Susan Gail Fraser had a dream when she was a little girl in Lake Charles — a dream of moving to “glamorous” New Orleans. She fulfilled this desire, and also embarked on a nursing career.
Gail, who lives in the French Quarter, is a registered nurse at Hotel Dieu Hospital. The Community Standard asked her about her profession and about life in the Vieux Carré.
Community Standard: At what age did you decide that you wanted to be a nurse?
Gail: I was about nineteen. All of my life I never wanted to be a nurse, because my mother was a nurse. I was going to be different. But I had to have a job one summer, so I went to work in the hospital where my mother worked. At about the same time a friend of mine was in a wreck and his girlfriend was killed. I went to stay with him. He was pretty bad off, and I couldn't do anything. I was just helpless. All of a sudden it hit me … “I'd like to be a nurse!” So I went out to school (at the time I was at McNeese State University) and I changed my major.
Community Standard: Would you say that the sight of your friend's suffering made you want to be a nurse?
Gail: Kind of… It was just that I wanted so badly to do something, and didn't know what to do. There was nothing I could do — just stand there. And the funning thing about it is, there are lots of times now that there is nothing I can do — just stand there.
Community Standard: In what area of nursing are you involved?
Gail: I work on Four East at Hotel Dieu. Four East is a specialized floor. The floor is classified as “Special Surgery.” We have pre- and post-operative patients. We have cancer patients, mainly. We only have 34 beds on our floor out of about 250 in the entire hospital.
Other people at the hospital who don't work on that floor sometimes ask, “How can you stay up there? All that is, is just a butcher shop. You take those people to surgery and remove their cancers and they grow again someplace else. Why don't you just let them die?” But the reason that these people come to these doctors is that this is hope for them, and the thing that keeps me going is that this is hope for the future.
Community Standard: Do you ever feel squeamish or revolted by the sight of a badly disfigured patient?
Gail: I guess at first I did, but I have a system now. When I see something that causes me to think, “Oh, isn't that horrible?”, I pretend that it is not real — that I'm imagining it. Then you can go ahead and do what you have to do, and then later you think, “Oh, no, wasn't that horrible?!”
Community Standard: I don't see you smoking, but that appears to be a cigarette lighter you are holding. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Gail: No, I don't. [Nervous giggle.] Let's see… Uh… It's just that I just can't… You know, it's just something I do.
Community Standard: I'm sure you have intelligently considered it… Of course, drinking the water here might be dangerous, too.
Gail: That's just it. What is it that causes cancer? Is it this or that or the other? It could be anything. Heredity, maybe….
Community Standard: Speaking of dangers, you live in the French Quarter. Do you feel safe here?
Gail: I'm not really scared of much of anything.
Community Standard: Do you like the Quarter?
Gail: It is so much fun. I like everything — the food, the people, and then, too, there's not only the Quarter, there's the Lakefront and the parks and everything. I like living in the Quarter and just kind of going out from the Quarter. It makes it kind of like a headquarters. My roommate and I don't have a car, and it is so convenient where we live to catch the minibus to Canal and then get to Hotel Dieu. I imagine that New Orleans will always be kind of like home to me.
Copyright © 1975–2006 Henry H. Mitchell.