I commenced my nursing training a few months before I turned 17, when I left home and moved into the Nurses Home at the Repatriation General Hospital at Daw Park, a suburb of Adelaide. There were 12 of us in our Preliminary Training School (PTS) group, including 2 indigenous girls from the north of South Australia.
Before we were rostered to work in the hospital wards, we had to attend a 4 week block of preliminary training with Tutor Sister Smith in the classroom. Here we learned the initial steps of our chosen career – how to shake down a thermometer before taking a patient’s temperature, how to count a pulse, how to take blood pressure, the various tests for urine.
Mrs Bedford, the school dummy, had been designed to accept liquids through her mouth, which ended with her wetting the bed, where we learned how to change the bed sheets of an incontinent patient. Poor Mrs Bedford was also injected by nervous nurses, had catheters inserted and was used for bandaging and splinting.
To teach us how to shave patients using a cut throat razor, Sister Smith made us blow up our own balloon, smother it with lather applied by a brush and then to carefully shave off the lather! As you can imagine, we all ended up covered by lather as our hands shook when trying to carefully shave the balloon. However, I have always been pleased that my prep shaves for surgical patients rarely drew blood.
Once we’d passed our exams, we were rostered on to the wards, where we spent 6 weeks before moving to another ward. We had 17 men’s wards and 2 female wards, with my first ward being Ward 1, with Sister T as Ward Sister. Sister T’s main consideration seemed to be the height of the ward’s blinds and whether the counterpane’s stripe was straight, even on comatose patients! The male patients seemed to quake whenever she strode don the ward, and everyone straightened up in bed, however wretched they felt, even our active TB boys.
We learned the importance of bed sore prevention and each ward had a regular timetable for ‘doing backs’ – washing each patient’s back from their shoulders to their tail bone with warm soapy water, rinsing and then massaging with some methylated spirits. Our patient’s all loved having their backs ‘done’ and often begged us to rub their back if we had a spare minute.
I nursed veterans ranging from the Boer War right through to young National Service men injured in Vietnam and I must say that service men and women made the very ‘best’ patients because they never, ever complained about the medical care being administered. They also played pranks on the young student nurses like squirting methylated spirits up our skirts (we wore stockings in those days!) as we hurried to make 37 beds before breakfast at 8am and Sister scolded us for being late!
My training days taught me many, many skills that have stood me in good stead on my journey through life. I don’t panic in an emergency situation and am not worried by large amounts of blood or broken bones. My first aid and bandaging skills have been updated through regular first aid courses and I can still give a virtually painless injection. I would recommend nursing as a career choice to anyone who enjoys close contact with people.