Yes Matron

I posted this blog a couple  of years ago, but the happenings of the last few weeks has prompted me to share with you again….with a post script

So apologies if you’ve read before…ignore, or skip straight to the post script!

I always wanted to be a Nurse or a Teacher, apart from a brief episode when I entertained the idea of going to Drama School and a life on the stage!!

My Headmistress, having poo pooed that idea, then proceeded to inform me that I would never make a Nurse as I wouldn’t be able to adhere to the rules!

So, with those encouraging words ringing in my head, I set off to investigate my newly chosen career.

To be honest with you, I didn’t really know anything about nursing apart from what I’d seen on Emergency Ward 10 as a child…but the thought of all those gorgeous doctors falling over themselves to get me in the linen cupboard was more than enough to spur me on!!

I opted to start with orthopaedics, not because I knew what it was about, but because I could start training at 17… and rumours had it the wards were full of football players and jockeys!

I didn’t tell anyone I had applied or had an interview. So on the big day I set off on my own, clutching my certificates and what little knowledge I had gathered about my chosen field…I now knew it was “something to do with bones”

The interview was TERRIFYING!! a panel of 6 serious looking people, headed by Matron, resplendent at head of the table… a small, intimidating lady with a steely stare. I stuttered and stammered incoherently throughout the procedure, and at the end was asked to wait outside the door while they “had a little chat”….I sat outside with a feeling of doom descending over me

Suddenly the door swung open and I was summoned back into the room. where upon I was informed that they would love to have me at their hospital, and that there was a school starting in September or, if I preferred, there was a place on the school which started on the Sunday…it was now Thursday afternoon! I instantly replied ” I’ll start Sunday please , or I might change my mind”!! Looking back, probably not the best response!

I then had to go home and tell my parents I was going nursing…and leaving in 3 days, during which time I had to purchase a list of items that were compulsory to have.

So started one of the happiest times of my life…A intense 18 month course, studying and working 40 hours a week on the wards, followed by 2 1/2 years undertaking a shortened Registered Nurse training course. I could write a whole blog on just these years….maybe I will one day

I met some incredible people, had some amazing experiences, and made some fantastic, life long friends, and after  qualifying took great pleasure in returning to my old school and plonking my certificates down on the desk in front of my old Headmistress! She grudgingly congratulated me and then said “but I still say you won’t stick at it”!!!

When I first qualified I  worked in an Intensive Cardiac Care Unit, a stint in a Surgical Unit, then a busy Casualty Department (A&E to anyone under 30 reading this) in a large District General Hospital.

Then I broke up with my boyfriend, and after a summer of doing nothing except  sitting on the beach I thought I had best look for a job as the money was running short!!

So I applied for a Staff Nurse’s post at the local “Cottage Hospital” , as it was called then. It was all very different in those days. No impersonal  online application forms to complete. No, I just popped into the Hospital one day and left a letter for the Matron. she duly replied and invited me in for interview the next week.

The interview panel consisted of Matron, A Ward Sister, and the Senior GP from the local Practice.. but it was probably more terrifying than that very first interview I attended!!

Matron wanted to know if  “I was going to be trying to introduce new fangled City ideas “

Sister wanted to know if “I was going to be bored”

And the GP wanted to know if “I was going to run off and start having babies as soon as I got the job”!!!

Despite all this they offered me the post and I started a few weeks later.

It was like stepping back in time. We all wore dresses with starched collars and cuffs, and aprons. This was as  most hospitals had abandoned their own uniforms in favour of a ‘national  uniform’ So this was a real treat, although the starching was a complete pain…

There was a  hierarchy I had never come across before! All the Trained Staff left the wards at 10.30 each morning to have coffee with Matron,…not a particularly relaxing event….leaving the Auxiliary Nurses to run the wards

Lunch could be taken either in the dining room or the Trained Staff’s sitting room. The Auxiliaries had their own sitting room and never the twain would meet!!

Afternoon tea was at 3.00 for Auxiliaries and 3.30 for Trained Staff, once again presided over by Matron! On Thursday afternoons one of the Doctors were invited to join the Matron for tea..and one of my funny memories is of one of them asking Matron if she would like a jam sandwich. Matron replied thank you very much, and the GP proceeded to slap a piece of bread with butter and jam, while holding it in his hand, folding it in half and passing it to her!! her face was a picture and we all were choking with laughter

But oh boy, did I get into trouble those first few weeks!!  I was forever being summoned to Matron’s office, which was a performance in its self.

Cuffs had to be removed, sleeves rolled down, clean apron put on and  then you sat outside Matron’s office and stewed until she deemed to let you in

First it was my shoes. They were lovely (well you know my love for shoes )…well as lovely as nurses shoes could be, but they had been purchased in Brighton and nobody had mentioned there was anything wrong with them before. So, they had a bit of a platform and were a bit clumpy, but they were very fashionable.

“Nurse”  she said, giving me that withering look only a Matron can ( I don’t think I ever mastered it while I was one!) “Those shoes may have been acceptable in your fancy, modern, city hospital, but they are NOT suitable for here. Please go and buy some  more suitable ones before the week is out”

“Yes Matron” I dutifully replied and left the office with my head hung low.

The following day I was in charge of the morning shift, and broke with all convention by sending a Staff Nurse and an Auxiliary to coffee together.. only to discover they had sat in separate rooms!  Then when I went to coffee with the other Auxiliary I sat in HER sitting room and had a ciggie with her (yes I know, disgusting habit..which also got me into trouble!!) The poor woman was beside herself that she would be in trouble for having coffee with a Trained Nurse!

I don’t know how Matron found out, but later that afternoon the phone call came through, and off I tootled to see Matron

“Nurse, WE don’t have coffee with the Auxiliaries. WE have to maintain certain standards”

“Yes Matron”

I couldn’t believe it, but there was no discussion to be had…the interview was over and I left the office suitably chastised!

Then there was the episode with the Doctor (no, nothing like that!!)

The call came through just before lunch ..and I had no idea what I could have possibly done this time

Into  the Lion’s den I went and sat opposite Matron, who had a particularly stern expression on

“Nurse” she said “you do know why you’re here don’t you”?

“Actually Matron, I don’t” I dared to reply

She stood and leaned across the desk

“You may have called the doctors by their christian names in your fancy city hospital, but we DO NOT do that here”!

“But Matron…he called me Eileen, surely that gives me permission to call him by his first name, and it was in the office, not in front of a patient”

Apparently that was not acceptable and I left the office with her word ringing in my ears “if you feel you can’t conform to our ways then perhaps you may be better going back to the city”

“Yes Matron”

Oh no, perhaps my Headmistress’s premonitions were coming true, maybe I wasn’t cut out for this after all…oh how she’d gloat if she ever found out

On the walk back to the ward I was contemplating my next move  when I met the Doctor I had dared to address by his christian name. “Hello Eileen” he cheerily called out as I passed “Hello Doctor C” I replied.

He stopped and turned around and said “my we’re very formal all of a sudden, have I offended you”?

I asked him to come into the office…for fear of us being seen talking to each other and being reported again! I then asked him if he objected to be called by his first name when we were out of patient areas. He said certainly not, AND that I had been the topic of conversation at the Practice meeting the previous day. Apparently the Doctors thought it was lovely to have a little less formality!  The outcome was that they invited Matron to their next meeting  and this was discussed….along with their concerns about the wards being left at coffee breaks without any trained staff !!!

So began the challenge of bringing the hospital, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century. Small steps at first,  and with great suspicion and trepidation on many of the staff’s behalf.

Matron very graciously listened to my ideas and most of them were accepted and put into practice…things that were common place anywhere else I had worked. A drug’s trolley, individual patient’s notes, one staff room for all staff, a 6 weekly duty rota so staff knew what they were working in advance

And through all this Matron remained dignified, professional, and totally supportive, even though I knew how hard it was for her. But, as she said to me one day, she could see it was better for the patients and staff morale.

She was a truly  remarkable woman who devoted her life to her career and loved her patients, and her staff as her own and I have the greatest respect and love for her.

Years later, when Mr. Blair reintroduced his “Modern Matrons” I became Matron for that hospital. My old Matron was the first person to ring me and congratulate me

“I know these new fangled Matrons are a different breed” she said “but I am happy that my hospital will be in good hands now”

With a feeling of incredible pressure and pride I replied

“Yes Matron”

Post Script

The hospital and community has been such a major part of my life for over 30 years. Without it I probably would never have stayed here, met my OH and had my 3 wonderful children, met so many fascinating people, or made so many amazing friends.

I’ve lived through numerous changes and reorganisation… resulting in reapplying for my own job on a fairly regular basis between 2001 and 2009

But today, it is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I survey what is happening.

Over the past year the inpatient beds numbers have been dwindling, staff turnover high, and morale low. And though I no  longer work there in capacity of Matron,or am even employed by the Trust who manage the Inpatient Service, I still think of it as ‘my hospital’ and ‘my staff’

There had been rumours abound for months of bed closures and service changes, then a few weeks ago  the responsible Trust released a press statement  outlining its future proposals which, of course, included the closure of those beds and those in a neighbouring unit. They announced the start of a 12 week public consultation with staff and local people, and that no decisions would be made without taking the results of these meetings into consideration.

Last week, on Tuesday, there was a local drop in meeting with Trust and CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) representatives, who assured those present that no decision on bed closures would be made until after the New Year at the end of the consultation period.

The next evening the staff received letters of notice, and the devastating news that the beds were to close in January and be relocated to a hospital 7 miles away due to “unsafe staffing levels” ….. however not “unsafe” enough for them to close immediately.

The whole community is in uproar. Apparently there was a similar threat in the early 70’s, but was retracted due to public outcry.

There was a (already planned) public  meeting on Tuesday with the Trust and CCG. It started at 5 which meant many people were unable to attend due to work commitments. However, many were able to go. so many in fact that the meeting hall was packed to capacity and they set up a video link to the local church for those unable to get in.

Facts and figures were discussed by the Trust, many of them wrong and misinformed. Staff,past and present, and local residents spoke eloquently and passionately about ‘their hospital’ without it becoming over emotional.

Yet, despite all this, and the fact the existing healthcare facilities can barely cope with an ever-expanding town, (There are currently 5 building developments in progress with the provision of over 1000 new homes) I fear this time people power will not win the day

And, without a doubt my old Matron, who spent her last days as a patient in her own hospital, would be asking “Is this really happening”

And I would have to reply

“Sadly, yes Matron”



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