story & photo
by Maren Schober
I have heard that nurses make the worst patients. This can’t be true because here I am talking with Helen Pribesh who absolutely proves this theory to be false. Helen is both a nurse and a patient. From what I can discern she has the utmost patience with her situation and appreciation for those who take care of her at Mary Elizabeth Nursing Center in Mystic.
“I broke my leg while coming down the stairs in my sister’s home,” Helen tells me. “I missed the last step and down I went. I am getting the best care in rehabilitation at Mary Elizatbeth where I also work the night shift as a nurse. That is why I also love working here. The people are very caring and friendly.”
Helen was born 1943 in Westerly to Wilfred and Mable McShane. “My father was a milkman working for the Westerly Dairy,” Helen continues. “Each morning at 2 am he was in his milktruck delivering milk. He did this until he came home about 8 am and went straight to bed. One thing we learned was never to wake up my dad while he was sleeping. We tip-toed around the house all morning.”
Helen went to school in Pawcatuck where they lived and attended West Broad St. School until the eighth grade.
After graduating from the new Stonington High School in 1961, Helen got her nurse training at the Joseph Lawrence School of Nursing at L&M Hospital in New London.
“My first day of clinical work at the hospital I almost quit,” Helen acknowledges. “Neither my mentor nor my first patient could speak English! I was so discouraged. Now I am so glad I did not quit. I love nursing.”
Helen remembers one unforgetable experience she had while she was in training at L&M hospital. “I wheeled my patient into the elevator and then left her there to retrieve her oxygen tank on the other side of the elevator door. She was attached to her tank through a long cord to her nose. Before I could get back into the elevator, the doors closed and the elevator started going down. All I could think to do was yell to my patient, ‘Take the cord out of your nose!’ “
Helen met her future husband, John Pribesh, on a blind date and they were married one and a half years later in 1964.
“John was in the Navy so our family made many moves around the country. I just loved being a part of the Navy community and sorely missed it when John retired.”
“I love to travel,” Helen shares, “and one summer we took our two children camping in Europe. Our daughter, Shana, was a teenager then and she was excited to be able to use her high school French when we were in France.”
“I asked her to find a campground using her French, but she looked crestfallen and admitted the only words she knew in French were french fries and ice cream. We didn’t find a camp ground but we did have lots of delicious french fries and ice cream to eat!”
Helen is very much looking forward to her recovery and going back to work.