Photography: Kate Martin
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The best nursing job in the world
At the end of the academic year 2012/13 I retired from the post of College Nurse after 23 years. Retirement will be a huge change. Change, however welcome, always brings exactly that – change – and as somebody pointed out to me, ‘change is good for us’. As I am in the business of ‘doing good’, or at least trying to, I have been reflecting on some of the changes I have witnessed. Way back in the heady days of 1990 – the year that Mrs Thatcher resigned, Mr Bean made his television debut, the average price of a house was £59,000, many current undergraduates were still several years away from being born, and when no doubt we all left our doors unlocked at night – I started at St John’s. Back then, few student rooms were en suite (or indeed had bathroom facilities anywhere even remotely close). The telephone, television and motor car were considered instruments of Satan, and of course there was no such thing as email. If I wanted to contact someone this was done by written note and a pigeonhole, or by actually going and finding people. I spent a fair bit of time just ‘happening’ to be passing someone’s room, using some spurious reason as to why I might be knocking on their door. Since then humanity and its ills haven’t changed but technology has brought many changes. Generally speaking, if someone is feeling tired they recognise this through a simple analysis of the situation – did they go to bed later than usual, did they sleep badly or were they awake during the night, are they yawning more than usual, are there difficulties concentrating? In other words, do they feel tired? In today’s world, things are even simpler than that – get yourself an app. I saw a
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After studying languages at college in London, Maggie Hartley worked in the marketing department for Rowntree Mackintosh, advertising confectionery to the Common Market, as the EEC was known in the early 1970s. After a year of feeling unsuited to this career, she trained as a nurse at King’s College Hospital. She moved to Cambridge when she got married in 1978 and worked at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and elsewhere in Cambridge before starting at St John’s in 1990. Maggie is also a Blue Badge Guide in Cambridge and intends to develop this role a little more in retirement, together with plans for some voluntary work and possibly even some study. Part of this article is drawn from a speech given to the College Pig Club,* of which Maggie was President from 2010 to 2013.
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student recently who presented with the usual student complaint of ‘I feel crap’ and when I asked him about his levels of energy and if he was tired, he said yes he thought he must be as he had an app on his iPhone that had informed him he had slept badly and had not had his optimal eight hours. Technology has saved the College a lot of paper over the years. No longer do I have to dither about how best to phrase notes to Tutors and Directors of Studies, correct my spelling and, depending on whom I am writing to, correct my punctuation and so use up several bits of notepaper; now I just send a quick email. On the other hand this quick email can of course just be forwarded on and so I do still have to check my content and my grammar. The effort is the same; it is just the paper that is saved. ARTICLES
Technology has also saved the College a lot of time in recent years. Computers are now commonplace and don’t actually save time in my experience, but in my line of work the electronic thermometer has been a revelation! No longer do I have to silence patients for three whole minutes while waiting for a mercury thermometer to cook properly, not allowing them to speak or breathe through their mouths for the entire time – all I do now is poke them in the ear with a gadget and in less than three seconds the patient’s temperature is known. In the 1990s I remember a student who had developed what can only be described as a boil on his bottom. I had to examine him to assess the situation and decide what to do about it, but it was in a place that he himself really couldn’t see very easily. He couldn’t screw himself up and contort himself enough to be able to view it so he asked me to take a photograph of it. He was very charming, and could talk the birds off the trees, so eventually I was persuaded to take the photo. I am not sure how well the picture came out, as of course in those days cameras had film, which had to be developed, so I couldn’t check the standard of my photography. Also there was no chance of a quick photo appearing worldwide on Facebook in a matter of seconds, which is probably a good thing. Last term another young man came to see me with a similar boil on his bottom in a similarly inaccessible place. This time there was no need to examine him or take a photograph as he had brought his iPad with him, complete with a photo that he had taken of the boil on his nether regions. Close-ups were possible with just a sweep of a finger. No need for examination skills or examination gloves – time has moved on and things have progressed. E-medicine has come to St John’s! Although technology has changed, students and the timing of their difficulties haven’t. College nursing has seasonal aspects and the academic year starts with
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meeting all new students individually to answer concerns, ease potential problems and organise registration with a Cambridge GP. Every year some of the new students are extremely anxious or homesick, and completely convinced that they are not clever enough to have been accepted on their own merits but are only here through some sort of clerical error. Time taken at the beginning to listen, talk and generally pay attention to concerns really does help the induction process and helps to prevent small problems developing into enormous ones later.
The wonderful thing about college nursing is that there is no such thing as a typical day. I sometimes wonder if, after all this time, there is somewhere a conspiracy to see whether someone can bring me something new, and I am delighted to say that even after all this time, it is still possible! This has been a fabulous job, probably the best nursing job in the world, and to all those Johnians whom I have cared for, advised or generally told off, many thanks indeed! Maggie Hartley *The Pig Club was formed during the Second World War as part of an initiative by which pigs could be reared by groups of people who could then enjoy the products of the animal without passing them over to the government. When the original purpose was no longer necessary, it was decided to continue the Club as a social venue for the officers of the College and senior staff to meet together.
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The start of term is followed fast by Freshers’ flu, which needless to say isn’t influenza at all but a minor viral illness from which all students think they are going to die. I usually tell them it is minor, but then make them feel a bit more cared for by saying that the definition of a minor illness is one that is happening to someone else. Academic work gets going pretty much straightaway, bringing its own anxieties, which for some feel almost insurmountable. In October I hold flu jab sessions for staff and Fellows, while seeing people with illnesses resulting from travel, abject drunkenness, the excesses of daily life and of course sports injuries. After Christmas there are often broken hearts following break-ups with partners over the holiday or difficulties at home following fallings-out with parents, and then lots of gloom and low mood – ‘Februaryishness’ – with concentration and motivation difficulties. Then around Easter there are academic pressures to get dissertations and other such burdens handed in, and I try to get students organised with travel vaccination schedules ready for summer travelling. This gets eclipsed by stress and worry in the run-up to exams, and the minute the exams are over there is a return to abject drunkenness and emergency contraception. Mixed in with this little lot, there are acute illnesses such as meningitis, outbreaks of mumps, norovirus or similar.