This is the fourth in a series of articles written by London Blue Badge Tourist Guides who used to be key workers in the capital. Janet Robinson writes about her work as a nurse before she became a London Blue Badge Tourist Guide.
London Blue Badge Tourist Guide Janet Robinson.
Once a nurse, always a nurse, is how I look at my nursing career. I’m still asked for medical advice by friends and family and it has helped me enormously to understand issues surrounding my parents’ illnesses and given me the courage to ask those difficult questions when the time arose.
In the early 1980s, as a very wet behind the ears eighteen years old, I left home to train to be a State Registered Nurse, as it was called in those days. Living in nursing accommodation in Watford, I began three years of training with eight weeks in the school of nursing learning basic anatomy and physiology and the basics of nursing care: how to lift a patient, how to give a bed bath and how to do hospital corners, something I still do today!
After eight weeks, we were thrown in at the deep end and assigned our first ward. Mine was Men’s Surgical, it was a minefield of drips, catheters, dressings and, of course, bed baths! It was here that I had to summon up the courage to give my first injection underneath the guidance of a kindly staff nurse. I’m really not sure who was the most nervous, me or the poor patient! I quickly learned how to find my way around the daily routine and especially enjoyed operating days, from reassuring a nervous patient before surgery and monitoring them closely afterwards, to see them smile and wave as they went home, hopefully feeling better.
These were the days of scary nursing officers and ward sisters. One incident happened on my second ward when five minutes before the consultant’s ward round (during which student nurses had to make themselves scarce, usually by scrubbing bedpans in the sluice) I accidentally spilt a patient’s tea all over the ward sister’s feet! I froze, expecting a stern reprimand. Instead, she chuckled, smiled and quietly said, ‘I think you’d better clean that up nurse.’ I learned a lot from that ward sister!
The training was hard. As well as working we were expected to study, consolidating our last school block and preparing for the next. Training continued throughout as two weeks in school and four months onwards, covering all departments. From extremely sad experiences to the joy of watching a baby come into the world, I pretty much saw it all.
Once qualified, with a shiny badge and the thrill of being called Staff Nurse for the first time, I worked at a small cottage hospital in Letchworth Garden City. Mainly caring for the elderly, it was here I met two of my best friends and we are still going strong thirty-five years later! I can still remember many of my patients, but one that really stands out was a Mother Superior from a convent near Letchworth. She came to spend her last days with us, but a more calm and serene person I have never seen.
I eventually left nursing after being offered a job in a school caring for a child with learning difficulties. My nursing stood me in good stead to deal with most situations, from travel sickness on a school trip to broken limbs whilst cartwheeling in the playground.
I look back fondly on my career and today can well imagine the pressures our NHS staff faced during the pandemic. I take my hat off to you all.
Today I am often asked why I changed from nursing to guiding, as they are so different. My reply is always the same: they are not so different. The uniform may be gone, but I still wear a badge, albeit a blue one now, and my nursing philosophy still holds when looking after my clients in London. As well as being entertained, I want them to be comfortable and confident in my abilities.
As I said, once a nurse, always a nurse.