In the early days of these nurses residences (before my time as a student), a ‘Home Sister’ would stay onsite and ensure the rules and regulations of the Hospital were upheld, including the moral conduct of its nurses. Homes were strictly single sex and there was no staying out late at night and certainly no sneaking in boyfriends. Even in my day there was a Home Warden who kept an eye on us although fortunately (given how close we were to St.Albans’ plentiful choice of 53 pubs) there was no late night curfew.
|Slightly before my time..
The Church Crescent site also housed two elderly care wards and a canteen. We congregated in this canteen on the next day for breakfast but I don’t remember ever going back afterward. Despite the fact that breakfast was very cheap, it was also very early and awkward shift patterns soon made us value every spare minute in bed. We didn’t turn down the free meals on night duty though, left over from the day shift they were left in the chiller cabinet in the big canteen on the main hospital site on Normandy Road. First come first served, so early break on a night shift was very popular. Like most students we didn’t waste a chance to turn down a free meal often.
Over the next few days we were issued with our uniforms; pale blue check dresses (standard NHS wear), mid-blue nylon webbing belts (called Petersham belts) and dark blue thick wool cloaks with a red lining. One of the last groups ever to be issued them, I was to regret ever letting mine go at the end of the training although we were told we could keep them if wanted. The ladies in the sewing room (yes, there used to be a sewing room in all hospitals) did alterations as necessary, fitted the belts individually and gave us our caps; stiff card with a thin blue strip around the top to denote our status as first year students, held in place with white Kirby grips. We had been told to bring flat black shoes and pale brown tights to complete the look. When everyone was properly uniformed, a class photograph was taken outside on the lawn by the School and at last the May 1983 set was ready to go.
They also taught us clinical skills such as how to pass a naso-gastric tube correctly. This we did on each-other in the mock ward area, withdrawing gastric fluid to test for hydrochloric acid with a strip of litmus paper and puffing small amounts of air into the stomach (we hoped) with a syringe whilst we listened with a stethoscope for the tell-tale gurgle of stomach contents. There were no guide-wires or positional check x-rays as became the norm later. Naso-gastric tubes (Ryle’s tubes were used for feeding as well as drainage) then were uncomfortable and inflexible, making us cough and gag as they went down, so practicing on each-other made us much more careful when we passed them on real patients, knowing full well how unpleasant it was. Fortunately we weren’t required to try out urinary catheters on each-other.
The clinical nurse teachers were Ita Blakey, Laureen Hemming and Peggy Morris (of course they were not known by their first names any more than school children call their teachers by their first names now) . They dressed in dark green nurses’ uniforms and taught us on the wards, focusing on the more practical aspects of nursing care such as how to perform a bed bath and how to set up a sterile field for a wound dressing. They also oversaw the four practical exams we each had to do as students; total patient care, aseptic technique, medicines round and ward management. These were nerve wracking and necessary, each successful one marking another step toward the final exams and (hopefully) qualification.
Next week: being assessed in practice!