Our training schedule had blocks of classes & then bigger blocks of working on the wards. I quickly learned that our long blocks of ward work, apart from invaluable experience learning, had another purpose. As it turned out student (SRN 3 year training) and pupil (SEN 2 years training) nurses seemed to be the guts of the hospital labour force & of course the NHS, hardly too surprising I suppose as the training did not come with a tuition price tag. Classroom education blocks which were about 4 weeks long, consisting of anatomy, physiology, biology, pharmacology, disease process, tests and practical learning: making beds, administering injections, inserting naso-gastric tubes, and then for the next month or two, we were literally thrown onto the wards where we worked 5 full shifts and 1 or 2 half shifts a week. Our work schedule was determined by the ward sister and hence we also ended up working evening and night shifts. We were paid a stipend, and cost of our lodgings, uniforms, laundry, and food, were taken off, leaving us a little money to do little else than buy toiletries, have a night out once in a while… It actually wasn’t too bad at all!
Work soon became relatively routine. The most fun I had in that training part of my life, was a 2 month stint on Simpson ward, which was male orthopaedics. A long ‘room’ lined by many beds filled with men of all ages on each side. Now here was a task for me to undertake, a ward full of men!, and me with my gammy leg and having to wear a ‘dress’ of course, but at that time nurses wearing trousers was unheard of. I still remember how that dress with the pinned-on crisp white apron felt, and having to wear tights under it all. Thinking back, apart from the old self-consciousness kicking in, revealing my dark passenger, it felt pretty good, almost sexy, how my uniform swished as I walked ….’dressy’ I suppose, because I never wore dresses unless I had to. If I did not have a disfigured leg, I probably would have loved dresses and worn them often.
On Simpson ward, the Sister was a chubby woman, quite tall with dark curly hair, not too old (I always found it hard to determine age when I was young) and hallelujah she actually had a sense of humour and was quite decent. Not like the sister I encountered on my very first ward, which was female medical. For the life of me I cannot remember the name of that ward. In Britain, it seems that many hospitals name their wards after famous British doctors and contributors to medicine, whereas here in North America they use geographical logical directions for their patient units. This sister was skinny with short greying hair, quite unattractive with glasses and a sergeant major type manner and I do believe she was a (yes, I am being mean) spinster.. I remember not long after I had started my stint on that first ward, I was in the nurses’ area where all the charts were. I was sitting and perusing my patient’s chart, when sister sternly called out “S” (my surname)! get up and let the doctor sit there, …and go make him a cup of tea”! Talk about your sucking up!
A strange coincidence occurred on my first day on that ward. It was an evening shift and I approached the ward entrance with trepidation. I was told to report to the sister’s office, with no idea where anything was. I must have checked a room where the door was slightly ajar. I had wrongly assumed that all the wards were open. I peaked my head into the room only to see a lifeless body lying on a hospital bed wrapped somewhat in a sheet. It was an older lady who was obviously deceased. I was to find out later that she died of complications of multiple sclerosis, just as my sister was to 20 odd years down the line.