Susan Langdon

Susan Langdon

Susan Langdon was born in Atlanta GA, went to high school there and then onto Piedmont Hospital Nursing School. It’s been a few decades, Susan is 73, but she still carries that soft southern accent. “Some things you never change,“ she said. After graduation, Susan went into the Peace Corps in India for nearly five years. She worked in a nursing school and teaching hospital in the Southern state of Andhra Pradesh and moved to Jaipur, in the northern state of Rajasthan. Although it now one of the most widely visited areas of India, in the 1960’s, it was poor, disease was rampant and the old ways held sway. She worked with a local doctor serving a wide area.

“People only came to the western hospitals or clinics when everything else had failed,” said Susan. “Local remedies, herbs, potions and sometimes superstition kept many away from us in those years. We had a huge area to cover with just two nurses and one doctor. It was really overwhelming, so you could really only focus on one thing that you hoped to improve.”

At one point, Susan worked in a 2,000-bed hospital and tried, to no avail, to change the hospital’s procedure for sterilizing instruments. “They had an old model, English system, where needles and syringes were put into a luke-warm solution in a ‘sterilizer’ (where they sat). Families of the patients also stayed at the hospital, bringing food and clothing to patients. It was crowded. There were really good internal medical doctors and they were dedicated.”

After nearly five years away from the States, Susan landed back in Atlanta in 1970 where Emory University was offering the first certified Family Nurse Practitioner program. It was a Federally funded academic and practical course.

Susan’s first job as a solo Nurse Practitioner was in Danielsville, GA working with 30 Public Health nurses in a pilot program. She taught physical appraisal techniques to the RNs so that their counties could qualify for Federal funds. Said Susan, “There was a lot of paternalism in the healthcare system. Sometimes, without conversation with the patient, doctors would perform tubal ligations after a delivery on a woman who had three or more children. (Some) People thought it was a good thing—especially if the families were on Medi-Cal.”

Susan came out as a lesbian in 1975. She separated from her husband and had custody of her daughter during the school year while her husband had custody during the school holidays. Susan is very close to her sister, Nancy, who lives in Chicago and, with her partner Sarah, and runs a non-profit martial arts center teaching women self-defense skills, with a focus on non-violence. Her brother is “into nature and lives a low-income sustainable life; does things like bird and alligator counting. We all keep in touch by mail and e-mail.”

A woman of her generation, Susan did consciousness-raising with her friends and helped start the first rape crisis center in Albany, NY—perhaps the first in the US. She regards the most important part of her career as time she spent as Staff Director at Women’s Health Service Clinic in Colorado Springs, CO.

“We started in 1976,” she said. “We were a very active abortion provider and our clinic operated a little under the radar. We were the first clinic offering outpatient abortions west of the Mississippi. People would drive hundreds of miles from other states to receive procedures. We had the first Menopause Counseling Program; we asked women to read ‘The Summer Before Dark’ by Doris Lessing. We also consulted with Lonnie Barbach, orgasm specialist, for women’s’ sexuality groups.

Starting this March Susan will offer individual consultations every Friday at Openhouse. This program is part of her work with Stepping Stone Adult Day Health—a local Adult Day Health Agency headed up by Molly Steinert, (former Executive Director for Open house). SteppingStone supports independent living and care to elders in the city through four adult day health centers. “(Our work) allows people to prolong their ability to live in their own homes,” said Susan. “We have a van which provides transportation. People come and do art therapy, music, physical rehabilitation, social work services, medication management and meals.”

As a Nurse and patient advocate, Susan’s role at Stepping Stone is to identify and engage elders in the LGBT, HIV and Veterans communities— people who have not made it into care situations that are working for them.

“We want to enlarge the health access opportunities for Openhouse community members and for their friends. To that end, (starting Friday, March 6th) I will have individual appointments with Openhouse community members on Fridays from 2 PM to 4 PM.”

“We’ve seen how prejudice can impact people’s healthcare,” said Susan, I’m aware of the difficulties that LGBT people have suffered in the healthcare field. By coming to Openhouse on a regular basis, we can reach LGBT elders who need services that will help them age in their own homes with the care they need.”

Interview by Emerald O’Leary

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