Tales from the days of a 70’s student nurse

I don’t know why I decided to become a nurse, it certainly wasn’t a burning ambition. I had worked in the Health Service as a clerk in the waiting list office, in medical records and as a clerical officer and a higher clerical officer at the regional board. It may have been when I met a ship’s surgeon and his nurse on a cruise ship, they seemed to have a lot of fun. I realised that I’d done a whole lot of different jobs and that maybe it was time to get a qualification (other than A levels) as it might become more difficult to get jobs in the future.

I ‘phoned our local hospital and asked what qualifications one needed to apply for nurse training. I was told I’d need O level English. I said I’d got A level but was then asked “but have you got O level?” Maybe I should have realised that that was a clue as to how the NHS operates!

I had to go for an interview where I seem to remember saying that I didn’t mind getting my hands dirty (I’d worked in a potting shed before). Anyway I got a place on the course.

Our training was split between three hospitals in the group with a year spent at each. We had to attend preliminary training school for eight weeks before being let loose on a ward. When we were on a ward we were part of the team and our placements were planned for the whole three years. This meant that,if a student nurse left, her allocated wards would be shorthanded .

PTS was fun really. We had a lecturer who was somewhat fossilised, She liked drawing kidneys and said she’d like to become a pavement artist when she retired, she’d draw kidneys on pavements! She was a nice person but not a fantastically good teacher. I do remember her saying that her tutor had given her a maxim which was”if it’s doubtful it’s dirty” which is a good thought. She told us stories about laughing at people wearing funny hats on buses after night duty and she brought in another old nurse to talk to us about going on nights. She began her lecture by saying “now I know you may be apprehensitive about going on night duty…”, not a good start really!

As far as good starts go, it turned out that Miss Stone (the fossil) had not been teaching us as she should have been. One day she wasn’t there and another teacher came in and proceeded to assume that we knew a heck of a lot more than we did until we pointed out that we hadn’t been taught any of the things she thought we knew! She valiantly crammed in about six systems of the body in two weeks.

One day we had to take measurements for our uniforms. We measured our wrists and the lengths of our arms as well as the usual bust ,waist and hips. As the time for our launch on to the wards got nearer, there was no sign of our uniforms, in fact there was talk of us having to don paper shrouds for our first forray. The uniforms arrived in the nick of time,short sleeved and not sorted in to sizes. It was more a case of diving in and seeing what fitted!

My first ward was male surgical in the “best hospital in the world”. Male Surgical was ward six, a “Nightingale Ward” that is one where the beds are lined up in two rows opposite each other. This arrangement has fallen out of favour because it was thought that people prefer more privacy but, in my opinion, that isn’t necessarily the case. If you are marooned in a hospital bed it is nice to see what’s going on and to be able to ask a passing nurse for something rather than having to rely on a buzzer and a potentially long wait. Similarly, said passing nurse can keep an eye on patients and go to them quickly at the first sign of any trouble. Being stuck in a side room makes the patient feel isolated and gives them more time to brood.

Ward six was beautiful, there was something soothing about the colour scheme.Sort of aqua I suppose. Next door female surgical was a mirror arrangement of ward six but the colour scheme was red and the affect was gloomy. I always found that males made easier patients somehow, often very stoical and grateful for the smallest “extras” like washing a pair of pyjama trousers. The women would want to know why you hadn’t washed to top as well. I put this down to the female patients feeling that it was their turn to be looked after as they did all the looking after others at home. There was also a particularly annoying type of woman who would call out to you to tell you that another patient hadn’t had her meal yet. Obviously, when you are dishing out the meals, someone will be last, won’t they?

The first time I was on the ward I had to take lots of patient’s temperatures. It takes a little while to get the knack of shaking the mercury back down. The next day I wondered why my arm was aching and then I realised that it was all the thermometer shaking.


Cars, Children, Nagging, Education

Both my daughters have cars, both cars are playing up. What a pain. Your children are your children however old they get. you drive them around, pick them up at all hours , help them learn to drive, buy them a car, tax, insurance,get the car fixed, MOTed etc, etc. I love them really, honest.

What constitutes nagging? You ask nicely, you say please, you ask nicely again another day, say please, ask nicely, please,nicely,please that’s NAGGING apparently. Of course , if what you asked to be done the first time was done  the first, or second time there would be no need to ASK again would there? Have you noticed how this applies to children and husbands ? They never NAG because what they ask for gets DONE .

Both girls have been peering over my shoulder saying I do nag and they are sweet and innocent.

Education. My husband went to an ordinary primary school where he did very well A+,A+,A+etc “Nigel could do better”. Then he went to a very good grammar school and he did very well and became a doctor. He loved school.

I went to a private primary school because the local primary school wasn’t that good at that time. My Dad was quite forward thinking.There was a French headmistress ( yes headmistress, not headteacher) there and he thought that the ability to speak another language would be advantageous . Well it was crap. Our French lessons consisted of learning lists of nouns. If you could recite these you got a badge. No verbs, just nouns.

Reading was taught using Janet and John type books but once you got to a certain level there were no more childrens books only some old history tome. We pretended we couldn’t read that well so that we didn’t have to “progress” .

We were forced to eat all our food at lunchtime. We tried to squash left overs between plates but could only conceal a small amount.

One of the teachers sat at a round table with a chenille cloth draped over it (reminiscent of a fortune teller).You had to walk through this room sometimes and she would point at you and say”Child” in a very scary way.

The eleven plus was a disaster .Only two of us took it. My friend (who had six younger sisters) was popular with the school as they could see more money coming there way. My sister is nine years older than me so she wan’t going to swell the coffers. Anyway there we were doing our eleven plus. The teacher looked over my shoulder muttering about me “doing it all wrong”.She then moaned about having to invigilate and said that one of  us would have to move to another room. Like a fool, I said I would. To the music room (we’d been hearing strains of a host of golden daffodils from there) where the kind music teacher kept saying”don’t worry about me dear, don’t worry about me”. I should add that I was writing a “composition” at the time  and I completely lost my train of thought.

I failed. Apparently I was also on the young side(June birthday)and could have taken a ten plus. I was told off for failing! My Mum had to go round to the school and tell them to desist!

So to the next private school. Not so bad although I did see a girl swinging another round by her hair which was rather unpleasant . No fuss about exams, one day we did the thirteen plus and we weren’t even told that’s what were doing.
I passed. Off to grammar school where I knew nothing and was teased. The school didn’t know what to do with me, I’d only done general science , they did physics, chemistry, biology. I hadn’t done latin or german.

Each term I was told to drop another subject. I did my geography in a physics class, the teacher threw chalk and things at the physics pupils. When they hit me he said sorry.

Maths 2% for spelling my name right.

English was fun, my best friend (she’s still my best friend) and I used to take it in turns to write the best essay, manipulating the teacher. Another teacher gave us better marks if we mentioned sex in our essays!

Anyway, you weren’t allowed in to the 6th form unless you got four O levels. I only took four and got three. My dear Dad had already found me a crammer to go to in Windsor. As it turned out , I could have gone in to the 6th form because our year did badly and they needed the pupils.

The crammer was hilarious.Full of a complete mixture of people, two guys (on the timetable as Arab 1 and Arab 2 -not pc in those days), little ones cramming for common entrance and us O level types. One of the little ones didn’t know his alphabet, when asked if he didn’t think he should learn it he said it was ok ‘cos his Mummy had already booked him in to his next school!

The head (who owned the crammer) told me to take maths and fail it so that my Dad would get the message. He had paid for numerous tutors who had had no luck in making me numerate.

I passed French, I can’t remember if I got anything else.

Next stop, Harley Street. A posh college which I hated. Greek Literature in translation was good , the rest awful. In desperation I said to my Mum”You don’t care I could be going to London for an abortion!” She sensibly replied “Not every day dear”. My sister had been to this college before me but in those days it was handy to have your A levels on the right headed paper.

My Mum and my sister managed to persuade my Dad that I was really unhappy and I went to jolly out Slough college where I was told “You used to come to Slough to die but things are looking up a bit”. Much more my style. Eventually I got two A levels , an A/S level and two more O levels in French ( for failing A level twice).

So, there you are, a wonderful education…..

My girls both went to the local primary which was good enough except they didn’t pick up on ADD or bullying. The oldest (with ADD) didn’t get the eleven plus and the youngest didn’t either but got in to grammar school on appeal, rightly so. It was the same grammar school which I went to but it was nothing like it’s former self. No drama, very little music, narrow minded teachers, far too pro sport.

The secondary modern school that Claire went to thought it was a grammar school . They could not understand that Claire had a problem getting things down on paper because of the torrent of information whizzing about in her head. Sure, she knew it and answered well in class and had neat handwriting and could spell … so she must just be lazy and uncooperative then. She was also an individualist and a rebel. ( Jen was also an individualist with blue hair extensions at one point. She had these for about six weeks and was suddenly told she wasn’t allowed.) Schools just can’t cope with any one being different can they?

The diagnosis of ADD (adult ) has now been confirmed by a professor at Addenbrookes. It is a neurological disorder.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t envy today’s teachers . In fact I fail to see how they can teach anything anymore. the national curriculum is a boring disaster, the rules re punishment (- ie  one) and targets? Oh targets, the government’s great love.  Another subject, maybe another day.

I’ve had stick for doing this , I ask is it any worse than watching television or reading a magazine.

All I want now is some comments – please!

Published in: on January 28, 2007 at 1:48 pm  Comments (3)