After recently celebrating the Midwifery and Nursing Awards it seemed timely to acknowledge these dedicated and skilled men and women who provide quality and compassionate care 24/7, 365 days a year. With nurses and midwives at CM Health numbering over 3000, they are a valued and vital part of our workforce. Over the years, nurses and midwives have been agile and flexible to grow with the needs of the organisation and the people they serve. While their skills, specialties and roles may have changed over time, the community spirit that was forged back in those early days when the hospital first opened in 1947 remains. So what was it like to be a nurse in 1947? Who better to take us on that journey than Esme Green (nee Montgomery) – Middlemore Hospital’s first trainee nurse.
I lived and grew up in Mangere Road, Otahuhu, just along from the hospital. At the time of the opening, I had been working for five years as a young dressmaker. On 3 May 1947, I went along to the opening ceremonies, listened to the speeches and accompanied the tour of the hospital. This experience confirmed my wish to become a nurse in the new hospital and a few days later I had an interview with Miss Hollan. Within a fortnight I was on the staff as a “pinkie” In July I went to the Preliminary School in Market Road to return as the hospitals first trainee. I loved the lectures and the work and knew I had made the right choice.
There were six wards open at that time. Our duties were from 7am – to 4pm, six days a week, and we were paid 33 shillings a fortnight ($3.30), no penal rates. Besides nursing the patients, we cleaned the ward, even the sluice room. After we had made the morning tea for the ward sister and the doctors we had our own refreshment in the ward. After a bare three months training and just out of Preliminary School, I was placed on night duty in charge of Ward 1 – medical. The registered nurse took me around the patients saying. “This one could go tonight. He’s still bleeding so watch his pulse, but there’s nothing much you can do” and so on. I took fright and said to myself, “I’m not staying here” and rushed along to the adjacent ward to inform the registered nurse on duty there. Somewhat heartened by a mixture of reassurance, sympathy and an offer of help, I returned to my charges. To get through our quotas by 7am. We had to start sponging the patients at 2am. To shave the patients we had to use cut throat razors and I don’t know who – patient or nurse was the most fearful. We both held our breaths until I was finished.
Nursing the young returned servicemen in Wards 2 and 3 was harrowing at times. We met some fine men. Their wheelchairs were dilapidated with one or both wheels off. I remember many of the nurses offering to push them along to the films in Otahuhu, along 1.5 miles but well worth the effort from their obvious enjoyment of the outing.
Transport was difficult and infrequent and many of us had bicycles to get to Otahuhu, Hall’s Corner and Papatoetoe for shopping and to dances even in Mangere and as far away as Howick. At these many nurses met their husbands. We had to be back in the nurses home by 11pm and this was strictly re-enforced.
In all, I worked for 14 years at Middlemore. As with many of us, I took 23 years off to rear our children. Though I became a ward sister, those first years remain the most vivid memories. Some people have said they would find the life of a nurse monotonous, doing the same things, day after day – never for me! I have seen and shared with people under many circumstances – tragic, sad, joyful, romantic and there have been many humorous occasions. With eyes and ears open and mouth shut, a nurse’s life is one of continued astonishment and never monotonous.
Esme Montgomery (nee Green), as shared in Middlemore Memories – the first 50 years of Middlemore Hospital)
Thanks to all of our nurses and midwives (past and present) for the amazing job that you do. In the below video nurses and midwives talk about why they love what they do. The answers are very inspiring
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