Authors: Jane Yeadon
âBut it's ok once you get started,' she eventually reassured me and put her arms round my shoulders. âYou've had the practice, and the patient, unless she's really mean, will say you're a wonderful nurse and keep her moans until the examiner's gone and, Jane,' she turned away and mumbled, âyou can do it and thanks for being such a pal over the years â we've had some right laughs.'
âThink nothing of it, Maisie, but just tell me, are my seams straight?'
Once on the ward, it helped that it was so busy, there was hardly time to think whilst a patient I was trying to get out of bed held the monopoly on worry.
âI'm frightened I burst my stitches so don't rush me,' she squeaked, halfway between bed and chair, âI need plenty time.'
A passing staff nurse whispered, âYou've got Miss Wilson's wound to dress. Sorry, but Sister said she was also an excellent patient to exercise tact and diplomacy on.'
âMind out!' cried the patient, who might have gone into free-fall, had Staff Nurse's catching reflexes not been better honed than her timing of bad news.
âJust don't drop your next wifie, even if you feel like it.'
Miss Wilson had to be the most difficult woman in the ward. Nobody ever fixed her bandages properly and it was a sad fact that her loud nasal complaints drowned out the kind murmurs appreciative patients often gave. We'd already had words about staff's inability to respond to her every need and whim so, after checking my patient was still in stitches so to speak, I went, with sinking heart, to let my next one know her big part in my future.
âDon't you worry, Nurse,' she gave a gummy smile, âI'll help as much as I can. Look, I'll even put these in for you.' She fished some plaque-encrusted teeth from her denture dish and slammed them in.
I made a grab for them, âLet me clean them first.'
âNo,' she champed, âI don't trust anybody with my teeth. I once heard about somebody doing a whole ward's worth in a pail. No, just you do my dressing properly for a change.'
âNurse Macpherson, can you come now?' Sister's voice fluted down the ward and slowly I went to meet the examiner, a large woman so stern faced I thought my patient might have slipped away that minute and I might be the first final exam nurse ever to have to dress a corpse.
But there was plenty proof of life as Miss Wilson informed the ward, the world and the examiner about the importance of her role in medical history and mine. Introduction then superfluous and a patient the complete expert, who needed explanation? Hoping Mrs Low, my old tutor, would have forgiven the lack of it, I patted the counterpane and managed, despite the artillery of words, âI'll just go and get the dressing trolley now then.'
âYes, you do that and I'll tell this good woman about my other operations.' My patient ticked four fingers whilst I pulled the privacy screens. The examiner looked trapped.
An expectant hush suddenly fell upon the ward as, gowned and masked, I took the dressing trolley to the bedside. Miss Wilson now became Miss Chatty But Helpful.
The teeth seemed to have given her a new lease on life, making her so vocal I just managed not to put a plaster over her mouth. The examiner sighed and took notes whilst our patient held forth.
âYou must appreciate gallstones are very painful things. I was glad to get rid of them.' She screwed her face in recall. âThere were five of them. The surgeon put them in a wee jar beside the bed.'
âI believe some people keep them. What have you done with yours?' asked the examiner, not really interested.
âSwallowed them. I thought they were pain killers.' Miss Wilson circled her hand over her wound. âD'you know, sometimes at night I can hear them rumbling round. It minds me of a cement mixer. I'm surprised the others can sleep for the racket.'
âJust goes to show how careful you have to be,' said the examiner, beginning to sound quite human.
At last, I was finished.
âNurse Macpherson's done a wonderful job of my dressing,' enthused my patient, and then drew breath, âshe's fair improved!'
She was surprised into silence by a swift tucking and tidying up technique that might have impressed the Time and Motion people who had, at one point in our training, given us all sorts of efficiency tips we never had the time to try. The rest of the ward resumed its comfortable buzz of talk and activity.
âNow we'll go over a few points.' The examiner led the way to an empty waiting room, like an executioner with a prisoner. I didn't envy her the job but mine was worse, especially as I tried to highlight Miss Wilson's many troubles in a sympathetic way. I could hardly say she was more of a pain than her wretched gallstones.
âHow did it go?' Staff Nurse asked later, at which I burst into tears.
âGo and give that patient a bedpan will you?' Sister bustled past, uncaring.
A week after the practical, we sat our final written exam. The last time I'd been was in this hall it was for the pantomime. Now it was a different place, with the sound of busy pens used by people wearing such an air of concentration, a bomb drop would have gone unnoticed.
It was easy enough writing down the nursing care of a patient suffering from lobar pneumonia and describing the anatomy of the liver meant that we could use lots of coloured pencils. Those of us who had sampled my mother's tonic wine at a New Year's party had felt so liverish the morning after, we had researched the subject.
Then there was a collective sigh as the completion bell went. Tools were downed and we slowly picked up our possessions and began to drift away. Nobody wanted to talk about the exam whilst everybody seemed tied up in private thoughts.
âWill you be coming straight back?' I asked Maisie as we stepped outside.
âNo, I'm off home.' She brushed away a red hair tendril. âAm I glad that's over! As long as I live, I never want to sit another exam.'
âHave a safe journey then,' I said, turning for home and already feeling that Maisie and I were taking different paths.
And so I sauntered along, enjoying the walk, pleased to feel the sun's warmth and freed from the shackles of an exam that would decide everybody's future.
I looked over the Kittybrewster bridge, seeing the railway below and remembering how alien Aberdeen looked on my first journey and so unlike home, I never thought it would feel familiar. Now I knew that under the city's granite exterior were a funny, brave, hardworking people who made light of their illness and faced the future with stoic calm. My pace quickened.
A bus rattled past, bouncing on the cobbles, as I neared Old Aberdeen. I thought how lucky we'd been to stay in this lovely part of town, a planet away from a hospital industry of care and concern, giving us the carefree world of a wacky landlady in her rackety house.
She opened the door as I was fumbling for my key.
âI heard you!' she cried in a pleased way. âYou'll be glad that's over. Why don't you go out into the garden for a little sit down? It's so nice in the sun, and I'll bet it's even nicer in the summerhouse. Now I've got to dash! Do you know, I've been so busy today I haven't even had time to play the piano, and it's such good physiotherapy for this cursed arm.' She skipped back into the kitchen and rattled enough pans to alert the cats, who rushed inside and straight to their dishes. They were beginning to get rather fat and in need of more exercise. They were plainly spending far too much time lounging about in the summerhouse.
I ambled out to where it stood, tucked away in the corner as if it had been there forever and bringing a little piece of heaven to a busy world.
Now, well into the sixties, Aberdeen was getting the hang of them with its mini-skirts and music no longer making ministers lean from the pulpit. Hopefully Belfast swung too. Apparently it had a good midwifery training school, a new nurses' home, and was centrally located somewhere called the Falls Road. If I passed the finals, I planned on going there.
Sitting on the dusty jumble of the summerhouse cushions, I thought it might make a nice wee change.
First published 2010
by Black & White Publishing Ltd
29 Ocean Drive, Edinburgh EH6 6JL
This electronic edition published in 2012
ISBN: 978 1 84502 516 8 in EPub format
ISBN: 978 1 84502 517 5 in Mobipocket format
ISBN: 978 1 84502 309 6 in paperback format
Copyright © Jane Yeadon 2010
The right of Jane Yeadon to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without permission in writing from the publisher.
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