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Vivid Memories of My Nursing Studies in Manchester, 1968 – 1972

Nursing1 Sara Rabani, standing

My Iranian father thought that all girls should learn to type, then get married.

It wasn't until after his death that I enrolled at a North Manchester hospital to study nursing. It took three years to become a State Registered Nurse (there was no degree course then).

For the first few months, we had to live in at the nurses' home adjoining the hospital. My roommate was Ann, a great girl from County Clare who always made the sign of the cross before eating. I was the first Jewish person she'd ever met. Most of my new friends were Catholic, including a lively nun who liked to bet on the horses.

We studied intensively and gave injections to oranges before the day when we were sent to wards. Doing the most basic work but gathering skills under supervision. Every morning the ward sister handed us a list of bed baths to do. We were taught to cover the patient's body with a large towel and out just one limb at a time to wash, dry then re-cover. Very different from the "expose it all" version of the bed bath that you see on many wards today. Next, two of us would make the beds - a military operation where the bed was stripped, remade, sheet corners tightly folded in place, and all pillow case openings had to face away from the door. Exactly like in my home today.

Cleaning was taken very seriously. We wiped down the bedlockers with disinfectant getting rid of any rubbish.

There were strict rules about appearance. Hair couldn't hang past your shoulders, and nail polish was banned - in case a chip fell into a wound. After six months we moved to night duty. When the night sister came round, we were expected to know by

heart the names and diagnoses of all the patients. Time was split between the different wards and my favorite was always surgical.

We spent the second year at a different hospital, Ancoats, an ancient place in a derelict city area. Rumor had it that there were ghosts lurking around and indeed we enjoyed quite a few seance and ouija board sessions but no one contacted us. The closest I came to "the beyond" was when we resuscitated a Mr. Jackson who swore he'd seen a bright light beckoning him when he was dead.

We worked six days a week, often split shifts - living and breathing nursing.

In our third year, we were given the choice to experience time in psychiatry or on the district. I chose the district. That first day, the district nurse collected me from home

and within five minutes we were in a world I had no idea existed so close to the middle class suburb where I grew up. Our first stop was a dismal hostel for homeless men, the most unfortunate of people. We gave injections, deloused heads, dressed wounds, wrote reports, then moved on to the next place on the list. The contrasts were stunning. From wealthy houses and people to the poorest of the poor. From gold taps and Braque paintings in the loo to homes with no hot water. From young people coping with multiple sclerosis to waiters with T.B. People would share amazing life stories while you bandaged a leg or took out stitches. That week I decided this was the work I wanted when I qualified. I still believe a good home care team can keep many people out of hospital and improve quality of life.

Back on the wards in that last year, we worked and studied, worried and studied, enjoying more responsibility for our patients. Exams - then finally in 1972 we became registered nurses. The best thing I ever did.

And yes, I went on to become a district nurse.



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