(Editor’s note: To mark and celebrate the founding anniversaries of both New Hanover Regional Medical Center, June 14, 1967, and Cape Fear Hospital, August 6, 1957, we’re featuring glimpses of Wilmington’s health care past. In this issue patient transporter Jimmie Willis, a 43-year veteran of Cape Fear Hospital, shares in his own words memories of the hospital’s earliest days.)My first day on the job at Cape Fear Memorial Hospital was back in 1964. Head nurse Flora Hobbs met me at the front door and said, “There’s my little genius. I’ve heard a lot about you!” At first, I didn’t know what to think – I was so young, only 22. Then she said, “Dr. Mebane’s told me all about you.” As I sighed a sigh of relief, I knew instantly I was in a very special place.
So we went straight to Mrs. Hobbs’ office where I filled out some paperwork. Then she looked me straight in the face and said, “You’ve got 11 orderlies to help train and take care of. I’m making you a supervisor. I know you can do it.” I felt so overwhelmed, but I felt confident because I knew she believed in me. I knew the hospital believed in me.
Back then the hospital was a much smaller place. In the area and building that is today home to EMS and VitaLink was our respiratory area. And we had a string of doctors’ offices all around the campus that was more or less H-shaped. The hospital’s original front entryway hasn’t changed much. The steps and ramp are the same. And there was a drugstore on the corner.
Inside where Facilities Services is today used to be surgery and the operating room. Close by was a nurse’s station called “station six,” where nurse Winnie Bigford used to work. She was an amazing lady. And we had a linen room that had a laundry chute that fed directly outside so the laundry man could pick up the dirty linens. We also had a chapel.
One of my main jobs was setting up traction for people who had bone or joint injuries such as a dislocated hip. Today we use modern traction devices, but back when I first started we had to arrange the different traction bars and pins ourselves. It was a lot of hard work and heavy lifting.
All of us orderlies worked with the nurses and nurses’ assistants. We had our own lockers, and they gave us our uniforms, which had so much starch in them that we had to beat them apart before we put them on in the morning.
In the 1970s everything started booming. All sorts of changes began taking place. One of the big changes was the building of the Jackson Wing, which was built in 1971. It gave us a lot more space.
Most of all I remember the people. Like today, its people working with patients that make Cape Fear such a special place.