EC Ross

Surgical Ward Sister - 50's Style Part 2

I became Sister in Ward 10 RIE in 1954. At that time you didn't apply for the job - it was offered to you! I was then interviewed by the Chief Surgeon and eventually my appointment was confirmed.
The previous incumbent had already left so I was on my own. However there were plenty of people to turn to for advice.
An early memory was that there was a ward cat! I was modern; I couldn't have a cat in a surgical ward, so one of the doctors kindly took it home.

The hours were long, but in retrospect we usually seemed to be adequately staffed. The Day Staff covered the Ward from 7.30 am to 8.30 pm. This was achieved by some staff working from 7.30 to 5 pm [or 6 pm] and some working 'split shifts' - 7.30 am to 1 pm and back at 5 pm until 8.30 pm. We had a 'Day Off' once week.

The night staff came on at 8.30 pm and worked until 8 am. They were given a report of the patients' progress and had to know all their names, diagnoses and treatments.
In those days the Ward Sister was 'hands on' and closely involved in patient care. After breakfast was served, Sister went round the patients to talk to them and hear how they had slept and were feeling. She checked that everything was in order - e.g. temperature charts, fluid balance charts, I.V. infusions etc. were up to date.

Then the dressings were done. This was quite a ritual. A list was made and a student nurse delegated to prepare the patients and observe the procedure. The appropriate sterile instruments had to be ready. {In 1954 these were boiled up in a kidney dish on the ward kitchen stove!) The patient was then made comfortable and we moved on to the next one.

At that time it was customary for patients to be confined to bed after surgery. This could be for seven days, ten days, or even longer. Maybe there was a patient with a fractured femur on traction in each corner of the ward, therefore care of pressure areas was of vital importance. These patients had to be moved and pressure areas massaged at regular intervals. The occurrence of a pressure sore was one of the Ward Sister's biggest nightmares.
On operating days Sister was involved in supervising patients being prepared for theatre and receiving them on their return to the ward. The 'three man lift' was employed as we lifted them into bed.

On 'Waiting Days' emergency admissions were received for 24 hours. When all the beds were full we ordered extra beds which arrived from the tunnel. These were made up ready for the next emergency admission. It was the

usual thing to have beds down the centre of the ward. We were expected to cope but sometimes it was hard going! We were free to ask for an extra nurse if the situation became too hectic.Unfortunately, we never had zero admissions on waiting days and therefore I never received the coveted white gloves from the medical staff.

In those days nurses were expected to do some cleaning duties. Tidying and cleaning lockers was a nursing duty and some 'damp dusting' of the ward was also done. The cleaning and disinfecting of the sputum mugs was undertaken after the Doctors' rounds. I can also remembering polishing the ward floor with a 'bumper' on Sunday afternoons. As well as this we did the ward mending of the linen!

The ward maid was an important part of the ward team. She kept the ward in pristine condition and expected the staff to maintain her standards of cleanliness. Perhaps the juniors were a little in awe of her?

Meals were served by Sister so were tailored to the needs of individual patients. A member of staff would feed helpless patients as nutrition was an essential part of their care.
Teaching student nurses was an important part of the Ward Sister's job. The students had to know the patients' diagnoses and work out their care. It was important for them to observe changes in the patient's condition and develop good powers of observation and clinical judgement.

Records were kept and reports written by day and night staff, but a lot of information was passed on verbally. In later years the Kardex system was introduced and more comprehensive written reports were available for reference.

One of the advantages of the job was that we had our own sitting room on the ward. We could give Doctors their coffee in comfort and we could also entertain our friends when we were off duty.

Our bedrooms were above Wards 17 and 18. They were attic rooms but we were all Surgical Sisters and lived together happily with our older and more venerable colleagues.

Altogether it was a happy lifestyle; we felt really in charge of our little kingdom. A daily visit from an Assistant Lady Superintendent helped to sort out problems and keep us on our toes.

We had a staff nurse or senior student as deputy so we could go off duty leaving the patients in safe hands.

I hope our present day nurses get as much satisfaction from the job as we did!

EC Ross