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  • Memories of nursing days at The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne

    By Nancy Furnell (nee Heane) 2000

    LOFT nursing image

    I began my nursing career at aged 18 years and one week in December 1936. I required a Leaving Certificate or Nurses’ Entrance Exam.

    At 18 years of age I had a full medical by Dr. Grieve and had Diphtheria and TB skin tests. On Probation for three months.

    No Preliminary School. To Ward 12. Sister Logan in charge. Shown around by my immediate senior (about six weeks). Beryl Luffren. Next year Sr Pilkinton became Tutor Sister, lectures on basic ‘hands on’ nursing, bandaging etc., Dr. Eric Price, Surgical, rather a bore, Dr. J. Grieve Medical, Dr. Kelly, Dermatological, Dr. Vera Collins, Dr. Orr, Opthalmologist.

    Life in the Nurses’ Home – very strict rules. Sign in Book at Office. 10pm unless return from day off 11.40 or unless exceptional late pass 11.40pm for a special reason, a personal visit to Matron at 9am for same.

    Uniforms were provided and laundered by the hospital and changed weekly. Aprons were to be kept clean! But changed daily. Live-in accommodation was adjacent to the hospital and consisted of a small room which was regularly inspected for tidiness and neatness. I would return home on my days off. 3 hankies and 3 pairs of pants were provided but there was no space to hang them after washing. There were only baths – no showers.

    One day or night off each week.

    On duty at 7am, called at 6.30 by Night Sister. Lights out by 10.30pm inspected by Night Sister.

    I was privileged to work with Dr. 'Weary' Dunlop and even though I am very old, my memories of my nursing days are still very clear. Story of Carmol Morwood attached.

    Sr ‘Kit’ Webster – Home Sister had eyes and ears everywhere. Rooms inspected daily oh! So tidy and dust free, iron frame bed, horse hair mattress. Meals were basic. Vera head waitress made us ‘eat up’.

    Attendance at meals in uniform ‘a must’ even on a day off. If just a trifle late a bow to the head of the table Sister Flower, Webster or the Senior of the day. One sometimes had to wait until the nod was given.

    Friendships in the Home were the mainstay of lots of discussions, injustices from Sister in Charge, mistakes justified. We were so young, so much was expected from us.

    We had a big sewing room next to the Lounge room. 4 treadle Singer Machines. I made some wonderful dresses, always someone to pin up.

    Wonderful hot baths – huge, up to the neck (‘Please do not leave the bathroom while the tap is running’).

    Theatre passes were available, Charlie’s Aunt, Gilbert & Sullivan – late pass please Matron.

    Most enjoyed one day off...no 40 hour week until about 1940. We stayed until our work was completed.

    Friendships – three months in first year at Frankston with those wonderful children wise beyond their years. Frank Perry TB spine who knew he would not become an adult, always courageous, Ray Hughes, Bill & Florence Edwards, Ian & Marg Hill twins with TB hips.

    Least enjoyable – 9pm Night duty Ward 10 – 44 children every bed to be changed. Each child was lifted and on to a trolley. Some nights the Senior nurse had to go to Theatre to scrub for emergency surgery, as the junior with three months in training I was left alone. Post op babies to be fed and changed. I was terrified. Twelve weeks of this. Had to cook the senior’s supper. We were given two chops, a potato in a pie dish. Of course it was never cooked. Toasted sandwiches and tea maybe some of my mother’s orange cake.

    On one occasion after a rather exhausting week of lectures and caring for very ill children I returned home vowing to never go back to the hospital. With warm comforting words ringing in my ears from my mother I went back with a freshly baked orange cake.

    Most satisfying – achieving the ultimate my 18 ct Gold badge and Diploma after three years. Lifelong friends most now gone. Being noticed by Head Super Vern Collins who said ‘you are sick nurse’ – ‘yes’ with tears. Off duty with cellulitis T103. Operated by Himself in am and Kirchner Mitch in next bed, lots of TLC in Ward 9.

    Trauma..always on night duty alone. Ward 10 12 months as a Junior. Ward 16 in 2nd year with very sick Diphtheria patients, the sight of the emergency tracheotomy instrument on the locker was enough to give me the horrors. This led me to believe I’d never make it.

    Ward 10–12 weeks. As Senior nurse would it never end. How many emergencies could we have. Burns, Sarcomas, Appendectomies, Peritonitis. I don’t believe that the Senior sisters day and night remembered the stress.

    Missed one bed. Pulled out of bed at 9.30pm by Sister Birdie to be dressed in full uniform to make extension bed.

    Is there anyone alive who can remember the Matron Miss Walsh who did the rounds regularly. The word would travel ‘she is on her way’. Our caps were instantly pulled down to eye brow level. One of our most beautiful senior nurses lost her ‘frills’ for three months and back to a junior’s cap because she dared to wear her cap at hair line.

    The other fetish, all doors had to be closed, linen room, bath rooms, pan rooms etc. What a rush. Down with sleeves on with cuffs.

    On more than one occasion as a junior on night duty Ward 10 I received compassion from a priest when a Catholic child was admitted. The priest from the Roman Catholic Presbytery opposite was notified, he would come almost immediately. One night I was alone when Father Stewart arrived to anoint a dying burns case Hannah aged 12. She had saved her two brothers from their burning home. What a compassionate man he was. He sat beside the child saying to me you have so much to do, and you look so young, feed that crying baby and I will stay. Many times he came without a summons. Perhaps he thought ‘I’ll lose my flock if this young nurse is alone.’

    Sister James W.G – a pleasure to learn from her. Taking blood made to look easy. She made us feel confident and anxious to do well. The attached letter – about the Morwood family – tells a great story. I am now 82 and feel so privileged to have this loving family part of my life.

    There were many Chinese patients who hated the hospital food. When time permitted I would run down to Chinatown and bring back a billy of ‘Chinese food’. There was always great excitement when I sneaked in these special meals.

    Time rolled on, my training was completed in 1940, having made up sick leave, followed by six months at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. After graduating Matron invited me to continue on the staff at the Children’s Rehabilitation and Orthopaedic Centre at Frankston and later at Hampton and Brighton.

    When the Americans entered the War, the servicemen occupied the Children’s Hospital Frankston and the children were moved to Dandenong and Caulfield. I nursed many sick US Defence soldiers and I was often assigned to work for private and nursing agencies. Most of these families were from wealthy families and I saw the best and worst of the ‘upper class’.

    After I graduated I worked for many weeks at Benalla, caring for an old farmer in a wheel chair. His wife was weary and I assisted with his nursing. When a massive bush fire broke out I had to wheel him and guide his wife along a dirt road down to the nearby creek to take refuge out of harm’s way until it was safe to return home. It was an exhausting and terrifying experience.

    In early 1938 I had completed two years of my training at The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. At this time I was working in Ward 14 which treated babies and toddlers. Beautiful understanding Sister Morris was in charge. There were many admissions of children, suffering from meningitis. These were pre-penicillin days, when the recovery from such infections was rare.                                                                                                 

    About this time May and Baker distributed Sulpha drugs – M & B 693, which coincided with the admission of a baby about three months of age, suffering from meningitis. Her name was Carmol Morwood, the youngest of 11 children and very precious. It was decided to treat her with the above. Miraculously she recovered, although there was evidence of some brain damage. Capable Dr. ‘Weary’ Dunlop supervised the injections I gave to Carmol and was delighted to see her progress. It was a very sad day when he left the hospital for service overseas.

    I was most interested in the child and her remarkable mother. After Carmol’s discharge I visited the family on many occasions, mainly to observe her progress and to join in the routine of day to day life of this well-organised family. After my training was completed my working routine changed and I lost contact with Carmol.

    During my infrequent visits to Melbourne futile efforts were made to find Carmol for she was never forgotten.

    In July 1998 now a widow, residing on the Central Coast of New South Wales, I read a small paragraph in the Sydney Morning Herald, which stated that the Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell, had banned the books written by Father Michael Morwood. The name actually leaped at me.

    Immediately I made inquiries through the local Catholic Church, and found that there was in fact a priest in Melbourne by that name. Having been given the address and phone number I rang him, and asked if he was related to Carmol. His reply was ‘indeed I am, she is my sister…Carmol is well, but has some physical disabilities’. Such excitement from both families was incredible.

    Michael, I had not known, for he was the 12th child, two years and four months younger than Carmol. The welfare of the mother concerned me – she was beautiful and exceptional in her care of this large family. Sadly, she died from meningitis when Michael was 11 months. In the joy of finding Carmol I felt an incredible sorrow. I pictured those happy children now suddenly left without their loving mother.

    Three weeks later Michael and Carmol arrived at my home and in the following October, I joined the family in Melbourne to celebrate Carmol’s 60th birthday. How ancient I felt as these sisters and brothers welcomed me remembering the times when we read bedtime stories and I tucked up four little boys in a huge bed 60 years before. More disturbing were the inquiries about their mother, for few have memories of her.

    I now have an extended family. Various members have spent holidays with me and we have weekly contact. Michael is no longer a priest, and is happily married to Maria and lives in Perth.