Oral History Interview with Sue Clay Watson Cannon


April 17, 1998

Interviewer : Ruth Moskop

Transcribed by: Jean Hiebert

20 Total pages

Copyright 1998 by East Carolina University. All rights reserved. No part ofthis document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from East Carolina University.

SC: Good morning.

RM: Good morning, Mrs. Cannon.

SC: Thank you. Good morning.

RM: Well, it's April16, Friday, 1998. I'm Ruth Moskop.

SC: And I'm Sue Cannon.

RM: Mrs. Sue Clay Watson Cannon.

SC: That's right.

RM: And we're here in your room--at Cypress Glen Retirement Community in Greenville,North Carolina. Mrs. Cannon, may I record our interview?

SC: Yes. I'd be delighted.

RM: I'm looking forward to it. Mrs. Cannon has practiced nursing in eastern North Carolina as a registered nurse from 1950 until 1989. Is that right?

SC: Yes.

RM: Good. And we're here to learn more about how she has experienced health care during her life in eastern North Carolina and about her contribution to healing through her career in nursing. This tape will be transcribed and kept at the Health Sciences Library of East Carolina University where it will be available as an oral history resource for people interested in the history of health care. Mrs. Cannon, would you like to share with us a little bit about your childhood-- where you were born and when and ... (1:27, Part 1)

SC: I was born in Bethel about 15 miles from Greenville in 1920--on August 2, 1920. At that time -- babies were born at home, so I was born at home...

RM: And you were the middle child?

SC:... the middle child of five that my mother had and we had a grand childhood. We all loved each other and did what we could to help each other. We were not blessed with the finer things of life, but what we had was very adequate and very well taken. (2:27, Part 1)

RM: Your parents had a farm as I understand it.

SC: Yes. My father was an automobile mechanic. He - he had the first automobile in Hyde County. That's where he was raised. When he met my mother, they married. Her mother was living in the ancestral home and trying to carry on farm work, and she got ill so Mother and Daddy came back--came to Bethel to live and try to look after the farm. Daddy was not a farmer (chuckles)but he did the best he could.

RM: I know he did.

SC: And we all -- all of us the children tried to help him.

RM: But when you were not in school who did you go visit? (3:30, Part 1)

SC: We attended grade school in Betheland Mother and Daddy had a home down in Hyde County at Lake Landon. It was an old Watson ancestral home and we'd go down there when school was out in the summer. We'd go to Hyde County and stay until time to go back to school and then we'd come back to Bethel.

RM: And you saw your grandparents in the summer....

SC: Yes. We -- they were living adjacent to the house that we were living in, and so it was very easy to get to see them--and I value that.

RM: Your grandfather had a store didn't he?

SC: Yes he had a store out at the edge of his yard, a little country store. And he sold drugs patented medicines, I think mostly. (4:42, Part 1)

RM: Do you remember using any of the medications from his store, or did your mother use any of them?

SC: I'm sure my mother used them. [Interruption from intercom system at Cypress Glen-- tape stopped momentarily.]

RM: We were interrupted but we were talking about the patent medicines that Mrs. Cannon's grandfather sold. I guess that would have been Grandfather Watson.

SC: Watson, uh-huh.

RM: What was it he sold in his store in Hyde County.

SC: I remember hearing that he sold-- measured calomel out on the dime and all that dime would hold was a dose.

RM: Of calomel?

SC: Ten cents worth of calomel.

RM: Oh.

SC: I think it was a spring tonic. (Both chuckle.) (5:27, Part 1)

RM: Sort of a soothing tonic to...

SC: I don't know that I ever had any, but people back then believed in tonics.

RM: Sure.

SC: Um Hmm

RM: What about things like cod liver oil?

SC: I'm sure, I'm sure they had some of that. I know they had castor oil.

RM: Castor oil.

SC: (Laughs)

RM: Did you mother use that?

SC: Yes, yes.

RM: She'd dose you five kids up regularly?

SC: (Laughs) When we got sick she did. A dose of castor oil mixed with orange juice and followed by a cup of hot, black coffee. (Laughs)

RM: For children?

SC: Yes, that was the only time we could have coffee.

RM: Was - did you enjoy it then? (6:27, Part 1)

SC: No. I think the coffee was to melt the oil so it wouldn't stick in your throat.

RM: To keep it fluid--

SC: Yes. Uh-huh.

RM: Well that makes sense. Do you remember any illnesses in your family when you were a child?

SC: My grandfather had a big fig bush --big enough for us to climb in, and I really enjoyed climbing in that fig bush and getting the figs.

RM: Fig trees are wonderful!

SC: Urn-huh.

RM: Did anybody fall out of that tree?

SC: He also had another one that -- over near his store. My oldest sister was out playing and climbing in that tree. She jumped out and landed on a rusty nail. (7:34, Part 1)

RM: Ummm.

SC: Of course she had the best home care anybody could have, but it wasn't quite enough. She need tetanus antitoxin, and it was not available except in the hospitals. They had to take her to Washington to the hospital which-- oh, I can't remember how far it was, but from Lake Landing to Washington was a right--

RM: That was a good ways.

SC: -- good ways and she died in the hospital at age 7.

RM: Oh, that's so sad. I know that was hard for the whole family.

SC: Yes, I'm sure it was. Yes. I was about three years old when she died.

RM: So that left four of you. (8:33, Part 1)

SC: Um -hmm.

RM: And the rest of you survived childhood.

SC: (Laughs)Yes. Yes. Un-huh.

RM: Back in Bethel, you had a different kind of health care?

SC: Yes, we had a doctor there and a resident doctor. I don't know if that's correct or not, but he lived there.

RM: What was his name?

SC: Cecil Garrenton, Cecil George Garrenton--married a nurse from Pennsyl--Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I --

RM: Uh-huh, that's right.

SC: And brought her back here to live, and they had two children. I think one of them was adopted, but he had a son, and he also had a little office in his back yard that faced the street and was easy to get to. His son grew up and went to medical school in Pennsylvania and came back and with a partner built a clinic in Bethel. And they soon had to take in a third partner. It was a very active clinic. (10:15, Part 1)

RM: And you helped them at that clinic, didn't you?

SC: Yes, I did.

RM: That was -- I believe you helped them from 1950 -- was it?

SC: Yes.

RM: -- until l975.

SC: That's correct. Un-huh.

RM: Let's go back to your childhood for just another minute. You told me something about a sister who fell off the bed.

SC: Yes. That was my youngest sister, and she was just a toddler then. She fell off the bed and hurt her shoulder, and Dr. Cecil Garrenton made a house call and came to check on her and found that she had dislocated a collar bone. So he got it back in place and he said, "Now, young lady, let's see if you can use that arm." And she slapped him. He said, "You're fine." (Laughs) (11:16, Part 1)

RM: How old was she when that happened?

SC: About two, I imagine.

RM: Yeah, just old enough to be feisty.

SC: Yes, Un-huh.

RM: Oh, goodness. So Cecil Garrenton made house calls and came to visit your family. Did you family ever go visit him in his clinic?

SC: I don't remember that.

RM: You probably stayed quite healthy.

SC: But there were-- there were two doctors that lived in Bethel. And the other doctor was my doctor when I was born. It was Dr. John D. Hemingway.

RM: What a lovely name. So he was your pediatrician?

SC: Yes. Obstetrician.

RM: Your mother's obstetrician. And he came to the house to deliver-- (12:15, Part 1)

SC: Yes. Yes. Un-huh.

RM: Well, I can tell from seeing you that he did a good job.

SC: (Laughs); Oh I think he did.Uh-huh.

RM: Dr. Hemingway.-- You had mentioned that there were some healthcare providers in your family.

SC: Yes, I had-- my grandmother's sister married a doctor, and they had a son who was a doctor --who became a doctor, and there was also a cousin that was a nurse, and

RM: A great uncle and a cousin who were physicians--, and then you had a cousin who was a nurse.

SC: That's right. I was really impressed by those people and motivated, I think.

RM: Did the cousin help your family in some way.

SC: No. (13:17, Part 1)

RM: You saw her though in her uniform. Isn't that what you told me? In her white uniform?

SC: Yes. Yes, I enjoyed- I loved that uniform. But she was --she would go back and forth to South America; that's where she was living.

RM: Oh,my!

SC: And, so we didn't see very much of her.

RM: Do you remember where your great uncle practiced medicine?

SC: It was in the country. In Hyde County.

RM: In Hyde County.

SC: Near Fairfield I think.

RM: And I believe your mother was hospitalized one time in Washington--

SC: Yes. In- In Greenville.

RM: In Greenville -

SC: And she had been hospitalized in Washington also, and I had visited her several times. I was always afraid to be around anybody that was sick. (Laughs.) I was timid. And I saw what they were doing for my mother and how much she appreciated everything. And she and the nurses get around in their white starched uniforms and the doctors in their white uniforms -- some of them were in just plain business suits, but their -- I was impressed with them, and I had -- my sister had just finished training and became an RN. A registered nurse. So I decided that that was for me, too. (15:15, Part 1)

RM: Which sister was that?

SC: The oldest sister- Almira.

RM: Uh-huh.

SC: So I went home -- I had been hurt on my job at a drug store and had to go to the hospital emergency room to get a tetanus antitoxin. I saw a little bit what that was like. So I went home and got an application in to the same nursing school that my sister had attended and was accepted.

RM: And that was which hospital-- which nursing school?

SC: St. Vincenes School of Nursing.

RM: In--?

SC: In Norfolk, Virginia.

RM: Uh-huh.

SC: And they soon built a new hospital with more modem facilities and equipment, and I decided to change hospitals so I went to Norfolk General Hospital. (16:27, Part 1)

RM: Did you like it better there? At Norfolk General?

SC: I don't know. It was entirely different atmosphere.

RM: In what way?

SC: We got to see more of the patients. We were sort of shielded at St. Vincent's because it was a Catholic school.

RM: I see.

SC: And-- but I enjoyed those nuns.

RM: How old were you when you applied to nursing school?

SC: Let's see that was in-- I was 21.

RM: 21 years old. (17:23, Part 1)

SC: Um-hmm.

RM: Yep. And finished with school?

SC: Yes.

RM: At least with the grade school, sure.

SC: Yes. Yes. Um-hmm.

RM: What did you do between the time you finished grade school and the time you applied to nursing school?

SC: (Laughs) I worked at Belk-Tyler some, and I worked at a drug store-- soda fountain some. Here in Greenville.

RM: Tell me more about that soda fountain drug store.

SC: Well, we'd make sandwiches and mix-- had fountain drinks. The people that were working close by, they would come in there for lunch, and I enjoyed that. I didn't have anything to do with anything else except the food section. (18:17, Part 1)

RM: I see.-- And you injured yourself there.

SC: Yes, I picked up a -- I was bringing a tub of ice, cracked ice, into the fountain and I dropped it, and it cut my wrist. And I had to go to the hospital to get a tetanus antitoxin.

RM: How did you get ice in those days?

SC: They had a machine there that cracked it.

RM: And did they have to have it delivered or did they have a way of producing ice there at the pharmacy?

SC: I think it -- they produced their own ice.

RM: Um-hmm. And the machine cracked it. Do you remember ever using ice to -- for injuries?

SC: Oh, yes. You'd get a bump on the head, you'd immediately put ice on it. Wrap the ice in a cloth, 'cause that helps stop the blood, helps stop the swelling. (19:21, Part 1)

RM: Well, it sounds like you were busy before you went to nursing school.

SC: I tried to be 'cause, I knew I needed some extra money to go to school on.

RM: And then you went to St. Vincent's, but you didn't stay in Norfolk. You went to Baltimore, didn't you?

SC: I had to-- I had to affiliate in Baltimore with psychiatry. And then public health.

RM: What does that mean-- to affiliate?

SC: Uh, St. Vincent's was, I mean the hospital in Baltimore was part of St. Vincent's. It was a Catholic hospital too.

RM: I see.

SC: And it was only for psychiatry, and so all the nurses were sent there to study psychiatry. (20:27, Part 1)

RM: Tell me about your day. You donated a number of books to the Library and we are very proud to have those. What -- How did your day divide up? When did you have classes and time to study and--

SC: Yes, we had to go to class everyday. Any day we had several hours when we didn't have a class, we were sent to the hospital for practical experience. And uh,--

RM: Do you remember the first time you had an RN send you to take care of the male patients?

SC: Yes (Laughs), the head nurse told me to go give him a quart of salt water. I poured some in a glass, and he said "I can't drink that." I said "You have to. They told me to give it to you." Nurse came in and found out what I was doing and she (laughs, she said, ''He's not supposed to drink that-- he's supposed to have an enema." (Laughs heartily). (21:44, Part 1)

RM: Oh, my goodness.

SC: A retention enema so it wouldn't come back.

RM: And that was your first experience with a male patient.

SC: Yes. Un-huh.

RM: I know you learned a lot. You mentioned an experience with antibiotics there in Norfolk as well.

SC: Yes, in the children's ward. Well, there was a pediatrician in the service -- I think it was the army -- and he wanted to get some practical experience so he would come over and work in pediatrics, and it helped us as well as him. One child needed some -- he knew about penicilli, and he thought that child needed it, but it was not available anywhere except for the army, but he pulled some strings and got some-- enough penicillin for that child so he got well. RM: Isn't that wonderful? SC: Um -lunm. (22:55, Part 1)

RM: That would have been around 1930 or so? No, no, no, 40 --right around 1940.

SC: 1942 or '3. '1,' 2 or '3.

RM: Did you have lots of children in the-- was this the old St. Vincent's hospital? It must have been.

SC: Yes, uh-huh.

RM: And there were different wards, I suppose.

SC: That's right. Uh-huh. We didn't have many children patients, if I remember correctly. (Clears throat)

RM: Well, I know you learned a lot up there, and you came back to eastern North Carolina with all your new knowledge and experience. (23:50, Part 1)

SC: Yes. My husband had come back from the military-- the army-- after World War II, and we married and lived in Bethel. And at night, or in the afternoon, whenever, the doctors at the clinic, if they had a patient to come in that needed to stay all night, they would go get me. They would go out to my house, because I didn't have a telephone then, and I'd go in and stay until the next morning when the day nurse came to work.

RM: Well, that kept you busy.

SC: That did, uh-huh. Lot of responsibility, too.

RM: When did you start working there at the hospital -- at the clinic, at the Bethel Clinic?

SC: That was 1950. (24:59, Part 1)

RM: That was the year they opened that clinic.

SC: Yes, uh-huh, and we had 13 beds.

RM: Do you remember how that clinic was laid out in the beginning? In the early days? I believe it had eight rooms.

SC: Yes, it had two front doors and a waiting room on each side of the little business office. And then the doctor's office was next, and a treatment room, then an x-ray room and then another doctor's office and another treatment room.

RM: I see.

SC: And a drug room was right across the hall from the first doctor's office.

RM: The drug room?

SC: Medicine room. Where we kept our medicines. (25:57, Part 1)

RM: Uh-huh.

SC: Injections or things like that.

RM: Separate from the treatment room.

SC: Yes. Uh-huh.

RM: We have some glass jars-- instrument jars-- at the Library that came from Dr. Garrenton's clinic.

SC: Yes.

RM: What-- where did those jars stay?

SC: In the treatment room, ready for the --One of them held little instruments that a doctor might need to trim a sore or remove a splinter or whatever. For little purposes like that. And we had 13 beds and they usually stayed full. Three of the rooms were private rooms. There were two wards. One of them had five beds in it and I think the other one had four.

RM: And they were full of people suffering from what sorts of things? (27:10, Part 1)

SC: They had had a baby.

RM:(Laughs) That's what it usually was, huh?

SC: Yes. Uh-huh.

RM: Mama's having their babies.

SC: And they - one of the most frightening experiences I've had was -- one of the beds was right next-- right up close to the door - the entrance to the room. I was on night duty and I walked in to check on my patients. And I really got a -- had a fright. Laying on this table was this head of hair. (Laughs) That was my first experience with a wig.

RM: Oh my gracious. You thought someone had lost her head -- literally, huh?

SC: Yes. (Laughs)

RM: Oh gosh, I'll bet that was a frightening experience... Then the clinic was enlarged.

SC: Yes, we had to make room for more patients and another doctor. (28:17, Part 1)

RM: Was that 1954? Could it have been that soon?

SC: About -- about that time.

RM: The practice had grown.

SC: Yes. We had-- one year we delivered 50, I mean 500 babies.

RM: That's a lot of babies.

SC: Because I kept a log on that. We had a nursery too. There was about six or seven or eight bassinets.

RM: Yeah.

SC: And we had an incubator for premature babies.

RM: Tell me about the two doors, the two waiting rooms and all.

SC: Yes, it was mostly for the structure of the building, the plan of the building. We wanted to have plenty of room for everybody. The colored people that would come in --the black people would come into one. Because they knew the other people in there they would sit with them. Nobody ever said, "You can't sit in the other room," or, "You have to sit here." Nobody ever indicated that. It was their choice. Finally, after a while they did all sit in the same room. Course we still had the two rooms but, it was-- a lot of it was a place for friends to congregate. They'd sit there and talk to their friends and find out what was wrong with them. Just get in a good little visit. (30:22, Part 1)

RM: Sure. Did people come in who were not patients then to visit or--

SC: No, it was just--

RM: They'd meet there just like now and have a good visit.

SC: That's right, uh-huh. Because we didn't have time for visitors.

RM: Sure.

SC: The secretary -- receptionist -- would get the patient's chart out and the nurses would call them in and get their temperature and blood pressure--all the vital signs that were necessary and write down a brief history of what the patient said was his problem-- why he came-- and have that ready for the doctor so he wouldn't have to spend much time---

RM: Taking the history....

SC: Sort of interviewing the patient. And he -- it worked fine. We learned a lot and -- (31:28, Part 1)

RM: You told me about the one instrument jar. Was there something in the other instrument jar, too? You said the one had small instruments.

SC: One of them had sterile gauze in it.

RM: I see.

SC: I think they were about two by two size or smaller.

RM: Just a little square gauze pad...

SC: Mhm-hmh.

RM: Multi-purpose.

SC: That's right.

RM: Yeah. And you had -- you did deliver premature babies sometime?

SC: Yes, uh-hmm.

RM: And how did they do? Were any of them too young to survive?

SC: Yes, some did, but most of them we kept alive.

RM: Oh, you have some pictures.

SC: I have a picture of that incubator.

RM: There it is.

SC: And that nurse is Nancy Grimes.

RM: A "heated bassinet", they called it. (32:27, Part 1)

SC: Mhm-hmh.

RM: Keep those babies warm. And there's a picture of the front of the Bethel Clinic with awnings over each of the two front doors.

SC: Yes. Uh-huh.

RM: This is from the Daily Reflector. March 17, 1962.We'll have to look up that article. Thank you for showing it ---[A copy of this article is available in History Collection]

SC: Is there a pen -- handwritten name on it?

RM: I don't see one.

SC: Annette Watson?

RM: Ah, up at the top.

SC: My sister wrote that. My youngest sister.

RM: I believe it's been cut off. But I believe -- it looks like there was a handwritten name up at the top.

SC: Uh-huh.

RM: It's a nice book you have here.

SC: Thank you.

RM: It's about your family...

SC: Mhm-hmh. (33:29, Part 1)

RM: About your husband here. All sorts of interesting... You're doing a good job of collecting family history. I can see that.

SC: (Laughs)

RM: My goodness, letters and everything. What a beautiful album.

SC: Thank you.

RM: So, you were the senior nurse at the Bethel Clinic?

SC: Yes. Yes. We did not designate head nurse because the rest of the nurses were too good. So I just did what was necessary. I did keep the shifts covered with time schedules.

RM: You were the supervisor....

SC: Sorta yes, uh-huh. That's the way it turned out but no designation.

RM: Tell me about the kind of telemedicine you participated in there at the Clinic. We were talking about telemedicine in 1998... (34:38, Part 1)

SC: Oh, yeah...

RM: And you said you were doing something very similar...

SC: Yes, I was on call at night. I had to work at night. My doctors were on call. If I needed one, I could get him right quick, right fast. But if he wanted to go out somewhere, he felt like he could trust the nurses enough so that he and his wife could go visiting or go for a little ride. If, something came in and I didn't know what to do with it, I would call the hospital emergency room in Greenville and talk with the doctor on call there and tell him the symptoms of what I had -- my patient had-- and ask him if I would be safe in letting him go home or letting him go to the hospital or what. I would always tell him that my doctor was out, and they didn't mind helping me. In fact, I think I earned a lot of respect from those doctors. (36:02, Part 1)

RM: I'll bet you did. Which hospital did you call?

SC: Pitt Memorial.

RM: I see. And that would be when it was in the white building on Johnson Street?

SC: No, that was Pitt General.

RM: That was Pitt General. So the one that you would call --

SC: Was uh--

RM: Would be the red brick one on 43 [Highway 43].

SC: That's right.

RM: Okay. (Laughs) Alright. Did you ever call Washington?

SC: No.

RM: No?

SC: No. Uh-unh.

RM: But that's where you went for help when you needed it-- to Washington. You came to -- when your mother needed help, she went to Washington.

SC: Yes. She was living in Hyde County.

RM: Oh, that was from Hyde County.

SC: Uh-huh.

RM: Oh, I see. I gotcha.

SC: Uh-huh.

RM: Now when the Clinic was expanded, there were two other doctors working there with Dr. Garrenton. There was Dan Jordan, I believe, and--

SC: --and William A. Moody was the sec-- was the third partner. (37:04, Part 1)

RM: Were they specialists or were they also practicing general medicine?

SC: General medicine. Dr. Moody had excelled in surgery. That was his-- that was his love. And we did some, a major surgery one time at the Clinic. And I think we did real well with it.

RM: What procedure was that?

SC: That was a hysterectomy.

RM: I see. Did you assist with that one?

SC: Yes, I did.

RM: Was that the first time you had been at a hysterectomy?

SC: No. No, I --that was the first time at Bethel Clinic. But I had watched them when I was in training.

RM: I see. And Dr. Jordan. What did he-- (38:07, Part 1)

SC: He was medical Just general practitioner.

RM: And did they have particular nurses they worked with more or did you sort of share your time among all three?

SC: We shared our time until the later years. We let one doctor-- one nurse work with one certain doctor. And that worked well.

RM: I see. So you had obstetrical patients, and I believe -- didn't the patients come to the Clinic for their prenatal care?

SC: Yes, yes. Uh-huh.

RM: And then you did -- you had one hysterectomy, but there were some other surgical procedures weren't there?

SC: We had tonsillectomies.

RM: Tonsillectomies...

SC: Um-hmm. And they were-- they were frequent. (Laughs) (39:03, Part 1)

RM: How did the doctors decide when to perform a tonsillectomy?

SC: Well, if a child was having a lot of sore throat or tonsils get enlarged, the adenoids get enlarged, they'd have to be treated with antibiotics, then remove the tonsils and adenoids. And the patient stayed in the Clinic until he was able to eat ice cream. (Laughs) Soon's you eat that ice cream you can go home.

RM: Go home.

SC: (Laughs)

RM: Did the, did y'all administer general anesthetics for the tonsillectomy?

SC: Uh, a little ether. Put a cone over the nose and mouth. It had a gauze covering it so it would hold it. Then just drop ether onto that cone. (40:20, Part 1)

RM: Uh-huh.

SC: The gauze kept it from dripping onto the patient, and we'd give just enough inhalation. They'd inhale the fumes and that would sedate 'em enough to go ahead and get the tonsils out.

RM: And how did you know-- Were you in charge of monitoring the patient under the anesthetic?

SC: No. The doctor would do that.

RM: The doctor did that, too.

SC: Uum-hmmm.

RM: But you -- did you drop the ether on -- would that be part of ...

SC: No.

RM: No, the physician did that as well...

SC: Yes, he just stood there and dropped the ether, and when he felt like the patient was sedated enough he'd reach out for the instrument to remove the tonsils.

RM: Um-hmm.

SC: And, of course, there had to be a nurse there....

RM: To give it to him.

SC: ... to give it to him. Uh-huh. (41:21, Part 1)

RM: And how did you--? You must have had some sort of sterilization.

SC: Yes, we had a, a large autoclave that we'd pack up these instruments and wrap 'em, pack 'em on a tray and wrap 'em good so that they didn't get contaminated. They would stay sterile after they came out of the autoclave.

RM: How long did they stay in the autoclave?

SC: Oh, seemed like a long time...

RM: When you were waiting for them..

SC: ...when we were waiting for them. Yes, uh-huh.

RM: What about preparation? I'm sorry, were you going to say something?

SC: No.

RM: What about preparing medications? (42:16, Part 1)

SC: Oh yes, we had some pills that-- most everything was already prepared, but we did have some in pill form that we had to use for injection so we had to dissolve it. And we dissolved it in a spoon swinging over, swung over a Bunsen burner, a little gas burner. You'd heat the water and dissolve the pill, and then you could draw it up into the syringe to be administered.

RM: Let me see if I understand it correctly. There was some sort of a little --

SC: A little jar like --

RM: A little jar that held like wood alcohol or something that would....

SC: Yes.

RM: Produce a hot flame

SC: Uh-huh

RM: ... on a wick and then suspended over that there was some sort of a stand.

SC: Yes, a little rod with a spoon attached to it. That held it right over the flame. RN: So the bowl of the spoon was over the flame? (43:29, Part 1)

SC: Yes, uh-huh.

RM: Then you would add water to that spoon and then drop in your little measured amount of medication. Then sort of crush it and mix it with the water.

SC: That's right. And, of course, that water would reach the boiling point and was sterilized -- sterile water.

RM: Then you drew it into the syringe...

SC: That's right.

RM: ...and you could administer it to the patient. Do you remember what medications those were that you would inject that way -that you'd have to mix and inject?

SC: Uh, the ones I can remember were morphine and narcotics.

RM: Uh-huh.

SC: But in later years, they started mixing the narcotics.

RM: So all you had to do was draw it up.

SC: Draw it up, uh-huh.

RM: Did you use the Tubex syringes?

SC: Yes, uh-huh. (44:29, Part 1)

RM: I understand those were used a lot in dentist's offices --, but you all used them as well.

SC: Yes we did, uh-huh.

RM: When you gave children's vaccinations and all, how did-- were those premixed? SC: Yes, yes. We had to draw out-- to withdraw a certain amount of the fluid for a dose.

RM: And did children come to the Clinic for their vaccinations, or-

SC: Some did. Some of them. A lot of them did, yes.

RM: Where else could they get their vaccinations?

SC: At the Health Department in Greenville. Sometimes the health nurse, the health nurse went to the schools and would vaccinate anybody, any of the children that needed it.

RM: How did you handle cases of poison? (45:33, Part 1)

SC: Oh, that was-- we would call the poison center in Atlanta, Georgia and tell them what poison the patient had been in contact with and they would advise us what to do. It was the doctor that called most of the time. I don't remember ever having to call myself. But then they sent us a printout of the different drugs that people come in contact with, I mean different poisons and a little description of what to do. That was mostly for the doctor's benefit.

RM: Did you have many cases of poisoning?

SC: No. No ,we didn't. Sometimes a little kerosene, I think, was one of the worst ones that we had. People would have wood-burners for heat and they'd have a little can of kerosene down there behind the heater so they'd have it ready when they needed to.., (46:58, Part 1) [Side one of the tape ends here.]

RM: Mrs. Cannon, what were you telling me about the kerosene?

SC: Oh, people, most people had little wood heaters in their house to keep warm, and they would use kerosene to start the fire because it was quick. They'd keep a little can of kerosene down under the stove or behind it, or close by, and some of the children crawling 'round on the floor would get into that kerosene and 'course they were used to drinking out of a cup and this looked like a cup.

RM: Yeah, the little can.

SC: Yes. Uh- huh.

RM: Probably a good size for them to hold in their hands.

SC: Yes, uh-huh.

RM: Urn. Were you able to help the children when that happened to them?

SC: They had to have a -- some of them had to go to the hospital for a complete washout of the stomach and the skin and everything like that. Because kerosene would irritate the skin. (1:18, Part 2)

RM: Oh, yeah. When the Clinic was expanded, I believe you told me there was an emergency entrance.

SC: Yes, uh-huh. On the side.

RM: And what kind of vehicles pulled up to that entrance?

SC: The people could pull up to that and it was a red door.

RM: (Laughs)

SC: Red for emergencies.

RM: Sure.

SC: --and go right in the Clinic. We had a lot of fight victims, cuttings and stab wounds.

RM: Gunshot wounds?

SC: Gunshot wounds too.

RM: And that required the skill of a surgeon, didn't it, to ...

SC: Yes.

RM: ...to take care of those things.

SC: Yes, yes, uh-huh. (Pauses) Something I hadn't said before --but there was a lot of drug use around Bethel, because the drug users found a new source of getting their drugs. - They'd have to come to the doctor with [interruption from Cypress Glen intercom, tape stops momentarily]-- our police officer, chief of police, had confiscated some drugs and he brought a bush of marijuana in for us to look at so we'd recognize it. (3:04, Part 2)

RM: Do you remember what-- What period of the Clinic was that? When did that happen?

SC: Oh, after two-three years, I think...

RM: Back in the '50's?

SC: I think so.

RM: Early on.

SC: Um-hmm.

RM: Umm. What other kind of drugs were they concerned with?

SC: Uh, morphine. Dr. Garrenton kept his little medical bag in his car right behind his seat so when he got out he could just pick it up and carry it with him. And somebody took that bag one time.

RM: Oh, dear.

SC: And the way we found it-- The man shrubbing ditch banks hit something with his swing blade, and he kept poking around and finally saw it was something black and he pulled it out on his swing blade and brought it to Beth--to the Clinic. He had found Dr. Garrenton's bag. (4:28, Part 2)

RM: What kind of bag was that?

SC: It was a little brown leather satchel.

RM: Uh-huh.

SC: That he used to carry medicines or equipment in when he would make house calls.

RM: I understand you had to make house calls, too, occasionally.

SC: Yes, I had to go to give some antibiotics that were ordered every four hours. I had to go out once or twice to give that.

RM: Every four hours -- that would keep you, keep the whole Clinic going.

SC: Well, I didn't do all of it. The doctors did some of it.

RM: Sure. Can you remember any particularly challenging deliveries? (5:29, Part 2)

SC: No--. Yes, one. This lady had multiple, had a number of babies. I don't know how many she had but it was right many. And she was getting ready to have another one so her husband brought her onto the Clinic which was -- it was seven, eight or nine, maybe ten miles away. He was in a hurry, and he had to cross the railroad to get to the Clinic and when he -- when he hit that crossing the baby bounced out....

RM: Oh, my goodness.

SC: ... but he made it, got his wife on to the Clinic, to the Emergency door and I had to go out and finish delivering the baby-- in the car. I got---

RM: That was an adventure!

SC: It was. I got 'em out, the mother and the baby both, and they did well She's the one Dr. Garrenton called "Firecracker." (6:39, Part 2)

RM: Um-hmm.

SC: Teasingly.

RM: So people brought their own cars up to that Emergency door, didn't they?

SC: Yes, uh-huh.

RM: Did ambulances ever come to the Bethel Clinic?

SC: Rescue vehicles came. Yes, and the ambulance came to get somebody to take 'em to the hospital

RM: Sure.

SC: And my niece was sick with pneumonia and she was in one of those... one of the private rooms .... and it was right next to the back door where the ambulance backed up to the ramp...And she saw it coming, backing up there. She remembers-- she started crying. She said "He's coming after me." Because everybody she knew that had pneumonia died,.and she thought he was coming to get her. (Laughs) (7:51, Part 2)

RM: But she made it?

SC: She made it, yes, uh-huh.

RM: Did you have many patients with pneumonia there at the Clinic?

SC: Not to stay, no.

RM: They would come and then go to the hospital, I guess, is that...

SC: Either that or go back home and take care of it.

RM: I see.

SC: Then come back for a check-up ever so often.

RM: What do you remember about Dr. Garrenton? What kind of fellow was he to work with?

SC: Dr. Garrenton was one of the easiest people I have ever known to work with. I felt like he was my big brother. He was so -- you could go to him with any problem. He would help you. He did a lot of psychotherapy which everybody loved.

RM: Was he a good listener? (8:53, Part 2)

SC: Yes, and he was -- he was always furthering his education. He kept up with the medical journals and medical technology. And if a new business came to the neighborhood, he would go over and watch the people work and find out what kind of materials they used. If any chemicals so that he would know how to treat a patient if he got hurt on the job.

RM: Urn-huh. That's wonderful Community health.

SC: Yes.

RM: He was concerned with that. (9:52, Part 2)

SC: And he knew how to do most anything. He didn't let anything get the best of him. He was a fine man. And he even did needlepoint and tatting.

RM: Sounds like he needed to stay busy. That was important to him.

SC: Yes, uh-huh. [Knock at the door. Mrs. Cannon queries, "Yes?" no answer]

RM: I understand he had some other hobbies, too, that he loved music.

SC: Yes, yes he did. He could play a mandolin and he -- there were two-- three men in our neighborhood who could play musical instruments and they... with my brother and sisters, we were a good audience. So they would come out to our house and play for us. And uh, Dr. Garrenton joined them once or twice. And he enjoyed it, I think. Now would that have been Cecil Garrenton or Connell Garrenton? Connell.

RM: Connell Garrenton. (11:04, Part 2)

SC: Uh-huh.

RM: And that was when you were a child? Or when you were a young adult, I should say.

SC: A teenager.

RM: What sorts of tunes did they play?

SC: Country music.

RM: They played mandolin and what were the other instruments?

SC: Violins and guitars.

RM: I'll bet that was a lot of fun.

SC: It was.

RM: And you said that if there was anything you didn't understand at the Clinic, Dr Garrenton would be very patient and...

SC: Yes, and very patient and see that I understood it before he let me go. And anybody else, he would have done the same thing. He was very -- very education-minded.

RM: That's important, isn't it?

SC: Um-hrnm.

RM: And there was, in addition to the secretary and the nurses --?

SC: We had nurses' aides and a maid and a janitor. (12:14, Part 2)

RM: Tell me about that janitor. He did a lot of things...

SC: (Laughs) Yes, he was a minister -- a black minister and he would get supplies in for us and empty the trash, anything that needed doing that was a little heavy for girls to do.

RM: Uh-huh.

SC: And he would-- he waited on Dr. Garrentonjust like he was a valet for him. But it was just respect for Dr. Garrenton.

RM: --like a wonderful helper.

SC: Um-hrnm. He'd go get the mail. He could sort it out and put it where it belonged. (13:09, Part 2)

RM: Tell me about the pharmacy in Bethel.

SC: Oh, yes, the pharmacy was right next door to the Clinic.

RM: Now, for awhile, it was across the street, wasn't it, or was that before the Clinic opened?

SC: That was before the Clinic opened.

RM: I see.

SC: There was a drug store about a block away, across the street. And it was run by...the first I remember was a lady pharmacist ran it. She was the first, the only lady pharmacist in eastern North Carolina. She was the first one. Her name was Mabel Barnhill. And her -�one of her ancestors talked her into going into -- he was a doctor and he talked her into going into pharmacy. (14:15, Part 2)

RM: Uh-huh.

SC: And she had a little soda shop there. She'd make banana splits and things like that and fountain drinks, and served ice cream. They had the regular round table there with the white top and the little iron chairs, metal chairs, just like-- it was really a picture of a drug store.

RM: And that's ...how old were you when you would go visit her drugstore there?

SC: Oh, it's... I reckon I was in grammar school. Maybe the eighth grade or something like that. It was a little before high school. (15:19, Part 2)

RM: And when did it -- when did the pharmacy set up change? When did that....?

SC: It wasn't very long because Mrs. Barnhill wasn't there long and, another pharmacist came. His name was Herbert Reeves. He stayed there until it had to close. I think, I'm not sure whether he had died or what was the reason for his quitting.

RM: That was before the... that was when the Garrentons still had their clinic behind the house, I guess.

SC: And it was ... it was after the new clinic was built.

RM: I see. And now the new pharmacy is on the comer. (16:26, Part 2)

SC: On the comer, next door to the Clinic.

RM: Is that where it was while you worked at the Clinic?

SC: Yes. Uh-huh.

RM: All throughout those, well it was twenty-five years, wasn't it?

SC: Yes, uh-huh. We had two good pharmacists there, right on. And....

RM: I understand there's a dentist's office in that area as well.

SC: Yes, that was attached on to the pharmacy. And we had had several dentists to come in but they didn't stay long.

RM: People in Bethel have pretty healthy teeth, huh?

SC: Must have, yes. (Laughs) But we do have a dentist and he has-- he has built him an office further away from the Clinic, but across the back yard. (17:29, Part 2)

RM: Still close by...

SC: Still close by, uh-huh. He's very good.

RM: Did you ever see in your childhood days, -- do you remember Mrs. Barnhill preparing medications there at the pharmacy?

SC: No, but I remember her walking out to our house to see my mother. She was a great friend of my mother's.

RM: Mmh-hmm.

SC: And she was a very, a very good-looking woman,.

RM: How long was that walk?

SC: About a half mile or more.

RM: Well, that's not bad. So you were pretty... you were close to town.

SC: Uh-huh. I remember my grandfather worked on the railroad. He was, uh, a paint supervisor and he would come home, ride the train home and get off when it stopped in Bethel at the depot and he'd walk back out to our house, which was his house. (18:45, Part 2)

RM: Sure.

SC: And he'd have to get back...walk back to town in time to catch the train because the train was on a schedule and he had to be there.

RM: You bet.

SC: And I was going to school....grade school'bout that time and I'd walk along with him. And he was walking so fast, I had to run to keep up with him. (Laughs) But I enjoyed it.

RM: I know you did. When you were married with your children, did you live in his house still? Or did you have a different house?

SC: One of them was born at Pitt Memorial Hospital and the other one was born in Bethel Clinic.

RM: I see. Bethel Clinic there with Dr. Garrenton.

SC: Yes. Uh-huh.

RM: Your second baby when did your babies come?

SC: The first one was 1948--in a big snowstorm we had (Laughs). (19:47, Part 2)

RM: Oh, my goodness. And you had to come all the way to Greenville for that.

SC: Yes, Uh-huh. And the second one was 1956....

RM: The first one was before the Clinic opened in Bethel?

SC: That's right...

RM: ... Well, in 1975 the Bethel Clinic closed as a clinic...

SC: Yes.

RM: But Dr. Garrenton...

SC: Stayed there and kept his office open. For those people that didn't... couldn't go anywhere else...for medical service. (20:54, Part 2)

RM: Where would he prefer that the patients went?

SC: Over here. To the ... well, I don't think there was any recommendation. Uh, when they decided to close the Clinic they .. He would give the patient their chart and let the patient go find another doctor.

RM: Sort of send them toward Greenville?

SC: Yes, the Greenville area. Uh-huh.

RM: And what did you do in 1975? Where did you go to work?

SC: I came to work at the hospital. Pitt Memorial and...

RM: Now that's the one on 43? [Highway 43]

SC: Yes, the red one. And I helped 'em move into the present building (21:58, Part 2)

RM: Which is the big white one.

SC: --big white one.

RM: Now when you went to work at the hospital on 43, Pitt Memorial, someone else you knew worked there, right?

SC: There was another hospital in Greenville, Pitt General, that was over in front of the college on Johnson Street. And that's... I went to work there in 1948.

RM: I see. Before you went to Bethel Clinic.

SC: Yes, and my husband wanted to go to Bethel and take care of my mother's farm.

RM: Uhm-huh.

SC: So that's why we went to Bethel.

RM: So when you first married, you lived in Greenville for a little bit? Is that...

SC: Lived in Winterville.

RM: In Winterville.

SC: Um-hmm. With his mother and father.

RM: Ahhh.

SC: They were delightful people. (22:59, Part 2)

RM: And when you came to work after 1975 at Pitt Memorial Hospital -- did your brother work there as well? Is that what I remember?

SC: Do what?

RM: Did you have a brother who helped...

SC: Yes, my brother was there and he was the head of the ambulance department. And we both retired at the same time. In 1986.

RM: 1986? And then you worked some more though. You didn't really retire.

SC: Off and on for about three years. I realized that there was a lot I didn't know how to handle... a lot of new equipment I didn't know how to handle, so I decided it was best for me not to try nursing anymore. So I let my license go so I wouldn't be tempted. (24:22, Part 2)

RM: And you were concerned about something... you said you wouldn't be tempted but you thought...

SC: If I made a mistake it could mean a lawsuit. Somebody could take me to court and take everything I had.

RM: And that was an uncomfortable feeling, I know.

SC: Ooh, yes.

SC: I did have insurance, though. That would help... help if something had happened.

RM: Well, you have had a long and very beneficial career.... You've helped a lot of people.

SC: I worked at Bethel Clinic for 25 years, and I have felt like I was helping my people.

RM: You knew most of the patients who came?

SC: Yes-- (25:22, Part 2)

RM: And their children....

SC: Yes, they were not my family but they were my kind of people.

RM: Sure.

SC: People that I knew. And had their babies and-- once there was a black man helping my sister Almira in the garden. And I went over to see 'em... to see her one day and she introduced me to him. He said, "Yes ma'am, I know Miz Cannon. She helped birth my babies."

RM and SC: (laugh)

RM: Ahhhh. Sure enough. And then people knew you when you came to work at Pitt Hospital too.

SC: Yes, Uh-huh.

RM: Remember the story of the man who didn't recognize you...

SC: Yes, he.. He... he had been a patient at the Clinic and anyway, in other words, he was the father of the baby that was born in the car. (26:28, Part 2)

RM: (Laughs)

SC: I started wearing pantsuits when I came to Pitt Memorial because everybody else was wearing them. I was sitting at the desk writing in my charts one night with one leg crossed over the other knee...one ankle crossed over the other knee....

RM: It made a nice desk that way.

SC: And he came round the comer coming to visit somebody. He stopped at the desk and said, "Miz Cannon, that don't look like you." (Laughs) I decided I'd better straightened most important thing that happened, that helped you the most in nursing--, helped you provide healthcare? (27:35, Part 2)

SC: The nurses aides. The nurses aides were very wonderful. They were there because they wanted to learn. And that makes... makes invaluable knowledge.

RM: When did they start helping you? When did you have a nurses's aide?

SC: We had em at the Clinic. And I hired a girl off the ... she didn't have any medical knowledge except home nursing--family ...when family got sick, she=s... her old remedy - she'd know what to do. But I knew her, and I knew she was a good worker and would strive to do the best she could. So, I hired her at the Clinic. Some of the other nurses fussed with me. You'd take anybody off the street! (Laughs) I wish she'd get somebody that knew how to do something. But she did. She caught on very quickly. I taught her how to give injections.... (28:56, Part 2)

RM: Now was that your first nurses aide? The one you brought in?

SC: Yes, there was another one at the same time who was maid and nurses aide.

RM: And when would that have been? When did they come in? Do you remember?

SC: It was probably in the 50's.

RM: After the Clinic was...

SC: Or the early 60's.

RM: Well, thank you so much, Mrs. Cannon, for your time this morning.

SC: Well, you're certainly welcome. I've enjoyed this.

RM: Is there anything else you'd like to add? Have we skipped over anything, or forgotten...?

SC: I don't know of anything right now. ACept it was a good rewarding life I had.

RM: Well, thank you very much. I know a lot of people have benefited from your gentle care.

SC: Well, thank you.

RM: And I know you were a great asset to the Bethel Clinic.

SC: Thank you, yes, I feel like I was. (30:20, Part 2)

[Tape ends.]

Additional materials relevant to this interview may be found in the History Collections of the William E. Laupus Health Sciences Library.


Interviewer queried Mrs. Cannon regarding what the care of pregnant women was like and how it had changed over the twenty-five years she worked at the Bethel Clinic. Mrs. Cannon replied that she didn't remember much about that. She said that the expecting Mothers were advised to eat

the right foods, and to avoid salt.

Oral History Interview with Sue Clay Watson Cannon
Sue Clay Watson Cannon describes her childhood in eastern North Carolina, as well as rural medicine and healthcare over the course of her life as a registered nurse. Mrs. Cannon attended St. Vincent’s School of Nursing in Norfolk, VA at the age of 21. She worked under Dr. Cecil Garrenton from 1950-1975 at the clinic in Bethel, NC and at Pitt County Memorial Hospital from 1975-1986. She then briefly worked from 1986-1989 at a clinic in Robersonville, NC during her retirement. 70 minutes
April 16, 1998
Original Format
oral histories
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Location of Original
Laupus Library History Collections
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