By Kirsten Alma Blomberg, ’11
Fourth-generation caregiver looks back on an unlikely family legacy
It’s funny now, looking back over four generations: My great-grandmother, grandfather, father, and me, nurses all. How? Nursing must have been an undeniable force that pulled us toward it because it was not something any of us planned on doing early on in life.
My great-grandmother, Alma Sofia Asplund Windall, was born on August 18, 1895 in Ishpeming, MI, and grew up with aspirations of becoming a seamstress. Alma, alas, “couldn’t sew a lick,” Grandma says. So she went to work as a cook for a wealthy family, learning discipline, a keen eye for detail, and an enthusiasm for helping people that would drive her to Iron Mountain, MI, and nursing school. I am sure she never thought that 100 years later her great-granddaughter, and namesake, would be driven by her own enthusiasm for helping people to the Johns Hopkins University (by way of Africa) to study nursing.
Upon graduation, Alma was talked into working with one doctor rather than going to Chicago for more schooling. That was lucky for my great-grandfather (maybe not so for the doctor, who may have had amorous intentions). One winter, my great-grandfather-to-be was hospitalized with pneumonia. Alma nursed him back to health, but several months after his discharge, Herman Windall was back at the hospital–sick with love. They married two months later.
Alma later worked with a Dr. Johnson in Iron River, WI, and would even “man” the office when he was away. For weeks after their discharge, Alma would check in on and care for patients at their homes and her own, accepting no money. “There were always lots of sick people coming in and out of the house, and she loved them all,” my grandmother says.
Michael James DePeal III, my grandfather, was born on November 30, 1936 in Pinnconning, MI. You could say his journey to nursing was anything but orderly, though that’s exactly where it began.
After his first son was born in 1955, Grandpa took a job as an orderly in Saganaw, MI, for $1.25 an hour and all the ribbing he could handle. He remembers one nurse telling the new orderlies, “I hope you guys get into this shit right up to your elbows.”As Grandpa recalls, “It wasn’t an hour later, and we were.” He worked with polio patients, recalling power outages during which he manually operated the rocking beds, a type of breathing assistance that swayed from 11 o’clock to 9 o’clock and back. He fell in love with the job anyway. But with kids, $1.25 an hour wasn’t cutting it. So Grandpa joined the railroad in Bay City, MI. Jobs as a contractor later took him to California and then Florida, unhappily all the way. Finally, he gave in, graduating from nursing school in 1978 in Orlando at age 42. He retired 21 years later calling it the most satisfying work he’s ever done.
Asked what it was like being a male nurse back then, he says that he simply knew his place. If he sensed a female patients discomfort, he would trade personal care with a female nurse. He even got to deliver two babies–one night in the ER, Grandpa says, he didn’t even get his gloves on–just looked down and had a baby in his hands.
My father, Douglas Palmar Blomberg, was born on April 29, 1959 in Orlando. He wanted to be a mechanic. Instead, the “wanderer,” as Grandma called him, got a job as an orderly in Hartwell, GA. Watching the doctors, he figured that was the job for him-until he learned that would mean moving to Tennessee, away from his family. Nursing seemed a good fallback, even when cancer forced Dad to take a year off from school and struggle through clinical sessions weak from chemo. Health restored, he graduated in 2000 and went straight to work in the operating room of a hospital near Hartwell. Over the years, he grew to miss being able to actually talk to patients. So when an infection control nurse went on leave, Dad jumped at the chance to fill in. He is now manager of infection control at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens, GA. I don’t hear many people talk about their jobs with the passion and joy that he does.
And then there’s me, Kirsten Alma Blomberg, born on September 21, 1982 in Medford, WI. I wanted to make people smile-as an orthodontist-but no one was smiling when I finished my first college biology class. Feeling lost, I switched to a liberal arts major. Health care found me anyway. A friend who had come to our college from Sri Lanka mentioned the Peace Corps. (I had no idea where Sri Lanka was and knew nothing about the Peace Corps.) Through his guidance I thought that route might fit me. Why not?
Placement in Senegal, West Africa changed me forever. I can remember the day I decided to become a nurse. After the 100th health talk fell on deaf ears, I took matters into my own hands. My village “dad” wasn’t sticking with his medication schedule; my “little brother” had an infected wound; and my “husband,” as they called the baby, was severely dehydrated. I woke up that morning and headed out to my father’s place. I mixed his medications with water, watched him take them, and was off to administer oral-hydration solution to my husband. Next, to little brother’s to check on his leg after hot water compresses the night before. As I walked back to my hut, I thought, “I am a nurse, and I’m happy.”
After graduating from the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, I accepted a job in a medical surgical unit at the University of Maryland Medical Center and now work in GYN/OB at JHH. I would love nothing more than to carry these skills that I am learning now back to Third World countries some day.
And four generations later, our story ends, with pride…and advice for future descendants: Nursing’s in your blood too. You can’t beat it, so join us.