8. Tales of a Student Nurse: Extracurricular Lessons

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.

8. Tales of a Student Nurse: Extracurricular Lessons

As the first semester drew to a close, the exam schedule loomed large. We all understood that failing even one exam would deny us entrance into Semester Two. Frantic study and silence permeated the first floor of the Residence the week before exams. Grimly, we took our seats in the classroom, wrote our exams and were released for the Christmas break. The Director announced that students who didn't pass would be notified by phone. We were all nervous; some more so than others, but I felt confident I'd passed them all. Most of my friends felt the same, so our focus was turned to speculation and gossip about who might not return after Christmas. Two weeks later upon returning to the Residence, several classmates were missing. My roommate, Annie, didn't come back; the smells of Noxema, sardines and oranges never again overwhelmed the room. I enjoyed the solitude of her absence, but my now half empty two-bed room, provided a large enough space for eight to twelve student nurses to congregate in. It became the hangout for my friends and me to enjoy after-hours silliness. A few weeks later in mid January, Zoe resigned to get married and I was assigned a new Big Sister. I missed Zoe but didn't really need a replacement Big Sister as Alice, my cousin, stepped up and delightedly assumed that role.

Many evenings Alice invited me to come up to her room on the second floor. There were unwritten hierarchical rules in the Residence: first year students didn't wander up to the second floor without an invitation while second year students needed no such permission to walk freely within the first floor dormitory. Even though they could, they rarely did so. An attitude of superiority accompanied them out of first year and into second. Going upstairs with a Big Sister - or in my case, my cousin - was an honour and a privilege. It felt to me like entering an exclusive club where members were decidedly more mature, independent, and just a tiny bit more reckless than the little kids on first floor were.

While we first year students gathered in my room in our PJs to giggle and whisper, the second year students unabashedly walked around the halls in their underwear, laced their conversations with colourful curses and wantonly smoked cigarettes. Being with Alice magically transformed me into a participant in their world, watching behaviours and listening to stories that simultaneously shocked and enticed me. Blind dates, dumped boyfriends, and new romances were the commonly discussed stories but the most titillating ones I heard were about underage drinking in bars and sneaking in after curfew, triumphantly avoiding the house mother's bed checks. To my wide-eyed, innocent, seventeen year-old self, learning their extracurricular skills would be the best thing that could ever happen to that innocent farm girl from the country.

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author
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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