Photos submitted by Darryl Fuhrman.
By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor
Not many people can say they truly remember what Gadsden’s first hospitals were like.
Some people may have read stories about the Holy Name of Jesus Hospital or the Baptist Hospital before they became Riverview Medical Center and Gadsden Regional Medical Center, but Jerrie Fuhrman remembers what they were like and where they were because she was there, decades ago, as a nurse.
“The old hospital is no longer there on 6th Avenue,” Fuhrman said. “It was called Ralls Infirmary. That was the old Baptist Hospital. Originally it was Dr. Ralls, back years ago, and then they built a new hospital over in East Gadsden.”
Before she was a nurse in Gadsden, the Southside native and 1950 graduate of Southside High had her first nursing job at Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham. Fuhrman worked in the obstetrician department, commonly referred to as “OB,” and helped deliver babies and take care of new mothers.
“I’ve worked OB off and on over the years,” Fuhrman said. “I worked in the nursery and in delivery. You just went wherever people needed you to work.”
After her first job in OB at Princeton, Fuhrman said she came back home and started working in Gadsden hospitals. Her first job in Gadsden’s hospitals was as a “general duty” nurse at the then Baptist Hospital, now Gadsden Regional. She ended up working at Gadsden Regional for 40 years.
“I was head nurse in the nursery,” she said. “Then I was head nurse in recovery. Then I went to supervision.”
Fuhrman, who just celebrated her 92nd birthday, has lived a long life full of helping other people, but she remains humble about all that she has done for others. She told her son, Darryl Fuhrman, to “quit talking about it” and all her adventures throughout the years.
“I don’t want to advertise me,” Fuhrman said.
Darryl ignored his mother’s request and said that she had had an amazing life and such a great story.
Fuhrman has seen a lot of changes in the medical field, including the emergence of transplants and widespread use of antibiotics.
“I remember the first guy in our community that had a kidney transplant… We didn’t always have ventilators. I remember when the polio vaccine came about. Just before that, in the war, they came up with penicillin. Back before then there was a lot of typhoid, malaria, whooping cough. [Medicine] has come a long way. It has a long way to go yet.”
When she was going through nursing school, the rules were much different. Back in the 1950s, women going through nursing school in Alabama could not be married. Fuhrman married her husband in 1954 after she completed her education.
Darryl, who is founder and president of the non-profit Lettermen of the USA, has fond memories of watching his mother help others. He used to watch her treat patients in their home in Southside or in the middle of some farmland.
“I’d go with [her] sometimes to the middle of these cotton or soybean fields,” Darryl said. “There would be a shack in the middle of it. I can remember [her] going back there with [her] stethoscope and all that. I would hear somebody coughing… I remember one place, maybe it was in Southside, where you could literally see from the kitchen out into the cotton field — not through a window, but through a crack in the wall. There were so many times she would come home, grab her [nursing] bag and off we’d go somewhere.”
When Darryl was young, Fuhrman would have farmers lined up out the door of her kitchen.
“In this kitchen, in the summer time, there would be black-eyed peas or whatever she had fixed for supper that night. I would be sitting down to eat and there would just be a bunch of old farmers lined up. They had hurt a finger or whatever. She would just be taking care of them while she was cooking. Or there would just be somebody strange in your kitchen eating with you. They wouldn’t go across the bridge to the hospital. They would just come here.”
For all of those meals and bandage jobs, Fuhrman charged her patients nothing.
Fuhrman was no stranger to the accidents that could happen on a farm. As a young girl she would help injured or sick sharecroppers on her father’s farmland.
“My daddy had sharecroppers that lived on the farm and I was always doing for them and taking care of them,” Fuhrman said. “I was just always taking care of somebody.”
As to why she chose nursing as her career, Fuhrman said she loved people.
“I just love people,” she said. “You have to love people to be a nurse. You do what you are called to do. Maybe it was a mission. I don’t know.”
Fuhrman, who received the Florence Nightingale Award in March of 1991, retired from working at hospitals in 1996. But she is still caring for patients. She is a private nurse for a couple of patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.
“I’m making breakfast for them now, so I don’t have to rush around in the morning,” Fuhrman said as she was stirring gravy in a cast iron skillet on her stove.
Somehow, she finds time to get things done in her busy life.
“Everybody has the same 24 hours in a day,” she said. “Time is very valuable. You can’t buy it. You have to make do with it.”
According to Darryl, his mother never stops or sits down for too long. Even after a serious accident involving a tractor about five years ago.
“The tractor almost got me. It didn’t break anything, but I had a lot of tissue damage. It did enough tissue damage that they sent me to the trauma center overnight at UAB. They were afraid my kidneys were damaged. I was trapped [under the tractor] for four hours and it was so hot that day. It was summer.”
Nathan, the man who takes care of the cows on her pasture land came to feed the cows and found Fuhrman pinned under her John Deere tractor.
“Nathan is a hero,” she said. “I thought I was going to leave that day. I’ve climbed a lot of mountains and crossed a lot of ditches. But I have been really fortunate. I guess I was left here for some reason. I don’t know why. Maybe to take care of the patients I am dealing with.”
Continuing to work is important to Fuhrman. She is not sure how much longer she will work, but she says she will work as long as she is able. She is just taking it “day by day.”
“It helps you to work,” Fuhrman said. “If you sit down you will fold. My father always said ‘wear out or rust out’. So, if you want to rust out, sit down. If you want to wear out, keep working.”