First Ward Student Nurse
NHS Gynae, 1980
My ill-fitted turquoise dress is cinched with a silver-buckled belt,
my paper cap’s fixed with white Kirby grips, my polished lace-ups
are pulled-up tight. I’m so much taller than all the rest, awkward,
out of place as I wait outside the nursing office with the others
all in role-defined uniform. At last, led by Sister (a diminutive powerhouse
in her navy tunic and white linen cap) we swarm towards the door
of the first four-bedder where we cluster for the change-of-shift report
which is given, with a nod to the notion of confidentiality, in hushed tones.
They speak in a language new to me. The bi-lateral salpingo-oophorectomy’s
two days post -op and the drip’s still up, and next to her there’s a spontaneous
abortion who came in last night bleeding, then in the third bed a total
hysterectomy, on tomorrow’s list. We still need the husband’s consent.
We move to the second bay, stand outside the glass partition
to listen, and hear that the girl in bed six had an elective, although
the defining word is unsaid, then that her neighbour had a D&C,
and next to her, with her blonde hair spread on the pillow, a 19 year old
cervical cancer was this morning’s open and shut case.
I know what that means. She’s the same age as me. She’s still
drowsy – the anaesthetic’s not worn off, she’s still on half hourly obs;
she’s unaware yet of the facts, of what now is missing, the statistics,
the sweeping change in the course of her life, and we’re told
that the surgeon will be talking with her, and her parents
this afternoon. Nothing more is said on the matter, except to me.
‘Nurse Gibson, don’t lean,’ says Sister, glancing up,
‘Stand up straight. Look professional,’