Nightingale wards had their benefits

Jane Bates reflects on others’ consideration.

Jane Bates reflects on others’ consideration

I’d already told the midwife something was wrong, and she’d gone for help. But that was an hour ago. Now I was going downhill fast.

I was burning up, having rigors and shivering uncontrollably. My extremities were so cold I thought they would drop off. Then the postnatal ward (babies crying, mothers chatting, bells ringing) began to fade away to nothing…

The patient opposite, who, I later realised, had been watching me like a hawk, called for assistance. After that, a blur. I was put in isolation, given antibiotics every which way, and eventually recovered. I had what was once a killer, puerperal fever, and have that patient to thank for surviving.

Patients have always looked out for each other, which is just as well when hospital staff are so chronically pushed. When I delivered a fragile older person to our crowded waiting room, I hoped someone would offer him a seat, but the other patients did more than that – they smothered him with kindness, making sure he was comfortable, caring for him in a way we rarely have time for. I quite had a lump in my throat.

On the old Nightingale wards, lack of privacy was almost an advantage as, with so few nurses in attendance, other patients would alert us if anything was wrong. On the men’s wards especially, old chaps who had fought in the war slipped easily into mutual reliance. Support was often practical: assisting with feeding, ferreting out lost glasses and teeth. Now it would be frowned on because of cross-contamination and confidentiality, but it worked for us.

One day, when my son was playing in the park, a woman came up to me with her little boy, and asked if I remembered her. A vague memory stirred. I was the patient, she said, who rang the emergency bell that day when you were so ill. I was able to thank her at last.

About the author

Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire

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