There has been so much in the news lately about our emergency services, our hospital workers, medics, fireman and all the heroes we couldn’t possibly do without. Should they have a pay rise – excuse me? Should they have a pay rise – of course we know the answer to that!
I thought it may be interesting this week to interview a nurse who trained in the 1970’s!
What made you decide to become a nurse?
I had wanted to become a nurse ever since I can remember. I never thought about doing anything else. To me the dream of becoming a nurse was always with me. I devoured every book about nursing I could get my hands on, and I loved a program around at the time called ‘Emergency Ward 10’. I think the thought of wearing a nurses uniform, especially the iconic cloak criss-crossed at the front, played a part in my ambition to tread the wards! And of course, it was in my heart to care for people.
How easy was it to be accepted for training?
Not that easy! Mainly because my careers advisor at school was affiliated to the local shirt factory and his main mission in life was to recruit young girls to work there. He was convinced nursing would be too tough for me and gave me no help at all. Not to be deterred I applied to a teaching hospital in Bristol and was accepted. It’s strange, because I was very shy and quiet, but I found determination from somewhere!
Did you settle in well to your new life away from home?
No! I was very homesick and at just eighteen years of age and having never been away from home before, it was a big shock to the system! The nurse’s home where I had lodgings was a former mental hospital – an austere, grey brick building situated on the outskirts of the city. We were bussed in to the hospital every day, or night if we were on night shift, – quite a sight with thirty or so ‘angels’ as we were sometimes called, all seated in rows with starched caps on.
But you settled in eventually?
Yes, I did settle eventually but it did take a while. There was so much to learn and the hours were long and arduous. Also, we had to learn to cope with life and death at a relatively young age. There is nothing like being left alone in the middle of the night looking after a ward full of sick patients to concentrate the mind!
What do you think of now when you look back?
I remember so many of my patients to this day. Laughing with them and crying with them. I remember the bond with my fellow nurses; the times you had to laugh in dire circumstances otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to cope. I remember collapsing in helpless giggles during a practical exam when an arm fell off the dummy patient – ‘Nurse! You may have killed the patient – go back to your seat and pull yourself together!’ I remember wistfully watching friends who weren’t nurses going out at weekends to enjoy themselves whilst I was invariably working. I remember some of the dishy doctors walking around importantly in their flapping white coats. I remember being told we could only have three inches of water in our baths at the nurse’s home so as not to be wasteful. I remember being constantly hungry and the awful hospital food. I remember the weirdness of eating gristly beef casserole at breakfast after coming off night duty. I remember bossy ward sisters who made us tremble with fear as they entered the ward. I remember a lot of unfairness and petty rules and a fellow nurse running off in despair when being reprimanded for pinching a sausage from the kitchen. I remember kindness too. Doctors crushed with tiredness after being on call for many hours and still managing to tenderly lift an elderly lady up who had fallen out of bed. I remember the commaraderie when working in the accident and emergency department at night – the policeman coming in to share a cup of coffee and have a quick game of cards during a rare quiet spell in the early hours.
Would you still become a nurse if you had the time again?
That’s a tough one. I like to think I would as it taught me so much about life and I wouldn’t have encountered so many deep experiences anywhere else. Also I met my husband during my training. But honestly, when you hear that nurses are leaving in droves to work abroad now it shows how demoralised nurses are and I’m not sure I would want to work under the difficult and strained conditions.
So how do you view the profession today?
I haven’t worked in hospital for a good while now so it is difficult to judge first hand. All I can say from what I’ve noticed when visiting people is that a lot of nurses do their best but time issues and understaffing mean that a lot of the caring side of nursing seems to have disappeared to the detriment of the patients. Back in the sixties and seventies it wasn’t perfect, but the wards were kept scrupulously clean; wards were often ruled with a rod of iron, but there was order. There was plenty of clean laundry, a ward clerk on every ward and most importantly, patients were not sent home until they were fit to be discharged. Sadly I have had first hand experience that shows this isn’t always the case now. I would still say though, that there are a lot of wonderful and caring nurses out there who do their very best under difficult circumstances.
A poem about Night Duty!
Please don’t run nurse
And please turn off the light,
Your patient may be getting worse
But it’s the middle of the night.
Call the doctor to attend
The latest emergency case
Then go and lay the trolley up,
And sterilise the place.
Make sure all the patients
Are safely in their beds,
I’ll be coming round to check
That they have had their meds.
And be sure to know every name
And diagnosis too,
Of every patient in your care,
Or I’ll be reporting you.
Write up the notes before morning,
Make the porridge and the tea,
Get everybody washes and fed
Then report back to me.
Go home and get some sleep
You’ve got six more nights ahead,
So get used to working extra hard,
While your friends are home in bed.
(c) Lyn Halvorsen