Friday, January 26, 2018

An untold story of local nurse, Elizabeth Wisecup, upon her retirement by Lorraine Glowczak

Elizabeth "Liz" Wisecup on the S.S. Hope
The CBS television series, “Everybody Has a Story” became a popular program in the late 1990s and early 2000s when news correspondent, Steve Hartmen, travelled the U.S. to visit and interview random people. These people were folks he picked out of the white pages in the phone book. In the six years that the series ran, Hartmen had made the discovery that the world is “chock full of amazing, untold stories.”
Our community is no different than the rest of the world. We too have amazing and untold stories from amazing people among us. One such person is Elizabeth “Liz” Wisecup of Windham who was introduced to us by a family member. She took a moment to share her life story as a nurse of 55 years as well as some of the lessons she learned along the way. 

Born Elizabeth Timmons in 1941 to Bernice and Ernest Timmons; she graduated from Windham High School in 1959. 

Upon graduation at the age of 17, she attended Maine Medical Center’s 36-month nursing program. After student nursing and graduating from the program, Wisecup worked at Maine Med in the Special Care Unit. 

When she began her nursing career in the early 1960s, the medical equipment was much less sophisticated from today’s medical equipment. “Glass IV bottles and syringes, metal bed pans and emesis basins were used, cleaned, and reused,” Wisecup explained. “It was just the beginning of kidney dialysis and open-heart surgery. Since there were no cardiac or IV monitors nurses were constantly with their patient taking very frequent vital signs and counting the IV fluid drops.”

After a couple of years working at Maine Med, she decided to combine her love of nursing with her yearning to explore beyond the boundaries of Maine. 

Wisecup applied and was the first nurse in Maine accepted to work as a staff nurse for a 10-month assignment on the U.S. hospital ship, the S.S. HOPE. 

Briefly, S.S. HOPE was a program supported by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and developed by cardiologist, Dr. William B. Walsh. Its mission was to provide “Health Opportunities for People Everywhere.” The ship made 11 voyages to third world countries such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Columbia, etc. 
Wisecup’s assignment was the ship’s fifth voyage and its first to the country of Nicaragua.
According to the National Museum of American History website, “the 15,000-ton ship had three operating rooms, a pharmacy, isolation ward, radiology department, and closed-circuit television so visiting local doctors and students could observe operations. The S.S. HOPE also carried its own freshwater plant the ‘iron cow’ - a machine that blended powdered milk and fats into 1,000 gallons of milk a day, for use on the ship and distribution among the malnourished at ports of call. The medical crew’s main job was to teach American practices in specialties from neurosurgery and physical therapy to dentistry and public health. Many of the diseases and afflictions they encountered were rare in the United States.”

“I learned and was exposed to so much,” Wisecup said of her nursing experience in Nicaragua. “I saw many medical issues that I would never see here in the U.S. Things such as parasites and tumors that had grown due to the lack of medical intervention. I witnessed tumors that had grown so large but due to that lack of medicine, it was not taken care of until we arrived.” 

“Due to the absence of immunization and access to medical care people were dying from rabies, tetanus and other diseases,”

“In another separate case, I witnessed a 10-year-old boy who had ingested lye when he was three years old.” Wisecup continued. “It had burned his esophagus and his mother had to feed him by a feeding tube for seven years - until we arrived. The medical staff made him a new esophagus and when I saw him eating rice and beans with a smile on his face, it made my day.”

While serving as a staff nurse on the S.S. HOPE, she had met a fellow nurse who was from California. That nurse (Wisecup’s new friend) wanted to live in another state upon her return to the U.S. and so Wisecup decided to join in on the adventure. They both chose Denver, Colorado. It was at this point that she began her role as a psychiatric nurse, working in a hospital there. She also worked in public health as well.

While living in Colorado, she met Clarence Wisecup. Clarence was the Public Health Advisor of the Center for Disease Control in charge of the Venereal Disease Program in the State of Colorado. While working together they fell in love and married. “It’s not everyday one can say they met their spouse in a VD clinic,” Wisecup joked.
Together, they had two children. A daughter, Kathleen who was born in 1972 and a son, Mike who was born in 1975. Wisecup took a 10-year sabbatical from nursing to be a full-time mother. Once her son entered the first grade, she returned to nursing full-time. 

“I returned to nursing in the early 1980s and discovered that so much had changed,” Wisecup said. “Everything became disposable. From glass syringes to plastic. From carefully counting pills out of big brown pharmaceutical bottles to prepackaged pills. Many medical advances and progresses occurred in the 10 years I was away.”

Her husband’s job required many moves throughout the U.S., but his final assignment was Maine; where they returned to Windham in 1996. At this point, Wisecup began working in the Behavior Health Department at St. Mary’s Regional Center in Lewiston, until her retirement this past October 2017.

“I have seen many tragedies and miracles in my career,” Wisecup said. “And I hope that the cause of schizophrenia will be known before I die. It is an illness that takes a terrible toll on those afflicted as well as their families.” 

Wisecup is now enjoying a well-deserved retirement exploring all of life has to offer. She is a member of the Windham Historical Society, Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, Lakes Region Senior Center, is a local artist and has served on the Windham Town Council.

If you or someone you know in Windham or Raymond has a story they want to share, please contact Lorraine Glowczak at

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