Archive for the 'Miss Nightingale I presume' Category

Today’s Google celebration

Monday, May 12th, 2008

At the weekend I returned to my alma mater, St Thomas’ Hospital in London to re-unite with other survivors of my set who began training together at the Nightingale School.

This is the weekend that is always set aside for such a meeting of the Fellowship because it is the nearest to the birthday, today, of Florence Nightingale who founded the school. It was a joyful and also poignant get-together. Poignant, not just because of the friends who weren’t there and the reuniting with people who see each other rarely but fall into conversation with ease and comfort within about 3 minutes. The other cause is that the school we that nurtured us closed in 1996 when it amalgamated with others at Kings College in the Strand and nursing training was taken away from hospitals. The badge we had to work so hard for and were required to return ‘ultimately’ to the hospital is no longer awarded.

In the central hall, along with the busts of the famous men of St Thomas’ are two display cases with badges returned and the names of the original owners and date of qualifying 1889, 1923, 1948 and more recent. A young workman was sitting on one of the benches and asked me what the “medals” were. I told him about the badge and how long one had to work to win one. He smiled with understanding “Oh yeah” he said. “You mean like McDonald’s”

Now that was fast food for thought.

Here’s a story

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

Picture: Student nurses with ward sister, St Thomas’ Hospital circa 1965

Here is quite a long story about the first journalist I ever met. It took place a long time ago in the middle of the night at St Thomas’s Hospital. I was, for the first time, the senior night nurse on duty which both excited and frightened me in equal measure. I was also on a ward where I had not worked before.

Opposite the desk where we put our sickest patients was a man who had returned from a long operation shortly before I arrived on duty. He was obviously very ill and in some pain. After taking the night report we checked his drips and drains and wounds. We sat him more comfortably in his bed, we gave him some analgesia and talked to him. As I turned to move on I heard him faintly speak and I leaned toward him to hear him whisper to me “thank you nurse.”

He was so ill, so weak and probably rather frightened but he still made that effort to thank me. At that moment I remember thinking that St Peter would have to wait because this one was mine for the time being.

That man was called Jack Marshall and over several long slow weeks he made a recovery. He was remarkable in several ways. Firstly, he had had a laryngectomy about 20 years before when his voice box had been removed to excise a cancer. He had been told that he would never speak again. But he did by inventing the system of speech known as oesophageal speech. This requires the speaker to swallow air and then force it back through the oesophagus. The speech is hoarse and whispered and also comes in short bursts of about five words.

He told me how it had come about. “Well, nurse – I used to drink whisky in those days – but after the operation – I took a lot of – soda in it. One day – I belched and -I just said pardon- out of habit – and the belch sounded – like the word. So nurse I practiced and – (triumphant smile ) I drank – a lot of whisky! He told me that he’d taught the actor, Jack Hawkins to use this form of speech (the only available to such people then) but that he was the most difficult pupil he’d every had probably because for an actor the loss of voice is such a profound loss.

And it was a loss for Jack too because he was working on the sports desk of the Daily Express and without a voice couldn’t use the phone or talk to other journalists or sports people. But with the use of much whisky -or so he said-he got back to the Express where, with the aid of a microphone attached to his telephone, he was back on the sports desk which is what he was doing when I walked him through the Valley of the Shadow and out the other side.

Later, he took me and several other nurses to the Express Building in Fleet Street one evening for a tour. He loved that paper and loved showing it off. And I doubt his reputation was damaged by being accompanied by half a dozen young women with very short skirts. We saw the news floors and the library and the canteen all busy and active as the first edition went to bed and then we went down Fleet Street to the Express pub. Jack bought me a whisky and introduced me to the political editor as ‘my nurse, she saved my life’. The political ed, digested this info and turned to me ‘so you saved his life?’ I smiled in what I hoped was a modest acknowledgement. ‘Don’t know why you bothered’, he said. Jack laughed, if not out loud, certainly enthusiastically. I thought it was hilarious and suitably deflating of any pomposity and it carried a degree of hospital-humour mordancy.

Whilst Jack was a patient of mine, he would greet me every morning and point out something or someone in the newspapers. He took the Express, of course, and the Times, both broadsheet. One day he called me over to show me a byline on the front page of the Times. ‘ That’s my daughter’. Rita Marshall, his daughter was the first woman to have a byline on the front page of Times and he was inordinately proud of her. One evening she came to me at the desk while I was doing the evening report and apologised for her father. I wasn’t certain what for but she said she was sure he must have been difficult so she’d thought it as well. I reassured her that we’d never seen anything but courtesy (although having pre-emptively apologised for my own father from time to time I did understand her motivation).

Jack died sometime in the later 70s and I haven’t come across Rita Marshall since. But I’ve never forgotten him (evidently) nor watching and hearing the presses roll under the magnificent old Express Building, or seeing the papers bound in batches loaded onto the vans to go to the stations and then on to the north. It seemed almost as exciting as my job. I realised that journalism didn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of time in Crewe recording weddings and garden fetes. And it was the first time I went home with a paper dated for a day that hadn’t actually arrived.

Job done (not)

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Reading in the Observer last Sunday of the apparent poor treatment, verging on neglect, of the soldiers being treated at Selly Oak hospital was truly dispiriting. For blessed baby boomers like me it seems incredible that anyone in hospital should suffer the way that was reported in the newspaper – young men lying in soiled beds or in extreme pain without analgesia because there were “no relevant staff on duty”.

I went in to nursing over 30 years ago for a variety of reasons that I’ll not list, one of which I will happily admit (now) was the inspiration of Florence Nightingale. Since then, my admiration for her has if anything increased as I realize her great contribution to military health, to medical statistics and, of course, to professional nurse training. I couldn’t fail to recognize the latter, training as I did at St Thomas’ Hospital at her training school.

Two of the earliest war correspondents sent the reports which energized her and stirred the stubborn dedication that sent her to the Crimea and the hospital at Scutari. One was the Times correspondent W H Russell and the other Thomas Chenery who in 1854 wrote for the Times of London

‘it is with feelings of surprise and anger that the public will learn that no sufficient medical preparations have been made for the proper care of the wounded. Not only are there not sufficient surgeons – that, it might be urged, was unavoidable – not only are there no dressers and nurses – that might be a defect of system for which no one is to blame – but what will be said when it is known that there is not even linen to make bandages for the wounded’ The greatest commiseration prevails for the suffering of the unhappy inmates of Scutari, and every family is giving sheets and old garments to supply their want. But, why could not this clearly foreseen event have been supplied? It rests with the Government to make enquiries into the conduct of those who must have so greatly neglected their duty’

To see the serious, smooth faced young man whose picture is on the front page, to know that he was injured seriously in the horrible terrain of Iraq and was then, according to his parents, left all night in his own excrement appalls me as a former nurse and as a human being. In 1854 there was public outrage and a public fund to relieve the soldiers suffering was set up. The story of Miss Nightingale and her nurses was an inspiration to the public and to others who went to relieve the distress, most notably Mary Seacole who ran a boarding house hospital and had to wait over a century to have a real public recognition. Miss Nightingale’s unique contribution must be her great organizational skills and especially her use of statistics “God’s work” as she believed it to be.

She revolutionized the care of the military. Now those services have gone. The medical personel who are in the services are of the highest standard but the specialist care of the military hospital, the unique understanding and empathy from people who have experience those terrible personal challenges have gone. Must we have another public rising to re-make what has been dismantled? And is there any chance at all, that in the age of 24 hour “news” and story piling on story that there could ever be that channeling of anger and compassion from the public? Makes me wonder what it is that we readers, viewers, listeners, consumers want all that news for.