I really am getting to be a most experienced nurse in the sleeping line. Jean and I arrived home at 12.20 pm made cocoa and sandwiches and ate them, retired to bed at 12.45 and I honestly believe were asleep at 12.46. Certainly I woke ten minutes before the bell rang, which was a mistake, but I hope to be able to manage more skilfully next time.
We are at present on duty, but not so’s you’d notice, being ensconced in a dug-out of pillows on the bottom step of the stairs, each hugging a hot water bottle. About ten minutes ago a great big possum and a wee, wee possum came scuttling down the hall and while we were laughing at them, they made a sudden dive between us and tore up the stairs to the nurse’s quarters where they are at present galloping madly round like seven regiments of cavalry.
As it is now 1am, I fancy the day nurses are not altogether pleased but the other Aide and I, not being clean, can’t go to the rescue. And anyhow, when one has got to stay up all night oneself, one feels most callous about the feeling of those who are warm in bed.
Mother tried to get me home for good last week. She rang Matron, pretending to be ill with flu, and asked that I be sent home. But we found out she was actually in town shopping and not home ill.
I would really be sick if I were taken from here now – just fretting and feeling other people were breaking down through having to do my work.
Mother then rang the Red Cross Head Office and demanded that I be sent home. Mrs Mac agreed that there were plenty of volunteers who could take my place.
I don’t wonder a single scrap that she wanted to recall me on the strength of Mrs Mac’s statements – in fact, if they were true, I would catch the first boat home myself.
We are very short on the staff and it would be entirely impossible for any of us to quit now. Lots of them have been here ten days longer than I have.
A girl has just come in who has spent the afternoon down at Head Office. While there she overheard Mrs Mac saying that I was leaving, although Matron wanted me to stay. But if I was badly needed at home Matron would make no effort to keep me, as if anything did happen the Red Cross would feel so horribly responsible.
When I told this girl my version of the story, she laughed and said, “That’s Mrs Mac to the life – she always says the easiest thing to the person she is talking to and being, in peacetime, a Headquarters Aide in the same office, she ought to know. She says the waiting list for Walker consists of 4 of whom 2 were mobilised today, and the others will probably be wanted soon.
I know mother is just worried about me so I went in to town to argue for staying on at Rivendell. I told her that if I was forced to resign from Thomas Walker I would just join another hospital. Every argument from my mother was countered by my explanation of why I should stay at Thomas Walker.
May 1. Mother, I told you all this when I visited, but I will write it all down clearly for you.
You said there are numbers of seasoned women waiting to come here. Why then is Prince Alfred crying aloud for Aides – likewise the suburban depots and Lithgow and the country. Why don’t they go there?
It is just possible there are women willing to come to Walker, which is the safest and most comfortable of all the flu jobs, but if one of them takes my place here, I should merely feel bound to go to PA, where you certainly would have cause for anxiety because without any heroics or exaggeration, doing nothing while one is strong and useful would send me quite dippy – honestly. Even more than the picture of a patient lying in discomfort, the picture of another ‘flu worker having to work on after 12 hours slogging, because I wasn’t there to relieve her, would haunt my every minute.
Matron says she has certainly turned away some volunteers – ones who she knew would break down in a week and would require nursing, and others – the seasoned women type – who know nothing of discipline, obey no orders, will not be inoculated, because they know so much more about ‘flu than the Sisters, etc – and get it in a few days through being too seasoned to take precautions. We have five voluntary workers (not disciplined Aides) admitted tonight, who knew too much to wear gloves in the depot somewhere at Ashfield and Strathfield.
Supposing however, there are often perfectly good volunteers, it takes quite a week for an Aide to even pay her way. She has to be taught – not hospital work, but Walker Hospital work. Where to find things, what stores to order, heaps and heaps of tiny details peculiar to the place – what patient has what food and treatment. Even my three days off hindered me in my work today as I had to look up each patient on the list, instead of carrying straight ahead. In addition to this, we old ones are fresh inoculated.
If they have ‘overlooked’ me, they have also overlooked the other 15 or 16 Aides here, of whom 12 are senior to me and who, having worked from 11 to 12 days longer than I – earlier and therefore more strenuous days – are all entitled to be relieved before me.
We sent away so many trained nurses during our slack times, that now, when admissions are coming in hard, they had better see to sending extra Aides before they begin on substitutes. (As a matter of fact I believe they are sending two.)
Three weeks is a long time. But a fifth of the time I have spent at home resting. Also the time is not wasted even leaving flu out of it – I am getting a domestic training, such as you have long desired for me. And I am honestly happy here – I long to come home when it’s over.
And finally, to put the most convincing and cheering argument of all. If we all stick to our posts, we are to get a week’s holiday each in the near future.
And flu is declining – we will probably close down soon, sayeth Matron.
I’m horribly sorry you were disappointed, but you do see, don’t you, why I must stay here at Thomas Walker.
By the way, you might let Headquarters know I’m not coming home, will you? It’s all over the place already and people are smiling expressively. The only good point about the whole thing has been that, up here, I’ve had quite a nice evening – people saying they’re glad I am not leaving!
I am on duty at present, but ‘not so’s you’d notice’. I’m sitting in an armchair, writing by the light of a hurricane lantern, ostensibly watching a patient who hasn’t the faintest desire to get up, so I am letter-writing in luxury.
Someone says Influenza is on the wane – c’est vrai? The two Sisters who had flu are getting on well. In fact, one got up today.
Jean had led a fairly sheltered and carefree life prior to volunteering, through working at Thomas Walker she became a changed girl, growing up to be a woman. She found a sense of purpose and belonging in nursing, and it showed as her story developed.
Her mother finally realised that she could not stop her from nursing so she let go of her fears. She was very proud of her daughter.
In 1923 Jean married her beau, Leo Charlton, who had now become a doctor. The couple spent two years in London while Leo was engaged in postgraduate studies. Jean wrote articles for a number of UK publications.
At the young age of 32, Jean died of Tuberculosis in a sanatorium at Leura in the Blue Mountains.