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| Category: || Biographical Non-Fiction |
Posted:|| February 3, 2016 Views: 513|
Chapter 26 of the book West Wind
I had landed in a frightening New World.
"Welcome to Adulthood"
by Giddy Nielsen-Sweep
I just knew some magic job was about to drop out of the air into my lap.
School was over and I hung about the house doing nothing much of anything. In a whistle-stop like Green Springs, nothing much of anything happened.
Mum was disappointed that I didn’t carry on my education."What about teaching? Mr Abbott said you'd be good at teaching.”
“Teach kids! Yuck! I'd never want to teach kids!” Like so many school leavers, I had no plans.
“Well, if you're not going to go back to school… ” Then my mother’s eyes lit up, “What about nursing? I could call the hospital and get you an interview with the matron.”
I was appalled.“Nursing? No, Mum, no!”
But Mum was like a horse with the bit between its teeth. Whipping off her apron, she marched up the stairs from the front yard where we'd been talking.
I sprinted up the stairs after her. She wouldn’t, would she?
Yes, she has! Suddenly smiling, she said, “Good morning, Matron.”
“No, Mum!” I stood in front of her as she talked, fluttering my hands. She avoided my eyes.
“Well, you've got an interview with the matron next week. Your father will drive us to Monto and we have to be in her office by 10 o'clock Monday morning.” I was dead meat.
Of course the matron loved us. Finding nurses in the country wasn't that easy for her.
I’ve mentioned Mum’s good friend, Betty Duncan, before. To my everlasting regret, she insisted on making my entry into nursing easier. She had been a nurse many years before in Melbourne. Inevitably, I would endure tuition at her home, starting with how to give somebody a hot water bottle.
"It is an unforgivable sin, dear, to burn anybody,” she insisted
Dad laughed out loud when we told him.“I should think it would be a bloody unforgivable sin to burn anybody! Talk about stating the bloody obvious!”
Another thing that was an unforgivable sin was to cover anybody’s head with the sheet. Nevertheless, that was something I never forgot, though it was never included in our training.
Sadly, there was worse to come from Betty. “Ooh, they won’t allow you to have your uniforms too short, dear. They are very strict about that.” Even more sadly, Mum and I were intimidated into submission.
When it came to uniforms at the interview, I guess the matron assumed we were too poor to afford ready-made ones. She gave Mum a sketch of the design she was to sew.
A fashionable length for a young woman’s dress at the time was just above the bottom of the knee cap. We didn't discuss skirt length when we spoke to my future boss. Mum made mine down to mid calf.
Only three weeks after the school year ended, I found myself in the early morning up close and personal with an alarm clock. It was just before Christmas of 1961. I was still sixteen.
The day shift started at six a.m. This was all new. This was huge.
I jumped out of bed and pulled on my new home-made brunch coat with the puffy sleeves. Mum had always talked about leg o’ mutton sleeves from her young days. She must've been inspired to add them to my brunch coat in her excitement for me.
I was so shy. Taking a deep breath, I set off for the bathroom which I guess was standard for the time. It had a couple of toilet and shower cubicles and a huge white bath tub. Other nurses came to do their ablutions while I was at the sink. My face washed and teeth cleaned, I returned to my room to brush my hair and apply a little make up.
It was difficult to pull on my stockings, not ladder them and keep the seams straight up the back of my legs while my fingers trembled so much.
Everyone wore step-ins. They were like a mini corset with a dual purpose. The suspenders, discreetly inside at front and back, held up the stockings, and being elasticised, the corsets fulfilled the important function of holding the tummy in. Seamless stockings and pantyhose were delightful creations yet to grace the female form.
I always wore a petticoat, as did everyone, for you dare not show a hint of a leg through the skirt. Some girls wore suspender belts, but it was not considered cute to let your bottom wobble. The outfit was completed when I stepped into my Hall’s Nursing shoes and laced them up. The most comfortable I'd ever walk in, I kept those brown leather shoes polished and clean.
My lightly starched, white uniforms had been prepared for me by the hospital laundry.
I would have collected mine the night before from the nurse's uniform cupboard. Then it had to be equipped with the necessary buttons. The loop at the back of the button was pushed through the eyelet hole in the uniform and secured with a brass shank. The laborious task of removing the buttons had to be done before the uniforms were returned to the laundry.
On my head I bobby-pinned a starched white cap displaying one blue stripe.
I stepped out into the hallway.
"Come on, Nurse Jorgensen. You can walk up with me.” Nurse Irvine was a third year who took me under her wing.
“Yes, Nurse Irvine.” I found out soon enough how strict she was.
The three or four day-shift nurses gathered in the big country kitchen around a massive range soon after 5:30 AM. The night nurse had cut thick slices of white bread and dried it out in the oven ready for toasting. We hurriedly ate tea and toast before starting work.
The junior nurse’s first duty was the patient's bed sponges and making their beds. Nurse Irvine took me with her and taught me the correct procedure.
“Before you do anything at all, Nurse, you wash your hands. Remember that. every time, before every procedure, you wash your hands.”
I stood obediently, hands behind my back, “Yes, Nurse Irvine.” My hands would never be the same again.
Glass water jugs and glasses were then collected from the bedside lockers, washed, and refilled. The metal topped lockers were polished to a shine, and all was replaced, ready for the matron's inspection at 8:30a.m.
As a junior nurse I started at the bottom, fetching bed pans, urinals, and sputum mugs when patients rang their buzzers.
Rostered on morning pan room duty, I scrubbed down the wooden benches of the pan room with Sunlight soap and a scrubbing brush. Apart from pots of Bon Ami, stainless steel soap dishes and disinfectant, the bench was bare and the colour of a sheet of parchment.
“Nurse Jorgensen, bring a urinal for Mr Mitchell.”
"Yes, Sister,” I stood on the pedal to raise the lid of the boiling steriliser and cringed at the thought of giving him one that was still boiling hot.
Holding it with the large lifters and dodging the pungent steam, I swung it under cold running water. Then, grabbing a brown cotton pan cover from the pile on the shelf, I rushed out to Mr Mitchell's bedside.
As time went on, I found if a patient rang the buzzer, we were expected to answer immediately. Not rushing to answer a buzzer, I soon realised, was definitely an unforgivable sin if you were caught out.
Senior nurses called us by our surnames. First names were never used on duty. Registered nurses, (Sisters,) and Matron, always prefixed our names with the title, Nurse.
The matron gave us our General Nursing lectures in our own time, in the nurses lecture room. The medical superintendent lectured on anatomy and physiology.
In my first few days, starting to feel like a real nurse, memories returned of being in those very beds myself in childhood. I stared at the veranda floorboards. If only I'd known, one day I'd be here myself. Me, a real nurse, walking these same floorboards, people calling me ‘Nurse’. I had drawn a lot of comfort from that starched white uniform.
Adorned in my drab, ill-fitting uniforms, my face covered in acne, the world out there awaited me with pitfalls I would repeatedly stumble into.
I had a lot of growing up to do.
I selected Bow Church Nun by Renate-Bertodi. Thank you very much.
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