Prologue, Tales of a Student Nurse
Tales of a Student Nurse is a collection of stories based on my memories of experiences I had while training to become a Registered Nurse. It was a three year program, from 1967-1970, at the Metropolitan General Hospital School of Nursing in Windsor, Ontario. Until 1974, the majority of Ontario nurses were trained in Schools of Nursing situated in general hospitals. Each of these Schools required students to live in residence for two of the three years it took to complete the program. The stories are true, the characters existed, but all names have been changed except for mine. I hope the reader will enjoy my memories in whatever order they are read, but I recommend starting with Tale # 1 and following through in sequence, as some of the stories build on previous ones.
6. Tales of a Student Nurse: Basic Nursing Skills
In the first semester of year one at the Metropolitan General Hospital School of Nursing, the academic curriculum was divided into two parts: classroom studies, and actual clinical work in the hospital. Two full and three half days weekly were assigned to classroom time, while three mornings per week were allocated to clinical work with patients on the nursing units. In the first few weeks of the semester, our clinical time was spent interviewing patients. While each of us had more than enough enthusiasm, we had no skills to offer. Before we could actually begin clinical work with patients, we had to learn some basic nursing skills.
First semester academic courses included Anatomy and Physiology of the Human Body, Microbiology, Nutrition and Fundamentals of Nursing. Being foundational courses, it was mandatory for each student to successfully complete all four courses before proceeding to Semester Two. Building on these first semester courses, and offered in Semester Two, were Medical Surgical Nursing, Sociology and Psychology.
Our Registered Nurse clinical instructors: Mrs. Hitzer, Mrs. Peak, Mrs. Gold and Miss Stock arrived in our classrooms dressed in full uniform and cap to teach the various courses. Regardless of which course they taught, they were also responsible for delivering course appropriate hands-on skills training in the classrooms. To accomplish their work they divided us up into four groups of students. One of the fundamental nursing skills we were taught was how to assess the patient’s vital signs: temperature, pulse, blood pressure and respirations. In the 1960s devices such as electronic blood pressure machines, which in 2017 report both blood pressure and pulse, didn’t exist so we learned to take the patient’s vital signs the low tech way. Mrs. Peak showed me how to find Judy’s – my student partner’s – pulse locating her radial artery by placing my middle fingers lightly on the underside of her wrist where the thumb joint ended. The other instructors followed the same method with their groups of students. It took me more than one try, but then suddenly there it was: almost magically I felt Judy’s pulse. Looking around the room, I could easily tell who had also been successful: lots of grinning from ear to ear was the clue. While keeping our fingers on the pulses, we were instructed to count the heartbeats we were feeling while also watching the sweep second hand on our watches for a total of fifteen seconds. Multiplying the number of beats we’d counted by four gave us the pulse rate per minute. The process took some serious concentration and co-ordination for most of us, but by the end of class our collective clumsiness had passed, and each one of us had mastered our first nursing skill.
Digital thermometers, while invented in the 1950s, weren’t yet widely marketed and used in health care in the following decade so glass thermometers were our tools. Constructed with a mercury filled central column, the probe end of the oral/universal thermometer was identified by its narrow, rounded tip. Lines on the sides of the thermometer marked degrees of heat from a minimum of 95 up to a maximum of 107 Fahrenheit. Since Canada didn’t convert to the metric system of measure until the mid 1970s, the standard of measure when I was a student nurse was Fahrenheit degrees. 98.6 F was considered to be the normal human temperature.