Tuesday, 31 January 2012

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 and so I found myself arriving at the gates of Kings College Hospital London in May 1984 and placing Floppy, my large cuddly teddy, on my bed in the Nurses' Home.

I tentatively explored my new 'home'.  Long corridors of single rooms with 4 shared toilets and baths for one floor.  The open drain from one bathroom ran into the next, so you could watch your neighbour's bath water (and a few half-drowned cockroaches) drain away whilst you lay soaking.  There were no communal areas except a small kitchen with several pints of milk or tins of beans all labelled 'Don't Steal'!  However, there was a Nurses' Sitting Room with a grand piano some distance away above the main door of the hospital and I loved my stolen moments of solitude with Handel and Brahms.  I had studied music at A level and missed the hours spent on the piano each day.

Not yet knowing my fellow students I retired early to bed, to be woken at 5am with the fire alarm.  A sleepless home-sick student had burnt the toast.  Pulling on a old cardigan and a pair of worn espadrilles I followed the crowd down the stairs. A dressing gown and slippers had been on the kit list but I had not anticipated such an immediate need for these!  At the assembly point I tried to blend into the wallpaper as the other 53 new student nurses modelled the entire range of Marks and Spencer's  nightwear.  A few minutes later, as 4 fire engines arrived and handsome firemen flooded the stairwells, a line of nervous young men in suits filed past.  I found out later these were the boyfriends of the pupil nurses who had started their training a few weeks before us - and had already learnt to circumnavigate the rules concerning overnight visitors!

We had been allocated bedrooms in alphabetical order - so Nurses Cooke (me), Challoner, Drewett, Evans, Forshaw and Franklin soon became acquainted.  During our eight weeks of introductory school we were allowed on to the wards at Kings to practice our new-found skills, firstly bed making then, in the second week, bed bathing.  Kate and I arrived on the male surgical ward and were assigned to a middle-aged man who had undergone abdominal surgery 10 days ago.  He was well enough to wash himself but had nobly volunteered to have a full bed bath by the student nurses.  We collected our equipment - a bowl of warm water, towels and flannels.  Carefully copying the method we had learned in the classrooom we worked our way down from his face to his arms, body and legs, soaking, soaping, rinsing and drying.  The time arrived to approach his nether regions. Kate soaped the flannel and handed it to me.  I rinsed the flannel and handed it back to Kate.  The patient watched us with amusement.  Finally Kate picked up the sheet and, looking straight ahead at the wall, gave 'it' a firm scrub.  The patient nearly exploded with alarm and we hurriedly escaped through the curtains with our dignities intact!

Next time.... giving my first suppository to the wrong patient and putting it up the wrong hole.  To be continued!

Dhaka Diary

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