YON 2020 Day 215: Martha Baker Edwards, RN

Christine E. Borkan, Registrar at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, wrote this tribute about her mother, Martha Baker Edwards, RN. In it, she shares the stories she heard about why her mother decided to pursue nursing as a career, the patients she cared for, and the challenges she faced. Christine remembers what it was like to be the child of a nurse, and speculates on how her mom would react to the current pandemic.

Martha Baker Edwards, RN (and my mom), graduated from a diploma program at Akron People’s Hospital (now Akron General Medical Center) in 1954, and was trained in an era where sympathy was not part of the nurse repertoire. She was always professional; I loved watching her put on her white stockings or iron and starch her crisp white uniform dress and cap. She would carefully attach her Nursing Pin to her uniform before she left for work at Medina General Hospital. Like most children of nurses, my brothers and I suffered all of our childhood diseases and cuts, scrapes and bruises with the matter-of-fact admonishment, “you’re fine.” I envied the mothers of my friends who gave warm sympathetic hugs and cooed about how awful we must be feeling.

In 1937, when mom was four years old, she was in a house fire. While great-Grandma was milking the cows down in the hills of central Ohio, the old cast-iron stove caught the log house on fire. Mom was carried to safety by her teenage aunt, but not before a blazing timber had fallen on them. Mom’s right hand was badly burned, and she carried the scars for the remainder of her 83 years. She remembers that her hair had melted together, and in the absence of butter, a neighbor plunged her hand down into a bucket of dirty motor oil in the barn. At the small country hospital, she was struck by the cleanliness and the efficient actions of the nurses who took care of her; she always said that was her motivation to become a nurse.

Because of her burned hand, Mom was considered handicapped, and was sent annually to Camp Crag in Hinckley Reservation with other handicapped children, courtesy of a local benevolent group. Any kind of schooling after high school seemed out of reach for a poor family in a small town, but the same group gave Mom a scholarship to nursing school in Akron. The photograph in front of an Akron church was taken on graduation and pinning day. My mom is standing beside my dad and her sister is in the background. My parents had to wait until a week later to be married in her parents’ living room, because nursing students were not permitted to be married while in school.

My mom had the utmost faith in medicine, no matter what challenges hospitals faced. She personally lost two young siblings to complications from measles. In training, she was emotionally drained by the devastating effects of the polio epidemic on Ohioans of all ages, and she described watching patients struggle to breathe unless they were in an iron lung. Our family lined up in the elementary school in the 1960s to take our oral polio vaccine out of little paper pill cups, and she was relieved that there was finally a vaccine. Even though she lost twins who were born prematurely, she was satisfied that with improved technology and knowledge this would not happen to other parents as much in the future.

I realize now that she took her responsibility very seriously, and felt lucky to be part of a team that helped with these and other serious health issues. Martha died in 2016, having battled M.S. for 61 years (never found a cure for that one). If she were alive today, she would have been confident that the medical researchers would find the key to putting an end to our current pandemic.

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