At precisely 8 am I stood outside the Servery Door watching several of my classmates make their way down the hall toward me. I heard Mrs. Kay’s voice call “all right, students. Please enter.” With regal bearing, she faced the door from behind the serving counter. Standing erect in her uniform dress covered with a starched, bright white bib apron, her tall, black banded, white nurse’s cap was perched atop her beautifully tinted blue-grey hair. In her right hand she held a long-handled metal ladle, and lined up behind the counter on her right side were three of the unit nurses, all similarly attired.
The kitchen staff had just delivered a huge vat of cooked oatmeal porridge, three kettles of coffee and one of tea, a covered metal bin filled with sliced toast, and two dozen still-warm soft boiled eggs. Collectively, Mrs. Kay and her nurses formed an assembly line and began filling the dishes on each patient’s breakfast tray. Pushing her ladle deep down into the vat of oatmeal, Mrs. Kay scooped out the thick, lumpy grey matter and filled one bowl after the other with the goop. The other nurses added toast slices, soft boiled eggs and cups of tea or coffee to the trays. Once filled, the tray was handed to one of us students to deliver to the appropriate patient.
Being first year students, we did what we were told to do, and as quickly as possible. We hurried down the hall carrying our precious cargo to the patients’ rooms and rushed back to the Servery after delivering each tray. The process was repeated until the last patient had received her breakfast. If any one of us wondered at the time why nurses were preparing and serving breakfast trays, not a word was whispered. We had already learned in our classrooms that questioning existing procedures was not encouraged, so we were absolutely too intimidated to do so on the clinical units. Did I stop then to think about professionalism or how the image of breakfast tray-filling nurses fit my vision of the proud, professional Registered Nurse? Of course not.
By 11:30 am, Mrs. Ross had been discharged home and a new task awaited me. In the classroom we’d been taught techniques of terminal disinfection; the series of steps which prepared a discharged patient’s bedside to receive the next patient. This would be my first opportunity to practice that nursing skill. I took my task very seriously, feeling responsible to ensure that the next patient would not be exposed to any remaining contaminants. After stripping the bed and placing the linens in the laundry hamper, I emptied the patient bathroom of all used utensils and carried them down the hall to the Dirty Utility Room. Once there, I washed all these items in a huge wall sink using hot, soapy water. I don’t remember that I wore any protective gear such as rubber gloves or safety glasses. I put the bedpan in the bedpan hopper to steam it and then placed all the now-clean items on the Central Supply Room (CSR) Cart for later pick-up by CSR staff. The equipment would be sterilized, re-wrapped in white cotton bags and returned to the unit’s Clean Utility Room where nurses would pick up the articles they needed when preparing a clean patient room.