I Wanted To Be A Nurse … really, really!


Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up?  I wanted to be a nurse and if I couldn’t …then I would settle for being a hairdresser.

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Why am I talking about it now? Because it is International Nurses Day . It simply set me thinking about my experiences over many decades.

Nurses are a  special breed and I salute them all past and present.  The work, the tension, the pressure was compensated by the camaraderie we created. I cherish my nursing friends.

I don’t remember especially nursing pets to health as a little girl, my big sister went nursing and  maybe that sowed the seed… I do know the intention hung in there until the proud day I was accepted as an assistant nurse ( I think that is what it was called, I can’t quite remember). In fact I was not 17,  in those days, the early 60′s you were accepted earlier to do the lowly duties. Believe me there were plenty of them.


 Starting out….

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 And who I became…

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When I think about all the patients and their loved ones that I have worked with over the years, I know most of them don’t remember me nor I them. But I do know that I gave a little piece of myself to each of them and they to me and those threads make up the beautiful tapestry in my mind that is my career in nursing. ~Donna Wilk Cardillo, A Daybook for Beginning Nurses

 My romantic thoughts of wiping a fevered brow and being worshipped by all and sundry were soon dispelled. Work, discipline and multi-tasking ( another word for being everywhere at once, doing what was required  before you were asked and definitely being out of the ward before the Dr’s arrived to do rounds) were the order of the day.

 My memories are stirring, life and society was so different…imagine doing these things today:

  •  All patients were washed and in clean clothes before breakfast,
  • Beds made with perfectly mitred corners, 2 pillows with the opening facing away from the door (would you believe I still do it. Even now I can’t leave pillow facing the wrong way).
  • NO ONE, I mean no one sat on a patients bed in fact nurses did not sit down at all except when they went on a meal break.
  • The ward sister served the meals from a communal trolley, there was no choice. Patients on a ‘light diet’ had the pleasure of things like tripe or brains in white sauce whether they liked it or not.
  • Your temperature was taken very 4 hours whether you needed it or not.
  • Nothing was disposable – everything was steamed cleaned from the pans to the dressing trays and inventories were taken three of times a day of everything bar the bathroom curtains. And signed off like it was a binding legal document.
  • It was a major incident if you broke a thermometer – none of this pop it in your year like we have now.
  • You were out of sight during Dr’s rounds and you never, ever spoke to a Dr…that was Sister’s cherished job.
  • No self respecting patient would ask for a pan during Dr’s visit and it was a blast from Sister should this occur.
  • The pecking order of seniority was enforced to the letter and beyond.

 Then personally…

  •  Our uniforms were like bleached calico you could not have seen through them with x-ray vision.
  • It was mandatory that you ‘WORE’  a full slip. Matron would somehow hone in on the poor girl who had chosen to wear a half slip and she would be sent back to the quarters to ‘get dressed’. I never figured out how she knew…maybe we looked guilty. What did she do? She would come up and lift the front of your uniform to check you had a bra and slip strap.
  • No make up or jewellery was allowed your hair was required to be covered stockings and hall lace up shoes. .
  • We worked split shift to cover the patient meal times. On Saturday when we had a few hours off in the afternoon, we would wash our hair and I would think I will just leave a couple of rollers on the top and cover it with my cap. WRONG! Sister would see through the minute gap in your cap, ask you to remove it, take down your hair, twist it and put your cap back on. It was ‘bad hair day’ by the time you went off duty at 6pm.
  • We were required to be in bed by 10pm and lights out at 10.30pm. Yes they checked… how do I know I got caught out!!!
  • We had 2 days off a week and were allowed to sleep out if it was home or to an approved address. How do I know? I got caught out!
  • Our privilege was  late pass till midnight once a week and a ball pass on a special occasion till 2am. When you came back to the quarters you had to sign in with the night sister, a great way to ensure our sobriety.
  • Lectures were in our own time and if that clashed with your days off tough luck, you stayed in.
  • Nurses never got sick… and if you did then you were either sick enough to be hospitalised and heaven help you it better be bad… or well enough to go to work.

You get the picture, I could write for hours (but I won’t). In a nutshell I stayed, I survived and I thrived. Then I married and had a 16 year break. How the nursing world had changed in that time.  That is another story.

Life has changed, society has changed, nursing has changed. What hasn’t changed is the willingness of nurses to put themselves on the line because they care for their patients welfare.

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If you have a nurse amongst your family or friends give them a huge hug in acknowledgement of their efforts. They may not sit and wipe your fevered brow but they are the cornerstone of care when you are sick.

A huge hug from me for all the nurses out there… I wanted to be a nurse… really and despite all it was a fabulous grounding for life.

Yes we would huddle in each others rooms and complain and compare notes but the discipline, skills and being a multi tasker extraordinaire  gave me incredible life skills that have served me well.

 Do you have a juicy nurses story to share?  I am sure other readers would love to hear.

 And what do I do? I am a confidence coach for women 50 . Women who have lived, loved, lost and survived.

 A lack of confidence can sneak in if you are not getting the most out of life, you may feel your age renders you undesirable, that you have become invisible or unimportant, fear may get in the way of your making prudent decisions or you may be feeling overwhelmed if you are starting over.

 If that is you join me for an incredible journey as I use my skills to develop or refine your unique style of confidence.


Background…The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has celebrated this day since 1965. In 1953 Dorothy Sutherland, an official with the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, proposed that President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaim a “Nurses’ Day”; he did not approve it. In January 1974, 12 May was chosen to celebrate the day as it is the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, who is widely considered the founder of modern nursing. Each year, ICN prepares and distributes the International Nurses’ Day Kit. The kit contains educational and public information materials, for use by nurses everywhere. In 1999 the British public sector union UNISON voted to ask the ICN to transfer this day to another date, saying Nightingale does not represent modern nursing. As of 1998, 8 May was designated as annual National Student Nurses’ Day. As of 2003, the Wednesday within National Nurses Week, between 6 and 12 May, is National School Nurse Day.


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