THE YEAR THAT + QUIZ

Jo Sea­gar

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

My sec­ond year of nurs­ing train­ing was in 1975 at Auck­land Hos­pi­tal. Nurs­ing was what I wanted to do then. I thought it was all about putting ban­dages on peo­ple. I was keen on the idea of heal­ing and I liked the starchy uni­forms with the epaulettes. I had pock­ets full of red pens and blue pens and sur­gi­cal scis­sors — and I was ready to save lives.

But no one had told me peo­ple would die. Ca­reers day at Sel­wyn Col­lege hadn’t men­tioned that part.

So it came as a huge shock one af­ter­noon when I was on the 2pm to 11pm shift and I found my­self look­ing af­ter a guy who was on the way out. In those days, you were lucky if you were even given a side room at that stage. If they couldn’t fix you, it be­came some­one else’s prob­lem be­cause hos­pi­tal staff felt they had failed some­how.

I was try­ing to help him, but he was slip­ping away. He knew it and I didn’t. He was say­ing: “I’m go­ing,” and I was say­ing: “You’ll be a box of birds, to­mor­row.” I was still writ­ing up charts about his bowel move­ments and tem­per­a­ture and he was get­ting weaker and weaker.

He was on his own and had no fam­ily. We weren’t that busy, so I was able to sit and talk with him. He said that if he’d had chil­dren he might have had a grand­daugh­ter my age. I was hold­ing his hand, feel­ing his pulse and then sud­denly, just be­fore 11, he had left the build­ing.

The next minute a mes­sage came over the in­ter­com say­ing there had been an ac­ci­dent on the mo­tor­way and ask­ing any spare staff to go down and help with the in­com­ing.

I shot down­stairs where the am­bu­lances were com­ing in. I rushed to meet one, and as I opened the doors there was a woman in the third stage of labour. I ac­tu­ally caught the baby. Un­til that mo­ment, I had never even done any baby stuff. I was very proud that they called him Joseph.

It was one of those mo­ments in your life. Within about eight min­utes I had seen one go and one ar­rive. It was a big deal to me. I re­alised it was what they call the cir­cle of life and it was nor­mal. I looked into the baby’s eye and I could see old Bob, who had just left.

It changed how I thought about my role. That year I de­liv­ered lots of ba­bies and worked in lots of wards where peo­ple died. I did a lot of ob­stet­rics and mid­wifery and ended up hav­ing a stint as a charge nurse in the chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal.

That time was a turn­ing point in medicine, too, be­cause there was a lot of dis­sat­is­fac­tion with health ser­vices: ba­bies were born in stain­less steel the­atres and mums were hur­ried along be­cause the ob­ste­tri­cian had to play golf. Next thing you could give birth with dol­phins if you wanted.

And I think it’s no co­in­ci­dence that now I’m pa­tron of Hospice. That’s an idea shared to me by Dame Joy Cow­ley — that mid­wives help a lit­tle soul ar­rive on the planet and peo­ple who work in hos­pices are like mid­wives for the next tran­si­tion.

As told to Paul Lit­tle.

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