Back when Emma Morris came to Overlake, it was still the little wooden hospital sitting in between a pig and dairy farm and staff could look out the window in the surgery area and see cows grazing in the pasture right outside.
Morris, an operating room nurse, remembers when Interstate 405 was constructed and the hospital started running out of room. Patients who needed surgery were admitted in a small building across the parking lot from the main hospital that nurses referred to as the “bunk house.” A van would transport those patients from the bunk house to the main building for surgery and then back to the smaller building again where they would sleep and recover.
“One time the van broke down,” said 81-year-old Morris, who will retire next month after 46 years. “So I and another nurse took a stretcher and put a plastic cover over it and we walked across the parking lot in the rain and got our patient. That was what we did because we needed the room.”
Morris, who went to nurse’s training during World War II at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Montana, worked at the old Maynard Hospital in Seattle and Renton Hospital before moving one mile from Overlake.
Just 18 months after Overlake opened as a 56-bed community hospital, Morris started working there as a nurse in 1962.
“I was actually a patient at Overlake before I started working,” she recalled.
She and her late husband had been in a car accident and she had been thrown from the vehicle. She was admitted for a couple weeks with back fractures and the nurse supervisor who tended to her had worked with her previously in Renton.
“She said, ‘when you get better, you’ve got a job.’ I was sent home with a big back brace that I was still wearing when I came to work here.”
Morris said Overlake is nothing like the little hospital it was. Throughout her tenure, she has seen five expansions that have transformed it into the 337-bed facility that it is today.
She has enjoyed every aspect of nursing, including bedside, but her favorite has been working as an operating room nurse, where she has spent the majority of her time.
“A lot of nurses – and I’m one of them – love to scrub,” she explained. “You just want to be part of that operation. I’m the kind of person who really puts myself into it.”
She has done every kind of surgery – including vascular, general and orthopedics – except open heart. But neurosurgery seemed to be where she fit in.
“I love craniotomies, which people think, ‘she’s weird,’ but I do,” she said, adding, “But there isn’t a specialty that I can say I did not like.”
For more than 20 years, Jeff Pearce, an Overlake neurosurgeon, has worked beside Morris in the operating room.
“A lot of people don’t understand what a team approach in the operating room is,” Pearce said. “Emma does. She anticipates what’s going to be needed and knows where everything is and that has made things run smoothly.”
Pearce described Morris as smart and outspoken and said he’s sorry to see her go.
After 46 years, Morris said she’s decided it’s time to do something with the rest of her life besides working. She would like to travel and spend time with her five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. But for the most part, she hasn’t made any plans and looks forward to sitting back, relaxing and doing the things she hasn’t been able to do because she was always working.
She said Overlake has been a great hospital to work at and as far as nursing, she hasn’t regretted a day of it. She considers herself a “true nurse” and said she has put herself whole heartedly into it.
On June 6, she will scrub in for the last time.
“I will miss that excitement of the surgery – the getting ready and not knowing.”
Carrie Wood can be reached at email@example.com or 425-453-4290.