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.

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A student nurse from long ago

My niece sent me this photo and I didn’t realise it was me, I should have known by the knock knees! My reaction was it couldn’t be me as the person in the picture isn’t fat. I certainly thought I was fat then, I was probably about 10 1/2st. Obviously that was fat compared to my contemporaries but it wouldn’t be considered that bad these days.

I have often wondered if video would be a good therapy for some conditions. I’m thinking of alcoholism, anorexia and maybe obesity. Anorexics think they are fat, alcoholics don’t think they are drunks and obese people like me manage to ignore it when not confronted by photographs of themselves,(or clothes getting too tight.)

Of course I’ve said before that I’m not sure obesity is simply too much food, too little exercise and it makes me very cross when I read about very obese people eating vast amounts of food as that is unusual and gives everyone the excuse to cry “Greed”.

I once went to a talk about alcoholism and the affect it has on the family. One of the examples given was of a man living with his parents who would stagger home and collapse in the doorway. His parents would clean him up and put him to bed. WRONG because how could he appreciate how low he’s sunk if he woke up all clean and tidy and tucked up in bed. This phenomena was compared to being on a boat in a rough sea in which one person stands up and rocks the boat and everyone else has to move to maintain the stability.

I’m thinking about last night’s panorama which I think was a missed opportunity.The idea was to show how NHS staff are subjected to insult and injury.The 1/2hr programme mainly consisted of clips of CTTV showing violent patients. The programme also devoted a lot of time to the case of a nurse who had been stabbed in the finger by a syringe wielding diabetic. She seemed to have had two years off and was pursuing a case through the courts. Her case was eventually thrown out. I think this was because the patient was diabetic which is fair enough if their aggression was caused by them being hypoglycaemic. Anyway it seemed an undue amount of attention was focused on her in a short programme.

I think it would make more sense just to film in an A&E on a Saturday night, I’m sure there would be plenty of examples of abusive and violent behaviour.

My next thought is this. How about everyone being filmed in A&E and if they’ve behaved badly, the video is sent to them afterwards?
The time will come when patients will have to be refused treatment unless they can be civil. Because we as NHS staff always have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, because they are scared or ill and because we are worried about litigation,(some of us less than others!)we allow patients to get away with anti-social behaviour and then they have less respect for us.

I think there has been a great decline in the standard of behaviour in this country in the last ten or maybe five years. A lot of this is drug and drink related and it’s just bloody sad.

Published in: on February 27, 2007 at 4:21 pm  Comments (1)