Nursing in the 70’s Part 3!

I  started nursing on 22nd February 1971.
Why do I remember this?  Who knows, but I know it must be so important that without my mind retaining this critical information, life on Earth will cease to have meaning!

 It is the same as the fact that when I started  there, at Lidcombe Hospital, its phone number was 6497932. Try as I might, the number refuses to leave me.  I have tried, but here it is!   The fact that the number was changed  a few years later (and I can’t remember any of that one!)  again stresses the importance of this set of numbers in relation to our national defence , possibly when the aliens invade?!

About 4 months into my training , at the end of the day, one of the other trainees (previously a street excavator) was at the bus stop with me. Without a word he punched me in the side of the head. Twenty minutes of bloodshed ended when we both noticed that the matron, senior nurse educator, and Medical superintendent were all across the road , watching us.  He got sacked, and they kept me on, as the educator  Mister Olford,  plus many supervisors who were called in for opinions) insisted that I had ‘promise’.  I still remember the other idiot’s name, but why?

I started in the 1884 ward buildings at the hospital, which were still ‘Nightingale’ wards,  30-35 beds without walls between, only portable tubular metallic screens. Everything was regimentarian, and Heaven help anyone whose bed was out of alignment, or whose bedside locker wasn’t maintained in the same military precision. Those Charge Nurses and Deputy Matrons wore white gloves, and tested everything, even the rungs of overhead curtain rails, looking for the evil dust.

We scrubbed those pan rooms like mirrors.  I even ate soup out of a bedpan once (made sure I did my own cleaning, then sterilised it in the autoclave – everyone screamed, and my reputation added a twist for ‘strange’).  I   swallowed a naso-gatric tube for practice, for morning tea. The staff in the tearoom walked out.  Years later I’d do my own arterial puncture for a blood gas, to see why patients cringed so much! Did you know that you can feel the needle go through every layer of muscle in the artery, and feel the ‘crunch’?

Though strange, not long ago I let other nurses practice cannulation on both arms of mine, while doing a night shift.  I found that when a blue-eyed blonde of the opposite sex cannulates  your arm, and misses, it doesn’t hurt!    My wife insists that  I’m  just strange, with a twist of insane.

Back to bed pans – steel wool and scourer creams did great jobs. Today’s plastic pans are filthy, often with layers of caked faeces that have almost become like Bakelite from repeated sterilisation temperatures. If you dug deeply into it with diamond drills, you’d probably go back in time over a dozen years!

When I worked my ‘general hospital’ stint while on secondment at Blacktown Hospital, the ‘real’ nurses there made a habit of sending us ‘from Lidcombe’ people  onto pan room duties.  When the charge nurses complemented us for our outstanding enthusiasm and application to work in the pan room, we commented that cleaning pans while earning more money than they were (we were on a higher rate of pay!), and that some of us were actually charge nurses in our own hospital, they made us work on the wards.  Strange way to earn respect, but we taught them that Lidcombe Hospital wasn’t an  really an Old Men’s Home..

Back to early days and the Nightingale wards. Surgical wards also had open coal fires at both ends of the ward, and as I was a male, thus my life being expendable, it would be my job when on night shift in the surgical or medical wards (there were four of these wards alone, among the dozens of wards there) to walk into the open forested grounds between the hospital and the largest (Rookwood) cemetery in the southern hemisphere, to gather buckets of coal from the piles that were out there. Even on hot nights the chill would ensure that the hair stood up on the backs of our necks, and we learnt to look out the backs of our heads, for ghosts and grave-robbers.  I loved the smell of the coal fires at night, and the soot always overcame the smells of the diarrhoea, and the urinary incontinence (the patients’ !).

Possats (ast we called the monstrous creatures that looked like possums, but had tails like cats) fighting and mating in the ward roof at times shooks dust through the air holes in the 15 ft high ceilings. Everywhere, the smell of ether (nurses did faint at times while cleaning the steel sinks with the stuff) brought a great sense of cleanliness to the ward environment.

Today, the wards remain, fenced all round for protection.  The land was sold off (after the criminal Liberal government bulldozed numerous heritage-rated wards, to block the incoming Labour government from rebuilding it) and the hospital closed just prior to the Sydney Olympics. The new parts including the modern ICU and theatres, and surgical blocks, and many of the 1950s buildings were demolished, and now several hundred 2-storey luxury apartments stand on that area.  Australand on Joseph Street is the developer. Just drive behind them to re-enter another age!

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