A lifetime in caring

caringkatherineWhen the editor first asked me if I would be interested in writing this article my immediate reaction was….absolutely not!!! I balked at the title itself which conjured an image of someone far more saintly than I ever was or am. However I realised it would give me an opportunity to look back on the past 40 or so years and the journey that has brought me from the London Hospital (now Royal London!) Whitechapel Road to the Cotswold villages and The Wychwoods Day Centre!! So here goes … perhaps more aptly renamed ‘a work in progress’.

My mum was a nurse just after the war and I had grown up hearing tales of hospital life in the time of the discovery of penicillin and the many hardships nurses were expected and willing to endure, for the love of and belief in what they were doing for the sake of others. This made a lasting impression on me with a feeling that I should want to follow in her footsteps – and give any children I might have in the future that same sense of security – that in times of sickness and all things ‘accidental’ mum would know what to do!!

BUT………. I could never reconcile myself to being able to cope with an overwhelming fear of the process of ….vomiting! If the cat was sick – preceded by those tell-tale signs of gluggings and rippling spines …. I was out of the house!!! How could I possibly look after anyone where that would probably be the least of my worries? I knew I didn’t want to go to university and was getting pretty desperate as to what I actually was going to do with History, French and German A levels, so forced myself one day into the careers room at school and…..that is when it happened. (No… there was not a cat in sight!). I can honestly say it was a Damascus road-type experience and I remember to this day leaving that room knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I was going to be a nurse – vomiting or not!

I chose the London Hospital on a hot summer’s day in the midst of the dustman’s strike of 1974. My feelings at first sight of the Hospital’s wonderful historic facade and entrance opposite Whitechapel Tube Station was in no way diminished by the sights and smells that accompanied it!! The Norman Hartnell ‘Call the Midwife’ uniform with those leg-of-mutton sleeves might also have had something to do with it.

KGI spent a very happy three years of training there – followed by a year as a staff nurse on a cardiac ward. Sluices and sick bowls became the norm (I still run from the cats I’m afraid – ha ha!) and what I learnt in and from the wonderful East End community has stayed with me to this day: bread pudding, pie-mash and green sauce, jellied eels (yuk!)… not to mention the Pearly Kings and Queens and Whitechapel Market barrow-boys! All a bit different these days.

I left London in 1979 for a three month tour of America (that’s another story!) and returned to start my Midwifery Training at the newly built Oxford JR1 in January 1980. The East End was a great experience – but I missed the ‘greener’ places and knew that Oxford would be the right place to settle. The JR2 was not even open when I started and the whole site is almost unrecognisable now to what it was then. Ah – progress!

After a year of training and nine months on the Delivery Suite (posh name for Labour ward) I decided to go back to general nursing. I was pretty scared of most of the senior midwives and more than relieved when I managed to deliver a baby without harm to mother, baby or myself!! Somehow I managed to end up working on the Intensive Care Unit at the JR2 and despite my first misgivings – spent a wonderful two years there – until shortly after I married Simon in 1985. Shift work and especially night duty was not conducive to early married life and so with some sadness I left hospital nursing and joined the Occupational Health Team at Culham Laboratory near Abingdon as one of their Sisters, dealing with all eventualities from cut fingers to a near–disastrous industrial accident in the Nuclear Fusion Unit! Again it was another side of caring for people – this time in the work place and generally (not always!) less stressful than Intensive Care.

I remained there until I left to have our first child in 1988. That was really a natural end to nursing as a career for me as I was lucky enough to be able to stay at home and look after the children until they were all well into school age. BUT…. after a spell as a learning support worker with a special needs pupil at Bledington Primary School…..and much badgering from my dear dad … I somehow came to be working at the marvellous community institution that is the Wychwoods Day Centre and have spent the last 16 years wondering how that happened!

How lucky was I to find a job that enables me to draw on my experiences thus far – midwifery excluded! – where I am continually surprised and delighted by the depth of care and love shown by those who work with me. Thank you!!

Katherine Gidman

April – May 2019