A Lifetime of Care at Gifford: Nurse Retires After More Than 50 Years in Randolph

  • Retired Gifford Medical Center nurse Effie Farnham, right, gives Susan Curtis a hug during a celebration for Farnham at the hospital on June 7, 2018, in Randolph, Vt. Farnham recently retired after working at the hospital for 51 years. Curtis, also retired, worked at Gifford for 42 years as a lab technician. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Retired Gifford Medical Center nurse Effie Farnham listens to Dr. Lou DiNicola, who has practiced pediatrics at Gifford Medical Center for nearly 42 years and now is Gifford's medical director for primary care and medical director for Federally Qualified Health Centers, during a celebration for Farnham at the medical center in Randolph, Vt., on June 7, 2018. Farnham worked at the hospital for 51 years. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, June 09, 2018

Randolph — Medicine has changed in a myriad of ways over the past five decades. And Effie Farnham, a registered nurse who retired last month from Gifford Health Care, has witnessed many of those changes first-hand in her more than 50 years of nursing.

Farnham — who was born at Gifford, grew up in the White River Valley town of Stockbridge, Vt., and graduated from Whitcomb High School in Bethel — came to work at the Randolph hospital fresh out of a nursing program at Worcester (Mass.) City Hospital in 1967.

Since then, treatments and technology have evolved, as has the way people pay for medical care and the laws and policies that govern it.

But, for Farnham, at least one thing has remained constant.

“I just love it,” she said during an interview on Monday in her Randolph Center farmhouse kitchen. “I’m probably going to miss it for quite a while.”

One of the things Farnham will miss is the breadth of the work and the ongoing learning opportunities. She began her career at Gifford in obstetrics and also spent time working as a medical-surgical nurse, in supervisory roles, as a floater, in the inpatient pharmacy, in cardiac care and in addiction treatment.

Her favorite place to be was the emergency department.

“In my heart, I’m an ER nurse,” she said.

Farnham wasn’t one to shy away from what could be grisly scenes. She recalled that following one car accident in her early days, two young men came to the hospital with serious head trauma. Brain tissue was visible in the open wound of one of the men.

“I would not run away from the ER,” she said, describing her attitude as either “stupid or brave.”

To cope with some of the difficult cases, Farnham developed a dark sense of humor. But she said: “I never became so jaded that things didn’t bother me.”

That combination of compassion and competence was well received by co-workers and patients. Many of them gathered in a garden at Gifford on Thursday afternoon to celebrate Farnham’s career.

Lou DiNicola, a pediatrician and medical director of primary care at Gifford, said that he came to Gifford in 1976, “really green.” Farnham helped teach him the ropes.

“Mostly you taught us how to care for people,” he said.

A former patient Louise Sjobeck, of Randolph, said Farnham was good at her job.

“It was always a relief to see her walk in,” Sjobeck said.

Ashley Lincoln, Gifford’s director of development and public relations, said that Farnham’s commitment to her job could make this transition difficult.

“I’m happy for her, but I think it’s going to be hard for her,” she said. “Gifford has been her life.”

Seatbelts were new when Farnham first started and airbags weren’t widespread. Emergency Medical Services had not yet come to the region. Hearses, not ambulances, brought accident victims to the hospital. Many trauma cases didn’t survive the trip.

The hearses weren’t equipped with radios, so people at the hospital only knew patients were on their way if someone could make a phone call from a landline near the scene of the accident.

In addition to being open to the challenges of treating trauma, Farnham also was open to learning new skills as opportunities to do so presented themselves.

For example, Farnham learned CPR and taught classes in it. She took an ER nursing course in the 1970s, once it was available. She performed Gifford’s first-ever cardiac defibrillation, using what she described as “two big fat paddles.”

Improvements in cardiac care, including coronary stents — tubes inserted to keep arteries open and blood flowing — can add decades to people’s lives, she said.

“I saw patients die that they would not die now,” she said. “I mean to me it’s a miracle. It’s just wonderful.”

Birth control pills also were new in the 1960s, “which gave people a chance to plan their families,” Farnham said. Abortion had not yet become legal through the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973.

Farnham, who was raised Catholic and now attends the East Randolph Baptist Church, recalls delivering a baby who had been aborted by his mother at 5 months gestation in the late 1960s.

“The baby cried,” she said. He only lived a couple of hours.

That experience made her a proponent of abortion, she said.

“It was wrenching,” she said. “It has nothing to do with ‘pro-life;’ it has to do with ‘don’t let something awful happen like that.’ Women, they were aborting themselves with awful things.”

Farnham and her first husband, Ronald Morrissette, had three children, Joseph, John and Traci. All three were born at Gifford. While Farnham’s children were young, she worked the evening shift.

In the early days, some tasks were quite tedious. For example, administering a fluid intravenously required that Farnham count the drops to make sure the patient received the correct amount of medication at the right rate.

“It was very time-consuming,” she said.

Now, IVs are administered using automated pumps.

The medicines delivered by IV also have changed over time. She saw how antibiotics delivered intravenously could act quickly to fight off bacterial infections. Now, she said the overuse of antibiotics has doctors cutting back on their prescriptions.

Farnham also has seen the rise and fall of opioid prescriptions. She worked through the 1990s as providers increasingly began turning to opioids to treat patients’ pain. Farnham said she feels partially responsible for the current epidemic.

“We helped cause this,” she said. “Pain receptors are funny things. A lot of people get dependent on (opioids) really quickly.”

After recovering from a work-related injury last year, Farnham took a post in Gifford’s addiction medicine clinic and finished her career there.

In addition to her love of nursing and of medicine, Farnham said she enjoyed the sense of family that developed among co-workers at Gifford. At the small hospital, she said she often worked with the same people each shift. They would celebrate holidays and birthdays together.

“Hugs are important,” she said. “Smiles are important. You have to laugh.”

Now approaching 72, with a new hip, two replaced knees and two reconstructed thumbs, as well as other orthopedic challenges related to arthritis, Farnham said, “it’s time to rest.”

She’s looking forward to spending more time with her second husband, Travis, a retired bill collector. Their hobbies include fishing and panning for gold. Farnham also plans to spend more time with family, reading, crocheting, swimming and traveling.

In spite of her plans for leisure, this may not be the last the hospital sees of her. She may join the auxiliary or take up volunteer driving. Ever the nurse, her mind is still focused on helping people.

“People need Medicaid rides,” she said.

Valley News Staff Writer Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.