Sunday, February 07, 2016

Dreaming Spires and Bedpans


Chapter 9

Dreaming Spires and Bedpans.

    Now that we had completed P.T.S. to prepare us to be let loose for our month’s trial on the wards we were all wondering where that would be -  whether on a surgical or a medical ward.

“What’s the difference Pat?  You’re the one with experience.”

“Well I’ve never nursed very sick children.  It was a Convalescent Home remember.”

“But you must have some idea,” Delia persisted.

“OK - well speaking very generally - on a surgical ward patients are admitted, have the op, have their stitches out and go home – if all goes well.”

“And on a medical ward?”

“It’s a much slower process and requires a lot of day to day nursing care and patience.  Some of the patients will be unconscious so you have to think for them and keep them comfortable.  Anyway we’ll know our fate soon enough.  Sister has just put the list on the notice board.”

  Clustered round the notice board I felt my face flush as I saw that for the next month I would be on one of the three medical wards – Borchardt Ward. I knew there would be patients suffering from tubercular meningitis and leukaemia – both fatal diseases in the forties, so it was going to be harrowing.  Everyone knew someone with TB, before the advent of safe milk.  

  We were extras on the ward so there was time to get to know some of the thirty odd patients including half a dozen babies.  There were two baby nurses and I longed to be one of them looking after the babies but I had to help generally at first. 

  The wards had very tall windows by each bed (if a patient had a high temperature we were told to open a window) and at each end of the ward in the middle of the room were two large tiled edifices – waist high - with fires at each end protected by fire guards.  In the centre was Sister’s desk always with a vase of flowers.  First thing in the morning we would group round the desk whilst the night nurses gave their report and Sister would give us our orders.  Each nurses had six patients each and she was responsible for all their toilet and treatments.  There was usually an extra nurse who would cover off duty and days off.

  I got a shock the first week when Sister said:

“Nurse Barnes.  Get Tom Sargent ready for theatre please.”  As we were a medical ward this was unexpected.  I was told to get woollen socks from one of the cupboards in the vestibule - it was essential to keep the patient’s feet warm during an operation – but when I got there the cupboard was bare – of woollen socks.  I searched the other cupboards – fruitlessly.

  I rushed to Staff Nurse (running is only allowed if there is fire or haemorrhage involved.

“I can’t find – there aren’t any – I’ve looked in all the cupboards I…

  Sensing my rising panic she said:

“Go to the nearest Surgical Ward – that’s Wrigley next ward on the left and borrow some socks.  You’d better be quick!”

On Wrigley I found people were not inspired to move quickly when requested by an unbelted Nurse – we only were allowed to wear a belt if we successfully passed the month’s trial - and by the time I got back to the ward Staff Nurse was looking hassled.  Thank Heaven she had put Tom on a trolley and dressed him in a theatre gown.

“You’ve really got to get a move on now Barnes – Sister Violet has been on the phone and the whole theatre is waiting for Tom!”  I gulped – we had all heard about the Theatre Sister who ate probationers for breakfast in spite of her resemblance to a curly haired Violet Elizabeth Bott of “Just William” fame.

  Staff Nurse helped me manoeuvre the heavy trolley outside the ward and then left me to it.  I looked down the corridor - the length of the Hospital where the Theatre was sited and I could just see three irate figures gesturing angrily in my direction.  I took a deep breath, put one arm protectively over Tom and pushed with all my might towards theatre and the trolley forged straight into the wall on the side of the corridor.

I yanked it back and pushed again.  This time it forged straight ahead into the opposite wall.  By this time we were almost at HoldenWard.  Only Wrigley, Liebert and Heywood wards to go and we’d almost be there.  I tried not to look at the three figures – who now seemed to be dancing.  By the time I reached Heyood they raced towards me and snatched Tom and trolley out of my grasp. I reflected that Medical and Surgical are two different worlds and never the twain should mix.  Ideally.

  Sister Moon was one of the older ones and was kind and motherly.  This helped when we had to nurse patients with T.B meningitis and leukaemia –fatal diseases in those days.

  One little girl on the ward came from a wealthy family and had been given her own cow, which tragically turned out to be tubercular.   Over the years progress has been made; we have clean milk, TB is rare and leukaemia can be cured, but in the forties, these were dread diseases and careful nursing was all-important to keep the patients comfortable and as happy as possible.  Nursing children spoils you as far as nursing adults is concerned.  They are incredibly brave and warrant love and affection.  Whenever I am afraid of some ordeal I have to go through, I remember Edward, a boy of ten who had to have intramuscular injections every four hours.  He would look at me with his big brown eyes and say, ‘Just wait till I get my grip Nurse,’ and he would grip the bed head, have the injection and then let me give him a hug.  I once persuaded a senior nurse to give me an intramuscular injection so I would know what it felt like.  I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to have one every four hours.

Parents were allowed to visit once a week, on Sundays from 3pm till 4pm and they were very much under the eagle eye of Sister.  There was no sitting on beds, no children visitors and only parents were allowed.  Hard as it may have been for the parents normally the children became used to us after a day or so and the big pay off was there was no cross infection.  We would have died of shame. Each ward had its own maids and the wards were spotless.  There was a smell that was mixture of floor polish and disinfectant.  From the entrance to the ward you would see that all the bed castors were turned inwards at the correct angle and all pillow case openings were away from the door.  This attention to detail was carried through in all aspects of nursing care, and the sloppiness one sometimes sees in today’s hospitals concerns me.  As a junior nurse, one’s first duty in the morning was to wipe down the beds and lockers with Dettol and then check the children’s heads for nits.  Matron did a ward round every day but never at the same time and you and the ward had better be looking immaculate.  There was a cleaner Mrs Wray who spent all day going from one end of the main corridor, on her hands and knees, scrubbing.  I flinched every time I had to walk over it and she would give me a weary smile as I apologised.

  Friends used to ask how I could bear to nurse children so ill and the answer was the children were inspiring and it was possible to have happy times together.   What used to finish me was when I looked at the parent’s faces when they came on the ward on a Sunday.  I would have to retreat into the Sluice, have a good blub and then get back on the ward. 
  At last the month’s trial was over; I was given my grey belt and a few months’ respite before the Preliminary State Exam in the autumn.  There was the Christmas Ball (held in January) and my trip to Oxford to look forward to. Life was good.

The Christmas Ball was fun.  It was formal (before the War the men wore white tie and tails) and Matron would invite the army or naval officers from nearby bases.  Historically lesser ranks weren’t considered suitable for us nurses.  We also had an informal dance every month in the Recreation Room and there was a steady flow of young men – engineers, undergrads and service men all under the watchful eye of Matron, so there was no malarking.  You could, of course sneak out into the grounds on the pretext of showing the visitors the wards from the outside, but you’d better not linger too long in the shrubbery. 

  I had a beautiful white lace dress for the Ball– handed down from Maddie, with a bunch of violets pinned to my bosom.  I met a nice sailor from Kent and arranged to see him when I came back from Oxford.  Actually I wasn’t very good with boys and it soon fizzled out.  Mostly I regarded them as chums and when they started getting soppy my interest waned.  On the rare occasions I fancied someone, I behaved in such an off-putting way I frightened them off.  Such a bore!    I was only seventeen and expected I would get better with age.
   Gran was excited about her forthcoming trip to Rhode Island in the States - to visit Auntie Jean who was expecting her first baby. Evan was swotting for School Cert and planning to leave school afterwards and train as a mining engineer.  How would my little brother manage a career without me there to look after him?

 There was a happy reunion with Annie who was enjoying her Fever Training and mighty relieved to have been spared all the swotting she would have had to do had she joined me in P.T.S.

At last it was time to take the train to Oxford.   I had saved up enough money – as long as I was careful.  Travelling overnight was cheaper but it was a difficult cross country journey and I had difficulty keeping awake – I had been on duty during the day and I was nervous of missing my changes.

The excitement of travelling alone at night dwindled when a strange, beefy man with a long ginger beard boarded the train at Melton Mowbray, took off his shoes and put his feet on the seat beside me.  It was early in the morning when I arrived and the sight of those ‘dreaming spires‘and the mist rising from the river made Oxford seem another world and quite beautiful.

  Maddie met me and we went for a much needed coffee in the High.  She showed me the Ashmolean Museum where her Art School – the Slade – had been evacuated during the war which gave her the precious gift of being educated in such a special place.  I still thought she was mad to throw it all away to marry Paul but knew better than to say so.

I was getting exhausted.

“Maddie can we save any more sightseeing for another day?  I’m going to sleep standing up.”

“Sorry Pat I forgot you hadn’t slept for a while.  We’ll get the bus and be home before lunch.  By the way we’ve got an old army friend of Paul’s staying – Adrian - you’ll like him, he’s nice.  Oh and we’ve been invited to tea in Jamie’s rooms later in the week.”

That last snippet was much more interesting.  I remembered how much I enjoyed meeting the two brothers – Jamie and Liam.  The third one Dylan less so but I would just keep out of his reach.

After a few hours sleep I felt bright as a button and soon Maddie and I were chattering and giggling non stop – much to Paul’s annoyance.  I don’t think he was delighted we were seeing Liam and Jamie - I think if Maddie hadn’t already met Paul before Oxford she would have been much closer to Liam.

The days passed pleasantly enough but it was clear the highlight of my week would be tea at Jamie’s.

  On the day I made sure my hair was freshly washed and wore a fine wool suit because it made me look older and a yellow sweater because the girls in our set said it  made my hair look lighter.

I loved seeing the colleges- they exuded atmosphere and were such gracious old buildings – like nothing you would ever see in Lancashire. It really felt like another world.

When we reached the porter’s lodge there was someone standing in front of the notice board and as we spoke to the porter he turned round and it was Jamie.  Gosh!  I had forgotten those dark gypsy- ish good looks.  After we greeted Jamie- he and I darting shy glances at each other - he led the way up a winding staircase to his rooms.

Liam and Dylan were already there and there was a roaring fire.

It wasn’t long before all shyness had worn off and we were chatting and catching up on the last couple of years.  There was an oar on the wall which Jamie had won in an Eight’s race but Liam was the star oarsman and he was happy to share his skill with us.  Seated on the floor he demonstrated various rowing techniques.

  “Oooh Liam,” I blurted out. “what short legs you’ve got!”  It was true; if he had been in proportion he would have been 7’ tall.  Liam looked at me thunderstruck and the others rocked with laughter- Jamie nearly fell off his chair.  Northern girls are nothing if not direct – something I have tried to curb over the years.

Roy Hudd, the famous Music Hall star was trying to make the difficult transition from stand- up comedy to serious acting and was being interviewed by the late lamented Dennis Potter at his home – with a view to acting in one of Potter’s prestigious plays.

Both men got on like a house on fire and without ever mentioning the reason for the meeting, Dennis invited Roy to stay for lunch whereupon Roy said he couldn’t because his wife was sitting in the car down stairs.

“Bring her up,” he was told.  Roy went down to collect his wife – another Pat – also a Lancastrian.  As she walked in the room her first words were:

“Well has he got the job then?”

Jamie gave us a splendid tea- buttered crumpets, chocolate cake and good strong tea complete with strainer and a brightly coloured tea- cosy which his mother had knitted clearly using up wool she had used to knit the boy’s Fair Isle pullovers.  I hadn’t seen Maddie so animated for a long time – marriage seemed to have sobered her somewhat.  When all the food had gone I started clearing up the dishes and carried them to the small kitchenette.  Jamie joined me and we washed up and he asked if he could write to me.  He always covered any such request with a joke – as if he wasn’t really serious – but I really liked him and loved getting letters, so I said yes.

On the last morning of my stay I was washing up yet again with Adrian (Maddie and Paul were at work).  I was taken aback when he said:

“Now that Paul’s married to a girl like Maddie he should buck his ideas up.”

I had no idea what he meant and he didn’t volunteer any more information.  He had

 
 been out in India with Paul and knew him pretty well.  He very kindly took me to the

 
Station and I said good bye to him and au revoir to Oxford.

25 comments:

kenju said...

As always, I can'[t wait for the next installment. Did you ever find out what Adrian meant?

Pat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
OldLady Of The Hills said...

Like Judy, I so look forward to the next chapter....! You pull me in each time, dear Pat, and I don't want the chapter to end.....! Such wonderful writing, my dear. What a fascinating life you have led.

Pat said...

Judy: that's my comment I had to remove because my wrist flopped on the key-board and there was about 2'of blank paper.

Re Adrian - with the passage of time it became clearer what he meant
but one never knows the whole story. I still don't understand why he would tell a 17 year old girl but he was a genuinely decent guy with the best intentions and a bit out of his depth.

Pat said...

Naomi: you and Judy make me really glad I decide to do one last edit and post it on my blog. It is what it is and I am thrilled you are enjoying it.

angryparsnip said...


I too am very excited when your next chapter pops up.
I would like to know what "buck his ideas up" means ?
Now I have to wait till the next chapter.

cheers, parsnip and thehamish

Kim Ayres said...

I can't image how awful it must have been for the parents if they could only see their sick child for one hour a week!

AndrewM said...

Still a few blank lines.

Buck your ideas up. British English informal used to tell someone to improve their behaviour or attitude.

Good story.

Granny Annie said...

I never thought of the warm socks they put on us in the hospital as having an important role in our medical care. I know I like them and the blankets out of the warmer that they put on us too.

Pat said...

Parsnip: Andrew below explains what 'buck your ideas up' means, but I expect you already know that. What Adrian meant will become clear. You wouldn't want me to tell you now would you:)

Kim: of course it does seem pretty inhuman these days but with the state of many hospitals today I suspect that the children suffered much less than the parents and they were our priority. Nowadays it seems that anyone can wander - bugs and all.

Pat said...

Andrew.M when my post leaves Word it is pretty immaculate having been checked and checked countless times. During the transition strange gaps appear unbidden and I've learned - to keep my sanity - to ignore it. At first I thought you were berating me. The idea!!!!
Glad you like the story. Not fiction BTW.

Pat said...

Granny Annie: Oooh the warm blankets sound a good idea.

SDC said...

I'm touched by your empathy towards the boy that had to take all the injections. To take a shot just to understand what it was like for him, wow. Did he know that you did that?

Pat said...

SDC: no I didn't tell him. Only the nurse - she was quite senior - and I knew. We both would have been in deep trouble had Matron known.

Exile on Pain Street said...

What does that mean?! Buck his ideas up?! Oh, you devil. To just leave me hanging. Another fantastic chapter. Greatly appreciated. Will give it a second reading on my way home tonight. Thanks, Pat.

Pat said...

Exile: I don't mean to keep you hanging. It just sort of happens sometime.
English informal idiom used to tell someone to improve their behaviour or attitude sometimes shortened to " For ....s sake Buck up!

James said...

An uncle of mine, my mother's brother, also called James, died of TB of the spine when he was just eighteen. It all happened before I was born. My mother was deeply affected by his death, as were her parents. My mother and her sister suffered a second blow when their other brother, Robert, was killed in the war during a sortie over the Feuersbrunn (I think that spelling is correct) airfield near Vienna in 1944.

Pat said...

James: how sad for your mother to lose two brothers - so young. Thank goodness we have made progress as far as TB is concerned.
Sadly war in the world continues.

LL Cool Joe said...

Oh I wondered when we'd get a new chapter from you. It's always a joy to read as you keep us all hooked with your words and experiences. What an interesting life, I was going to say, you had, but you still have an interesting life now too!

Pat said...

Joey: like most of us I had long, achingly dull periods too. Still do.

giveitanothergo said...

I am on tenterhooks waiting for the next installment :)

I worry about the state of hospitals too, they are nothing like when I was a kid. So many staff and like you say always being cleaned and the beds tidied even if you didn't want it tidied.

helen

rashbre said...

I love the detail you provide in the storytelling (e.g. with and without belts/ the bed castors). Builds the picture and very engrossing. And at the same time such another world. Now I'm wondering about all the different coloured uniforms in Holby City!

Mage said...

Yes, eagerly awaiting your next installment. :)

Ms Scarlet said...

Oh Pat, I have missed so much! Your description of the hospital makes me wish it was like that now, wards seem so noisy and grubby now - with no smell of floor polish.
Did I miss the modelling episodes? I will have to check.
Wonderful.
Sx

Pat said...

Helen: Yes I have a hard time accepting how things have changed.

Rashbre: funnily I don't watch any of the hospital series - not sure why and the Midwife one I positively dislike. Give me Neighbours any time:)

Mage: must get down to it. The longer one leaves it the harder it is.

Scarlet: No dear Scarlet you haven't missed the modelling days. I'm barely 18. Ah me!