Sunday, 4 December 2011

A lesson well learned.

Left to Right: Seriously Irish and seriously loyal friend, Beauty Queen, Moi, No-nonsense girl, three baduns, friend from day one: Serious Lesbian who HATED me. Two younguns who had been cadets.

Something happened, or rather did not happen last night  reminding me of an incident that occurred long long ago but one which I've always remembered with a shiver; not for what did happen but for what could have.

I'm young, twenty one but still the oldest of this little group. We've had a month of School and a month of  Ward Mondays and we are still wearing our hated Chip bag hats so are in our first three months. This picture is being posed for an article in the local paper.

Only six months on from this picture and I am on night duty.

Night duty and I don't exactly hit I off. I'm young and in love with life and dancing, and handsome American Airmen who swarm over Margate and Ramsgate...the two towns nearest to Manston Air Base. After my shift is over I am supposed to eat dinner [cooked the night before and warmed up as the day nurses eat their breakfast.] Then I should go to my quarters at the night nurses house...tuck myself up and sleep until it is time to get ready for another shift.   Cannot be done. I toss and turn, and eventually I get up,and dress and creep away to my coffee bars or just to walk along the beach.  
I do this for at least three nights and by the fourth night usually just about make it into my bed the next morning.

This particular night I'm not too well...beginnings of a cold, or just a tummy ache but, as I am on a convalescent ward set in a Quonset hut outside the hospital  I have no qualms in settling down on two chairs with my apron crossed in front, shoes off, hat off...and eyes closed. I have done bottle round, night sister has done the meds, men are tucked up save for a couple going home the next day and are playing cards...and smoking. [truly ash trays sit on every bedside locker]

When I awake it is to door banging and pealing telephone bells. I cannot move 'nurse's paralysis' has struck me down; a phenomenon I have heard about almost as a myth...I know no-one to whom this has  happened.

Then Sister Redmond is there, shouting at me...I still cannot move..she shakes me and actually slaps me...I remember her father is in the ward, a late admission just before I arrived. She is beside herself with anger..he has pulled out his catheter and is in pain.   Now I can move.

I am sent off duty...the shame is immense.

Matron kept me waiting to hear my least three days passed before I was commanded to appear in her office.
I was a good nurse and they didn't grow on trees, no point to sack me.
She did the worst thing ever. Beside her desk was a large sack and in that sack there must have been two hundred Terry Towelling nappies [diapers] all needing hemming. And I HATED sewing. How did she find out? I did them all, slowly but surely and actually got quite good, taking a pride in the neatness of my work.

A moral there somewhere chaps and chapesses.


  1. Life hands us so many lessons. I hope you'll keep sharing yours.

  2. And these experiences make us what we are today.

  3. What a GREAT photo, thanks for sharing it and the story that went with it (or slightly after it). The lady in the black dress looks like the Wicked Witch of the West.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this. I loved it!
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  5. What year was this Moannie??

  6. 1956? eh Mum! and so the Thursday night shift brought this back, l ge tit

    luv sazzie xx

  7. Good nurses are still so hard to find....and they are still over worked!

  8. When ToonMan was in hospital this past winter I learned how hard it is to be a nurse .. today nurses get to tend up to 6 patients each .. no easy task and not enough appreciation ..

  9. I heard so many tales of student nursing and nursing through wartime from my mother when she was alive. Laughter was always a theme - and a fact - during the retelling, but there were also many, many episodes of near disaster, embarrassment, failure and so on. Like you, Mum was a good nurse (VERY much missed when she retired, after working many years post-retirement age) but nursing is hard, tiring, and often thankless work.

    I do think that the iron rule of the senior nurses right up to 'Matron' was a good thing though. Mum was terrified of hers, as was everyone else, but Matron ruled, and kept things clean, organised, and standards were kept. Sadly, none of those things seem to be true today.

  10. Your life has thrown you lots of opportunities to learn lessons, it seems to me, and you have a pragmatic, no nonsense, get on with it attitude coupled to an ability to smile and be kind.

  11. Laughing at this post...we have so much in common...I almost got sent down for piercing another student nurse's ears...she wasn't my first...and the DON had a fit! She told me that since I wasn't a surgeon I should not have used any sharp instument on any person and warned me what would happen if I did it again...I certainly did not, either...that class photo seems so similar...only our dresses were striped...ugly...

  12. That certainly is a lesson well learned! I suspect tiredness catches up eventually and to sew nappies must have been a terrible punishment! I can't sew either so it would have been pretty dire for me!

    CJ x

  13. i love how well you remember it, Moannie
    as if it were yesterday
    and i love the pic
    all such moments have made us who we are
    great telling

  14. Looks like a scene from "Carry On, Nurse". The Serious Lesbian looks like Margaret Hamilton, the one who played Wicked Witch in The Wizard Of Oz!

  15. I joined in 54,October and the School was for three months taking us to Christmas. As we are still wearing our 'chip bag'hats I can safely assume it is still '54. I am twenty. And she was...a horrible old dragon who made me weep on more that one occasion...requiring the Matron to referee.

  16. Moannie,

    It's finding blogs like this that makes me glad I woke up early Saturday morning. What a striking story, truly beautiful.

  17. oooh you mentioned all those nappies and i thought they must be soiled horribly...glad you only had to sew them not wash them out!

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