Anyone who has ever been in an emergency room knows how many services nurses provide. They get the patients heated blankets, make phone calls, provide medicine for pain and keep the patient company during what can be a very scary time.
As a specialty, emergency medicine isn’t a very old one, according to Dr. James Nania, the recently retired head of emergency medicine at Deaconess Medical Center. He said the specialty has only been around for 50 years or so.
Nania and many nurses, friends, doctors and colleagues gathered Monday to celebrate the 90th birthday of the nurse who built the emergency nursing program from its infancy at Deaconess, Anna Mae Ericksen.
“Anna Mae has been there from the beginning,” Nania said.
Ericksen graduated from the nursing school at the hospital in 1943 and joined the Army during World War II. Rheumatoid arthritis kept her stateside in San Antonio, but she served as an emergency nurse in the military.
When she returned to Spokane in 1948, she said she was told there was a job in the emergency room at Deaconess.
“It was one room with one bed,” she said.
Her tenure at the hospital wasn’t just limited to the emergency room. She helped found the national Emergency Room Nurses Association and the Inland Empire Chapter of that organization. She founded the Rural Nurse Organization. She held a 60-year membership with the American Red Cross. She created the Spokane Poison Center and helped create the Washington Poison Center system. She has also received many awards for her service in nursing and volunteerism.
In fact, the local chapter of the Red Cross named an annual award for Ericksen for exemplary Red Cross service delivery in outlying areas.
The birthday party, held in the Health Education Center at Deaconess, was filled with fond memories of Ericksen.
“We first met Anna Mae when we were senior students,” said Donna Pierce, a graduate of the nursing school and a former nurse at Deaconess.
“We all rose to her expectations,” Pierce said. “She made us all very good registered nurses.”
JoAnn Hall, another graduate of the school and a former nurse, said that when she attended the school she wanted to return to the West Side of the state, where she was from, but Ericksen convinced her to stay at Deaconess for one year. She ended up spending 22 years at Deaconess.
“I learned all of my nursing from her,” Hall said.
Ericksen’s nephew, David Radford, shared memories of Ericksen from his childhood. He listed her many professional accomplishments, but she was something different to him than she was to her colleagues.
“To me, she is simply my favorite aunt,” he told the party.
He remembered Ericksen taking him Christmas shopping as a child. They would visit the Christmas window at The Crescent and have dinner at the Ridpath. She would also let him open one present on Christmas Eve.
“Santa Claus had nothing on (her),” he said.
He also remembered Ericksen’s cars. When he was in high school he would leave notes on her car to see if he could borrow it. One car was a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria. He drove that to the junior prom. She traded that car in for a 1965 Ford Galaxy. He drove that to the senior prom.
Ericksen said she recently had some chest pains and an ambulance needed to be called. The emergency medical technicians told her they were going to take her to Sacred Heart Medical Center. She told them that was like taking the Pope to Deaconess. She said she convinced them to take her to her old hospital, and she was taken care of very well.
Ericksen shared some of her own memories with the crowd and marveled at the state of emergency nursing today.
“When you look at it now from what we had, you stand 10 feet tall,” she said.