The prisoner had been working all day with a massive auger when the stubborn tool bound up. In desperation, the man leaned over for a better grip, and the augur snatched his shirt tail, cutting into his ribs and throwing him into cardiac arrest before they could shut the machine down. There was no cardiologist in town, and at the time, funeral homes were the only available ambulance service. Smith-Tillman Mortuary sent Emory Melton to the site in a hearse, and as he sped down Hwy 80 to Savannah, Jean Coleman knelt in the back, holding the prisoner’s ribs together with a towel clip in one hand and the IV bag in her other.
High powered tools, ambulances, the medical profession: all have seen many changes over the past few decades . . . and Jean Coleman has been in the middle of all this change. Like countless others in Bulloch County, I have been attended by Mrs. Coleman over the years in different doctors’ offices. Her service may seem routine and ordinary, but that’s because most of us do not know her interesting and extensive 70 year career. She is quiet, reserved and efficient, but underneath that professional exterior is an reservoir of strength and character.
Born in Du Bois, PA, Jean completed her schooling and nurse training in her hometown then began a nursing career at the hospital in Meadville where her skills were put to effective use. Stationed nearby was a soldier enlisted in the Army who captured her heart. After World War II, Jean and Don married then moved to Statesboro. Don enrolled as a student at Georgia Teachers’ College and Jean was hired by Dr. Marvin Pittman as the first campus nurse.
After her tenure at the college, Mrs. Coleman was hired as director of nursing at Bulloch Memorial Hospital on Grady Street. During the 1930s and 1940s few local nurses were available. Unfortunately, that meant if anyone called in sick, and no substitute could be found, Jean had to pull double shifts, which made for extremely long and hard days or nights. Also, the doctors who served the hospital were on call for one week shifts, so if an emergency came up, day or night, she was the one they called to scrub up for surgery . . . regardless if she had worked one shift, double shifts, or was off that day.
In the early 1950s Mrs. Coleman began working with John Mooney who was practicing medicine in Statesboro. She credits Dr. Mooney with being the biggest influence on her knowledge of good medicine and medical practices. His guidance had a major impact on her career as nurse, director of nursing, and physician’s assistant. Jean has worn many hats, but perhaps the most instrumental was that of being the first female president of the Georgia Association of Physician’s Assistants during the 1980s. For ten years, P.A. Coleman made the monthly trek to Atlanta to meet with the State Medical Board of Georgia where important decisions were made to protect patients and employees in the medical field.
Perhaps one of the most interesting medical experiences Jean had in her 70-year career was while studying at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Dr. Alfred Blalock, renowned cardiologist and developer of the shunt for blue baby syndrome, was a visiting lecturer and often assisted with surgeries. Jean was invited to scrub up and assist Dr. Blalock with an open heart surgery. Along this vein of thought, we began to talk about how medicine and medical practices have changed over the past seventy years.
Medical practitioners have used hypothermia to protect patients during times of trauma. In the early years of Mrs. Coleman’s practice bathtubs of ice were used to bring down the body temperature of patients. Today, cooling blankets are used for hypothermia. She also was witness to the introduction of penicillin in the 1940s which she credits with the most positive wide-reaching effects in the medical field, particularly on the battlefields during World War II. With the advent of new medicines and procedures many changes have occurred during Coleman’s seventy year tenure. I could not help but ask, “Why did you work for so long when you could have easily retired thirty or forty years ago?” Her reply?
“I enjoyed my work.” Each and every day she looked forward to going to the office to work with patients and co-workers. But perhaps more than dealing with people, Jean relished the pleasure of having learned something new every day. “It may not have always been in my field but it was always useful information.”
This wife 69 years, mother of two, grandmother of four and great-grandmother of seven obviously has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.
As we came to the close of our discussion, I could not help but ask if she had any plans for a second career. With a smile, she stated she may actually have time to do something with the multiple skeins of yarn stored around the house.
Julie H. Lumpkin is a Statesboro resident and a longtime friend of the Coleman family.