Have I ever mentioned that way back in the last century I happened to be a nurse? Not sure if I have, and to be quite honest I haven’t really given my time in nursing much thought, welll that was not until the gammy leg became an unwelcome part of my life which meant frequent trips to the local hospital. After a long absence I found myself once again part of a world of doctors, nurses, poorly people and the hubbub of busy deparments. This time though I was on the receiving end, and the sometime eternal waiting around had me thinking about my nursing career and how different things were back when I trained, which incidentally isn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things. Florance Nightingale was long buried when I arrived at Charing Cross Hospital as a fresh faced eighteen year old!
Charing Cross Hospital London, way back in the late 1970’s
My home for four years
I’m not quite sure why I decided to be a nurse. I really wanted to be an English teacher, which was never going to happen after getting an E in my O level English Literature exam. But my friends had decided to become nurses and enrol on a pre nursing course at the local college, and as I couldnt bare to be parted from them, I enrolled too! Two years later and one A level in Home Economics, I was off to the Big Smoke to start my three year training.
As a student nurse most of my practical learning took place on the wards with two weeks theory being taught by tutors every few months in the School of Nursing. I was part of the ward staff and paid whilst I learnt. No tuition loans back then. I suddenly had plenty of money to spend!
As a student nurse I learnt how to make beds, give bed baths, learn to give injections into an orange, take temperatures with a mercury thermometer, read blood pressures with a sphygmomanometer, give enemas using soapy water and empty bed pans. We weren’t given patients to look after but given tasks. One day we might have to do the obs round, another the bowel round, or maybe the backs round, which basically meant alot of turning of patients and rubbing bottoms and heels! We knew all the patients on the ward and nursing care was thorough.
I remember being very scared when I had to help lay out my first dead patient, and equally scared when confronted with mens “bits”.How embarrassed I was when I was given a pair of sponge holders and told to use them to lift up the dangly part only to find out later that they werre just having a bit of fun with this rookie!
I hated night duty, loved orthopedics, spent a night in A&E after getting formaldahyde in my eye when changing the cather bottles on the urology ward. Cried after my first cardiac arrest and flirted with the medical students. I loved walking from the nursing home to work wrapped up in my red lined nurses cape. Failed exams, passed exams, watched post mortems, went to Wormwood Scrubs and met Tony Blackburn at the BBC (for what reason I have no idea!)
Badge giving ceremony with my proud mum and dad
I loved my time at Charing Cross and I still can’t understand why, a year after qualifying, I left to work in a very badly run nursing home in Bristol, which was a real eye opener to how poor nursing care could be and observed quite blatent cruelty towards the residents who were mostly suffering from advanced stages of dementia.
I soon returned to London and that is where I stayed for the rest of my nuring career. I opted out of the NHS went on to work in a privatre hospital overlooking Wimbledon Common. The standard of nursing care I gave was no different than before. All that was different was that we never ran out of bed linen and we often made tea on a tray for patients with a china tea pot and a plate of decent biscuits.From staff nurse I became junior sister and finally senior sister. My days of being a hands on nurse as mostly over. My days were spent organising shifts, going on ward rounds, assessing stock levels and attending heads of department meetings. I missed the interaction with the patients. I missed the satisfaction of caring for my patients. I no longer loved my job. Getting pregnant with son number 2 provided me with a good reason to hang up my stethoscope for good.
My last day as a nurse
So, here I am over twenty years later. Uniforms have changed. Nursing Auxilleries have become HCAs and bowel rounds long gone.I have seen poor nursing care, patients calls ignored, but then I have seen nurses stetched beyond belief due to staff shortages. I can’t say if nursing today is any better or worse than years ago as I don’t have enough experience to say one way or the other. I do know though that I still get a bit of a buzz everytime I visit the hospital and am still tempted to check up on fluid charts and make sure those obs are up to date. Once a nurse, always a nurse!