Back in the day – memoirs of a 1980s nurse training

Prompted by my friend Joy, I have started to reminisce about my youth.  Clearly a sign that I am getting old.  However, I have enjoyed reading Joy’s account of our training so, with her encouragement I have begun to set it down.  How far I get remains to be seen but while it remains pleasurable I’ll continue to write.

It was September 1984.  I had a long car drive to contemplate my decision to leave the North East of England and head to London to train as a nurse.  I’d had my offer at Kings College Hospital for nearly two years having secured it around the time I discovered I had failed Biology O’level.  Kings was alone among the London hospitals in not requiring a rudimentary knowledge of the reproductive cycle of a frog for its prospective student nurses.  For this I was eternally grateful, especially as I went on to fail my O’level a second time.

It was not unexpected that I ended up training in London.  I had only applied to hospitals there, much to the consternation to many around me, though my parents were endlessly supportive.  We had moved around a great deal as a family so applying to a local hospital made little sense if the only reason was to remain close to home.  Indeed, that sunny September morning when I set out with my parents and younger sister, we left our latest house of only ten days.  My application forms had been sent out from Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  I actually left ‘home’ from Hull.

Kings was my first choice for two reasons.  First of all, my cousin had trained there.  As wide-eyed sixteen year old, I had stayed with her for my interview.  She introduced me to several of her friends and took me to The Penthouse, the student union bar.  I sat in awe of this group of doctors and nurses as they drank and talked of their day.  The stories seemed fabulously exotic and exciting, the atmosphere heady and intoxicating.  With hindsight, it was just a group of overworked young people letting their hair down in the only establishment still open at the end of their shifts.  However, it made a deep impression on me and I desperately wanted to be part of the fabric of this place, rather than just an observer.  The second reason I wanted to train at Kings was the relaxed and friendly style the interview day adopted.  All the other hospitals I had been interviewed at were extremely stuffy in comparison.  In reality, Kings chose me.  I had no other offers.  Like I said earlier, the life cycle of a frog knowledge seemed to be a deal breaker for most.

Pulling up to main entrance, it was impossible not to be slightly in awe of the building, with its impressive façade.  My room was several floors up, the fifth I think, and thankfully next to the lift, which was just as well as I had a very cumbersome trunk that had to be got up there.  Several other girls and families were in the same situation and there were a lot of hot and bothered looking fathers around.  The room itself was tiny.  I could lie in bed and wash my feet in the overhanging basin without even having to sit up to turn on the taps.  Looking out of the window, I was surprised to see so many bulging carrier bags suspended out of other windows.  Not that they spoiled the view which was of more walls and more windows.  I later learned that the carrier bags served as make shift fridges which helped prolong the life of milk and other fresh things that tended to ‘walk’ from the communal fridge.

The other delight that was particular to my room was the intimate knowledge of the lift and its comings and goings I gleaned.  My wall was next to the lift shaft so every time a particular lift moved, I knew all about it.  I was soon au fait with everyone on my floor’s comings and goings.  What’s more, after having only been in possession of my room key for less than twelve hours, I managed to drop them down the lift shaft as my typical 1980s saddle bag style handbag upturned as I stepped out of the lift, and the contents including the keys plunged down the gap between the lift and the floor.  We had only just been warned of the perils of losing our keys and already mine was lost.  Thankfully, the porter on duty that evening had encountered clumsy student nurses before and took my flustered apologetic ramblings in his stride.  I was soon reunited with my key and promised to keep a firmer grip on my bag.  It was not the last time that particular bag caused me embarrassment.  I had a similar experience on a bus after a night shift only this time, having scrabbled to collect the contents, I missed a Lillets tampon which then proceeded to roll up and down the length of the bus every time we rounded a corner much to my acute mortification.  I did what I always do in such situations.  Pretended I was elsewhere.  It seemed best.

All this, and I had not yet spent a full day in my new job!

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7 thoughts on “Back in the day – memoirs of a 1980s nurse training

  1. love it !!! marvellous stuff & only seems like yesterday!! this v week, i had to go to my managers office (at KCH) for my yearly appraisal. The management offices are all now housed in the former Nurses Home accomodation. I had never been to her office before, so imagine my consternation when i realised i was back in my old room from 27 yrs ago!! Looking forward to the next installment!!

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