Adirondack Daily Enterprise, August 15, 1987
As patient and nurse she fought TB, and won
By MABEL BLAIS SHARP
I first came to Saranac Lake in 1928 when I was admitted as a patient to the state TB San at Ray Brook. I remained there for approximately 8-9 months and then returned to my home in Rouses Point, N.Y.
I was sixteen years old and had graduated from high school the preceding year. I don't recall very much about my stay at Ray Brook except participating in a control group of a research project involving the daily intake of cod liver oil and tomato juice as a preventive to or treatment for intestinal tuberculosis. The basic treatment consisted of rigidly scheduled rest periods in cure chairs on unheated porches.
Patient turned nurse
One of my patient contacts at Ray Brook was an ex-Trudeau nurse from whom I learned about the D. Ogden Mills School of Nursing at Trudeau Sanatorium. As a result, in January 1929. I arrived at Trudeau as a student to begin my nursing education.
I completed the two-year course offered at the Sanitarium early in January 1931 leaving that same month for a three-month obstetrical affiliation at a New York city hospital. Later in September 1931 I began a ten-month affiliation at Yale-New Haven Hospital. In between affiliations I worked at Trudeau as a staff nurse. In July 1932 after I had completed the third year of the nursing course, I accepted a position as a Registered Nurse at Stony Wold Sanatorium at Lake Kushaqua, N.Y. There I worked primarily in the Pneumothorax Treatment Room and the Operating Room.
Back as patient again
Later when my tuberculosis reactivated I was admitted as a patient. Then I was exposed to the whole gamut of treatment available before the advent of the tuberculosis drugs — i.e. long, dreary months of bed rest, a phrenicautomy, pneumothorax and finally as a last resort, in 1935, a two-stage thorocoplasty. This was done by a prominent Saranac Lake surgeon, Dr. Edward Welles. He was the visiting consultant surgeon at Stony Wold, and it is rather ironic that I had assisted him in the operating room in many such operations.
I was fortunate to be a patient at Stony Wold. At that time I believe it was the only sanitarium in the area, with possibly the exception of the V.A. Hospital at Tupper Lake, with its own surgical facility and an aggressive Thoracic Surgical program. I was discharged as a patient in 1936 and have remained well since.
A nurse again!
Later that year I became a full time university student. I returned to the nursing staff at Trudeau in 1937 leaving there finally in 1938 after my marriage.
Sense of isolation
Recalling those early Saranac Lake years the most predominant memory is one's sense of "isolation." Without private transportation it was difficult and frequently too expensive for many families to visit their loved ones. I don't recall my parents or friends visiting me in the nine months I was at Ray Brook, and they lived a relatively short distance away. This isolation from families of months and sometimes of years was true not only for me but all sanitarium patients and those in the cure cottages in the Saranac Lake area.
Stony Wold was probably the most inaccessible during those early years. There was no public transportation, and we were dependent on the few persons who had cars to escape from the hospital environment. It was a major event to drive to Saranac Lake for a movie or shopping or a restaurant meal. It was a project of great magnitude to plan for a trip to Lake Placid during the Winter Carnival to watch the ski jumps or the figure skating events.
Trudeau was more accessible having one taxi service which operated on a regular schedule between Saranac Lake and Trudeau. Of course, we could walk to town if physically able and if we had enough time and weather permitting. The narrow mountain roads and the winter weather contributed to our isolation. I have never forgotten my last Christmas at Trudeau (1937) when it took approximately eight hours to drive to my home in Rouses Point for Christmas dinner because of snow and icy conditions.
Cut off from communication
In addition to the physical isolation we were, to some extent, cut off from communication with the outside world. As I recall those early years there was no radio in the old nursing home at Trudeau and very few patients had personal radios. If they did, they were not very satisfactory as I remember them complaining frequently about the static caused by electric pads or blankets which interfered with reception. Actually the first time I can remember listening to a specific radio program at Trudeau was after we moved to the new nursing home around 1930. The event of the week then was to gather in the living room where a radio was now located and listen to Rudy Vallée's weekly broadcast. Of course, that soon changed and by the time I arrived at Stony Wold in 1932 radios were common and I clearly remember listening to President Roosevelt's speeches and the announcement of the bank holiday.
Music in "Main"
A pleasant memory is that of the annual summer concert that was given in the lounge of "The Main" building at Trudeau by an ensemble from the New York Symphony who in the summer entertained at the Lake Placid Club. In addition, through the courtesy of the Morris Theatrical Agency, there were live performances by such outstanding stars as Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and Sophie Tucker. There was also a Summer Theater near Saranac Lake and one of the early performers was Rosalind Russell who became a Hollywood star.
It has been about sixty years now since I first arrived in the Saranac Lake area and almost fifty year since I left Trudeau for the last time. The ten years I lived there have remained very special to me. Many of my friends and associates of those early days have passed on but the memories and the friendships of those Saranac Lake days will always be cherished.