After I posted my story about the Charge Nurse on the cardiac ward, a few of the nurses I trained with read it and then contacted me to swap war stories. This gave us a lot of laughs and we all agreed that tragedy plus time equals comedy.
The reminiscing reminded me of another story regarding the infamous charge nurse.
I’d only been nursing for about four months when I was sent to ‘her’ ward, the cardiac ward. Since starting my nursing career I had done a four-week study block, eight weeks in paediatrics, another four-week study block and then I was sent to the cardiac ward for a 12-week stint – with zero cardiac knowledge.
The blue nursing uniform was fairly austere, (behind-the-times) and had to be worn with grey stockings and black orthopaedic shoes. There was also a white cap to be worn on our heads that was a flat piece of material we ironed with starch then moulded into the shape of a cap and pinned in place. When it came to shaping the starched fabric, no amount of instruction was of any use and on the wards you’d see a broad variety of caps and often some obviously old caps because the wearer didn’t want to have to make another one. The caps also contained bright blue stripes. Three stripes if you were in third-year, two when in second-year and as for me, I was adorned with just one beginner’s stripe.
The stripe system was to warn others of your level of ability (or ineptitude) but as if that wasn’t enough, there was another system for spotting junior nurses. The blue uniform had a matching belt however, if you were a brand new nurse you weren’t allowed the matching blue belt and instead had to settle for a really, really wide brilliantly-white belt. These were so glaringly obvious they were loathed and we all wanted to graduate to a blue belt as quickly as possible. In order to be rid of the white belt, you had to complete three practical tests.
Now that I had entered my fourth month of nursing I was eligible to sit the practical tests. There was a nurse educator on every ward and the one in the cardiac ward was absolutely lovely. She was a very tiny Asian lady with a good wit and she could tell stories of patients she’d nursed that would have you stunned or doubled over in stitches.
One of the rules of having to pass the three practical tests was that you weren’t allowed to know in advance when you were going to be tested. For some reason it was decided that springing a test on you or having you anxiously looking over your shoulder wondering when you were going to get that tap on the shoulder, was sensible.
But the nurse educator with the good wit and wink in her eye, would whisper to me that I was about to be tested. ‘Get prepared’, she’d say which would have me scrambling for the nursing manual of how to perform tasks like give an anticoagulation injection into someone’s tummy.
With the nurse educator winking away and putting me at ease, I passed my first two tests with ease.
The trouble is that the nurse educator was not the only one on the ward who could spring a test on you. Alas, the other assessor was the bitter charge nurse.
One day I was wandering around the ward in a world of my own when I heard a roaring voice bellowing at me, ‘Nurse Stewart-Cooper, you will do your assessment now’. And that’s the other thing. Because there was already a Nurse Cooper working at the hospital, I had to be a double-barrel name. Ridiculous.
So I was forced to run into the treatment room where there was a middle-aged woman lying on a bed. The charge nurse stood beside her with a clipboard folder held tightly against her enormous chest and she said, ‘Nurse Stewart-Cooper, Mrs Alexander needs her sutures removed. You will be examined on the safe removal of sutures’.
Right. The first thing I had to do was show the charge nurse I knew how to wash my hands. I did the full wash right up to the elbows then patted them dry without contaminating myself. The next step was to wash down a stainless steel trolley with methylated spirits. As I was cleaning the trolley, she said, ‘Hurry up, Nurse Stewart-Cooper, it’s Mrs Alexander’s wedding anniversary; she hasn’t got all day, she’d like to get back on the ward where her husband is waiting’.
Feeling completely flustered I then had to pass by the charge nurse to reach for a basic dressing pack. As I did, I glanced at the sheet of paper on the folder and saw that in red pen she had already given me three crosses. It was three strikes and you’re out so I knew then I had already failed. I hadn’t even begun! Not realising I’d seen her handiwork she made me continue and so I used little wipes to remove the adhesive bandage covering Mrs Alexander’s sutures, opened up the dressing pack, poured some normal saline into a container to wash down the wound, , then just as I was about to cut through the first suture she yelled out, ‘Stop there, Nurse Stewart-Cooper. You have failed this assessment and I’m not sure you have the competency to continue’. With a loud bang she put down the clipboard with all it’s multiple red crosses and marched over to the sink where she started scrubbing her hands like Lady Macbeth. ‘I will be taking over from here. You can observe’.
And Mrs Alexander gave me a very sympathetic glance.
The next week I did the very same assessment with the witty nurse educator with a 100% pass. And I graduated to a blue belt!
And in case you’re wondering what happened to that charge nurse, she was last seen vomiting out of the door of her car on her way to work. Pregnant with twins!
For Christmas I was given a set of blue ramekins by my cousin, Megan. They came with a recipe for a molten raspberry and chocolate puddings that I’ve made for a few dinner parties and it’s absolutely outstanding. The one drawback though of a recipe like this is that it can’t be made in advance; it’s one of those desserts that has to be made during your event – but it’s so worth it!
- 4 tbspns raspberry jam
- 4 tbspns freshly squeezed orange juice
- 65g butter
- 150g milk chocolate
- 50g dark chocolate
- 1 tbspn chocolate hazelnut spread
- 100g light demerara sugar
- 3 large eggs, separated
- raspberries to decorate
- Preheat the oven to 200C (fan-force 180C).
- Lightly butter 4 Le Creuset ramekins.
- Stir the orange juice into the raspberry jam and spoon into the bottom of each buttered ramekin.
- Break the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and add butter. Sit over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Stir until completely melted.
- Meanwhile, put the sugar into a large bowl with the egg yolks and beat well until thick, pale and creamy.
- Stir the chocolate mixture until smooth then gently fold it into the creamed sugar and egg yolks.
- Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and quickly fold them into the chocolate mixture. Gently spoon into the cups over the conserve.
- Put hte ramekins in a roasting tin an dadd enough boilings water to come up 2.5cms (1 inch) up the sides of the cups. Back for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are risen and quite firm to the touch. The centres will still be wobbly with a delicious hot raspberry sauce beneath.
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