The day finally came when I joined my friends at Gosford Hospital. Linda met mum and I at the nurses dormitory and she told my mum not to worry that she would look after me. It was a lovely affirmation of our friendship and I felt comfortable letting mum go back to Noraville knowing that I was in good hands.
Training was fun and within a week or so I was made the person in charge of my class. The instructors were fascinating and I remember seeing a recently arrived and severed liver, care of the not infrequent road accidents on the Pacific Highway. There was one instructor that always impressed me. She wore a high wimple and was tall and fairly clumsy. Very kind and gentle though.
I loved it when we finally were placed on the wards. My first assignment was the Children’s Ward, not sure if that was because I had a young brother or had extensive babysitting experience but I thrived there. One day I got a dreadful shock when my old friend Francine Fordham was talking to the sister in charge. When she had a minute we had a hug and she told me her little toddler had pulled the electric jug off the counter and scalded herself really badly. The toddler was in a bad state and might even have been transferred as when I came back from Noraville and my days off she was no longer there. Another surprise was our English teacher, the red headed bearded one I had in my last year at Wyong High School. He remembered me straight away and deferred to me immediately in the care and comfort of his asthmatic toddler.
I was then transferred to Women’s Surgical and became quickly infamous for my accidental throwing of stainless steel bowls full of soapy water all over the floors. Everyone would start laughing saying is that Nurse C again? And the ladies would shriek at me to stop making them laugh as it hurt their tummies. I just could not get a grip on the slippery things. We used bars of soap and finished the ladies off with talcum powder. It was a recipe for disaster!
The other little habit I had was of flinging thermometers across the room as I shook them down. The sister would faux sternly say that I was going to have to pay for those if it kept up. I believed she was right and tried harder.
We lived in Nurses Quarters where we had to have a late pass if we were to be out past a certain time. The whole floor were nurses from my intake. I do not think there was one girl that I did not get on with. Margaret who used to work in Katies in Gosford was my intake best friend. And I saw Linda and Ann and a surprising number of girls from Wyong High School. There was one chap in our intake, a lovely gentle fellow with blonde hair. He lodged in a private home.
I regularly took friends back to Noraville if our days off coincided. Mum loved to spoil them and dad was only home weekends so it worked out quite well. We went to Budgewoi pub, which consisted of two rooms. I preferred the darker one, better music and not so much chat. Some of my friends went horseriding with my friend Denise Lethbridge who had left nursing about six months before I started.
She had ended up working in our sister pharmacy in Toukley and kept trying to put me off nursing. My mum had a gall bladder operation while Denise was a nurse and loved her as she was so gentle. She had a boyfriend who she had met while we were out partying one night. Such a lovely kind girl, with the most smashing, loving family. None of us had boyfriends so her boyfriends kept trying to set us all up. Fun. We went to pubs, dances and sometimes parties.
There was a strict order to the way things were conducted at the hospital. Anyone more senior had to get on the elevators first. The day the new intake started was brilliant! However the doctors just ignored this and chatted up any interesting to them junior nurses. My path crossed a lot with an anaesthetist who was really sweet but everyone knew he was in an affair with a trainee in her third year. She was an officious chilly rather beautiful girl in her twenties. She was especially chilly with me as he decided I would be replacing her before she left the hospital at the end of her training.
I had trainees telling me he told everyone and sundry in surgery that Nurse C has bedroom eyes. And he apparently raved about me. I was not quite eighteen. We had regular long conversations in corridors, in the cafeteria and he was very interested in my future. Assured me it was normal to feel some anxiety about certain aspects of nursing. He said he had been very anxious as well during his internship.
After six months two nurses from my intake Jenny from Bathurst, Margaret from the Central Coast and the male nurse and I rented a house. Jenny had a lot of friends from motorcycle clubs and various pubs and we always had a lot of strange men staying over. All were lovely and behaved like gentlemen and had girlfriends back home.
I was totally out of my element. I tried dope for the first time and LSD twice. Heroin once. Did not like any of the heavy stuff so left the others to it. There was a lot of music and parties. We would invite nurses from the hospital as well. And Jenny invited a lot of the Gosford guys from the local pubs. There was always loud music going on into the night.
When we were short of beds we would double up with the chaps who knew to keep their clothes on and not try anything, and there was always another girl in the room as we had two single beds in each room. One chap had stayed over before and seemed okay and as my roomate was on night shift slept in her bed or he was supposed to.
At some stage he came over and got into my bed. He started kissing me and I tried to get him to stop. He would not. He was very strong and I could not get him off me. The music was on at the other end of the house and nobody could hear me or the noise he was making.
He raped me but that was not the end of it. I went to work after I had a shower, not telling anyone. I completed my shift though the patients on Men’s Medical said I was very quiet when I did not respond to their morning rendition of I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen. So they tried KKK Katie which I had always loved.
I loved the ward full of elderly chaps and the middleaged chaps, they were all so cheerful, so helpful, so kind. Some of them were father’s of my school friends. Another was a young chap who had severe diabetes who had taken me a few weeks before for a night picnic on a beach. So sweet and tender and kind. Nothing like what I had just experienced. Not that anything had happened with him beyond kissing. I was a virgin, old fashioned and intended to stay that way until I married. Or I had.
I became very anxious that the chaps on my ward were going to die under my care. Two died two days in a row from hypertension. I offered to lay them out as I had been very fond of them, they were long term patients. It got so that I was so anxious that I dreaded doing anything new.
The worst of it had been the men turning up at our door. My rapist had told everyone at the pub I was easy. Fair game. And they called me names, drew filthy things all over my wardrobe and windows. It was relentless.
Our yearly exams were coming up and I had to try to concentrate to study. I studied at Noraville a lot on my days off. My period came and I was relieved though I had felt safe on the pill. I sat through several of the exams and in the end I just could not do it. I had to get away. I resigned and asked mum to come get me. I never told her what happened, just that I had to leave. She did not question me, just helped me pack my things in her car, bless her.