The 'Business' of Bedpans

Written by Amy Dee Stephens in the October 2020 Issue

bedpans

Willa Mills, age 95, is a little embarrassed for people to know that she collects bedpans. “I don’t usually show them off, because who’s interested in bedpans, for heaven’s sake?” Willa laughed. 

Although she finds them terribly interesting, the collection was rather accidental. “My husband and I bought the first one at an antique store on vacation back in the eighties. It was made out of stoneware, very old and unusual. I showed it to my sister, and while she was on a vacation, she saw a similar one at an antique store and bought it for me. She seemed to think that after I bought one, I was starting a collection. She turned it into a collection!”

Now, a variety of bedpans and even urinals are hanging on Willa’s bathroom walls. She has three made of glass, several metal ones, and more of stoneware; one to which she added a scenic picture, artificial grass and a bird sitting on a nest. “I enjoy seeing them on the walls, and I’m the only one who is supposed to enjoy them--but don’t worry, I cleaned them with bleach,” Willa said. 

Willa, who comes from a long line of nurses, had over forty years of experience working in the medical field. She mostly did private-duty nursing for patients in critical care in a time before most hospitals had Intensive Care Units. In 1957, she moved to Edmond and even remembers working with a few patients in Edmond’s first hospital, located above the movie theater (now Othello’s Restaurant). “Back then, Edmond had a population of 8,000, with one traffic light and one high school,” Willa said. “I’ve seen lots of changes in my life, and I’m seeing lots of changes right now.”

As a young woman during World War II, Willa witnessed a pivotal time in history. Like many women, she went into nurse’s training right out of high school in 1944. She had actually planned to be an airline stewardess, but back then, stewardesses had to be registered nurses. 

It was during her time as a nursing student that she gained a fair amount of experience with bedpans. “Students had to clean the bedpans. We had to use our hands and hand brushes to wash out the bedpans in a deep sink. I don’t remember if we had rubber gloves on,” Willa said. “As far as I know, bedpans are still used, but I think they are plastic now, and probably for one-time use.” 

“Anybody not in the medical field will think I’m a crazy old woman for collecting bedpans—but they mean something to me. They bring back memories.” Willa chuckled. “I guess I do enjoy talking about them.”

 

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