The news story this week that nurses and doctors may still be crushing tablets and giving them to the elderly and anyone else unable to swallow a tablet has got me thinking about the early days of my nursing career when I was young and yes innocent too. We all were, nurses were still ‘angels’ and not of death, they worked hard, did as they were told, and nurse practitioners were still a twinkle in the eye of the degree level tutor. Oh yes, even in 1980 some people were already daring to take a degree in nursing, not me though I was a proper nursing student, one who worked all shifts and 1 week in 4 of nights. Degree nurses had to do a 4 year course because they needed that amount of time to get the hours of practice in.
There were some interesting things about the drug round when I was a student and indeed after I qualified, we had a pestle and mortar to do the crushing and we had jam to mix it with. We actually disguised the disgusting flavour for the poor unsuspecting patient! We also had whisky, brandy and sherry on the drug trolley, which we administered mainly on prescription – yes the doctor wrote the stuff up. I remember on nights trying the quality of the sherry, and it was not something you would want to make a habit of (not just because you didn’t want sister to find you doing it) but that didn’t put the patients off!
The wards in the early 1980s were literally run by students, the third years were in charge pretty much and it seemed to us that the staff nurses spent a great deal of time in the office with the doctors. Sadly this proved to be less common once I had qualified, or perhaps I just worked on too busy a ward! At night it wasn’t unusual for 2 students to be alone on a ward caring for 20 patients with night sister popping by to check on us and to give any iv drugs. We got on with this because it was normal, we never questioned the wisdom or the danger the patients might be in, even when one night I ended up having to put my fist into the groin of a patient on orthopaedics who had eroded his femoral artery. Mind you I got myself a date on the back of that – a young man recovering from a motor bike accident who was impressed with what he saw and who asked me out for dinner when he got out. It didn’t last past the first date, but was fun!!
The doctors went round in huge packs (The Firm), this was a teaching hospital so you had numerous registrars, house officers and students. This didn’t stop one SHO working out how to insert a supra pubic catheter from a book. If he could have got away with getting the staff nurse to hold the book while he actually did the procedure he would have. Many of my friends went out with medical students, I restricted my self to late night meals in the doctors mess canteen with them and drinks in the local pub.
We all lived in the nurses home, the one I lived in was for girls only and was run with an iron fist by Miss Bender reputed to have been a ward sister who had been retired for being too nasty to the patients. She was always on her guard for any male visitors and wasn’t averse to coming into your room if she thought you had one in there after midnight! We used to smuggle boys out by taking the lift to the basement and using the tunnel system to the hospital. Indeed we used the tunnels a lot, in winter you could do a whole week of nights without seeing the light of day or actually going outside. We must have been a pastey lot!
For all of this, we became nurses who knew how to nurse. We learned good basic care, we learned about disease processes and we learned about communicating with our patients. We worked hard but we had a really good time. We were innocent, we knew what nursing was, our patients knew what to expect from us and pretty much we delivered. I fully support nurses being better educated, not everyones training was as good as mine. We had the luxury of the medical school being around the corner and had brilliant lectures from doctors as well as nurses. When I moved to the suburbs I found that not all nurses were trained the way I was, they had a lower level of theoretical knowledge and were less skilled in nursing care than I had been used to. Things had to change. I am not sure that the nursing courses of the 80′s would be fit for the expectations of 2006, but sometimes I do wonder!