Monday, March 23, 2015


Old books show us how far we've come in health care

For several years now my husband has been telling me that we have to downsize our book collection. We have accumulated over 1,000 books during the 40-plus years of our marriage. I always tell him that I just can’t part with any of them.

Last week, he put all of my nursing textbooks in a huge pile on the living room coffee table, so I was forced to go through them as it blocked my view of the TV. I had textbooks from nursing school 40 years ago, as well as textbooks from graduate school 25 years later, and then textbooks from my years as a clinical instructor of nursing students several years after that: 32 books in all.

I began the task by leafing through the three-inch thick nursing school textbook, “Lippincott Manual of Nursing Practice.” Memories flooded back while re-reading about the many archaic practices we learned back in 1972. For example, diabetes was controlled at home by producing a urine sample four times daily, dipping a reagent test strip into the urine, waiting 60 seconds, then comparing the strip to a color chart, all to determine how much glucose had spilled over into the urine. Insulin was injected using reusable glass syringes which had to be soaked in alcohol after each use, and boiled for 10 minutes on a weekly basis. Dull needles were just part of the daily hardship diabetics had to endure in those days. I just couldn’t part with a book that illustrated the basics of my nursing practice, no matter how outdated.

Then I looked up insulin self-injection in my instructor’s version of the 2005 textbook, “Fundamentals of Nursing.” People now control their diabetes at home using a hand-held meter that tests blood glucose levels from a simple finger-stick. No urine collection and testing needed. There are several insulin injection devices, none of which require boiling in water or soaking in alcohol. Needles and syringes are disposable after one use. An alternative is easy-to-use multi-dose insulin pens, but the needles are disposable after one use. Insulin pumps are in widespread use now, but were unheard of in 1974. It was fascinating to see how far we have advanced just in this one area of health care. I needed to keep this textbook because some of the information is timeless.

Poring through all of the books, I was able to part with five of which I had no sentimental attachment. I asked my husband to put the rest back on the bookshelf with the plaque, “There’s no such thing as too many books.”

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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