Saturday, 10 May 2014

Episode 6: Staff Nurse Cooke!

I qualified slightly later than the rest of my set thanks to 5 weeks off with chicken pox during my training. However, I was proud to pass my finals at the first attempt and to win the Peel Prize for academic achievement (John Peel was the Queen's Gynaecologist and there is a memorial plaque dedicated to him in the Kings College Hospital chapel). We had a presentation ceremony at Normanby College (Kings' nursing school) where I received my hospital badge and silver buckle and I started working as a Staff Nurse on Ruskin Ward (Male Surgery) at Dulwich Hospital in September 1987.

Receiving my prize and certificate

Proudly showing my Mum my certificate

With the lovely Mrs. Hatch, our tutor, and my fellow student Linda Drewett
I felt I had found my true vocation.  I just loved being a nurse and was so fortunate to work with Sister Ferguson ('Fergie') who had a quiet, empowering leadership style.  Some criticised her back-seat approach; she let her staff nurses run the ward whilst she took her own patients and worked alongside students.  However, I learned to manage a ward and a mix of staff under her gentle supervision. This was very unusual in the hierarchical 1980s. I clearly remember an elderly man, admitted from a nurses home covered in faeces and pressure sores, confused and aggressive from a urinary tract infection.  Fergie volunteered to look after him, as she always did the most difficult patients, and together we washed him from head to toe.  I worked many night shifts in runs of 6 or 8 - these days people tend to do only a few nights together but there was a lot to be said for becoming nocturnal for weeks at a time. I slept well during the day and my body clock completely adjusted. I worked most nights with Bond, an older West Indian Enrolled Nurse with a gruff exterior and a heart of gold.  She introduced herself with the classic line 'My name is Bond; Enid Bond'!
I have no idea what I was doing here but it is definitely not what it seems!
The ward was a mix of general and vascular surgery with consultants Mr. Cotton and Mr. Rennie.  Many vascular patients were diabetic; most were smokers and in hospital for gangrene, losing first toes then feet and finally one or both legs due to loss of circulation.  Vascular pain is dreadful and several patients were on morphine - I became an expert in administering controlled drugs and in managing diabetes whilst on this ward. Some patients were in and out quickly for a hernia repair or gastroscopy but many were long-stay, unable to cope at home and with skeleton community services.  Some have stayed in my mind for thirty years.  Sam, a bilateral amputee who died of Clostridium Difficile before most people had heard of it, had been a prisoner of war under the Japanese in Thailand.  William, a feisty northerner who said 'Bliddy 'ell fire!' more than any other words.  Fred, whose wife Gladys was a long-stay patient on a female ward.  They used to meet up in the day room and chain-smoke together in their wheelchairs!  Fred was aphasic (unable to speak) following a stroke, a bilateral amputee with diabetes and was doubly incontinent.  He needed turning and changing many times during the night and I loved caring for him. He was so patient and gracious and it was a pleasure to make him comfortable and kiss him goodnight.  He loved kissing the nurses!

There were many difficult times but we also had great laughs.  At Christmas we dressed up in tinsel and red and green tights and Mr. Cotton came in to carve the ward turkey at lunchtime.  We turned our cloaks inside out, red felt linings showing, and paraded round the wards singing carols with lanterns.  The hospital had a May Ball and we came first to the ward in all our finery to see the patients who gave us cheers and wolf-whistles. Alison Woollas was a fellow staff nurse and we did many night shifts together, working hard and laughing harder to see us through the early hours.  We made illegal toast and poached eggs in the ward's new microwave oven and spent hours devising the 'Nigel Heaton Wind Scale' in quieter moments.  Nigel Heaton (now a famous liver transplant surgeon) was a good looking registrar that we all secretly fancied.  He was obsessed with flatulence, constantly asking the nurses whether his patients had passed wind and  how many times.  The wind scale was posted on the office wall and caused great hilarity at Mr. Heaton's expense.  He was a great doctor with lovely bedside manner and never minded being called from him bed at 2am for a genuine emergency.

One crazy Christmas night with the Kardex!

Sister Ferguson (Fergie) and Alison Woollas (right) in their Christmas finery!

After a year as a staff nurse I wanted to explore my dream of becoming a children's nurse and started looking for opportunities to work on a children's ward to help me make a final decision. One night shift I found a small-ad at the back of the Nursing Times looking for nurses to work with children in refugee camps in Thailand.  Nothing ventured nothing gained!  A few weeks later, I flew to Bangkok for my first overseas adventure and two of the best years of my life. The rest, as they say, is history!


  1. Kym Hanna Mrs Thatch!!!!- have just read this post and wow Joy your memory is so good!!! My memories are more of wild parties and the doctors mess!!! X
    11 May at 09:42 · Unlike · 1

    Manda Maple Might the BBC make a Sunday night drama of your nursing Kronicles?!
    11 May at 10:50 · Unlike · 1

    Patrice M. White Lovely, Joy, lovely!
    11 May at 12:39 · Unlike · 1

    Joy Kemp ha ha Kym. If you scroll back through the blog you'll find the first 5 episodes from the day we started in May 1984. Sorry it's a very mixed blog with other things including work and recipes!
    11 May at 12:41 · Like

    Kym Hanna Lol I shall enjoy that - I remember clearly the day I moved into the nurses corridor opposite Samantha Delaney and the corridor parties!!!
    11 May at 12:51 · Like

    Helen Tidy I thought we got our certificates together - obviously not! Did you just accompany me? I remember us celebrating by babysitting Andrew, Mike Wheate's son!
    11 May at 13:08 · Like

    Joy Kemp I came to your ceremony as your friend Helen Tidy but I think you were in a group after me - as I remember you also qualified a bit after the rest of your set?
    11 May at 16:15 · Like · 1

    Helen Tidy That makes sense. It was a bit of a soulless event for me. Long time ago now x
    11 May at 16:19 · Like

    Joy Kemp yes it was very understated!
    11 May at 16:20 · Like · 1

    Kym Hanna Must have been I have no recollection of any presentations whatsoever !!!
    11 May at 16:22 · Like

    Joy Kemp I remember singing a song and playing it at the grand piano in Normanby College. It was a silly one about all the tutors set to a traditional tune!
    11 May at 16:23 · Like

    Helen Tidy Mine was a miserable affair with the creepy head of the Miss World empire presenting our certificates & using the opportunity for a quick grope. Yuk.
    11 May at 16:28 · Unlike · 1

    Joy Kemp Oh yes I remember that. Eric Morely?
    11 May at 16:32 · Like

    Helen Tidy That's the one. Revolting.
    11 May at 16:50 · Like

    Kym Hanna He was at Kings quite a bit I guess because of his links with the Variety stuff for the kids units
    11 May at 17:02 · Like

    Christina Carroll I had a badge with purple dicta tape on . I was known as a 'Purple Badged State Enrolled Nurse' The purple badge gave me authority to give controlled drugs ! I seem to remember undertaking additional training to get my name printed in purple on top of my SEN training. We had to work for the purple badge .
    11 May at 17:40 · Unlike · 1

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  3. Alison Crawley
    Hello Joy. I don't actually know you, but we have met, with my sister Sal Hamlyn. I wanted to thank you for your memoirs! I trained in 1986 and so many of your memories are bringing back mine, especially as I also had placements at kings, but was based at Bromley. I Loved those nightingale wards,! I remember letting of a clockwork mouse down the ward at night when the hateful night sister came round. So many laughs we has even thou we worked really hard. Its not the same now. So serious and not much fun anymore!


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