I was there from 1982-1984. Each hospital had it’s own school of nursing, and it took new Student and Pupil Nurses every 12 months. The permanent male staff at the hospital couldn’t wait for the new intake, because it meant more women to flirt with!
A Scotsman ran the hospital. He also ran the Social Club, so one had to make a good impression both in and out of work. Tartan and McEwans bitter was always on sale at the Social club. The hospital had an outdoor swimming pool, which was open in the summer months and had it’s own lifeguard. In the summertime, I would finish night duty and go straight to the swimming pool and sleep there instead of going to bed.
We were taught proper hospital corners by the clinical tutor, and the correct ways to apply dressings. Aseptic technique was another skill taught to a high standard by Bill Gardner, the clinical Nurse Tutor. We were taught all about the Mental Health Act, the chemical composition of medicines, signs and symptoms of all different types of mental illness and how to nurse them.
It was a good way of teaching Nurses – there was no such thing as MRSA then!
I remember going to, a Medium Long stay ward in my training. It was full of women who had been there for decades for having a child out of wedlock, or shouting obscenities to the Lord Mayor of London, It was the job of the Student and Pupil Nurses to give the care. There would only be 1 permanent member of staff on each shift, and 2 Students, or 2 Pupil Nurses (that would not be allowed these days).
We were all in the washroom, sharing towels, clothes, underwear and stockings, giving the patients a wash and then sending them to the dining table. The Charge Nurse stood at the door of the washroom and sent some patients back into the washroom because he was not happy with the way we had applied the patients’ make-up; he gave us all an example of how he wanted his patients to look – they had to have rosy cheeks, like Aunt Sally. I refused. I didn’t get a very good report from his ward!
We would do 6 weeks in school initially, before we were let loose on the wards. On my first day on Donne ward I was on duty with a small Filipino Sister (just the 2 of us for 30 women). It was a different Medium Long stay ward. A patient was being detoxified from tobacco, because she was smoking 60 a day, and couldn’t afford it, and was bullying others for fags, and pinching fags, and exchanging kisses for fags. She was asking Sister for a cigarette, and I was excusing myself from the office to run an errand. The patient picked me up by my head, and spun me round in a circle. Sister shouted at her to ‘Put her down, (patients name)’, so she just dropped me, in a crumpled heap on the floor, and calmly asked Sister ‘Can I have a cigarette now, Sister?’ I thought that was funny at the time, and I was hooked on psychiatric nursing after that.
The corridors were very long, and the floors were always very shiny. We were all measured for uniforms, and female Nurses had to wear nurses’ caps, even though the cap was the first thing to be ripped off when we were being attacked.
There were seclusion rooms – it was just a room, with a mattress on the floor and nothing else in it at all. Each admission ward had 2 seclusion rooms, known locally as Trap 1 and Trap 2. Violence was rare really though, compared with today – we did not accept anybody with a drug or alcohol problem on the acute admission wards, because this wasn’t really seen as mental illness (Most violence on today’s wards are related to drug and alcohol problems). We used behavioural therapy in its true old-fashioned sense, using theories from Freud, Jung and the great psychotherapists, another thing, which is sadly missing today. Having said that, it was rare that people were discharged, so maybe it wasn’t that good!
I remember one Charge Nurse on a Male Medium Long stay ward, giving out breakfast – every body had a proper cooked breakfast – but giving out the toast was something to be amazed at. The Charge Nurse would stand at the head of the long dining table and throw toast down the table, and each patient in turn, would catch a piece of toast. Charge Nurses ruled the ward by instilling fear into everybody, or if not fear, then a real need in his patients and staff to want to please him. Charge Nurses and Ward Sisters were very powerful people in those days.
Every body knew the procedures and adhered to them strictly.
I remember one morning on Olave Ward, the locked disturbed ward for women; one woman would not get out of bed. Dormitories were locked during the day, so every patient had to get out of bed. Charge Nurse marched down the ward, and tipped the bed over, so that the patient rolled out. She was not happy, and became aggressive. Charge Nurse used the sheets off her bed to whip the floor next to her, not to hit her, just to threaten her and remind her who was in charge and who made the rules. She did as she was told after that and so did I.
We had to spend 6 weeks in the Industrial Therapy Department as part of our training. I remember one day, I was sitting opposite a patient (I’ll call him Andy) and we were packing marbles into small bags. The patients received extra money for attending IT. Andy was from the locked ward for disturbed males. He told me that he was a multi-millionaire, and owned several companies. He progressed by telling me that he was, in actual fact, a King. I asked him “Andy, if you’re a King, where is your crown?” He told me that it could only be seen under a special light. “Oh!” I replied slowly, and continued packing marbles. Andy dropped his marbles so I said, “Andy, it looks like you’ve lost your marbles”. “Very funny” he said.
I’m sure that I drank my own weight in beer every night I was there. Even the hospital chaplain was an alcoholic if I remember rightly. It was the expected thing to do – I knew one thing for sure – don’t tell the chaplain anything – he was a right old gossiper! The rooms in the nurses home were tiny. We had a small locker each for our food, and one cooker between about 50 of us.
It was the first time I had ever been in a psychiatric hospital. The grounds were beautiful and kept very well. The patients used to work the garden and grow vegetables as well. I was shown round initially by a male Student Nurse who became a good friend. I made long lasting friendships with the men and women on my intake. I was 18 years old!
Cane Hill was next to a railway line, with a railway bridge – bad location! Sometimes, our patients would jump off the bridge and under the oncoming train to end their lives. Coulsdon train station porters were experienced in laying sand on the railway track following a suicide – when we had a suicide, every Nurse on every ward offered sympathy to the patient’s nurses in the Social club, and the whole hospital would be in mourning.
When I qualified as an Enrolled Nurse, I had just turned 21 years old. I was the only Nurse on duty on night shift on a Medium Long stay ward. At 21 years of age, I had to take care of 30 women on my own. I was scared stiff, but I got used to it a bit. Sometimes, a porter would sit with me, and then report back to a Staff Nurse on the admission ward about my welfare! That was comforting.
I remember that one of the male Student Nurses (I really fancied him, but did nothing about it) qualified and went to work on Guy, a male Medium Long stay ward. He was walking in front of a patient, taking the patient to the clinic room – that was a mistake – never turn your back on a patient (one of the first rules we were taught). The patient struck the Nurse from behind and knocked him out. Luckily, he wasn’t the only Nurse on the ward, so things remained safe. The Nurse learned his lesson.
After a while, I realised that I just didn’t feel competent enough to be taking charge of the ward at night on my own, so I left Cane Hill, and went to work for 6 months at the local general hospital – Mayday hospital, on the Orthopaedic ward. I didn’t really miss Cane Hill that much. I felt relieved really when I left there. Like I was starting a new adventure.
I remember having to have a male key and a female key, but I wasn’t there when it was male side and female side, so I have no memory of it, and it did not affect me.
I think that the Managers who were there when I was there, relied upon their reputations or the reputation of previous Managers, because they were always in the Social Club.
Of course Charge Nurses and Ward Sisters had to rule with fear from the patients because they were in very dangerous positions – like on Donne ward – 1 Sister and 1 Pupil Nurse to run the whole ward for the day! Very dangerous staffing levels to care for 30 mentally ill women. We did not have the medications that are available now, so our patients were very ill, and could only be controlled by skill of the Nurses and fear created by the Ward Charge Nurse or Ward Sister. Yes, everybody got up when the Nurse said to get up, and everyone sat quietly for breakfast, and everyone was dressed and washed (and shaved) in time for breakfast. Male patients all wore suits, and female patients wore floral dresses and cardigans. The male patients always seemed to have trousers that were too short, I don’t know why!