Nursing Care at RCH in the 1920s

RCH Student Nurse Uniforms Through the Years

RCH Student Nurse Uniforms Through the Years

The first class of student nurses entered RCH in 1901 – the era of the horse and buggy doctor and a Victorian way of life. The last class graduated in 1978 – the age of atomic power and supersonic aircraft, of miracle drugs and medical marvels – and an ultra-modern way of life. Esther Irene Paulson, whose 41-year career as a nurse began at RCH in 1925, decided to mark the school’s 75th anniversary in 1976 by writing its story and its valedictory. This is part of her story.

It was long before the philosophy of early ambulation and self-help, so most of the patients were confined to bed. It was also before the art of body mechanics was known and taught, and there were no mechanical aids to make lifting and moving safer and easier for patients and staff. The philosophy of rehabilitation was unknown to us. We were not encouraged to help patients to do what they could – and should do – for themselves. To do so would, in all probability, have resulted in a reprimand for laziness or shirking one’s duty.

The physical layout of the hospital was not designed for labour-saving either, the wards and service areas and kitchens being far apart. The meals were served from each ward kitchen where the food was kept hot on a steam table. The students set the trays, sliced the bread, put out cream and butter, served the meal, distributed and collected the trays – and fed the patients who could not help themselves.

The public wards had 16 beds – eight down each side and sometimes extra beds were placed down the middle. Then it was an ordeal to manipulate those monsters, the mobile screens, which became entangled in the wheels of the beds and the folding wings of the screen flapped about like a tent in the wind.

The beds and bedside tables were white enamel and service rooms and dressing trays were stocked with enamel-ware instead of stainless steel. There were no pre-packaged supplies and instant products, so all the dressings, swabs, plaster bandages were made – by us – from stock materials. Despite the physical inconveniences and absence of labour-saving devices, there was heroic nursing done.

Many patients with fractured limbs and injuries came from the logging camps and sawmills along the river and streptococcic infection was a common complication. Students were known to relinquish their hours off duty and even the precious half-day in order to keep up the unrelenting schedule of hot fomentations and arm baths to prevent the loss of a finger, a hand or even an arm.

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