A Love Story: The Patricia Ann Teetsell Carson Nursing Endowed Scholarship
Story by Shannen Gaffney
Photos courtesy of the Bates Center and Dr. John Carson
Anesthesiologist Dr. John Carson, M’50, RES’55 would never have thought that the nurse he met at the HUP urology department’s 1954 Christmas party would one day be his wife; in fact, he saw her as arrogant, and sort of unfriendly. “She was a beautiful girl that everyone knew…but I always thought she was a snob,” he says, with an infectious laugh of gratitude at having been wrong.
Patricia Ann Teetsell had just finished her three-year HUP Nursing diploma at the time. And though by the end of the party Carson’s vision of her as a snob was dispelled, he could see why others may have also thought of her that way. “No one messed with Pat,” Carson says. “She was not a pushy person—but if you started to push Pat around, she’d hand you your head.” This penchant for assertiveness worked to her advantage in the operating room.
The internationally renowned Dr. Ravdin (for whom HUP’s Ravdin wing on 34th street is named) was chief surgeon in the medical school at Penn at this time, and known for running as tight a ship there as he did while serving as a major general in World War II. He had two excellent instrument nurses that were on all his cases, who “knew what instrument Ravdin wanted before he even did,” according to Carson. When new nurse Patricia Teetsell filled in one day on one of his cases, Dr. Ravdin made an unusual move.
“One of the cardinal rules of operating room etiquette is that a surgeon will never, ever reach up onto the nurse’s instrument stand to grab something. He holds out his hand, and the nurse will hand him the instrument” Carson explains. But for whatever reason, on this day when Pat filled in, he reached up on her station to take an instrument himself. Pat immediately pushed his hand away and handed him the instrument, following protocol. Dr. Ravdin then turned from his operation, looked at Pat, and shot her a hostile growl. Not skipping a beat, Pat growled right back. Suddenly the operating room came to a halt. Everybody in the room thought that Pat’s first day would also be her last. To their surprise, the seemingly strict Dr. Ravdin welcomed and requested Pat’s assignment on his future cases, appreciating her ability to stay calm and procedural in the operating room.
“Our first date after meeting at the Christmas party was on the 3rd of January, 1955. We were engaged in June and married in September,” says Carson. Their plan was to wait a few years to have kids so that Pat could continue to study for her bachelor’s degree, and work before becoming a mother. But Lynn, their first daughter, came along a little earlier than planned, a year after they were married. Still, Pat worked in Dr. Ravdin’s operating room up until she was eight months pregnant. Eventually, all three of their children were born at HUP.
While she only worked as a nurse for a short time, her passion for the field and interest in learning the profession was always close to her heart. Going through her desk after she passed away, Carson saw that she had saved all her report cards and assignments (straight A’s on every one). The Patricia Ann Teetsell Carson Nursing Endowed Scholarship has been providing support to undergraduates entering their senior year and preparing to graduate from Penn Nursing since 2007. Why honor Pat with a scholarship? For Carson, it was an easy choice for a tribute. “It was just something I knew I wanted to do. She had so many good friends in the Nursing department at Penn, loved being a nurse, and more importantly, loved being a student. I’ve missed her every day for the last fifteen years.”