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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Martha's rules

When I was 15 my mother died. I went to live and work at Passavant Hospital in Pittsburgh and finished high school at night. The deaconess in charge of the hospital was Sister Martha Pretzlaff from the Milwaukee motherhouse.

Sister Martha was kind but stern. She lectured anyone who failed to do their duty--doctor, nurse, employee or patient. She had a set of rules she lived by:

  1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  2. Be steadfast in the faith.
  3. The Lord will provide.

Often there wouldn't be enough money to cover the payroll. Sister Martha would ask people who could afford it not to cash their checks until she could make a deposit.

Sure enough, either in the morning or afternoon mail she would receive checks or a patient would pay their complete bill. Everything would be paid for another month.

Sister Martha didn't sit behind her desk and pray for money. She gave anesthetics, dispensed drugs and kept records. Before chapel in the morning, she checked the nurses coming on duty and those going off duty to get reports on patients.

After chapel, which she conducted, she visited the floors, speaking to every patient about their care, including wards that held free patients. She even helped in the emergency room and delivered babies when needed.

But she also had time to take me to Sunday school and church--and to readings of Dickens and Shakespeare, to the opera, concerts and the art museum.

Sister Martha never taught what one should do. She lived it.


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