Showing posts from 2012

With woman, with my sister

Midwifing my sister: a deeply profound experience
(Originally published in The Practising Midwife (2006); 9(4):18-9.

In 1993, as a nearly-qualified student midwife, I cared for a friend having her first baby; it was a harrowing experience. I felt vulnerable as a junior in the NHS hierarchy.My friend was relying on me to protect her from harm but I felt powerless to do that.She and I felt traumatised from the birth.I vowed not to provide midwifery care for a friend or family member again until I could have more influence over the decision-making process.

So when, in 2002, my sister Anne asked me to be her midwife I was rather wary.At the time, I had been working overseas for several years.I had only recently returned to midwifery practice in the UK and begun to rebuild my confidence.Anne lived outside my normal area of practice and I felt uneasy about acting as a midwife in an unfamiliar area.Initially we planned for me to be a birth partner rather than a midwife.I encouraged her to bo…

Episode 5 - The Denture Disaster

After my 'booze cruise and bruise' on the children's ward came the placement I had been dreading - eight weeks of geriatric nursing at St. Francis Hospital in Dulwich ( Previously a workhouse the hospital struggled to disassociate itself from its history and had a poor reputation amongst the general public, many of whom believed that if  you were admitted there you would never come out, except in a box.  The fact that it specialised in care of the elderly and mental health (at a time when long stays were common for psychiatric patients) did little to shake this belief.   Senior student nurses relished sharing horror stories from the geriatric wards.  I steeled myself for endless hours of heavy lifting, commodes, double incontinence and crusty toenails. 

However, from the moment I arrived on the ward I loved it. Though the work was indeed heavy and tiring, I loved being with older people and often felt sad to l…

Curried Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Soup (Adapted from Hugh Fearley-Whittingstall’s Veg Book to be Slimming World Friendly!)

Spray a large heavy saucepan with frylight.Chop 2 onions, 3 cloves garlic, a large knob of peeled and grated fresh root ginger and 1 fresh red chilli.Sweat these down in the pan on a medium heat, adding a few tablespoons of water as the mixture dries out.Add in 1 tbsp ground coriander and 2 tsp curry powder.Cook for another 2-3 mins, adding a small amount of water if too dry.

Meanwhile, peel 3 large or 5 smaller sweet potatoes and cut into cubes of about 1 inch.Add the sweet potatoes to the onion mixture and 1 teacupful of Red Lentils.Stir for a few minutes to coat in the spices, then add about 1 litre of water and 2 tbsp Marigold Veg stock powder (or stock cubes – or use fresh stock if you have any).Grind in some black pepper, bring to the boil then simmer on a low heat for approx 30 mins until the potatoes and the lentils are soft.Add salt to taste after cooking (apparently if you add salt to beans or lentils before cooking they become tough!) (The original version uses olive oil to …

Walk the dog Mulligatawny Soup

A recipe for a low-fat tasty soup that cooks itself whilst you walk the dog.

Chop an onion and 1 clove of garlic and grate a 'thumb' of ginger. Sweat in a pan with some fry-light (spray oil) adding a few drops of water if it gets too dry.  Add the following spices (or just use curry powder if you're feeling lazy): 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp group cumin, 1/2 tsp chilli powder, pinch ground cloves. 1 bay leaf or curry leaf.  Cook for a couple of minutes, adding a little more water if sticking to the bottom.  Add 1 cup red lentils, 3 chopped carrots (no need to peel), 3 chopped potatoes, 1 chopped apple, 1 tin chopped tomatoes, 1 pint water and 1 veg stock cube (or Marigold stock powder).  Bring to the boil, put in the oven at 160c and walk the dog for an hour.  If you're planning a longer walk, cook it at a lower heat!

Blend it if you like (or leave it if you prefer chunky) and serve with a dollop of low fat yogurt and chopped fre…

Episode 4: Frilly Frolics

First year student nurses at Kings in 1984 all had white belts but were divided into 'paper caps' and 'frillies'. The very newest students wore paper caps (see photo above!) but if, after 6 months, they passed an exam they were issued with a linen frilly (similar to a maid's mob cap) and could lord it over their juniors, having moved one very small rung up the ladder of NHS hierarchy.  In posession of a frilly one could proceed to placements on paediatric and geriatric wards and so I found myself working on a children's ward at Kings over Christmas 1984.  It was a high-risk ward specialising in babies having surgery for liver disease, a scary place for a junior student nurse.  One-to-one mentorship and supernumerary status for students were as yet unheard of.  By the end of our first week  we were caring for patients alone with only cursory supervision - and then often from senior students rather than qualified staff!  I particularly hated working in the milk k…

Episode 3: Waking the dead

After gynaecology came my first placement at Dulwich Hospital on Barry, a Male Medical ward on the second floor.  It specialised in skin and respiratory diseases and was run by an excellent 'old fashioned' sister of whom everyone was terrified.  She was a great teacher though, and wonderful with the patients - does anyone remember her name?  I saw the agonies of eczema and psoriasis in young men who returned time and again for daily dressings and ultra-violet light treatment.  I became adept at the application of Texas catheters and bathing dirty old men without getting groped!  I also had my first experience of laying out the dead, juddering with shock as the deceased elderly patient let out a groan from his lungs as we turned him over.  It was a privilege to perform the age-old rituals of death, offering a last wash and a shave and preparing a body before the porters were called to escort it to the mortuary.  However busy the ward, this task was never rushed and curtains wer…

Episode 2

Being a student nurse in the 1980s wasn't easy.  Others' memoirs from earlier times (such as Jennifer Worth's 'Call the Midwife') chronicle nursing as a way of life rather than a job with little pay, no time off, rigid hierarchies, rationing of 'late passes' and strict rules - an almost monastic existence.  However there was also a solid support structure with matrons, sister tutors, home sisters and communal meals.  Kings College Hospital in the 1980s thought itself progressive and, though traditional uniforms and hierarchies were still very much in evidence on on the wards, student nurses were free to come and go as they pleased with swipe cards to enter the Nurses' Home out of hours.  The staff canteen served food at meal times but there was no expectation of communal eating - and thus little sense of community. It could be a lonely place at times for a girl like me from a sheltered background with little experience of city life.

I had never really b…

Starting my memoirs!

As well as thoroughly enjoying the recent BBC series 'Call the Midwife' and having read all of Jennifer Worth's books I have recently been reading other auto-biographical tales from nurses and midwives.  This genre  appears to be fast gaining popularity in the UK and, as midwifery history is one of my favourite subjects, I am somewhat of an addict to such books. Some stories ring true to my own experiences whilst others are very different but they have all caused me to reflect on my career and determine to chronicle the highlights before I am too old to remember them.  Maybe one day they will form a book of their own!

I had wanted to be a nurse as far back as I can remember.  There is a family tradition of caring - nurses, midwives, doctors and occupational therapists span three generations. We had grandparents living with us for most of my childhood and caring for them was part and parcel of life.  Though a Grammar School girl, my strengths pointed to a practical career a…