A Canadian farm boy, born the month World War I ended in 1918, is Vanderbilt’s oldest working nurse. In his 90 years, Orvan Thompson, LPN, has had quite a
Thompson, who trained as a nurse in the 1940s and still works as a sitter for
Vanderbilt Home Care Services, has nearly a full head of silvery hair and a
mustache to match. His glasses are thin and his gait is sure and steady.
“I’ve had good health, I really have. I’m getting now some arthritis and eye problems, but I’ve always been fortunate,” he said. “Somebody asked me one day what I attribute that to. I said good food and hard
work. I don’t know what else it would be. I never was one to smoke or drink either.”
He lives with his wife of 66 years, Evelyn, who is also a nurse, at the Madison
home they bought in 1950, where they raised their four children.
Thompson works on-call on a 3 to 11 p.m. shift. He is usually called in twice a
week but once worked a 21-day stretch.
“It’s a crazy way to work, and if you had to do it for a living it wouldn’t pay, but just to do some extra work, it’s not bad,” he said. “It’s nice to have a little money coming in and to have something to do, but I
probably work harder at home in the yard and garden. I’ve got a nice little garden with tomatoes and squash growing in it.”
Though Thompson has worked in hospitals, he’s now content to leave inpatient duties to the younger nurses.
“At my age, I’m not going to start IVs, and give shots and go over all those medications.
[Sitting] is something I can do,” he said. As a sitter, Thompson watches over patients who need constant
monitoring—confused ICU patients who may rip out their ventilator or feeding tube, battered
children, people who have attempted suicide.
“I talk if they want to talk. If they clam up and don’t say anything, I’m not going to dig in and ask them anything. If I start a little conversation,
and then they follow up, then I’ll talk quite a bit.
“You see, sometimes they don’t have visitors or relatives and that really hurts some of them. It’s hard to, but it’s nice to try to take the place of a relative or friend,” he said.
The serendipity of Reader’s Digest
If he hadn’t stumbled upon a copy of Reader’s Digest in 1938, Thompson might still be in Canada working on the family farm.