My Training Years - Ken Morgan

It was in March 1969, that I went to the North Wales Hospital for an interview to be a cadet nurse. In those days it was very difficult to become a cadet nurse in any general hospital, and in any case it was Denbigh that I really wanted to go to. My father was so against me going. After an interview with Patrick Thompson and Myfannwy Evans I was told that I could begin as soon as I liked and so on 29th March that year I moved into the nurses home, room 39, the window of that room overlooked the entrance and faced the entrance of the training school. The first person that I met was Edith Jones who showed me where to get my tea, at that time it was still served in the nurses home. It was a bit daunting but later that evening I met Jeff and Jerry Beego, and Hazel who was another cadet nurse. As a cadet nurse we were not allowed to work on the wards, and I was placed to work in the physiotherapy Department with Mr. Brookes and Peggy.It's strange but I still remember the telephone extension of the department, it was 315. A a cadet nurse we ha to go to the technical college in Rhos-on-Sea every Monday and Tuesday. In my set there was Brenda, who worked in the records dept, Llinos who worked in Pharmacy and Nerys who worked in the sports department with Mickey Gabriel and Eleanor. At the tech we had to take, First Aid, English, Human Biology, and sports. Sports usually ended up as playing hockey, or if it rained learning country dancing. Our tutor for human Biology was none other that Mr. Norman Hughes.

Working in the Physiotherapy dept, was a brilliant start to my nursing career, it involved collecting patients from the wards and taking them along to the department. I was taught the rudiments of hot wax treatment, and basic exercises for all sorts of aches pains and conditions. To enter and leave the department you had to pass through F6 (The sick ward) and being new I was teased by Sister Dorothy who could make me blush in an instant. The SEN on that ward was called Anthea who always softened the teasing. Over the three months I really got to know Sister Dorothy well and she became someone that I admired so very much, and who was always there if ever I had a problem. Dr. O Toole was the main consultant there. The bed right at the entrance had a patient called Mary, and she could make the devil blush with some of the things that she re iterated. But she loved to sing the song, "It was Mary, Mary long before the apples came"

Llinos was in the PTS before me, and Brenda, and Nerys were in the PTS after me. But as yet that was the future. Now issued with a hospital grey suit and 4 white coats it was time to get to know this whole new world.  I spent three very happy months in the Department before moving to the PSW office where I worked until moving to the Occupational therapy department until I was 18 and worked as an auxiliary until the June PTS. The department Offices were situated at the main entrance to the hospital.

Sister Grace oversaw the care of the cadet nurses, and the nurses home had a female side and a male side and we were not allowed to visit (day time or night time). However one poor girl being dismissed because Sister grace found a male visitor in her wardrobe. The girl had said she was sick so sister grace went to se her in her room, opened the wardrobe door to find this guy stood inside naked, apparently all that sister Grace said to him at the time, was "Oh and you are the bank manager I presume,don't you think you had better get dressed?"  Was it really as long ago s 1969? that was a time when we thought things would never change and the polished floors of the main entrance would last forever. I could not wait to wear the yellow epaulette with one brown stripe on it. I used to look out of the window at the training school and think one day I will be in there, but for the time being, life was good, I had made a start. At that time petrol was a lot cheaper and I started going on the car rallies with Eilian and being the navigator. It was always a great social occasion. I will continue with my reminiscences in due course.  

Student D
June PTS, at the beginning well at least for the first week, there were three of us, Barry, Mary Blunden and myself. Barry only stayed until the end of the first week that left Mary Blunden and myself. Mary was 45 and I was 18, what a diverse pair we were. Mary had been a ward clerk and so knew the hospital reasonably well, I had worked mainly on ward 8 where John Andrew was the staff nurse, CSSD hadn’t reached the hospital at that point so in order to change dressings etc and small antiseptic procedures the bowls and instruments had to be boiled on the ward, It amazed me that we heated up the milk for the morning coffee in that boiler as well. I enjoyed my time as an auxillary albeit for only three months, I also fell victim to many of the pranks that were tried out on newcomers, being sent to dispensary for a long stand. The dispensay window was just opposite the PNO’s office and the nursing Admin office, and the nursing officers coming in and out of the office smiled knowingly as I stood there waiting for a long stand. Eric Owen was one of the nursing officers and he ran the local branch of the Red Cross, he had discovered that I had represented the British Red Cross in Sweden a couple of years earlier and soon recruited me to be a cadet Officer for the local branch where I taught the junior branch first Aid most Friday evenings. The other cadet officer was Brenda Williams who was married to Michael Williams and we soon became firm friends.


During PTS, Mary seemed to know all of the answers and technical terms, and I could hardly ever get a word in, but where she excelled in her knowledge and experience of the world I was best at anatomy and physiology. I can remember her asking Norman Hughes if we were going to study the male reproductive system, he said Mary how many children have you got? She said six, he said need I say anymore. He was astute enough to spare my blushes and we never did study the male reproductive system. There was a question on the finals paper that asked to discuss the problems of male impotence and to draw a labelled diagram of the male reproductive system. Mary swore she could have answered that question but for the labelled diagram bit!

I enjoyed the lectures by Dick Thompson, and drifted though the lectures by Dick Jones and the vagaries of “Personality and personality disorder” Rules etiquette and hygiene procedures were met head on by sister Kate.  The days were long and hot, and the blossom from the two magnificent cherry trees at the front of the nurses home, had all gone and the leaves were  vibrant green. Green described how I felt going into PTS but eager and more confident was the result of those weeks spent in the training school. Many of the evenings were spent singing around the piano in the nurses home. By this time I had got to know all of the residents there. On my 18th birthday Denis Cliff and Terry Jones had taken me out to the Crown pub to celebrate. Terry Jones was an SEN who eventually joined the Royal Air Force, I met up with him when I worked on the aeromedical unit in the Royal Air Force, in 1982, and that was in the Ascension Islands!

I used to attend the local Presbyterian Church in the town, where Norman Brookes was an elder, and became  part of the youth group, and acted in a couple of plays that Mr. Brookes had written.

The last day of PTS came and I was given my yellow epaulettes with one brown stripe on it I think I was prouder that day than when I received my blue epaulettes three years later. I felt that I really belonged and looked forward to starting on my first ward placement which was to be 7B.

7B onwards

I really enjoyed my first ward placement, and was guided through those first three months by Peter Wilson who was the charge nurse, and on the opposite shift was Josie Thompson who was the ward sister.  Having male students on the wards was still relatively new, but staff and patients got on well. Generally there was no problem except for the time when a patient smeared her face with a hair removing cream and when I tried to get her to wash it off so that she didn’t burn she thumped me and nearly knocked me out.  There was also the occasion when I took a group of patients swimming down at the open air swimming pool in the town, all went well until one of the patients emerged from the changing rooms stark naked and refused to put a swimsuit on, thankfully the local people were very understanding, though we did manage to persuade the patient that to swim was not the best option she agreed to get dressed much to my relief.  The entrance to the ward was at the foot of the stairs near female 6  and it soon got around that I had been seen trying to persuade a naked woman to go back into the changing rooms, as you can imagine sister Dorothy had good mileage out of that incident.

Peter was a good charge nurse and also a good teacher and cared very much about the patients on the ward, it was a brilliant introduction to my nursing career. Josie was also one of those practical down to earth people who encouraged good discipline. She was married to Dick Thompson one of the training school tutors. It was Peter who taught me how to administer medication correctly and what each of the psychotropic drugs did and what side effects to look for, sister Josie taught me how to give my first injection for real instead of using an orange to practise on.

Life at the nurses home was good and many partnerships thrived and led to marriage. The weddings that I remember are of, BA and Pauline, Howard and Elaine Parry, Ronnie & Pauline Leyden, Mary Williams and David Davies, Kevin Hughes and Dawn, Jeff and LLinos, Hazel and David, Alan and Maria (though Alan was a student from Rhyl) My sister Linda and Nigel Hughes. Janis Pleavin and Jake I often wonder where they are now. 

Those first three months passed by a lot quicker than I expected and I was sorry to leave the ward, my next ward placement was to be 1A Ablett ward with my shifts divided between working with Andy Halligan and Eric Birch.  Not quite days of wine and roses, but plenty of enemas and suppositories.

Ablett and Other Wards
Andy Halligan was a character to say the least, he and Eric Birch were so opposite but it must be said that they really worked so hard to care for the patients. It was a real privilege to work with them both.  One of the first things that I was taught was how to collect and clean the false teeth at night time, with the very careful instruction not to put all the teeth into one bowl as deciding which teeth belonged to which patient could be a nightmare should this disaster happen.  I was told that one time when a ptient died during the night a nurse had put the wrong teeth into the mouth of the deceased patient, so that by the next morning when some ill fitting teeth were tried on a patient the mistake was realised, and a trip to the hospital morgue had to be made to retrieve them. Apparently neither patient suffered any ill effects. It was hard work on Ablett ward but I loved it there.  It was probably one of the wards where I gained a real sense of job satisfaction. After Ablett ward, I then was placed on male 3, working with Willie Jingles another  of the hospitals real characters. A big man with a big heart who laughed a lot and was a great encourager. My next placement was Male 6 and the Charge nurse there was Gwilym Pierce, as you remember Male 6 was a locked ward and often patients could become extremely violent. I had only been on male 6 for a matter of hours when the whole ward erupted because of the violent behaviour of one of the patients. I was sent to draw up a tranquillizer (yes the old Paraldyhyde) and when I reached the patient  whom the staff nurse and Gwylim were restraining I was told to give the patient the injection. Just at the point of giving the injection the patient broke free and Gwylim received the injection instead. I was sent off for the day and was terrified to go back into the ward the following day. I did so with quite a degree of trepidation. Gwylim Pierce however simply said “I take it you are not a dart player” and  grinned, I asked him how he was, he said that he had slept well, and from that point on we got on famously and he taught me all there was to know about sectioning, this was another ward that I was sad to leave. But it was back to Training school and the intermediate exam. In those days we received £40 for passing the intermediate exam which was a lot of money.  I was now a second year student, and night duty was the next thing in line.

Night Duty
After another training school block, I was allocated to night duty and based on Bryn Golau ward. The staff nurses on regular duty there were Tom Parry and Dennis Cliff and my rota was divided between them. Tom was another character who was actually brilliant to work with, though if ever anyone had a drink of tea from him then you can appreciate why I always volunteered to make the drinks. Tom's idea of a cup of tea was a spoonful of tea leaves in a glass with the hot water poured on top..he always wondered why I could never drink it. Dennis was so totally different to  Tom, very precise and very exact. My second week on night duty was very memorable to me. After the first night I had gone to the nurses home to sleep, which I did all to well. When I awoke I went and had a meal and got ready for my next night's work. When I got to the ward instead of Tom being there it was Dennis, and I was asked where were you last night, I answered and said I was here why, I was informed that I had missed a whole night. It turned out that I had slept a whole day, a whole night and the next day as well. I could not believe that I had slept that long and really thought that it was one of those pranks, until they showed me the newspaper and the date confirmed that I had missed a whole day and night.

On my days off I would go with Aubrey and Joan and Mary and Kevin Hughes to Liverpool and many a time we went to the cavern nightclub, stop over at Mary's parents house and then hitch lifts back to Denbigh.
One of the scariest things about night duty was that if a patient died in the main hospital as a student we had to escort the body up to the morgue which was near to Bryn Golau. There was one occasion when a member of night staff went to the morgue ahead of me without me knowing. He had let himself into the morgue so that when I reached there and opened the door he was inside and let out a belly laugh, I ran as fast as I could, and hammered on the door of Bryn Golau. Tom had been watching from the window and was simply creased with laughter. For ages after that I used to say I didn't need any supper to avoid the trip down past the morgue to the canteen.
I soon got used to night duty and experienced the different world and mood of the hospital. There was always an opportunity of overtime and I worked with Dai Ali quite a bit on male 3 he again was brilliant at teaching especially about the uses and effects of medication.
During that time I went to my first hospital dance, it really was an event, it was something to see and really experience all the staff in their finery and the band was none other than Acker Bilck and the jazzmen. A very different experience to the dances that were held for the patients, but again something to hold in my memories.
Night duty was in fact a real learning curve, often you were alone and had to deal with emergencies and it became a real hands on learning situation. It also drove home the point that patients really needed twenty four hour care. So often patients would open up their hearts and souls in the small hours and the quiet of the night and a great deal of counselling took place and without realising it the learning process was invaluable.
My next placement was to be at the Royal Alexander Hospital in Rhyl, the general nursing aspect of training.
this entailed a move from the nurses home to the nurses home in Abergele.
The Royal Alexandra Hospital at Rhyl, situated on the promenade, battered by the winter rain and wind,but basking in the summer sunshine, was a great place for hands on training. During my three months allocation I spent six weeks on the surgical ward, sixweeks on a medical ward, two weeks in the training school and two weeks in theatre. Sister Dilys Evans ran the surgical ward (Duke Ward) with great precision and professionalism. During my very first week was left for an afternoon as the senior member of staff on the ward, and it was that afternoon a visitor had a heart attack and an immediate response was called for,it was as if suddenly all of Norman Hughes' teaching came into my head, and it was soley due to this training that the individual survived,when Sister Evans returned to the ward at 5pm, the ward was calm again and then when she discovered what had happened she was simply full of praise for the training methods of the North  Wales Hospital at Denbigh. I must admit that I loved the surgical ward and if I had stayed in general nursing, that ward is where I would have elected to work on. the time on that ward simply flew by and I remember that in contrast to seeing the same patients week after week each time that you came on duty there were several new patients to get to know. I anticipated that I would enjoy the medical ward even more, but the truth was I didn't. At that time I stayed in the nurses home at Abergele, here there was no male or female side and my immediate neighbours were Dora Hunter and Janet Allcock. They were two characters who were the best of friends with each other. They had decided that they wanted to go to Spain for a holiday, but had not got the necessary funds, they went to see their bank manager who refused them a loan. They then went on a shopping spree to Browns of Chester,and made some really expensive purchases, in the clothing department and paid by cheque. After going for a coffee they then returned the items to the store and claimed their money back in cash. A few days later they were on their holiday. Janet apparently sent her bank manager a postcard saying, "having a wonderful time, wish you were here, running out of money".
I worked the same shifts on the medical ward with Dora and always the ward was lighter because of her laughter and zest for life. While Sister Holt was full of praise for the staff of the North Wales Hospital, the ward sister on the medical ward simply resented the intrusion of any staff from Denbigh and I spent a lot of my time polishing bed pans! 
Hugh Poole, Maria Evans, Alan Williams are names of three other students, from the Alex that I remember though my Cousin Bernadette arrived at the hospital to begin her general nurse training while I was there on placement.
It was an amazing three months and I would not have missed it for anything, but  all too soonthe placement came to an end and then I had Female Gwynfryn to look forwards to.
Female Gwynfryn
Returning from The Royal Alex, my next ward was to be female Gwynfryn, with sister Annie and sister Ann. If ever there was an example of how a matron should run a hospital it was sister Annie, I am sure she really did have eyes in the back of her head. I remember her with a great affection, no nonsense in delegation of jobs, if anything was spilled on the floor you wiped it up immediately, no calling for the wad domestic.
Local people would often say that a relative or friend was in Gwynfryn when they would have been reluctant to say that they were in Denbigh hospital. This was a more acceptable face of psychiatric treatment.
Admittedly the ward itself was set apart from the main building and quite a showpiece. The Old theatre was situated here and an E.C.T. unit was established here. Grooming was important to sister Annie and though one of the old school she cared very much about her staff. If you ever got told off by her she would take you to one side and always made sure that she thanked each member of staff at the end of each shift. Sister Ann was equally as firm but gentle and never raised her voice.
Lunch time was no mean exercise you had to run down to the staff canteen eat your meal and get back to the ward within half an hour.
Detailed daily ward reports were a skill that Sister Annie had and she would take time to ensure that these were done correctly and accurately and taught thoroughly. Every patient would have to be spoken to by each member of staff each time you were on duty.
It was during this time that the female nurses switched to wearing paper hats which didn't go down well with sister Annie who really mourned the passing of the folded crisply starched ones that they replaced.
All the staff were in awe of sister Annie but she was well loved and greatly respected.
I really enjoyed my three months on this ward and it exemplified exactly how a ward should be run if hospital wards today were managed as well as female Gwynfryn was then our NHS would be second to none.

My next placement was in the O.T. department, The first six weeks were with Mrs. Parry (Tom Parry’s wife) and the other student nurse on placement in the department was Christine Owen.

Mrs. Parry was a gem, wonderful to work with, in spite of the fact that we had to assemble CSSD packs and meet a target. I was not enamoured at working 9-5 having been so used to working shifts, so in all honesty I myself put up a mental barrier to the values of working in the O.T. Dept.  This was the Bryn Golau dept and the days seemed so long but the atmosphere was always good and if I am honest seemed a break from the routine training. Some skills learned have been useful but in fairness there was a very positive side in that patients interacted with staff much more freely.

A couple of weeks in the Sports dept, with Micky Gabriel, Jack Roberts and Eleanor two weeks in training school and two weeks in Gwynfryn O.T. all passed in a blur and I was glad to get my little red book signed up as having  completed this module of training.

My final ward placement was to be Bryn Golau which I was looking forward to very much, but before that  I was  headed for female six almost right back to where I had started, next door to the physiotherapy dept.

Sister Dorothy had been a brilliant mentor ever since those early days, she ran a tight ship and I wondered what it would be like working for her, she still had the knack of being able to make me blush in an instant. Thelma Jones and Mair Ellis were pupil nurses on the ward, Karen McBride was the staff nurse  who was an excellent teacher, and Anthea Roberts the SEN. My rota co –incided directly with sister Dorothy Rogers and it was with some trepidation that I wondered if ever I would live up to her expectations.

There was one patient on that ward who would always exclaim “I am dying” whenever you went to give her attention, no matter whether it was assistance with feeding or bathing. One day she was on the commode took a huge gasp and died. Thelma and myself were with her, she said you are the student you go and tell sister Dorothy. At that point sister Dorothy was in the office with Dr. O Toole so I knocked on the door and explained what had happened. I was told that this patient was quite normally prone to hysterical outbursts and actions, and that she and Dr. O toole would be thee in a few minutes. I went back to the patient and Thelma and told Thelma what had been said, who very dryly replied well, she has just had an hysterical death. The thing that amazed me was that sister Dorothy for all her strictness and hard exterior calmly and sensitively handled the situation and showed us how to really care for a patient, even after death. Every individual was somebody’s baby once she said, and no matter who they are deserve the best that we can give.

The one thing that Sister Dorothy was almost fanatical about was the routine care given for the prevention of pressure sores, which had to be carried out punctually and thoroughly, and woe betide you if it was not done. The majority of the patients were bedridden. One day I was carrying out this procedure with Mary Roberts who was a student nurse and the bed had cot sides on it to prevent the patient from falling out. When the procedure was finished we remade the bed and lifted up the cot sides, Mary was a bit enthusiastic and when she swung up the cot side it caught me and I fell to the floor, in agony. The  student doctor on the ward was Austrailian I cant remember his name but we used to call him skippy. Suffice to say that the accident form read, Student nurse Ken Morgan caught in the testicles by Mary Roberts, Dr. Skippy in attendance.

 Whether or not I reached any given expectations, when it was time to leave female six Sister Dorothy said, you are a good nurse, never let those standards slip, to me that was better than passing my state finals. Again it was a ward where the work was solid and hard, but so enjoyable and the realisation that team work was  essential simply demanded a good team leader response.

 If I could go back in time, I would certainly be a student nurse again and hopefully appreciate more fully the skills and expertise  of those colleagues that we benefited from.  (I wonder whatever happened to that accident form?)

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