Reunion for Set 180, 181 and 182
Memories from Sets 180, 181 and 182
Fifty years ago the UCH 1969 intakes: 180 in January, 181 in May and 182 in September commenced three years training to become State Registered Nurses.
Living in the Nurses Home probably meant that as student nurses we got to know each other far better than had we been living out. It meant sharing the blood, sweat, tears and toil, and sometimes despair but most of all the laughter.
We had to be in by 10pm, lived by lots of rules and regulations, stiff collars, had two weeks holiday a year and not much pay – £13.00 a month when we started (the books came to £17.00) – but we got our board and lodging so we never starved or had no-where to sleep. We worked long shifts, night duty one week in four and had to crunch over cockroaches in the tunnels below. It was hard work but for each and every one of us, our training gave us grounding for whatever life’s path took us. Those days will never be replicated – medicine has moved on, but what we learned in terms of patient care has it seems, to a large extent been lost.
No longer do the ward sisters dish out meals that they knew suited each individual patient. We left our pinnies and shoes in the building, now hospital staff in their uniforms are on buses and on the streets and hand sanitizer alone is supposed to single-handedly combat cross infection.
Of course ‘our day’ wasn’t perfect and we may look back with a tint of rose on our glasses but I doubt if anyone in the ’69 intake has forgotten their time at UCH and the impact it had on our and many other people’s lives.
Below are a few individual memories from 69-ers:
Memories of Being a Student Nurse at UCH from 1969 to 1972
by Ina Machen
Set 180 started training on January 2nd 1969. Fifty years later, I still remember the day so clearly. I was entering a new world feeling excited and apprehensive. The sister tutors greeted each new arrival at the Rockefeller Nurses’ Home in Huntley street and immediately we were given the title ‘nurses’ which made me feel both proud and rather overwhelmed.
We were the last set to undertake our eight-week introductory course in the old PTS section of the Rockefeller. It was like being in a boarding school! We could go from our bedrooms down to breakfast and then straight into the classrooms or practical rooms. Our first lecture was by Mr Gordon and his opening words have always stayed with me – To nurse is to cherish.
While we were waiting for our uniforms to be made we were issued with green overalls which we thought looked like the overalls worn, at that time, by Woolworth sales assistants; so we wore ’Woollies overalls’ whilst completing our introductory course which we still referred to as ‘PTS’. We learned the theory and practice of ‘basic’ nursing care and the day came when we were permitted on the wards in our overalls for the first time to complete our first blanket baths. I was paired with another student in my set and together we began our task. We were both extremely nervous and when it came to washing the male patient’s genital area we backed out and just rolled up his pyjama trousers and washed as much of his legs a possible! To this day, I have never understood why we were not paired with a more senior student nurse for our first encounter with a live patient.
Eventually, the day came when we were sent to Chenies Mews to collect our uniforms. We all felt extremely proud as we wore our uniform for the first time. I remember someone in the set saying to me that she had waited all her life for that moment. Sadly, she left after a few months. At that time there was a very romantic notion of nursing which was rapidly dispelled once we were working on the wards. The uniform consisted of a grey and white striped dress with a detachable white starched collar which was held in place with a collar stud at the front and a little button at the back of the neck which inevitably fell off once the dress had been laundered a few times, after which we attached the collar to the back of the dress with a small safely pin and hoping that it wouldn’t become dislodged. Sometimes the collars would rub and cause chafing to the neck. We had to wear black stockings and black regulation Clarks shoes. We had to shape our white starched caps ourselves and secure these to our heads with white Kirby grips. In our first year we didn’t wear a belt; white belts were for second year students but this changed after a few months to whites belts for first years, grey belts for second years and striped belts of third years.. The hierarchy was strictly imposed on the wards and even in the Rockefeller; third year students sat at the front of the dining room, second years in the middle and first years at the back!
Many of us felt homesick initially but the friendships that we developed helped to sustain us over the first few months as we adjusted to living away from home and our new life. We had a great deal of fun in the evenings in PTS. We would sit and chat in each other’s rooms having made warm drinks using the milk that was left for us in the little kitchen on each floor. We found the acoustics in the PTS lift shaft very good for singing and some of us formed a sort of informal choir and sang loudly down the lift shaft many evening during PTS.
I never enjoyed the food in the Rockefeller dining room except afternoon tea when we would eat several slices of bread spread with various combinations of butter, peanut butter, jam and marmite. No wonder many of us put on a few pounds! It was before the ‘pay as you eat’ scheme was introduced and our board and lodging fee included all meals. I think our pay was about £325 per annum. It sounds an incredibly small amount now but at least with didn’t finish our training with a large student debt which is the situation for many nurses today.
Nursing care on the wards was of a high standard but based on tradition and anecdotal evidence. It was before the era of nursing research and evidence-based practice. The prevention and treatments of pressure ulcers (‘sores’) was a high priority. Patients at risk of developing a pressure ulcer were ‘turned’ two hourly day and night and pressure areas were treated by washing with soap and water. A bizarre notion that merely dried the skin! If the skin did break down or a patient was admitted with a pressure ulcer the treatment varied depending on the preferences of the ward sister.
Tincture of benzoin was occasionally administered to the area which stung but did seem to help. Sometimes the ulcer was treated with egg white and oxygen, another puzzling application which in my experience did little to improve the situation. Ripple mattresses were just being introduced but were not as effective as the mattresses used today. The best treatment was to relive the pressure by moving the patient into a different position every two hours.
Not all patients were treated at UCH in Gower Street. Various specialties were situated in different hospitals. For example, the ‘geriatric’ wards were at St Pancras Hospital, TB and eye wards were at the Devonshire Street annex, gynae wards were at the National Temperance Hospital. Transport from the Rockefeller was provided, and we learned when it was about to leave via a tannoy system which announced “ Transport of St Pancras/National Temperance/Devonshire Street is now at casualty door’ and we would rush through the hospital tunnels and up through the slope to the old casualty entrance. A new A&E department had recently been opened across the road in Grafton Way. This was also accessible by the underground tunnels.
Night duty was rotated on a monthly basis; we worked three weeks of day duty and one week of nights every month. The night duty hours were gruelling; seven consecutive 11 hour nights., from 9.30pm until 8.30 am. Fortunately, the turnover of patients was much slower at that time and so night duty was not always hectic, although it could be. Mostly, there were two student nurses on each ward at night, one third year and one first or second year. The night sisters covered several wards and would visit each in turn several times during the night. A ward round with night sister was always a nerve-racking experience; you would be required to know the name and diagnosis of each patient. During the night, in between caring for patients, the junior would be required to add up all the fluid balance charts and in the morning, about 4am would go to the kitchen to butter bread for breakfast and then cover it with a damp serviette. I would sometimes fall asleep while buttering especially towards the end of my seven nights and wake up with a jolt as my head fell forwards towards the bread!
The senior student on nights would up-date the diagnosis list and write up all the drugs ( we used the word ‘drugs’ not medications then) that the patients were charted in the drug log book to be signed as the medications were administered by the day staff the following day. The drug charts had a very basic design at that time consisting of a single piece of thin cardboard on which the house officer would write up each drug but there was no space for a signature to record administration therefore a separate book was required. Today this system would not be considered safe having the potential to lead to drug administration errors but it worked well, and by the time we were third year students and responsible for administering drugs we were very competent with the system. Only the ‘DDAs’ had to be administered by a registered nurse.
All the drugs were kept in a locked cupboard and the keys were pinned to the uniform of the nurse in charge. When it was time for a drug round a bed table would be utilised as a drug trolley. Most if the contents of the drug cupboard were placed on the trolley with the drug charts, drug log book, pill dishes and trays. A large number of the medications were stock drugs held on the ward in large bottles. The pharmacy did not provide many drugs for individual patients unless they were drugs that were less frequently prescribed. The drug round would then begin. The trolley would be taken to each patient’s bedside and their prescription medication would be checked by the two nurses and taken to the patients’ bedside by the junior nurse in the pill dish on a round tray and offered to the patient. In theory, nurses were required to wait until the patient swallowed every tablet but in practice this was not always possible because the ward round would take too long, so once the patients commenced taking the tablets the nurses would move on to the next patient.
The ward day would be ruled by the routine of ‘rounds’; drug rounds, ‘bottle’ rounds, doctors’ rounds, tidy rounds, ‘back’ rounds, bed-making rounds, and meal times. The patients had to fit into the ward routine. Every patient had a wash and a clean bed every day. Most patients had a bed bath but those who were well enough, could have a bath.
Meal times were very orderly. At breakfast, boiled eggs would be cooked on the ward but were usually hard-boiled by the time they reached the patients. Cereals and other items would come up from
the kitchen and there would be bread and butter prepared by the junior nurse on night duty.
Lunch was presided over by the ward sister or staff nurse who plated each patient’s meal (according to their menu choice) from a large trolley in the middle of the ward. The plated meal was covered with a metal cover and taken by the student nurses on a tray to the patient and positioned within reach of the patient. If a patient needed assistance, this was provided. The ward was quite; there were no visitors until after lunch and there were no doctors’ rounds. The attention of the whole ward was on the meal.
Infection control was taken very seriously. Dressings were not allowed to be changed until at least an hour after bed-making and nurses were not permitted to sit on patients’ beds. When dressings were changed we used the ‘aseptic technique’ to reduce bacterial contamination of a wound. We did not use gloves at all except in theatre or for inserting pessaries and suppositories. Dust was considered a dangerous source of infection and the bed making technique taught to students involved using minimal movement of the covers to prevent dust being distributed. At weekends, student nurses were required to complete ‘weekend cleaning’ and to sign a book to certify that it had been completed.
My first ward was 3/2, an unusual ward which consisted of a few amenity beds, a children’s section, a male chest ward and a gynae ward. On my first day, I was told by a third year student on the chest ward to collect and empty the sputum pots into the bed pan washer before throwing them away. She also instructed that I was to observe the colour and amount of sputum in each pot and to record this on the patient’s chart. To this day I do not know whether that was the correct way to dispose of sputum pots. Surely, such a procedure would not be acceptable today because of the risk of infection to the nurse involved
A found emptying the sputum pots a sickening ordeal and after that on reaching the sluice, I always put them straight into the bin!
One Christmas I was working on OH4 and the sister there was a friend of Leslie Crowther. On Boxing day, he was invited to the ward for Christmas lunch. A few days before Christmas we went in our uniforms early in the morning to Covent Garden where we were given vegetables for the meal free of charge.
Sister said that Christmas Day was for the patients and Boxing Day was for the staff. Decorations was put up on Christmas Eve (never earlier because they would collect too much dust). Inexplicably, babies born on Christmas day were placed under the Christmas tree! On Boxing Day, a meal of roast chicken with all the trimmings was prepared in the ward kitchen by the nursing staff while drinks and nibbles were served in the day room. A table for all the staff and Lesley Crowther and family was laid in the middle of the ward and when the meal was ready, Lesley Crowther carved the chickens. It was a very enjoyable occasion but I cannot remember what happened to the patients – did they receive any care? I think their lunch was served before we settled down to ours but reminiscing, it all seems very bizarre. Was it possible that this actually occurred? It did- I have photos to prove it!
Looking back, nursing has changed almost beyond recognition; the image, the academic base, and drive for evidence-based practice through the utilisation of nursing and health care research, the development of modern technology, the focus on patient-centred care, the increased role of health care assistants and assistant practitioners and yet the core role of the nurse to me, despite all the definitions of nursing, can still be summed up by one verb – to cherish.
Memories from Maxine Clarke – Set 181
As a young law student crossed Gower St to go to the library at UCL, a reckless teenager, driving without license, insurance or permission, ran a red pedestrian light, hitting the student, sending him flying through the air to land on an old Chinese lady! Both were knocked out and taken into Casualty. The student remembers wondering if he could be sued as an out of control flying object! He spent a few days on Ward 2/1 (I think), and was able to visit the lady to apologise for landing on her!
A few weeks later, this same student hosted a Christmas party and invited the nurses who cared for him. My very good friend was included in this invitation, although I was not, I went along anyway in her place, as was the custom in the mad 1970s!
This student and I married five years later and are still together today!
Perhaps we wouldn’t have met if UCH were not involved, who knows?
Memories from Marion Witton (Tiplady) – Set 181
50 years! We lived in the same nurses’ home, worked hard, laughed and cried together and share some fantastic memories.
It seemed fitting for the 1969ers to have the reunion at the UCH London Nurses Charity Annual Autumn Lunch in the Grafton Hotel, but the first task was to try and contact everyone from the three sets. Our first reunion in 1982 was arranged through the post and although it was delightful reading individual’s news in their replies at that time, it seemed unlikely that most people hadn’t moved. (Not including me, however, as I moved back in 2016 to my late parents’ house from whence I took my first footsteps leaving home in May 1969 to catch the tube to UCH with my friend Judith Thompson (Wright) – and as Ina Machen (Trombetti) reminded us, 18 wasn’t even the age of majority when we started our training).
Fortunately folk from the 2002 and 2009 reunions had not, to the greater extent, changed their email addresses and together with the reliable UCH listing of League members in the Magazine, and word of mouth, the final number attending was 29, including three from the USA, Spain and Germany respectively.
There were many reminiscences and what was most interesting was how diverse the paths were that colleagues had taken following our initial training. Who knew in 1969 that being a UCH nurse could lead to such illustrious and amazing careers – most importantly was the difference that everyone had made to people’s lives. (See some of the stories attached). Thanks to UCH for our excellent training. Our thanks also to the organisers of the Autumn Lunch for whom the invasion of such a large number must have been a logistical nightmare! Here’s to the next reunion and thanks to everyone for coming to make it such a success,
Memories from Sheila McKenny – Set 182
I remember at the end of my first week on Wing theatres I had been responsible for swab counting. I was off duty at 4ish and dashed to catch the train home to Devon for a weekend off. I was enjoying my journey home and looking forward to my time off, not realising that my colleagues were frantically trying to find 2 missing swabs as the operation drew to a close. I had inadvertently put them in a bin so the swab count was 2 short. They did find them, and I was mortified on my return to learn what I had done! Sister was amazingly understanding!
I recall being the ‘ runner’ and the consultant asking for – mumble mumble something catgut, I rushed off to try and find something that resembled that ( instead of asking him to repeat what he said ……. well he was a Consultant!! ) and returning with the wrong things, he repeated the same request in a somewhat exasperated tone.
A group of us being told by one irate Sister (she did have some extra students on her ward as one had closed) ” I am trying to train you into being good nurses but I am fighting a losing battle”!!- amazingly it didn’t put us off.
I also remember:
- having to turn back the bottom of the beds for one of the Consultants rounds – I don’t remember him actually examining the patients ankles though!
- Nights on 1/1 a really scary ward when you were also worried you were going to contaminate something or be contaminated!
- Still being able to picture patients who made an impression on me, even remembering which bed they were in on the ward.
- Looking out of the windows on Nights and watching the dawn break.
- Being able to dash down to Oxford St for a bit of shopping in your split shift.
- Afternoon teaching on the wards by the Sister – think it was called Change time.
We had amazing teaching and were always taught to put patients first.
The best thing was the enduring friendships forged through both good and difficult times and when meeting up or being in contact with these friends the years just seem to roll away and I find it hard to believe that we started at UCH 50 years go.