Putnam, 75 — known as “Put” to the labor and delivery nurses and physicians she assists as an aide — has for 55 years helped deliver an uncounted number of babies and survived cutbacks and shift changes at the hospital.
“Things always work out pretty good if you hang in there,” Putnam says.
Putnam’s face is lined with age and her eyes are the blue of hydrangea blossoms, but she’s known by her most distinguishing physical characteristic — her height.
“I was four-seven but I shrunk some,” Putnam says. “I don’t like to talk about it.”
She’s known by generations of family members as “the little lady” in the delivery unit.
Putnam found her niche at the hospital as a teenager through a career development program once sponsored by Anniston High School. She took a paid position assisting nurses who needed help changing beds and taking patients’ temperatures.
Once she graduated, Putnam took the natural next step and accepted a regular position with the hospital. Putnam, the last surviving member of her family, has no intention of stopping.
“I’m a single person,” Putnam says. “I’m just by myself and as long as they don’t run me off, I just figured I’d do.”
Putnam has helped deliver babies who would grow up to be nurses, teachers, police officers — probably even a few convicted criminals, too — but she never had a child of her own.
She grew up on the west side of Anniston, one of six siblings. Her father retired from a cotton mill and her mother stayed at home “to raise us kids,” Putnam says. She never married.
Putnam, however, has made a working family at RMC where nurses and physicians revere her for her work and for her heart.
“She’s respected by us and by all the physicians,” says Kathy Welch, a registered nurse. “She’s honest. She takes care of us. She knows what she’s doing, obviously.”
On two occasions she was reassigned to supply surgical units and spent, on both occasions, about five years away from the labor and delivery unit. The last time, about 20 years ago, she was pulled off the floor because RMC’s labor and delivery unit had dwindled to one physician.
After the department re-emerged, the nurses who remembered “Put” did everything they could to have her reassigned to labor and delivery, Welch said.
Putnam’s work days begin in her west Anniston home at 4 a.m. She wakes early to feed her cats and have a morning Bible study. She begins every work day around 6:40 a.m.
On a busy day Putnam moves from room to room helping nurses deliver babies and perform C-sections. She prepares the rooms, pulling instruments and placing sterile gowns, blankets and packages where they belong.
She works with the mothers, comforting them. And she bonds with the grandparents, Putnam says.
Since beginning her work in the middle part of the last century, Putnam has seen plenty of changes — none as striking, however, as the family.
These days there are more single mothers, she says. And even the grandparents dress like teenagers wearing “holes in their pants,” she says, her accent turning “pants” into “paints.”
“It’s a different world. Different people,” Putnam says.
But, Putnam says, one thing is sure to stay the same — the significance of each new life.
“It’s a miracle, really, if you think about it,” she says.
Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.