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My Madcap Summer as a Candy Striper

April 4, 2014 - Diane Laney Fitzpatrick

When I was in seventh grade, my friend Lisa and I were Candy Stripers at North Side Hospital in Youngstown, the same hospital where I was born. In 1971, being a candy striper was what pre-teen girls did in the pre-Title IX era.

We didn't have sports, and we didn't have a lot of after-school clubs in middle school. An exception was the BBB Club, led by Miss Wire, the most popular teacher in the school - she looked like Miss Alabama USA Barbie. I don't remember what BBB stood for, but I remember that we were supposed to keep it a secret. Looking back, the BBB Club was an all-girl self-esteem club, but they didn't tell us that. They wouldn't tell us what the purpose of the club was, just that all the girls should join. We did exercises and listened to Miss Wire tell us that we were all the tuffest in our own way. We went along and didn't bother to stop and think why we belonged. The boys thought we were discussing our periods and called it the Bigger Boobs are Better Club. But that's the seventh grade for you.

So Candy Striping was pretty popular in that it was one of the few options for exploring a future career. If you thought you wanted to be a nurse when you grew up, you became a Candy Striper.

I don't ever remember wanting to be a nurse (sixth- through tenth grades were my teacher phase), so I can only imagine that I became a Candy Striper on the urging of Lisa, whose mother was our school nurse and who probably thought nursing was in her future.

We had to go to an official interview and orientation before we were accepted into Candy Striperhood. I don't remember much about the orientation, except that Lisa and I both got very dressed up and also that we couldn't stop laughing. I was sure we were going to be rejected on the immature giggling alone. A dress and patent leather shoes can only take you so far when you're stifling laughter through a demonstration of hospital corners.

But we got the job and started Striping that summer. The most fun I had in the whole operation was getting my uniform and putting in a 10-inch hem, turning it into a mini-smock. I wore it with a white blouse, white hose and big, rubbery white shoes. The shoes made me feel like a real nurse. The uniform in total made me look like I was trick-or-treating.

Here is a summary of my duties as a Candy Striper:

Passing water - This is not what you think. In Candy Striper/nurse's aid language that's passing out water to all the rooms. We'd fill plastic pitchers with ice water and put them on a wheelie cart and take them room to room. I couldn't believe how thirsty everyone in the hospital was. It was like an epidemic of dehydration had swept through the place.

Taking poop in Dixie cups down to the lab - The others in the elevator were really mean about it. What was I supposed to do? Take the stairs? They acted like I had pooped in a Dixie cup for fun and was riding up and down on the elevators just to make health professionals sick. I was just doing my job, people. My unpaid, volunteer seventh-grade job.

Changing sheets - I did learn hospital corners. I even learned how to change a bed sheet with someone still in it. That was a two-Striper-and-an-LPN operation.

Flirting with the cute sick guy - There was a guy names James Long who Lisa and I both had a crush on. We constantly found reasons to go to his room. It never occurred to us that this guy might have had some terrible, sad sickness or maybe had just had major surgery. We may have been wearing the Candy Striper uniform, but we had not an ounce of compassion for whatever medical malady that landed him in the hospital. He didn't look sick at all. He just looked cute.

Feeling sorry for the really sick people - This was the reason I knew at the end of my Candy Striper summer that I could never be a nurse. Whenever I passed water to an old person just lying in a bed with no flowers, never any visitors, I would leave the room and start to cry. That kind of drama was frowned on at the nurse's station.

Lisa and I worked together sometimes. We'd get our assignments - 2 East or 4 West - when we got in and if we were working together we'd be absolutely gleeful. Doubly so, if we were on James Long's floor. I doubt the sanity of the supervisor who put Lisa and I together on a shift. It makes about as much sense as putting two high school buddies in the same unit in Viet Nam or two partners in crime in the same prison cell. It's kind of hard to get anything productive done when you're on an uncontrollable laughing and flirting kick. The patients will get pretty darn thirsty and their poop isn't going to walk down to the lab itself.

Neither Lisa nor I went into a field even remotely connected with medicine, health or the human body in any condition. I think the James Longs of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief.

~ ~ ~

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick is the author of Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves. Her Just Humor Me column runs here on her website at


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