I reported to the Home Sister’s office at 8am on the 28th of August 1957. I was 16 years and 8 months old and had just left school the proud possessor of six ‘ O ‘ levels. I had been spoiled and pampered since an illness as a child and was ill-prepared for what life threw at me as a young nurse.
I already had a navy gaberdine ‘ Mac ‘ and sensible black lace-up shoes from school and my parents had bought me black stockings and a storm cap which were regulation outdoor wear. They had also bought me a fob-watch with a second hand for taking pulses.
I was issued loose fitting white uniform dresses, starched aprons and heavily starched squares of linen.
Escorted by Sister Snaith ( the Home Sister ), I was led past the recreation hall, up the ramp to Ward 14 which was to be my first placement. I was introduced to a student nurse who was to be my mentor and taken to a tiny changing room and asked to put on my uniform.
She took one of the starched squares, folded one edge over her knee pressed against a wall and proceeded with incomprehensible moves to produce a ‘ cap ‘ which she handed to me along with two white hair grips.
Suitably attired I was taken to the sluice area and handed into the care of the auxiliary nurse. I learned how to clean lockers, sweep the ward, damp dust and align the bed and bed table wheels in the whole ward. Along with these practical instructions I was told to;
Talk quietly and respectfully.
Walk quickly and quietly.
Never run except in cases of fire and haemorrhage!
Never sit on duty.
Never be seen to be doing nothing.
Wear complete uniform at all times.
Uphold confidentiality above all else.
Ward 14 was female cardio-thoracic and we had to know, the name, age and diagnosis and treatment of all the patients, unlike today. Every nurse was responsible for every patient.
The surgeon at the head of the team was Mr. Mason who conducted ward rounds with a large entourage of junior doctors ( very rarely female ) just like James Robertson Justice in ‘ Carry On Doctor ‘.
Open- heart surgery was in it’s infancy at the time and one of the post-operative treatments was to pack ice chips around the sedated sheet-wrapped patient to lower the body temperature and slow the heart rate.
This task fell to the lowly pre-student nurse. We set to work with small ice-picks and laboriously reduced a huge block of ice often embedded with moss and dirt, to chips.
The ward sister was Sister Scully (later to become a tutor) who imparted knowledge in slow and steady drips so that I learned a lot of facts about basic nursing care almost sub-consciously. So began my first steps on the seemingly long road to becoming a ‘ proper ‘ nurse.