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Library Archives - Legacy Affinity: Hallmarks of Mercy : Patient Care

This Libguide helps to preserve the historical and cultural record of Affinity Health System, which became part of Ministry Health Care in 2012, part of Ascension Health Care in 2013.

Patient Care

In photo : Sarah Bray’s family with nurse, Sue Knobloch

Patient Care
The comfort of patients always has and always will be central to everything we do at Mercy.  In fact, back in the 1800s, when hospitals didn’t have the diagnostic techniques and sophisticated equipment of today, making a patient comfortable was basically all they could do.  There was less of a focus on actual curing, and more emphasis on the treatment of symptoms.  Just take a glance at some examples from a medical dictionary of that era:

Taber’s Medical Dictionary 1905

Asphyxia from Lightening (sic)

Treatment:  Dash cold water on head, face and whole body.  Pour cold water from a height.  If does not revive, place naked body in freshly made opening in ground, place in sitting position and cover with earth.

Hay Fever

Treatment:  Change of climate, tonics and sea voyages.


Treatment:  Patient should be put in a darkened room, ice bag to the head.  When the patient is robust wet cups or leeches may be applied to the neck.


(Pain along sciatic nerve usually resulting from neuritis, exposure to cold and wet is a common exciting cause.)

Treatment:  Rest and hot fomentations, deep injections along course of the nerve with morphine, cocaine, or plain water, covering  the part with flannel and running a hot iron over it.

Patient Care 1890 - 1910

There were no ambulances in Oshkosh during the early years of the hospital.  Patients were brought to the nuns in the paddy wagon, when necessary .  This photo, taken in 1899, shows off one of the first Oshkosh city ambulances

Patient Care 1910 - 1930

By 1926, the ambulances had evolved into these state-of-the-art vehicles.

1918 Flu Epidemic

It was perhaps the flu epidemic in the fall of 1918 that made the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother and Mercy Hospital a full-fledged part of the Oshkosh community.   The epidemic spread so rapidly that city authorities opened a saloon outside the city limits as an emergency hospital and requested the Sisters take charge.  

Sister M. Meinrada Gehring recorded:  “We Sisters went back and forth….by ambulance or patrol wagon.  The same vehicles were used to convey the sick, the dead, of which there were many, and food, but of course, not all at the same time.  We were on the go constantly.  Already on the first day when it opened, the house was filled, and all were so fearfully sick.  The police and the ambulance men had the ‘ best time of their life’ when they had Sisters inside the wagons;  they would blow their sirens extra loud, making everyone get out of their way”. 

Patient Care 1930 - 1950

A special kind of care --- MercyCare---- has always been a hallmark of our hospital, as you can see from these shots of the pediatric unit in the 40s.

This gentleman stopped in one day and told me that he was the kid on the wall.  He had a special affection for this particular nurse because she would bring him comic books to read.  

Patient Care 1950 - 1970

During this time period, Mercy introduced many new programs and services for patients.  In 1958 we initiated a developmental and rehabilitation center for children with cerebral palsy.  In the 60s, we opened the area’s first department of nuclear medicine.  We also developed a continuing care program to help patients transition from hospital to home.  Plus we added a full-time speech therapy program.  

Patient Care 1970 - 1990

Rosalie Hobbs is shown, going through rehabilitation at Mercy’s Neuro Rehabilitation Center after a brain hemorrhage.

It originally appeared very doubtful that Rosalie would ever return to her own home.  There was little hope for her recovery.  But Mercy’s Neuro Rehabilitation Center helped her relearn the skills she needed to live on her own again.  More importantly, they helped rekindle Rosalie’s desire to want to live on her own again.

Major improvements in the 70s included a 25-bed psychiatric unit, a new emergency suite, the organization of a pastoral care department, a new surgical intensive care unit, the addition of diagnostic ultrasound and CT (computerized tomography) services,  and the expansion of our outpatient ambulatory surgery program.  Now that’s progress!

Patient Care 1970 - 1990

Melissa Friday, was born with apnea---periods where her breathing slows or stops completely.  This condition is one possible cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  As a result, Melissa’s heart and respiration are monitored by a “black box” that sounds an alarm whenever she has an apneic spell.  Mercy has shown Melissa’s mother, Pat, how to handle these emergencies with confidence. Teaching parents and assisting physicians in the fight against SIDS is part of Mercy Medical Center’s commitment to our community.

Patient Care 2000 -

The “new” Mercy Hospital , which opened in June of 2000, blends the latest technology into comforting surroundings.

Since we opened, we’ve added Digital Mammography, PET Scanning, state of the art cardiac catheterization lab,  a da Vinci robotic surgery unit.   The Foundation also raised money to upgrade the Cancer Center with a new radiation oncology unit.  

Patient Care - Through the Years

It’s easy to see why people who got sick preferred to be cared for in their homes rather than in a hospital.  The first patients in the Oshkosh area were usually either lumberjacks or destitute individuals…..anyone who didn’t have a family to take care of them.

Back then, there was a stigma attached with going to a hospital.  But Florence Nightingale was already in the process of changing this, with her emphasis on cleanliness and proper bedding, clothing and furniture for hospitals.  A more positive view of hospitals was also brought about the by evolution of technology, which had a direct influence on patient care.

Imagine, for example, the crude sutures of the late 1800s.  They were big, uncomfortable and left unsightly scars.  In the year 2000, doctors are able to stitch up even delicate blood vessels in the heart, using microscopic sutures that dissolve on their own.

Advances in diagnostics have, in many cases, eliminated the need for invasive exploratory surgery.  When CTs and MRIs were introduced in the 1970s and 80s, these tests made it possible to diagnose patients without ever having to use a scalpel.

The 80s also brought the advent of microscopic surgery, which meant smaller scopes, smaller incisions and faster healing.  Compare a hernia repair in the early 90s, which required a hospital stay of five to seven days, to the outpatient hernia surgery of today, where a patient leaves after several hours.  A gall bladder operation during that same time frame required major abdominal surgery.  Today a patient is back home in one day.

Better techniques in pain management have also played a critical role in improved patient care.  Advances in anesthesia and medications make it possible to get people up and moving sooner.

These advances have led to better prevention, earlier diagnosis and treatment of illnesses that only a generation or two ago meant bleak outlooks for their victims.  Our future challenge will be to take advantage of the latest technology, without allowing it to overshadow the personal aspect of patient care.

In the 1880s , holistic patient care came naturally.  Nuns often read to their patients, along with making their food and dressing their wounds.  It was easy to focus on the whole patient—mind, body and spirit—because that’s all there was.  As technology improves at exponential rates, we must not let ourselves become so caught up in the diagnosis and treatment, that we lose sight of the other components of patient healing.

Our new hospital , which opened in June of 2000, blends the latest technology into comforting surroundings.

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