Maybe my career as a nurse was predestined. I don’t remember ever wanting to be one but I definitely had a childhood fascination with accidents. In fact my earliest memory is off an accident. I was a grisly child, as most are.
I was three years old, at nursery school and we were forced to drink horrible sour milk every day. It was always warm and slightly stale and was utterly hateful. Margaret Thatcher stopped free school milk, whilst still a minister, which to my mind was the only good thing she ever did. I loathed it and used to gag. It came in tiny little bottles which I imagine only held a quarter of a pint but it felt like a gallon when you had to glug the lukewarm stuff down and put up with it coating your mouth for hours afterwards. I’m an inveterate milk sniffer now and do a sniff test every time to test for freshness. My tolerance of the slightest whiff of being on the turn is very low.
I vividly recall a little girl called Mandy deciding to help the teacher by picking up the crate of empty milk bottles and walking with them up the two steps. You can imagine the rest. I was utterly fascinated by the drama created by one such small event. There was blood and glass everywhere and nursery nurses running around frantically. My goodness, this was far from the usual routine. Incidentally, Mandy wasn’t badly scarred. She soon recovered. I suppose I enjoyed the livening up of the day and secretly envied the attention she got as iodine and bandages were tenderly applied.
A few weeks later it happened again. Another accident! Our nursery school consisted of two rooms in a Victorian school which in memory seemed immense and dark but were probably tiny. There was a playhouse which I loved, a climbing frame which I hated and was fearful of and the obligatory tanks of stick insects which schools seemed to have in the 1970s. They just bored me. School bored me. Other children were weird and a bit scary and they made us sleep in the afternoons. Every afternoon they’d pull out these horrible little canvas and metal beds with scratchy red blankets. We were each assigned a symbol (mine was a beach ball. I wanted the doll or the teddy but was unlucky) and our peg and blanket had these painted or sewn on them. I hated being made to sleep in the afternoon. Ironic, as now I crave a daily nap. I’d lie there, fidgety and restless, singing little songs to myself and making up stories till the teachers came along and told me off and ordered me to sleep. Not easy for an excitable child with a nervous disposition.
The second accident was when a boy fell off the climbing frame, proving my timidity in climbing things justified all along. He landed with a terrible crack, fracturing a bone in his arm. This time it was really exciting. The nursery nurses were stricken and pale, running around, ringing for ambulances and the little boy, Mark, was brave but shaken. I was enthralled. I was also extremely excited by the concept of him having to stay in hospital. It seemed so alien and exciting that you were able to go and spend time away from your parents and eat jelly. I thought this sounded like Utopia and decided to have an accident of my own.
I remember deciding to fall down stairs. My resolve soon weakened when I realised that the actual process by which I needed to break a bone involved falling which was very worrying. The velocity needed was actually beyond the level of courage I had to do it.
Ironically, I actually went on to have a genuine accident a couple of years later and fell down the stairs with aplomb, from top to bottom, cracking my head. I also managed to slip on a discarded copy of “Milly Molly Mandy” once and bang my head on the TV, roll onto a discarded fly fishing hook which my father had dropped and get it embedded in my head and swallow a string of rosary beads. The rosary beads incident was scary. I was about 5 years old and the doctor they called out to me was quite stern, telling me I might need to have my belly cut open. Understandably, I wasn’t keen on this option but once the x-rays excluded a need for this I thoroughly enjoyed an afternoon in the casualty department and reflected back on what fun the hospital was. There was so much to see. It was one of many visits. I suspect that if I were a child nowadays my clumsiness would land me with a file from a concerned Social Worker.
I remember my grandmother rubbing butter on the huge lump on my head after the fall onto the TV (I also cracked the screen) and I loved the day in Casualty when they had to dig the fishing hook out of my scalp. It didn’t hurt at all and the smiley nurse was a vision of loveliness and kindness. I remember an antiseptic spray which smelled of oranges and was quite heavenly.
As mentioned on a post before about my Hitler look-a-like cat, Whiskey, we often had altercations. I was never more proud than when I was bandaged from wrist to armpit and reeking of Savlon. It made me feel very superior to the other children at nursery school. I also loved Witch Hazel and the smell still sends me into ecstasy. I’d get wheezy and snotty in the summer and come out in hives which I’d scratch relentlessly till they bled. The Calamine Lotion was cool and sticky and smelt beautiful and the Witch Hazel dabbed on the bleeding bits was stingy but divine smelling.
My favourite toy at that age was a toy hospital made by Playmobil. It had two storeys. Each ward had 3 beds with little mountainous temperature charts and sickly little Plamobil patients. There was a Playmobil doctor (who was black) and two smiley blonde nurses. I loved that toy but wasn’t especially nurturing. My favourite game was to affect an earthquake and watch them all cope with the calamity as the walls fell apart, sending patients skittering around the floor as they tumbled off their beds. Don’t worry, I’ve never had this yet whilst at work.
I think there’s sometimes an inevitability to things. Maybe hypochondria added to a love of high drama is what inspired me to enter nursing. Maybe it was just an abiding love of the smell of antiseptic. Who knows? I love it still, anyway.