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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Ambulance Service, then and now. Uniforms

Tom Reynolds got me thinking,which is clever in itself!Did any of you see a programme a while ago comparing the Billingsgate(or Spitalfields?Can’t remember) fire and the King’s Cross one?
It was very interesting, showing the ambulances of the time as emergency transportation vehicles ,very much scoop and run with today’s all singing all dancing variety.(That’s just Tom practising cabaret!)
The other point that was made was that part of the emergency treatment was to plonk a fag in the gob of victim (just to top up the smoke inhalation). Kind but not a very good idea?
I saw a photograph in the Telegraph magazine at the weekend showing a patient who had taken a drug overdose being wheeled out of a house on a trolley in the 60s or earlier. Even the ambulance men’s uniform looked more like that of a chaffeur!

Nurses uniforms in days of yore were based on servants uniforms.
Currently their uniforms are more like domestic’s, although home carers wear nursey dresses in navy blue (used to be for sisters.)
Ambulance staff now wear uniforms similar to airline pilots or sci fi characters.
On that note, don’t you think that blue tooth headsets are like Lieuitenant O’Hoora ‘s from Star Trek? We expectshop doors that open automatically these days, they were so
novel when Star Trek started.

We used to put on pantomimes when I worked at the , now defunct, wonderful Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital in Taplow. One year, I can’t tell you why, one of the characters had to say Star Trek. He insisted on putting the emphasis on the word Trek and had us all in fits because he couldn’t understand why we kept saying “no, Tom, it’s Star Trek” he thought that’s what he was saying.

I played the Fairy Godmother’s Trainee and Pooh in Pooh on the Bounty. We went on tour round the other local hospitals. Fun.

PS the Tom in the pantomime was not Tom Reynolds in case you were wondering!

Published in: on June 7, 2007 at 8:00 am  Comments (6)