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Local nurse honored for career that’s spanned 50 years
By ANNA BROWN
Norma Hawkins says she can't remember ever deciding to become a nurse - it was just a natural progression into a career she now has been in for 50 years.
Hawkins was honored for her years of service during Hospital Week observances on May 7 at Union Medical Center. She has worked in the same physician's office her entire career, beginning with Dr. Harold Hope and Dr. Boyd Hames and now with Dr. David Keith and Dr. Robert Wentz at Medical Group of the Carolinas Family Medicine Union Eastside.
"It is unreal that I have been working for 50 years," said Hawkins, who semi-retired four years ago. "I had just turned 18 before I graduated from nursing school in June. I thought I was grown. I remember an R.N. in nursing school told me I was too young to go into nursing."
Hawkins said she was always fascinated by nurses, even when she was a small child and her mother would take her to see their family physician, Dr. James Scott. When she was in sixth grade her step-grandfather, Claude Petty, had a stroke. She would spend the night with her grandmother and help take care of him.
"I'd help feed him and I just loved it," she said. "I knew for sure then I wanted to be a nurse. I never really thought about anything else."
At Jonesville High School, where she graduated in 1966, she took all the science and math courses she could. Home Economics teacher Doris Gallagher helped her apply for college scholarships. She was accepted at the Spartanburg General Hospital School of Practical Nursing and earned enough scholarship money to pay for her schooling, which lasted a year.
"That was a big help; it would have been hard on my mama and daddy (Thelma and Eddie Harvey," she said.
Hawkins graduated on June 12, 1967. Before the end of her schooling Hawkins was required to have a physical exam prior to taking her State Board Exam.
"Dr. Scott asked me where I was going to work and I told him I would love to have a doctor's office job," she said.
Scott called later that May and said Hope and Hames were looking for an office nurse. Their nurse had gone to work at a local textile plant.
Hawkins inquired about that and Hope asked if she would come for an interview. They just talked and Hawkins never filled out an application.
Hawkins was hired and Hope asked her if she would like to go ahead and start working that Saturday.
"I started working on Saturdays in May before I graduated in June," Hawkins said.
Hope told her the hours would be 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Hawkins said sometimes the days were much longer than that.
"Many times we were here until 8 or 9 o'clock because they had to go deliver a baby or do an emergency surgery," she said. "Most of the patients would sit here and wait on them and we would finish up when they got back. Even Saturday was a full day when I first came to work."
Keith joined the practice in 1979 and Wentz joined after Hope Hospital in Lockhart closed.
So much has changed in 50 years, Hawkins said. The office has been remodeled four times to help accommodate the growth of the practice.
"When I came to work a chart was almost like an index card, about the size of a half sheet of paper," she said. "When I came to work, an office visit had just gone up from $3 to $4. And that included everything they did on you - a urinalysis, blood sugar or hemoglobin. A chart had the person's name, date and the vital signs were written on it. The doctor would write down what he thought was wrong with you and what medicine they gave you."
When Hawkins came to work the office had a staff of six- two nurses, two receptionists and two doctors.
"Now there are 13 of us," she said.
Hawkins said she had not been working very long when the office started using file folders. An entire family's charts were in file folders. If a person moved out of the house or got married, he or she got their own folder.
"Now we have all this coding and insurance," she said.
The office included what was essentially a mini emergency room where patients with broken bones could be treated.
"If a child came in with a broken bone I would make an X-ray of it and we would take them back in the procedure room," she said. "I would help the doctor set the bone, they would put a cast on it and then I'd X-ray again to make sure it was in place. Our doctors were general surgeons. They did a little bit of everything- orthopedics, gall bladder surgeries, colon resections, Caesarean sections, delivering babies. They were very busy. They made rounds and took care of people in the nursing homes."
Hawkins and her husband, Gary, married in 1969. She has two daughters, Annette Heatherly and Amy Truitt, and six grandchildren. She said all of the doctors in the office have been understanding about family obligations.
"When it came time to have my babies, they would let me work part time and when I got ready to come back full time, my place was here," she said. "The doctors I have worked for have been so good to me and my family. I could have probably driven to Spartanburg and made a little more an hour as a nurse. But my children were here in school and I wanted to be near my family if they needed me, because as much as I loved my job my family comes first. If my family needed me I was gone and the doctors have always been understanding of that. God has blessed me. My job sort of dropped in my lap. God had it all planned out. I went to nursing school and my job was there waiting on me when I got through. I had great doctors to work for and I love, love people. I love taking care of people and seeing them come back. I have become close to a lot of the patents over the years."
In her spare time, Hawkins enjoys her family and she began going on Christian mission trips in 2006. She has been to Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, to a Montana Indian reservation, to Kentucky. This summer her church - West Springs Baptist - will work at a Spanish-speaking church in Atlanta.
Keith said Hawkins is a wonderful co-worker.
"She has lived the kind of life I think most of us wish we could live," he said. "She goes by the book on what a person should do to have a virtuous life, not only in her profession but also in her personal life, too. She has been blessed with some tools and she has used them to full advantage. Norma is smart, neat, organized and punctual. She is the kind of person who keeps the world turning and things going straight. She has used her talents in a very quiet way over the past 50 years."
(Posted May 22, 2017)