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!


  1. I am dying to hear the account of your first arrest ;o)

    1. oh gosh, had forgotten about that one - the stone called patient that we called the arrest team to because no one realised she'd been dead for hours! That was in my second year, doing a summer on nights on Annie Zunz, so I haven't got to that bit yet!

  2. Did you mean Drewett rather than Dutton?

  3. Valerie Joynson Brilliant Joy - you write beautifully :-)
    Tuesday at 22:19 · Like.

    Joy Kemp thanks Val x
    Tuesday at 22:22 · Like.

    Helen Tidy what about the steady line of student nurses taking a washing up bowl into the bathroom with them because the baths were so enormous there was a danger of drowning for the vertically challenged - or was that just my experience? Not the being vertically challenged bit, you understand ...!
    Tuesday at 22:26 · Unlike · 1.

    Alison White haha Helen I remember nearly drowning in one of the ridiculously long baths in the nurse home!!
    Tuesday at 23:05 · Unlike · 1.

    Jane Fucella Rachel plans to head for Kings too - with the rabbit she has had since she was born - called Floppy!!!
    Tuesday at 23:59 · Unlike · 2.

    Sue Chester Great... I can't wait to read more
    Yesterday at 03:23 · Unlike · 1.

    Wendy Gardner Really good Joy, looking forward to next episode!
    Yesterday at 04:40 · Unlike · 1.

    Islay McEwan Joy, I still giggle about the stories you told us when we lived in 'Hernia Hill'. xx
    Yesterday at 05:50 · Unlike · 2.

    Nickie Sutton Oh Joy I am so looking forward to this. Please be kind to me... love Nurse Evans xx PS some of the cockroaches were still alive. One sat on the side of the bath and looked at me :(
    Yesterday at 07:23 · Unlike · 1.

    Heather Sharland Great Joy keep writing can relate to so much you have written so far, we are in for another good novel!!!
    Yesterday at 08:44 · Unlike · 1.

    Marie Turner So did I.Didn't get far.Waiting for a rainy day!!!
    Yesterday at 09:44 · Unlike · 1.

    Mike Wheate Good stuff, Joy - I think you'll get a publisher - who knows, even a film?
    Yesterday at 15:03 · Unlike · 1.

    Barry Marsh really enjoyed it !! you have a way with words !
    Yesterday at 16:58 · Unlike · 1.

    Margaret Posnett nice style Joy it sounds like you talking!!!
    23 hours ago · Like.

    Melissa Papandrea Hee hee brought back some memories, very good. XX
    20 hours ago · Like.

    Nickie Sutton Don't forget everyone piling into one of the rooms to watch 'The Young Ones', Kym falling over a suction machine on a ward and knocking herself out or Kate's unruly (and definitely against the uniform rules) fringe :-D
    19 hours ago · Like.

    Joy Kemp Nickie, I'm going to need my memory jogging. I do remember Linda's experiement with not washing her hair for months!

  4. Yes Nickie, I have another friend called Linda Dutton so I got confused! I'll change it, thanks x

  5. just remembered the quiet Chinese student nurses who had rice cookers in the communal kitchens and always kept their shoes outside their bedroom doors. They weren't in my set - were they in yours and where did they come from?

  6. Oh my goodness .I was one of those Pupil nurses on that night of that fire alarm .We lived on the 4th Floor of the KCH Nurses home , facing onto Outpatients.I just about remember being in awe of the view of London that I had through my room when I moved into Kings ( I have suspected dyslexia ...with a short term memory bank ) I had never seen anything like it being from a small town in North Essex. We started training in the few weeks before you .April 1984 .One of the more colourful characters of my set was a male nurse , Shane Snape (RIP) ...what a character ... 'specially when he got dressed up in our underwear that was left hanging on those old fashioned wooden ceiling airers in the tiny utility room and statted singing the famous song ...' I am what I am , I am my own special creation .....' Completely dressed in fellow pupil nurses underwear, from head to toe !!! Oh my .....

  7. Oh the memories - 26yrs last month for me! Ail x

  8. Leila Frodsham You look super cute in this photo. Aaah.
    10 May at 19:39 · Unlike · 1

    Jane Beldham You look younger now! X
    10 May at 19:57 · Unlike · 1

    Tina Drennan Cute!! Congratulations xx
    10 May at 20:16 · Unlike · 2

    Nickie Sutton Oh my of course it was
    10 May at 20:16 · Unlike · 1

    Jann Hodge Cute was the word I thought of too xx
    10 May at 20:30 · Unlike · 1

    Jan Harney you still look the same x
    10 May at 21:24 · Unlike · 1

    Nigel P Saunders Enjoy reading your blogs Joy x
    10 May at 22:00 · Unlike · 1

    Joy Kemp thanks Nigel, just writing another installment!
    10 May at 22:13 · Like · 1

    Christine McMillan Wonder if any of your older generation were training at St Thomas' around the early 1950s and knew a Dorothea Chaplin from Clapham. She's now my step-mum.
    10 May at 22:30 · Like

    Ruth Cate If I LOL, is it wrong?
    10 May at 23:10 · Unlike · 2

    Alison White Have just got back from KCH nurses league reunion, we desperately need to encourage younger members.St Georges have now lost theirs and St Thomas's is possibly heading the same way.
    11 May at 00:27 · Like · 1

    Joy Kemp Oh no!
    11 May at 00:29 · Like

    Alison Searle Red and a black Bic and a pair of blunt/blunt scissors!!
    11 May at 02:30 · Unlike · 1

    Ruth Penfold Paper cap!
    11 May at 02:38 · Unlike · 1

    Christina Carroll Black tights and black rubber soled lace-up shoes !
    11 May at 11:34 · Unlike · 2

    Sue Dalton No! It WAS NOT! 30 years!!!
    11 May at 12:16 · Unlike · 1

    Joy Kemp Oh yes it was! May 9th 1984!
    11 May at 12:46 · Like

    Ruth Fraser I am up for organising a reunion. Let me know if that is a good idea
    11 May at 13:04 · Like · 1

    Ruth Cate That was before I was born!
    11 May at 13:24 · Unlike · 1

    Joy Kemp Well Ruth Cate you always knew I was older and wiser. Ruth Fraser yes please!!!
    11 May at 16:16 · Like · 1

    Jean Yearwood That's brilliant Joy. It brought back similar memories! Well done - I certainly enjoyed reading your first experience as a nurse!
    11 May at 17:26 · Unlike · 1

    Anita Willemse That's very funny reading, Joy! Love it
    12 May at 00:26 · Unlike · 1


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