“She’s the only girl I know that can go and play in the coal bunker and come out still as clean as she was when she went in”
This is one of the lines used ubiquitously by my family to describe my eldest sister. Another one is “Marilyn wouldn’t even open the front door unless her socks were even” It’s true. Marilyn was a very neat and tidy little girl, one that could not get dirty even if she tried. It was as if she was fashioned from Teflon. Nothing stuck to her. Unlike me. I only had to step outside for five minutes and I come in looking like I’d been dragged backwards through a muddy field!
So when, upon leaving school, Marilyn announced that she wanted to go into nursing, the family were naturally sceptical. “She won’t last five minutes as a nurse” “Does she know that nurses can’t stop to pull their socks level every five minutes?” “The minute someone throws up on her, she’ll be running for the hills” These were just some of barbs and jibes used by various family members when Marilyn told them what she wanted to do. My Mum and Dad were the exception. Oh, they thought similar things all right, but they kept their thoughts private. Outwardly, they couldn’t have been more supportive, and it was that support – 35 years ago now – that went a long way into making Marilyn the nurse that she is today. Yes! She’s still a nurse!
Marilyn studied and did her nursing training in Preston, where she would stay throughout the week and then come home in the weekends. I remember one weekend – I think it was around 1980/81 – when she came home, my Mum asking her how things were going. By this time she had been placed on a geriatric ward in Preston Royal Infirmary. She said that everything was going really well, but that one of the other trainee nurses had got into trouble with Matron Moody. Naturally we wanted to know more.
“Every evening,” she began, “those patients that have false teeth, they take them out and hand them to one of the nurses. The nurse has several separate bowls, each with the patient’s name written on it, into which she’ll put the teeth. They’re then taken and washed and put into Steradent to soak overnight, and then we give them back to the patients in the morning. Just lately, it’s been me that’s taken care of it, but the other night, I was busy helping Matron Moody with a patient who’d just been admitted, and so another trainee said she’d do. She’s only just been put on our ward, and so she wasn’t familiar with the ins and outs of everything yet. I finished with the newly admitted patient and then went to help her wash the teeth and put them into soak. I couldn’t believe it when I got to her. She’d put all the teeth in one bowl! We hadn’t got a clue which set belonged to which patient! When she realised her mistake, the poor thing was nearly in tears and begged me not to tell matron. Of course I wasn’t going to tell matron, but we had to sort this out, and quick!
“There were five patients who wore false teeth. Five lots of false teeth to get back to their rightful owners. We washed the teeth and then went onto the ward, handed a set to each patient, and asked them to try them. Out of the five, one of them fitted, so we put those in the bowl with the corresponding name. We continued as a process of elimination until we had just two sets left. (She pointed out that they were washing them after each patient had tried them, just in case you’re wondering) So far, we had done all this without Matron Moody noticing that anything was amiss. We were almost home and dry. We handed the teeth to the two patients and looked, hopefully, at them. That was our fatal mistake. We shouldn’t have looked. We’d got the teeth the wrong way round, and our poor patients were laying there, one looking like she had just sucked a tart lemon, while the other looked like Liberace! By the time we’d finished laughing, Matron Moody had come to see what all the commotion was about. We tried explaining what had happened, but she didn’t see the funny side. Moody by name, Moody by nature!”