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The Syracuse Post-Standard
by Dick Case / The Post-Standard
Sunday March 01, 2009, 1:27 AM
Mike Greenlar / The Post-Standard
Pauline Schlimmer, 83, attends to patient Peter Farsaci in the Crouse Hospital emergency room. She works about 12 hours a week.
Sharon Halpert says it happened about three weeks ago, while her husband waited for treatment in the emergency room at Crouse Hospital. “She came around a corner like an angel,” Sharon’s saying. “A vision in white.”
She’s talking about meeting up with Pauline Schlimmer, LPN, who works in Crouse’s emergency room two night shifts a week.
Pauline is “83 ½.” She officially retired from full-time nursing 16 years ago.
She may also be one of a handful of nurses working in Syracuse who still wear the traditional nurse’s uniform: white dress, white shoes, white stockings and the stiff “universal hat” that used to be so familiar in yesterday’s hospital corridors.
Most nurses on duty these days wear colorful scrubs, or for men, dark pants and shirt. Pauline understands the modern dress and doesn’t put it down. It’s just, well, not for her.
“White signifies purity,” she said one afternoon last week before her shift started. “It’s just my good outlook on life. Other nurses care, but in a different way.”
Pauline describes herself as a “good, old-fashioned farm girl.” She grew up on her family’s dairy farm on Sweet Road, in the town of Pompey. Her brother, John Sutter, still owns the farm but is retired. In 2005, the Sutter homestead, likely built in 1825, was destroyed in a fire.
Her parents were Pauline and John. Pauline carries lots of good memories of life on Sweet Hill and of always wanting to be a nurse. She raised and “nursed” animals on the farm, including rabbits, goats and lambs. She rode with her mother into Syracuse to peddle fruit from the Sutter orchards.
“I wanted to be an Army nurse, but I was too young. I was 17,” she says. So, after graduating from Pompey Academy in 1943, she enrolled at St. Joseph’s nursing school. “I sold my lambs for $25,” Pauline recalls. “That covered my tuition for a year.”
Pauline had to end her nurse’s training after a year to come home and take care of her mother, who’d just given birth to a new sister. Pauline was the oldest of the Sutters’ four children. She never resumed training. Instead, she went to work as a “Rosie the Riveter,” making warheads for artillery shells at Precision Castings in Fayetteville.
After the war, when “the boys came home” and she lost her job on the production line, she met her husband, Herman, a fellow worker, who used to take noon hour naps on top of a stack of packing boxes. Pauline smiles at the memory: “He yelled down at me, ‘What’s your name?'”
She shows us her nursing school picture. She was a looker, even back then.
Her first date with Herman was for a square dance at Suburban Park. They married in 1950 and had two sons, Herman Jr., who lives in Virginia, and Joseph, a resident of Cortland. Both boys became Eagle Scouts; their dad was a Scout leader. Scouting introduced the whole family to canoeing and canoe racing. Herm and Pauline once owned 18 canoes and competed in several national canoe races in the senior division.
When her sons were close to being teens, Pauline went back to work after the family car was stolen in the 1960s. She learned hospitals were complaining about a shortage of nurses. She got her LPN degree at Central City Business Institute and “one day I walked up to Memorial Hospital and into the emergency room. They told me they had an opening in the ER; I went to work.” That was in 1966.
Memorial Hospital merged with Crouse-Irving, its neighbor across Irving Avenue, in 1968. The institution became Crouse Hospital in 1996.
Pauline’s official retirement was in 1988, but she kept working. “I enjoy nursing,” she explains. “I want to work; it was me.”
Her career on the floor was interrupted for about six months 2 ½ years ago after Pauline had a serious heart attack. It happened at home, after working in her garden. “After I went inside, I had a terrible pain in my chest. My husband called 911.”
Pauline had two stents put on the main artery to her heart. Her cardiologist at Crouse, Dr. William Berkery, counseled her to give up being a nurse. She kept at it, cutting back on her shifts but staying the course.
“Caring for people means a lot to me,” she says.
In 1970, Pauline faced another challenge. The man who had been “a very healthy person all of his life,” her husband, Herm, was hospitalized for treatment of depression. The next few months were a “purgatory” for Pauline and her sons. Herm remained “unbelievably patient” throughout the long ordeal. He eventually died in a local nursing home in January 2008. Pauline believes his death was caused by a reaction to the anti-depressant prescribed for him.
“We had a good life together,” Pauline says of her marriage to Herm.
Pauline lives quietly in the Madison County village of DeRuyter. She enjoys the company of her cat, Kitty, and working her garden. She cooks and favors natural foods. Her big concern at the moment is the impending closing of her church, Immaculate Conception in the hamlet of Pompey, which is part of a general consolidation of parishes throughout the Syracuse Diocese.
“I hope the bishop (James Moynihan) changes his mind,” she says.
Pauline will keep on pulling shifts in the Crouse ER, after more than 40 years.
“I care enough to do it,” she explains. “I’m going to keep working as long as God lets me.”
Dick Case writes Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 470-2254.