Tuesday, 7 February 2012

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 were drawn around all the other beds as the body was removed to avoid distress.

We had not yet had our lectures about death and dying but thankfully I had mentors to guide and support me as I learned  the ropes.  However, one of my fellow students learned the hard way.  The ward sister left her alone with a dead patient to 'make him comfortable' whilst she phoned the old man's relatives and attended to other duties. Some time later the sister returned, escorting in the family of the deceased to pay their last respects.  Imagine everyone's horror to find Grandad, not lying in the bed wearing a shroud and covered in a sheet, but sitting up in his arm chair, fully dressed with his glasses on, reading the paper.  The student had thought this semblance of normality would be reassuring for the relatives!


  1. How is it I've not heard this story before!!! Briliant! Just spewed coffee all over my keyboard :o)

  2. Well.. not sure exactly who this happened to so could be urban myth but pretty sure it's a true story!

  3. Is a Texas catheter similar to what we now call a'Conveen ' ?

  4. Thank you so much! I have REALLY enjoyed your last 3 posts. I hope there's more to come.
    best wishes


  5. Kym Hanna These are so good I remember you getting chicken pox - I think a lot of the sisters were just frustrated spinsters who were on a bit of a power trip!!
    I was a 3rd year student on Fergusson ward knocked myself out on a butler sink whilst preparing a dressings trolley ( as you do!!!!) and was whisked up to obs ward - nowadays I would be suing them !!!!
    Joy I trained as a midwife as well
    12 May at 11:58 · Unlike · 1

    Joy Kemp Would be so good to catch up Kym!
    12 May at 13:58 · Like · 1


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