3. Tales of a Student Nurse: The Uniform

Paragraph two tersely stated: "Regulation duty shoes are black military oxfords, available at most shoe stores." It was advisable, though not obligatory, to purchase two pairs. "The stockings which are worn with the School Uniform are ordinary beige nylons which you would wear with skirts, dresses, etc." The full import of this prescribed attire evaded me at the time. I was so enamoured with the idea of becoming a student nurse, and so totally uninformed about student nursing uniforms in general, I paid no particular attention to 'black military oxfords and beige stockings'.

A few days later at the shoe store when I was shown the black military oxfords, I found myself swallowing with some difficulty. The shoes were truly ugly. They looked like something someone's grandmother would wear; not mine, but someone's. Still....I was going to be a student nurse. There were lots of things I could overlook for that honour.

My bandage scissors and wristwatch were a lot more fun to buy. A Timex wristwatch with a large face, a second hand, and a black leather wristband seemed perfect. The wristwatch was replaced many times over during my career, but I carried that same pair of bandage scissors in my uniform pocket for over thirty years.

The letter made no mention of the student nurse's cap. What did that mean? Was that an oversight? Would my cap be missing when the ordered uniform arrived? I wouldn't have an answer until I got to the School, and I was completely unable to put it out of my mind for the next ten weeks.

Arriving there on that September Registration Day, I was too intimidated to ask the question of anyone but Alice. She laughed at me and said I didn't need to worry. Since the caps were all the same size, they didn't need to be individually ordered. My cap would come in the package with my uniform, but still laughing she said: "but don't worry. In no time at all, you'll wish it had never got here."

Months later, on the Friday after Registration Day, our Director issued each student a white lab coat. Until our uniforms arrived, we would wear it over our clothing whenever we went to the hospital. We'd start wearing the black military oxfords daily beginning Monday. The wearing of pants and pant suits didn't become fashionable for women until the next decade, so our regular attire: skirts, blouses and dresses, would compliment the beige stockings and black oxfords. The lab coat had to be long enough to cover the bottom of our knees, which would also serve to completely cover our skirts. The brand new coats we'd received were mid-calf length on most of us, but reached the ankles on shorter students. A flurry of activity that evening was all about hemming those lab coats. Anyone who knew how to hem with a needle and thread did so, but those who didn't used masking tape, safety pins or whatever solution they came up with to secure the hem at its proper length.

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Barbara Tiessen is a retired RN who lives with her husband in southwestern Ontario but winters in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. She researched her genealogy, wrote and self published The Schoenfeld Russlaender: A Mennonite Family's History in 2015. More recently her interest have focused on writing short stories.
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