The First Year

By: Lucilla Andrews

Chapter One


A DUMMY PATIENT AND A LIVE SURGEON

‘The cranial nerves,’ said Sister Preliminary Training School, ‘radiate from ‒’ She stopped her lecture and sighed impatiently. ‘Nurse Standing, wake up! How many more times am I going to have to remind you that you are in my classroom and not in bed?’

I shot up from my seat in the third row of desks. ‘I’m sorry, Sister.’

Sister P.T.S. looked me over. ‘Since you have been good enough to rouse yourself from slumber, Nurse, you had better go out to the changing-room and do something about your cap. It is about to descend upon your right ear. Then you will have to return and copy down the notes you will thus miss in your break period. I cannot expect the whole class to wait while you see to your hair-dressing.’

I said, ‘No, Sister. I’m sorry, Sister.’

Her expression was coldly resigned. ‘So am I, Nurse. This is not the first occasion upon which I have discovered you day-dreaming in a lecture; nor is it the first occasion upon which I have had to inform you that your cap is intended to cover your hair and not be worn as a hair or ear ornament. I hope, Nurse Standing,’ she added awe-fully, ‘not to have to refer to either of these matters again.’

I said, ‘No, Sister. I mean ‒ yes, Sister.’

She dismissed me with a brief nod, and I left the classroom quickly. I had actually been listening to Sister; but I knew that I had also been gazing out of the window by my desk, watching the main hospital building that stood on the other side of the park. I had a perfect view of the whole hospital from my desk, and that view fascinated me. It was like watching a silent movie; I could see the white caps and aprons of the nurses flitting past the long, wide ward windows; the white-coated figures of the doctors; the careful ambulances nosing their way over the paved yard outside Casualty; the constant in- and out-going stream of tweed-jacketed students carrying armfuls of books; a stream that was matched by the steady trickle of up-patients and relatives all going to or coming out of the great long stone building that was St Martin’s Hospital, London. And I was soon going to be a character in that movie, as I was going to spend the next four years of my life in Martin’s.

But I was not, I reminded myself gloomily as I fixed my cap, going to get into Martin’s unless I survived the final P.T.S. exam next week. That exam loomed blackly ahead; a far more difficult obstacle to overcome than the present minor obstacle of discovering how to keep my stiff, slippery cap in the correct position on my very fine, straight hair.

Sister P.T.S. was right when she said she had had occasion to talk to me about my cap previously. As far as I could recollect, in my last ten weeks in the School she had never met me without discussing my cap or my absent-mindedness. I was trying to cure myself of the latter ‒ so far without much success. My cap had been equally resistant to my efforts and the efforts of the girls in my set. We had tried pins, brilliantine, hair-grips; nothing worked. The wretched little scrap of starched linen rose on my head two minutes after I had fixed it impeccably in place, and Sister P.T.S. continued to sigh impatiently.

I fixed four hair-grips in a row down the back of my cap; they were pinching my scalp, so I thought they might do the trick and returned to the class-room as the break-bell rang. Sister dismissed the class, but remained at her desk. As the girls filed out one girl, called Josephine Forbes, lingered by my desk.

‘I’ve got it all down, Rose,’ she murmured. ‘Want to borrow my book?’

Sister’s head jerked up from the notebook she was correcting. ‘Nurse Forbes, if you are offering to assist Nurse Standing with the notes she has missed, kindly refrain from so doing. I do not approve of young nurses borrowing each other’s books or brains. When you get into the wards you will have to stand on your own feet; so you must allow me to teach you to do that in this School. Get off to your break, Nurse Forbes, and leave Nurse Standing to find out for herself what she has missed through her untidiness.’ She glanced at the board behind her. ‘The notes are all there, Nurse Standing. If you hurry you should be done in time to have some break yourself.’