There are Angels Hovering ‘Round
The Call to Caregiving: Part Two
In last month’s “Southernism” column, we explored one type of caregiver... a family member who devotes their days and nights to meeting the needs of an ailing relative or loved one. In recognition of National Nurses’ Week (May 8-14), I wanted to shift the conversation to the debate on whether nursing (as well as the dozens of other recognized healthcare careers) is a CALLING or a PROFESSION.
Over the last two centuries, a myriad of medical careers have emerged and undergone radical changes.
Very early on, the caregiving profession of nursing was seen as the purview of nuns and monks. Today’s National Nurses’ Week honors the origin of nursing as a bonafide modern day profession honoring the birthday of its recognized founder, Florence Nightingale. This dates back to the mid-1800’s as the British born “Lady with the Lamp” returned from service on the battlefields of the Crimean War. Nightingale held the belief that she was called by God to serve humanity through nursing. She wrote in her diary “God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for Him alone without reputation.” Her parents forbid her to train and enter what society then thought was a low and unsavory job. Thankfully, she did not heed their advice. She concluded that nursing was indeed her purpose in life; she felt that nursing the sick and wounded was her life’s “true calling.” She later wrote that the vocation of nursing was a “divine purpose” in life. Nightingale later established the St. Thomas Hospital and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses in 1860.
What makes a nurse a nurse? There is a plethora of different types of professionally licensed nursing fields, as numerous and varied in scope as there is for specialist physicians. The there are ‘nurse’s aides’ in hospitals, nursing homes, and home healthcare. There have been ‘medical assistant’ nurses in clinical facilities for decades, women who have worked alongside doctors without any particular diploma on the wall, but with a world of ‘on the job’ experience, common sense and skills earned by countless hours in service to the sick.
I could write reams of stories about the nurses and nurse’s aides I have been privileged to work with throughout my 43 years as a physician. Today I am going to write about the one who is currently and amazingly still fulfilling her ‘life’s calling’ as a nurse caregiver after 60 years of devoted service to this community... LOIS ESTELLE HUDDLESTON ROBERSON.
The “Red-Headed Angel” is Still On Call
I believe my first real experiences with Lois Roberson were back in the day at the Tippah County Hospital, in the early 1980’s... a time when hometown family practice doctors actually treated patients who were super-sick with problems such as myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), strokes, and heart failure in our own ICU... (Aka- ‘ the intensive care unit.’) As real full-service physicians, we delivered babies and actually did surgery back then, too. But, I digress... Lois Roberson was an ICU cardiac monitor technician, and a very good one, too. If she called about an arrhythmia or other ominous change in a patient’s EKG reading... well, you had better sit up and take notice.
Let’s learn a little more about this remarkable woman. She was born at home in a remote wooded area near the Whittentown community on October 13, 1938. Her parents were Lee Eston Huddleston and Ethel Meadows Huddleston. To this union were born 8 children - Terrell Huddleston, Nelson Huddleston, Lila Huddleston Devault, Leon Huddleston, Waymon Huddleston, J.L. Huddleston, (all deceased), and Lois’ only living sibling, Geraldine Huddleston Sidwell, who resides in Missouri.
The family farmed and share-cropped as most country folks did back in those Depression Days. These children were raised with an unusually strong work ethic to do the constant back-breaking work required to keep a large family going. The household responsibilities fell mainly upon the girls, especially as their mother suffered from very severe disabling headaches and several other health issues that forced her into bed rest a great deal of the time and resulted in her early death in her 40’s. Lois got up at 4:00 each morning to milk the cows and cooked many meals for the family on a wood stove as a 9 year old. She carried heavy pails of water from the spring for the family’s drinking, bathing, and for washing their clothes on a “rub board.” The children walked a mile each morning to catch the school bus to Shady Grove School.
Lois met future husband, the very talented Marshall Roberson, at a gathering where he played music, sang, and won her heart! They were married in 1954; Lois was just sweet 16 at the time. In 1955, their first child Carroll was born. Youngest son, Stan came along in 1959. Lois was a diligent homemaker and mother, but managed to work at FOOT CARESS shoe factory in Ripley for 12 years.
Lois’ healthcare career then began at the Tippah County Hospital and Nursing Homes where she was employed for approximately 40 years! She has also done private duty home care for over 10 years now.
Lois describes one of the more difficult times in her life as when her husband Marshall was diagnosed with kidney failure and required dialysis for almost 4 years. Lois worked at the nursing home in the daytime and did the home dialysis for Marshall during each night. Her beloved Marshall died in 2006, after 52 years of marriage.
I don’t recall how or when she worked an extra ‘side job’ in for me during the 80’s and 90’s as my housekeeper. I never had to worry about anything during those days as she treated our home as if it were her own... thus no self respecting germ ever had a chance here with Lois on duty.
As a personal testimony to Lois, I will provide a bit of background information on my own husband Roger’s condition. In 2018, Roger had a coronary artery bypass graft that did not go well. He had to be opened up a second time to alleviate bleeding around the heart and a few days after this second surgery he endured a Code Blue situation where he basically died and was revived. That left him with some anoxic brain damage. He was not expected to survive all this, but being blessed with a tough Roten and Yancey constitution, he did! Then he had to learn to walk and talk again. Very thankfully for the Swing Bed unit at Tippah County Hospital and the Physical Therapy department there, Roger was able to do exactly that. Early the following year, 2019, he had emergency back surgery for a lumbar spinal stenosis, and similarly had to return to Tippah Hospital Rehab to learn to walk again with the help of a fantastic Physical Therapy crew.
In March 2020, Roger suddenly had to be hospitalized for some small strokes and dehydration leading to worsening renal failure. This was at the very outset of the COVID epidemic as it had just hit Tippah County. A patient located only one room down from ours passed away as one of the early victims of the Corona virus. When this happened, although he was not ready for discharge, we hightailed it home. It was a fearful time and I had no idea how I was going to deal with his situation and continue to try to work at the clinic.
One afternoon in the midst of all this, our dear friend Lois appeared with one of her very famous red velvet cakes that she never failed to bake for Jesse’s birthday. While she was here she learned of my plight and said for me to call her if she could be of help... not too many hours passed before I did that very thing!
Lois came back to us as if she had never been gone and took the most excellent care of Roger imaginable. Lois is basically now performing as a private home caregiver and I truly don’t know how I would have continued to work without her here during the daytime. She endured me going to the clinic every day and coming home having been exposed to Covid all day long. Her caring hands have safeguarded him. Both she and Roger were able to steer clear of the virus with the immaculate care of our Lois, whom I have dubbed our “Red-headed Angel.”
A bit more personal information about her:
Children: Brother Carroll Roberson (Donna)
Stan Roberson (Barbara - deceased)
Grandchildren: Shane Roberson (Lindsey) - Ripley, MS.
Brandon Roberson (Iris) - Rosemary Beach, FL.
Brandie O’Quinn (Patrick) - Tupelo, MS.
Additionally she has 7 Great-Grandchildren.
Many people refer to the service performed by home caregivers as “sitting.”
After five long years of health setbacks, my husband is now a patient in our home who requires help for all the activities of daily living. But when Roger is napping, Lois never takes a break. She is cleaning and dusting in the house, doing laundry, cooking up something for our supper, or outside raking leaves and picking up limbs. SHE WILL NOT BE CAUGHT SITTING DOWN!
She spends Saturday at her own home doing the same hard physical work, and planning and cooking a big Sunday dinner for the family. She has already given orders to her sons that it is time for them to plow her garden spot. When Carroll and Stan protest and say “Why, Mom, with your back in the shape it’s in??? Her reply is, “Well, Lordy, if I don’t have a garden the neighbors might think I’m LAZY!”
There isn’t one chance in a million that anyone would make that mistake.
Although Lois does not possess a grand diploma on her wall lauding that she is a registered nurse of any kind, she has been through more training sessions and more real-life experiences than most nurses will ever see in their lifetimes. She epitomizes the professionalism of caregiving nursing to mankind at every level of her life and is quick to report that she does it all for the glory of the Lord. Our “Red-Headed Angel”, the magnificent lady Lois Roberson, continues to epitomize the “CALLING TO CARE AND TO SERVE.”
“TO BE A FELLOW WORKER WITH GOD IS THE HIGHEST ASPIRATION OF WHICH WE CAN CONCEIVE A MAN CAPAPBLE.”
-- Florence Nightingale