Unlike almost everyone I know, I didn’t encounter any inspirational teachers during my school years. As a Presbyterian, I was sent to Catholic schools from the age of 3 ½ when I became a monthly boarder at Star of the Sea in Southport on the Gold Coast of Queensland. I learned very quickly what it was like to be ‘different’ despite following all of the usual Catholic daily routines – 6am Mass (in Latin), prayers before and after meals, the Angelus at midday, the Rosary said every night before bed.
I didn’t attend day school until I was 8years old at St Aloysius College in Adelaide, where there were 3 non-Catholics in the entire school, including my younger sister and me. Often, during daily school assembly, Sister Mary Campion, the school headmistress would call for the entire school to “pray for those unsaved souls in our midst” and I’d blush with shame from the top of my head down to my shoes.
On commencing my general nursing training, aged 16 and 9 months, I encountered Tutor Sister Smith on the first day of our 4 week Preliminary Training School, where we were taught the basic skills needed to commence duty in one of the 19 hospital wards. ‘Smithy’ (as she was called behind her back) was a mountain of a woman with quite a deep voice who commanded our nervous attention right from the start in the hospital school of nursing.
During the very first hour of our PTS, Smithy taught me the most important lesson to create a ‘good’ nurse – “Every patient you will ever encounter needs to be cared for on 3 levels,” she said. “First – his bodily needs; second – his emotional/psychological needs; and third – his spiritual needs.” Immediately my hand shot up. “What do you mean about his spiritual needs, Sister?”
Over the years since then, Smithy’s words remained with me. When I was ‘specialling’ an 18 year old ‘nasho’ back from Vietnam with Napalm burns from his chin to his shins for weeks at a time, I remembered her words about nursing the ‘whole’ man, especially when he was held in my arms, sobbing.
During my psychiatric training at the large state psych hospital, as the first female nurse to work in the male security ward, I noticed that I was the nurse who saw the razor cuts inside patient’s arms. I observed that the bottle of Brasso, given to a female alcoholic patient (to polish the brass door knobs) had disappeared. She had drunk it and now needed to have her stomach pumped!
As a theatre sister, I was the sister who always made a habit of greeting my next patient and calming their fears before I went to scrub up with the surgeons, as the anaesthetist put them to sleep. I preferred to walk my eye surgery cases (many eye procedures are done under local anaesthetic), reassuring the patient until they were back in their bed.
Over the years since I first faced Smithy in PTS, I have mentally thanked her many times for reminding me, from the first lecture, that we humans are complex creatures and multi-dimensional; that just treating ‘the leg’, ‘the gall bladder’ or ‘the stroke in bed 17’ is not enough. Everyone should have all of their needs cared for equally – body, mind and spirit. Brava, Smithy, you inspired my life.
Well said Annie. For more than one reason I wish you were my nurse. First, you take care of the body, mind and spirit. Second, take a look at that photo? That is the only reason I would ever look forward to a hospital visit.
Seriously, I truly enjoyed learning about life where you lived.