7. Tales of a Student Nurse: Taking Vital Signs

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.

7. Tales of a Student Nurse: Taking Vital Signs

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About mid-October of 1967 our long-awaited uniforms finally arrived and our half day patient assignments in the hospital were scheduled. Hospital nursing units or nursing wards were terms used interchangeably to describe the clinical setting in which we would provide patient care. Led by our Nursing Instructors, three groups of eight student nurses descended on three separate nursing wards of the hospital. Getting off the elevator on the second floor, my group followed our Instructor, Mrs. Hitz, down a long hall to the nursing station. We passed by a variety of patient rooms: semi- privates, four-bed ward rooms and two private rooms. The total occupancy of the unit was thirty-two patients. Our Instructor showed us to the Clean and Dirty Utility Rooms, both of which were critical to the functioning of the unit. The Clean Utility Room contained sterile supplies, dressings, bandages, and clean patient equipment. The Dirty Utility Room was used to store used or dirty supplies, and to dispose of waste material and body fluids.

Just up ahead was the central nurses’ station, the heartbeat of the unit. Arriving at 7:00 am, we were just in time to meet the entire day staff who were listening to report from the off-going night shift staff. In report, each patient was discussed and their overnight status was conveyed. The station held enough chairs for five or six people. A desk-height counter ran along one wall; a desk, phone and secretary’s chair filled another wall. The ward clerk occupied this chair, answered all incoming calls, and generally assisted the nursing staff in processing the physicians’ orders written on the patient charts after the doctors had completed their patient rounds. A wheeled metal chart holder containing thirty-two patient charts, filed in sequential order by room number, filled the corner beside the ward clerk’s desk.

Our group of eight students overwhelmed the remaining available space, making it uncomfortably clear to us that we were in the way of the nursing staff. We felt only barely tolerated by the staff members. Undaunted, and without seeming to notice the overcrowding or the staff’s resistance to our presence, Mrs. Hitz stepped up to the Head Nurse as soon as report was finished. She identified herself and announced that her first year students would be giving nursing care to the specific patients she had selected for us the day before. She then introduced us individually, in a near-formal manner, by surname and always preceded by the word Miss. We were expected to address each staff member in the same fashion. There would be no informalities, no joking nor laughing among ourselves and certainly not with the staff. Only the most serious, respectful and dignified behaviour was acceptable.

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Barbara Tiessen in uniform

Barbara Tiessen in uniform

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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