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Tales From A White House Nurse

From left, Robin Schultze, former White House nurse. Center is President George W. Bush. Right is the late Thomas “Tom” Schultze, Robin’s husband.

By Zachary Daum 

“I was in the medical compartment (of Air Force One) and there are televisions in almost every section of the aircraft and there’s a picture (on one) of the first tower that had been hit, on fire. It didn’t register for me. I remember back when Osama Bin Laden had tried to bring the towers down in the mid 90’s with a bomb that went off in the parking garage and I thought it was a historical look. I was standing there watching when the second plane hit. That’s when everyone knew that this was not an accident. We had just a few people on the plane and I stepped out into the passageway and said, ‘Are you guys seeing this?’ That’s when everything started happening.”

Lebanon resident, Robin Schultze is an Air Force veteran and owner of “Robin’s Nest Antiques.” She was also a nurse at the White House for 3 years, during some of the most pivotal times in recent US history. Working with the Clinton administration for 6 months, then with the Bush administration for the rest, she was there for the first election of George W. Bush, 9/11, the anthrax scare and the D.C. sniper attacks.

Schultze explained how she came to be a nurse for the president through hard work and a little bit of luck. “I was a nurse in the Air Force, and when I was still a young lieutenant, there was an article in RN Magazine. There was a picture of George H.W. Bush and his nurses in the Oval Office. I thought, ‘I want to do that.’”

The prerequisites for becoming a White House nurse were that you had to be an ICU or emergency nurse and she had a masters degree in emergency nursing, a specialty certificate in emergency and trauma nursing so she qualified.

Schultze brought the goal to one of her chief nurses, who eventually got back to her with the opportunity to do it. “My chief nurse called and said, ‘Hey, do you still want to be a White House nurse?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ The call for candidates had come out. And so if I wanted to do that, while I was on a business trip, not anywhere near my base, I had to write an essay, get all my annual reports together and get a full length picture in my uniform. I don’t know the people at this base so I’m pulling favors everywhere, sent my package in and I have an interview several months later because it’s a long process. But I got an interview. So then they flew me to the White House and I interviewed there. I found out the next day that I’d gotten the job. So that’s what I got to do for three years and I absolutely loved it. My husband was a history teacher, so anything I could tell him, I made sure I told him because he would teach government, social studies and history in school. He got to take advantage of some of my inside knowledge.”

Schultze remembers meeting President Clinton very well. “I was still in orientation and we were on an Air Force One trip to Houston. He walked into the medical compartment of the airplane and said, ‘Well, who do we have here?’ And I was introduced. ‘This is our newest nurse. This is Robin Schultz.’ He stuck out his hand, said, “Hi, I’m Bill Clinton.” And I thought, ‘I like him.’ Right off the bat. President Clinton did a fair amount of exercise as did President Bush. Clinton was a runner before he became president and he had his music as an outlet.”

Recounting her time with President Bush, she spoke about how enjoyable it was to work with him. “(George W. Bush) was funny and so is Jeb and his sister Dora. His parents were funny too. He is very personable. He’s smarter than most people think. You don’t graduate from Yale and not be able to do it. He got to know the White House Medical Unit pretty well. He has to pass by that clinic every day so he would stop in and say hello. He was just a really wonderful person to work for. He was an avid runner. The interesting thing about that is that the secret service members had to be runners too. We (nurses) didn’t have to, we got to ride in a vehicle behind. I don’t think they get much rest. If you notice how quickly they gray. They are on call all the time.”

Schultze explained the tumultuous times that occurred shortly after the election of President Bush. “It was a little bit contentious (in the turnover between Clinton and Bush). People who work within the residence of the White House remain sometimes for generations. They are there and going to serve whoever is in office. He or she is our Commander in Chief. We don’t usually have an issue with it but especially when you have two different administrations as far as Democrat and Republican there is sometimes some discomfort. ‘We think we do it better because we have better ideas.’ That’s the one thing I really took away, the people working for the president, his staff, they truly believe that what they are doing for the country is the right thing. They are very passionate about what they are doing. They have to be. That’s not an easy job to do. Love or hate whoever is in office at the time they are doing what they think is best for the country. I liked everybody I worked with in both administrations. They are amazing people.”

While on Air Force One during 9/11 she talked of how the White House medical staff begged people to empty some of their carry-on bags so they could fill them with medical equipment. She then recounted what happened after the president returned to the plane and a call with her husband. “We ran our check lists and did everything and Dr. Tubb, the physician to the president said, ‘Have we forgotten anything?’ and we said, ‘We haven’t prayed yet.’ We all held hands and prayed. President Bush was a very faithful person and was doing some praying too, and we took off. We didn’t know where we were going. We had fighter plane escorts. It all hit at once, that this is much worse than we thought. It was really scary. I called my husband from the plane and he was teaching school in Chester, Illinois. I asked if he had a TV in the classroom and he said, ‘No, where are you?’ and I said, ‘I’m in the air and we just left Florida. Honey I don’t know where I’m going and I don’t know when I’ll be home but I’m okay, we’re all okay.’ We did finally get back to DC that night.”

She also remembers the frightful events that came after 9/11. “You think, ‘that was bad, but it’s over.’ It’s not over. I don’t know if it’ll ever really be over. Then we had to deal with the anthrax scare just shortly after that, kind of put that to bed and then we had the DC snipers. A young man and a mentor were going around DC. Someone was killed at a gas station, someone was killed at a home depot. My dad called and said, ‘You can’t go to work.’ and I said, ‘Dad I can’t not go to work.’ From 9/11 for almost a year we had one disaster after another. Luckily the anthrax scare was just a scare. It was just talcum powder.”

She decided to leave her position as a White House nurse after a discussion with a superior. “I would have loved to have stayed and President Bush did ask me to stay. I wanted to be promoted throughout my career. The chief nurse of the Air Force said, ‘you can stay if you want, but you just need to know that you probably won’t be promoted past Lieutenant Colonel if you stay.’ I wanted to be a colonel. I wanted to lead people in that way so I only spent 3 years there. I had talked to the president about it, that I was going to leave. Once a month they have a photo op for the White House people that are leaving and they get a picture with the president in the oval office. They announced ‘Major Robin Schultze and her husband Tom,’ and (the president) said, ‘Don’t leave. Don’t leave.’ so I said ‘Sir, we talked about this, I really need to leave. I’d love to stay but I’ve been told I won’t get promoted.’

“I was at a school in Washington DC for professional military education and he came to the school to speak to the graduating class and I was working in the health and fitness unit. Everyone told me I need to get in line to see him. ‘He’ll be mad at us if he hears that you were here and didn’t.’ So they put me in a line to see him. He got to me and he said, ‘Oh my gosh, Robin. What are you doing here?’ and I said, ‘I work here sir.’ It had been 5 years. He said, ‘Well what are you doing these days, is Tom still in Texas?’ I’m thinking, how does he remember all of this?”

She remembered a very touching moment when George W. Bush sent her a personal letter, years after she had moved on from her position as White House nurse. “When you retire you can get letters from the president. I got a letter from President Clinton and President Bush. Two or three weeks later I was home in Texas and something in the mail said ‘The Presidential Library.’ I thought, ‘He’s already sent me the stuff, what is it?’ I don’t know how he found out my husband had passed away but he had written a condolence letter. I was flabbergasted.”

Shultze remembers her time as a White House nurse fondly. “For me it was really good to see what it was like on the inside of our government. I didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time at the capitol and never got over to the judicial branch. But to be able to hear it talked about and see the attorney general, the Director of the CIA, the FBI, homeland security. Just to be there and see things unfold in the world. It was the assignment of a lifetime. I can’t tell you it was my favorite assignment though. From Scott to Guam, they were all great.”

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