that blood vessel. You needed to learn to anticipate what the doctor was going to need. It wasn't just something that anybody knew how to do. And the circulating nurse, there had to be an RN [registered nurse] in the room, needed to know as much as the scrub tech, so that she would know that when the doctor was doing something or other, he was going to need certain instruments. She would need to know whether the scrub tech had it available, so that she could go get it and provide it. All of this hopefully speaking, the tech and the nurse would know what was going on early enough [that] they could anticipate and have it available just about at the time the doctor would say, "Clamp." It would be right there. This is what made a good team. And it had to be a team.

[TRACK 2, 10:16]

How was the teamwork like between the nurses?

Good. They shared information. For instance, we had certain ORs that we used for certain surgeries, and most of the time the tech and the nurse were assigned to that room. So that, for instance, if a doctor was doing orthopedic surgery, they knew what was needed in the way of instruments and equipment and sutures. Both of them knew. And if something happened that was out of step, was not what we anticipated from the way it was scheduled, you knew whether you had everything that was needed for that particular thing. You knew exactly what it took to make instruments, and equipment, and drapes, and sutures sterile. So, it could be used. And you knew when certain things happened it wasn't [sterile]. For instance, this is after I retired, and I had to have some knee surgery. I asked to have a spinal. [They said], "Okay, that's fine, you can have that." And I asked not to be sedated. The anesthesiologist that came in to see me said, "We'll give you some sedation." I said, "No, I don't want any. I used to work here, I'm not afraid of this place." Well, okay, reluctantly [he said], "You don't have to have it." Well, while they were doing my surgery, I happened to look over at the scrub tech, who was stretching like this, with his hands over his head:


And I said, "Excuse me! Get your hands down where they belong." And they came down, because you were not supposed to reach up above your head because you had a cap on, your hair was sticking out or something, and your arms could brush against part of it that was not sterile. So this was part of what the nurse in the room needed to be aware of. Unfortunately, the nurse in the room at that particular time didn't quite see what was going on. She was busy doing something else. But she snapped to!


[TRACK 2, 13:25]

So along with the other nurses, how about the teamwork between the nurses and the doctors that they were working with?

It was good. It had to be. For instance, if we got somebody new, a new tech, one that had been working in another hospital, you had to teach them sterile technique. You had to teach them about sutures, what they were needed for, where, what size, what instruments they needed, where they were used. Things like that. But not only did the scrub tech need to know that, but the circulating nurse needed to know it, so that she would know what was there and what was going to be needed, so that there would be no time lapse between need and having. If, for instance, the doctor suddenly decided to do something a little bit different and they needed different instruments, it had to be recognized by both the scrub tech and the circulating nurse so those things could be provided. What you wanted to do, when you did a good job, was to be able to anticipate the need to have what was needed there. Before the doctor said "clamp," you had it ready to give [to] him. Or her.

[TRACK 2, 15:12]

That was another interesting thing. When I first started working here in the late [19]50s, there were no women doctors. Gradually we've added them, and it was very interesting to see the interaction. We would get some women doctors that were tough, and they could compete with these doctors, and they were really kind of pushy. And then we got some women doctors that were "poor me, you have to help me." [Nowadays], I don't think there's any kind of [difference]. They're all doctors whether they're men or women, and their object is to take care of sick people. It's a change that's been for good. Any more questions? You're looking!


Well, along with those changes you mentioned, are there any other changes over the course of your career in how the nurses interacted, or in their duties?

Well initially, nurses were the handmaidens of the doctor. Now, and there were nurses that worked hard for this, to become a free and independent profession. One of the people here that I knew was a friend was Alberta Bowes, and she worked very hard to make people, particularly doctors, realize that nursing was a free and independent profession. Not the handmaidens. I'm moderately sure that that's what it is now. I don't think you'll find a single nurse over there that feels that she's there to be the handmaiden of the doctor. And I'm not sure you'd find any doctors – women – that [feel] that they had to push their way through or become the "poor me you've got to help me." They're standing a little bit more on an equal platform with the men that are doctors. I'd have to consult some of my women doctor friends to find out if that's so. Maybe Carol Beechy would tell me. She's been in that profession long enough that I think she's seen at least the fallout of the "poor me's." When you've been around for as long as I have you do see changes, and at least as far as taking care of sick people is concerned, I think the changes have been for the better. Certainly different from Florence Nightingale.

[TRACK 2, 19:21]

How would you say the relationship between Bassett and the Cooperstown area has been over the years?

It's good. I think. Initially, when we were smaller both as a hospital and as a village, there was more interaction. For instance, any of the doctors that came here, well not any, but a lot of doctors that came here as interns or residents became a part of the village. The biggest example that I can think of is that they found churches that they went to. I can't honestly say that I know anybody in my church, and of course I have to think back before Covid, any interns or residents or their families. I take that back, I do know one. He came as an intern, and he stayed on as a surgical resident. My understanding [is that] his family was initially Mennonite, and as far as I know there aren't Mennonite communities, not very close anyway, and so they came to the Presbyterian Church. Again, before Covid, [his wife] was singing in the choir some. They had a baby. The baby came to church with them. Actually, one of the times when I saw her going up into the choir loft this toddler was going up with her. A friend of mine was just a patient [at Bassett], and I went over to visit her and again encountered this doctor. That family has stayed here as he's gone through the program, but just offhand I can't think of any others that at least have come to us. Now, whether they've come to any of the other churches I don't know. And it's kind of hard to say, what with Covid, since it's definitely cut down on the attendance in any church. Strangely. I don't know.

[TRACK 2, 22:33]

How does that make you feel, that there are less doctors or residents attending the churches?

I'm sorry if it's happening. Or if it's not happening and I'm just not aware of what's going on, which is possible. I'm sorry because we don't get the benefit of knowing these young people and these young families. But also, they don't get the benefit of a small community, which, back quite a number of years, was one of the reasons why some of the residents and interns came here. They had a good hospital that had lots of experience to give them. For a hospital its size, Bassett did things, took care of people, sick people, that no other hospital that small did. Just take a look at the outlying hospitals that have now become part of the Bassett system. As far as surgery was concerned, for instance, if you needed to have an aneurysm taken care of Cobleskill couldn't do it. Sidney couldn't do it. Delhi couldn't. Even Oneonta couldn't, and Oneonta could do more than those others. But they could not take care of ones that were seriously ill, that Bassett could. Bassett had to do things that were up and coming because it was a teaching hospital. The other hospitals, the outlying hospitals, were not teaching. So, Bassett had to do it. Actually someplace, this is in a book that's a history of Bassett that's someplace in this house. Initially, way back, if you had any kind of abdominal surgery, if you had to have your gall bladder out, you did not get up out of bed post-op for something like two weeks. Now, if your surgery is in the morning and you are in the recovery room until middle of the afternoon, you're ambulated at night because people discovered that early ambulation kept patients from getting pneumonia. The doctors at Bassett, there's one particular one and I almost want to say Dr. [John] Powers but I'm not sure about that, were the ones that were up on top of that, and they were the ones that started early ambulation post-op. So, Bassett has always been on the top of the curve of learning and doing. And I'm just on the verge of telling you what this doctor's name is. It's not going to come to me. This is one of those doggone things that happens when you get older, you don't remember everything you'd like to remember. If I forget my name sometime that'll be really the bad one.


[TRACK 2, 26:20]

He did work on dogs to perfect the organ transplant. They were working on that when I first came, and they did it with dogs initially. And [the dogs] had to have total body irradiation in order to get ready for this.

[Cuckoo clock rings]

I'm not going to remember the doctor's name, it's not going to come to me. He left us after doing the initial research here, and went out I think to the State of Washington and set up one of the first programs for organ transplant out there. Part of the preliminary work on that was done on dogs. [Before] they built the new hospital, they added the two top stories to this wing that comes out towards Fair Street. [That] was the animal lab, and they did a lot of surgery on dogs. That was the precursor of doing the same kind of surgery on people. This has nothing to do with Bassett quite, except that Doctor [David] Blumenstock was our Chief of Surgery. He'd come up through the program, and he was an attending [physician], and then when the Chief of Surgery retired, he became the chief. I had a dog, a Sheltie, and unfortunately back at that time I used to think that it was okay to let dogs have a bone. We had had a steak that was for supper yesterday, and it had a wedge bone, and I gave it to the dog. She chewed it for a long time, and then all of the sudden she started choking. This was in the evening, and then anytime that she drank water it came back up, and the same thing when she ate. The next day I happened to say something to Dr. Blumenstock, and he said, "Well, Betty, she probably has something in her throat. Tell [Eugene] Wells upstairs in the dog lab to set up for an esophagoscopy. And you get the scopes, you know what I'm going to need. Get the ones that we have here and send them up to Gene, and this afternoon I'll see what I can do." Gene anesthetized the dog, and Dr. Blumenstock, Chief of Surgery, who was going to a conference to present something the next day halfway across the country, took time to stop and take care of getting this bone out of my dog's throat.


That's what Bassett was like back a ways. I don't think it would happen here [now.] Actually, in order to find out…

[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]

…that she had [the bone] stuck in her throat. Dr. Blumenstock said to me, "Well set it up with x-ray." So I did that, and took her in. The Chief X-ray Tech did the x-ray on the dog. The Chief Radiologist read the film and made the diagnosis. The Chief of Surgery did an esophagoscopy and took that bone out. This was what Bassett was like back then. This had to have been maybe the [19]60s. Back when we were small, back when we knew everybody. It was back when we saw the kids running in for dinner after church on Sunday, we knew who they belonged to. And although Bassett is still good at what it does, it doesn't have that kind of rapport.

Well, we're approaching our time limit, Betty.

I figured that!


And that tail end you don't need to include.

No, that's alright.

Except to say that Bassett and Cooperstown have both changed.

Well, thank you so much for taking the time today and sharing your experiences.

You're quite welcome.

I had a great time hearing them.

Cooperstown, NY
Gabriel DeJoseph
Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta
Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY
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Track 1, 05:34 - Early Career at Bassett
Track 1, 11:14 - Home Ownership in Cooperstown
Track 1, 22:02 - Changes in Cooperstown
Track 1, 25:20 - Bassett Network Expansion
Track 2, 10:16 - Workplace Culture
Track 2, 15:12 - Women in Healthcare
Track 2, 26:20 - Bassett Medical Innovations