This guest blog comes from some thoughts written down by one of our senior nurses during the week she retired. Jo Richmond spent nearly 45 years in the NHS, in a variety of roles as you will read. The last 11 of these were with us at Heart of England as a member of our corporate nursing team. She sent them to colleagues, for interest, and it was my suggestion to publish. I hope you find her reflections interesting
There I was on the steps of the Nurses Home – Chelsea Court, Chelsea Embankment, London 1969 – wearing thigh length white PVC boots and purple maxi skirt!!! The Home Sister said “Good morning Nurse Treasure” (yes that was my maiden name!) and so began a career that has spanned nearly 45 years.
In those days, in London, we got paid £7 7s and 3d for two weeks, this included all our meals and accommodation and transport to and from work. We worked a 44 hour week had our meals in the Nurses Dining Room overlooking the Houses of Parliament – bacon and eggs, hot toast and lashings of real butter and marmalade for breakfast!
Introductory Course (12 weeks) started the day we arrived, making beds. I still use hospital corners and have my pillow ends facing away from the door – do you know this was left over from the Crimea? Animals would crawl up the sheets if they were left flapping and birds and insects would fly in through the tent doors and lodge in the pillows if the openings were towards the door!
We learned to make our extraordinary frilly ‘butterfly’ hats, roll bandages, learn about a healthy diet, how to maintain a sterile field and prepare a trolley. IV fluids and blood were dispensed in glass bottles (polythene IV bags only began to be introduced during the Vietnam War when it was impossible to drop glass bottles from the helicopters).
When people talk about the ‘good old days’ I can tell you it wasn’t all that good, but we did have fun and it was a true vocation. We lived and breathed nursing 24/7.
In the early 70s, it wasn’t uncommon for a 3rd year student nurse and a couple of 1st year students to be in charge of a Ward of 34 patients at night. All under the beady eye of Night Sister who needed to know the name, age, religion and diagnosis of every patient each night. We had to make the patients’ breakfasts, have you ever boiled 34 eggs? No handling and moving equipment for us – it was the ‘Australian’ lift – the patient’s sweaty armpit smell on your shoulder for the rest of the day!
We used a frightening array of lotions on patients – all of which are now banned! –Lotio Plumbi (Lead and Opium), Lotio Rubra (Zinc Sulphate) and Eusol (Chlorinated Lime and Boric Acid) to name but a few, Paraldehyde in glass syringes for very confused/aggressive patients!! AAAAArrggghhh – those poor patients. Night sedation was Mandrax, Butobarbitone, Mogadon etc (well it was the swinging sixties!). Temazepam became popular during the Falklands War when helicopter pilots needed to get to sleep quickly but also be alert when they woke up. We sterilised our instruments in formaldehyde. We put huge mittens on patients to stop them pulling out their IVIs. It’s amazing that they and I survived at all.
First year students lived in the sluice, cleaning stainless steel bedpans, filling huge rubber water pillows for pressure relief. We got severely reprimanded if our uniforms were more than 3” above our knee! We changed our aprons each day after we had finished making beds – no plastic aprons or disposable gloves in those days! Infections such as gas gangrene and streptococcus were common. We were using Methicillin when we heard that Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus had been identified (MRSA). No IV injections, except in ITU – everything was IM (intramuscular). Four strengths of Insulin – all doses had to be carefully calculated.
I nursed polio cases in iron lungs – full nursing care for them and not a pressure sore to be seen. Mental Health patients were locked away in asylums. If you were a patient aged 65 or over you were ‘geriatric’ and very little treatment was offered. Waiting lists for hip replacements were 4 or 5 years. Consultant rounds were no more than twice a week.
Relatives could only get a ‘condition check’ from switchboard. Every night we filled in a status form for the switch board and patients were categorised as ‘Satisfactory, Poorly, or Critical’.
Only the TPR, Fluid Balance and Medication charts needed to be completed (as well as the beds, bowels, weights, cleaning and baths books!). The Nursing Kardex for each patient was our documentation and it told the story of that patients stay very successfully – I often wish we had them back!
Social life was amazing – we were all 18 years old, away from home for the first time, living a stone’s throw from the King’s Road in the ‘Swinging Sixties’. Medical students were smuggled into the Nurses Home, and hidden in wardrobes if Home Sister was on the prowl. We’d climb in windows if we were late for our 11pm curfew. The Sister Tutor taught us to keep away from the iron railings on buildings in case someone jumped out and attacked us, she explained that a strong kick in the groin would render an attacker immobile and always to walk with your key ready to poke in an attackers eyes! Fortunately none of this advice was ever needed! Lucky, because we hitch hiked to home and to parties in Cambridge and Reading etc.
Over the years I have completed my RGN – 2 x 3 hour exams and a ‘practical’ session held in the classroom where we could be asked to lay up any one of 100 trolleys for a procedure, followed by a hospital exam and viva if we were to get the coveted ‘Hospital Badge’. I completed my ITU Certificate in a purpose built ITU unit. Only to come to Coventry 2 years later and find that ventilated patients were being nursed in the open wards – it wasn’t until 1977 that Coventry got its first Intensive care Unit. My Nursing Studies degree wasn’t completed until 2000.
I have been Ward Sister on:
- Coronary Care Unit (guaranteed 7 day stay if you survived a heart attack).
- Acute medical admissions unit
- Cardio- Thoracic Unit – no angiograms or stents in those days!
- Orthopaedic ITU with 2 patients per Nurse (Total Hip Replacement patients spent 2 days in ITU and then 2 weeks in hospital).
- I’ve had a secondment to the Department of Health, working on Essence of Care and facilitating the production of the Environment, Communication and Pain Management benchmarks. I have been a Practice Development Nurse, NVQ trainer and Assessor and Standards and Quality Facilitator – (what on earth was that!).
I was Secretary for our RCN Branch and led the ‘Pay not Peanuts Campaign’ in Coventry Precinct in the 70’s – some things never change!
I have friendships that span all those decades – I will be meeting up with my ‘69’ set in September when about 25 of the original 33 will gather in the Isle of Wight for a ‘do you remember’ and ‘oh you haven’t changed a bit’ weekend to celebrate our Sapphire Anniversary.
I came to Heartlands in June 2003 and have always strived to make life better for patients. It’s tough in the NHS these days as everyone’s expectation is so high, the press seem to be leading a vendetta against us all the time, making comments about the government of day not realising that has a direct effect for all the NHS. I am still proud to be a Nurse as there are so many true professionals who have changed things for the better. I have learned something every single day and never fail to marvel at the lengths some staff will go to for our patients. Throughout my career there have always been outstanding role models who I have tried to emulate in a small way. It doesn’t cost anything to smile and be pleasant to patients, staff and colleagues. Always I imagine what sort of care would I want for my family and that is what I try to deliver.
Thank you to everyone for all your help and support, good luck in the future.
Once a Nurse – Always a Nurse