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A caring hand

Havel nears end of 42-year career

Carol Havel, vice president of patient care services at Morris Hospital, combs through stacks of files and work that she's trying to complete before retiring Jan. 11 after 42 years with Morris Hospital.
Carol Havel, vice president of patient care services at Morris Hospital, combs through stacks of files and work that she's trying to complete before retiring Jan. 11 after 42 years with Morris Hospital.

When Carol Havel first started her nursing career 45 years ago, syringes were still glass and medical gloves were washed and reused as often as possible.

"It was a lot different. Just a much different atmosphere back then," said Havel, who is retiring Jan. 11 from Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers after 42 years with the hospital.

In her years of service at Morris Hospital, Havel worked as an obstetric nurse, emergency room nurse, operating room nurse, supervisor, team leader and assistant director of nursing, among many other positions. She is ending her career as vice president of patient care services.

"This is not just a job for money. It's who I am and what I do," Havel said.

"There is a need for this. It's not just a job. It's always been my profession, my avocation," she continued.

But now it's time for her to spend time with her husband, children and 10 grandchildren. But she said she won't be far. She lives in Morris and hopes to come back to the hospital to teach some classes.


In 1968, Havel first came to Morris Hospital as a "diploma graduate." When she attended school to be a nurse, it was done through nursing programs at hospitals that made them "diploma graduate" rather than getting college credits for a degree. The students stayed in dorms attached or near hospitals. Havel trained for three years at Methodist Hospital of Central Illinois.

"It wasn't uncommon then for hospitals to have schools of nursing," she said. "You worked under experienced nurses. It was more hands on then book work. Now it is the other way around."

Havel later got her bachelor's degree in nursing from Lewis University and her master's degree in nursing from Northern Illinois University.

She left Morris Hospital for a short time and returned in 1970. She's been there ever since.

Growing up on a farm in Verona, Havel often helped her father take care of livestock. At that time, women either started families or became nurses, secretaries, teachers or beauticians, so she chose to be a nurse, she said.

"It's a dynamic profession. It's different every single day. I love the contact, the stories the patients have, their lives," Havel said. "As a nurse, you really can make a difference. Sometimes you don't even know you're making a difference."

As a nurse, she's had families see her at the store and say things such as, "You helped my mom and made her so comfortable."

Some of the patients she helped will always stay with her — such as the infant boy born in 1968 premature. That was before there were special units for neonatal care, so the baby was not transported to a specialized hospital.

"We dropper fed him and kept him a long time before he could go home," she said. "It worked. He survived. Some made it and some didn't make it. There was no tube feeding babies like you do now. We didn't start IVs on kids."


Technology has drastically changed her profession through the decades.

When she began as a nurse, syringes were glass and, therefore, reused after washing and sterilizing the syringes and needles. It was the same for medical gloves. They were washed, holes patched and covered in powder.

"Now all of that is disposable," Havel said.

To give a patient morphine, a nurse had a Bunsen Burner on a medical cart that she melted the morphine on a spoon with and mixed with saline solution, waited for it to cool in the syringe, and then gave it to the patient.

"Now it's, 'No open flames in the hospital please,'" Havel said with a laugh.

Surgical procedures have changed immensely, as well. For instance, gallbladder surgery used have to be done with a very long incision, and the recovery time was seven to 10 days. Now the patient goes home the same day, and the procedure is microscopic, leaving three little holes.

When she was a staff nurse in the late 60s at Morris Hospital, if there was an emergency, a person rang the door bell and a nurse ran down a back staircase to let them in, and the nurse called the on-call doctor, Havel said. There was no emergency room entrance and emergency room doctors and nurses.

There wasn't even ambulance service. Often times, the funeral directors called by families would end up bringing patients in to the hospital.

"Now, we're a Level 2 Trauma Center with board-certified ER doctors and trauma specialist nurses," she said. "We have about 27,000 patients a year in our ER."

One thing that has not changed over the years is her pride in her hospital. In fact, it continuously grows.

"There are a lot of people who put their heart and soul into this hospital," Havel said, holding back tears. "There are so many people that work so hard here and that really care about the patients."

The pride Havel's co-workers have for her is just as strong is her pride in them.

"She was always there for me. It was not that long ago that I was in Iowa, when my husband was in the ER, and she stayed with him and kept calling me until I could get back here," said Diane Matteson, manager of ambulatory care and co-worker of Havel's for her entire career.

Havel looked out for all of her co-workers, said Pat Schultz, clinical manager of medical, surgical and pediatrics who also worked with Havel for decades.

"She was definitely dedicated to Morris Hospital and its communities," she said.

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