Nursing in the 70’s Part Two!

I spent my years at Lidcombe  trying to set my own reputation for excellence and the only way was to keep learning.  It wasn’t that hard, simply by reading more, and working longer hours. Because there were two  separate staff rosters –  the Matron’s roster, for the ‘real’ general nurses and enrolled nurses;   and the Chief Male Nurse roster ( for the “back wards’ – geriatric and permanent residents)  – the hospital had originally been a home for the aged and kept about a dozen wards of 30 beds where some patients had been for 30+ years.


The rosters weren’t linked, so some of us would work a morning plus evening shift on one roster then a night on the other, then  go back to the other roster for the next shift.  A few of us did 4 shifts in a row, till discovered.  Verbal threats would scare us off but only for a  few weeks , as rosters weren’t computerised, and also the separate rosters were in different buildings, so it would take time to put ‘two and two’ together  .  We had mastered the art of getting  paid more in nursing –  by doing extra hours, though not taxation decreases!

One reason for having to do better, was that my mother worked there, and any poor performance on my part would reflect on her, and she liked to brag.  The funny thing was that many of the female supervisors would roster ‘eligible’  female nurses with single males and then ask if we had asked them out yet.  Match-making was obviously also a prerequisite to being a nursing supervisor.  The supervisors were all senior nurses with extensive experience, many  having also trained or worked  overseas in the UK,   Austria or Denmark.

I was at the time extremely shy, though I  found it easy every day to give roses to dozens of nurses (not just the one I liked)  in the dining room, all made easy by the Sister in charge of the nurses quarters having an extensive rose garden. She suspected, but never caught, me. Easy!

Though I fell in love with dozens of the nurses, I rarely asked them out. Overtime made that easy, as did having a V8 car, and driving at break-neck speeds on the many long drives. I picked up hitch-hikers on the way home, and dropped one off (on the way from Lidcombe to Mt Druitt) at Bathurst. Another I dropped off at Wollongong, also ‘on the way from Lidcombe to Mt Druitt.

When I took charge of ICU, I began spending about 6-8 hours a day outside of work, organising lecture material. Subscriptions to Nursing 1972 (USA) (then) ; The Nursing Mirror (UK);  Current Therapeutics;  Patient Management; ANZICS; The Lamp; The RANF ‘Journal’, all  gave me sleepless hours, and I even categorized all entries for lecture material.  Though ‘evidence-based’ nursing wasn’t the vogue, it was well and truly practiced at Lidcombe.  I began agency nursing with Medox when I was ICU NUM, so as to ‘steal’  ideas for improved care techniques, and better documentation/charting methods from elsewhere.  Some places weren’t impressed when I gave suggestions about better techniques elsewhere, but the fun was in the insinuation. The more I’d learnt, the more confidence I had in the field, and this always gives you more power.

We worked as a team, never taking offence (as seems to have become fashionable later by some) when doctors offered lectures or suggestions for training of our nurses .  We partied together, intermarried,  and got on brilliantly. Any major differences were sorted out with a fist or two during a friendly inter-hospital footy match!   Everyone knew what was happening, but waited for the next match…

When I meet nurses and doctors from those days, they all mention how much this was one of the most enjoyable phases of their lives. Unfortunately, there was no ‘Facebook’ phenomenon, so we have lost touch with most of our friends. Recently I met one, after 20 years, but only as he was dying, as a patient of mine in haematology.  His kids, like mine, all refused to enter  nursing.

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