Call the midwife

I have spent almost all my working life here in the Wychwoods and I can honestly say that the decades I spent carrying out midwifery and district nursing duties here were some of the happiest of my life.

I am a country girl, born and brought up in the 1930’s on a farm in Aldsworth, near Bourton on the Water. We had a pony and trap, no electricity, telephone or central heating. Our little village school was two miles away and my brother John and I thought nothing of running there and back across the fields every day.  At the start of WW2, I remember having to check every night that the blackout blinds on the farm windows were not letting out any light and being very afraid of being bombed.  I also remember the nurse who used to come to our village; from a very early age I knew that this is what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I trained as a nurse in Cheltenham, and then trained as a midwife in Woolwich, Hereford and West Bromwich. I worked for a while in Cheltenham and then in Chipping Norton before I came to the Wychwoods after I married in 1960. I have been here ever since.

Things have changed so much as the years have passed. I used to cycle everywhere day and night with just my work bag hanging off the handlebars! No mobile phones, very little traffic and far fewer people than today.

Mine was a very rewarding job, giving ante and post-natal care, delivering babies and treating the young and old suffering with various ailments. As the care was mainly in the patient’s homes, I worked in many different, sometimes difficult settings and met some very colourful personalities, many of whom I can never forget!

There was one such old lady living in Ascott who had problems with her legs necessitating regular visits from the district nurse to treat them. On the first visit I was led into the tiny downstairs room which was the kitchen and living space and told to put my bag on the small table. As I was doing this I noticed a small dog sleeping under the table and went to stroke it. ‘Don’t touch ‘im nurse. He’s a nasty piece of work,’ said a loud voice, so I backed off and carried on examining my patient’s problem legs. I was not happy with what I saw, so I arranged for Dr. Scott to come with me on the next visit a week later. I arrived before the doctor and was shown again into the kitchen. The dog was in the same place under the table, and as I placed my bag on top, I tried very hard to ignore the extremely unpleasant smell filling the room. After a little while the old lady said, ‘He’s dead nurse. Died a few days ago but I don’t want to move him. He’s happy there in his basket!’ It was not an easy visit for Dr. Scott. Eyes watering and holding his breath, he quickly looked at the legs, gave some advice and hastily left followed very rapidly by myself. Poor old soul did eventually bury the ‘nasty piece of work’ whom she obviously had great affection for, but that pungent odour took some time to leave my nostrils!  (Editor’s note: readers with good memories may recall this tale told from Dr Scott’s angle in a previous issue.)

Another memorable visit sometime later was to another house in Ascott to a lady who had just had a baby. As I drove up the drive, she came running urgently towards me. I thought maybe something was amiss with the baby, until she opened my door and said, ‘Oh Grace, thank goodness you’ve come. Please can you come and look at my goat. I’m worried about her!’ The lady was the delightful Pam Ayres! The baby was fine!

On another memorable night I was called out to a patient in Leafield who was in labour. The baby was safely delivered at 2:00am and I was soon driving back home along the deserted country road. My old mini was trundling along when suddenly I saw an object on the road that every now and then appeared to move. So, I jumped out of the car to investigate. It was a cat who had somehow got his head stuck in a tin can and he was bashing it on the road to try and get it off. I managed to pick up the can with the poor panicked cat dangling from it, and shook it several times to try and release it. To my great relief it worked and the cat dropped out of the can onto the road. He looked up at me briefly, gave me a great hiss and belted off across the fields! Not a word of thanks!!

I wish I could remember more of those happy days but my memory is not what it used to be!  I could not have had a job I enjoyed more and feel so fortunate that I had such wonderful people to work with and patients who gave me so much pleasure.

Grace Rawlins

October-November 2021