A RETIRED enrolled nurse, who once patrolled the corridors at Bentley Hospital, marked the first anniversary of her book launch by speaking at the Perth service honouring WA nurses of World War I.
Betty Crombie spoke about the nature of nursing at the annual St Georges Cathedral service on Sunday, November 16, a year after she published Our Foot Steps on the Wards 1953-2003, the first history ever written of enrolled nursing in WA.
Ms Crombie said researching and writing the book was a monumental task, but she treasured the memory of its arrival fresh off the press.
‘You’ve got no idea how many times that little black USB nearly went in the bin,’ she said.
‘But I knew I couldn’t let the enrolled nurses down.
‘When I finally opened up the box, I thought, ‘my God, I’ve done it’.’
Ms Crombie’s 47-year career included postings at Armadale, Bentley, Royal Perth, Mt Henry, Manjimup and Katanning hospitals.
In 1994, en route home from a conference, she pondered a conversation between herself and other enrolled nurses who had travelled from around Australia to attend the conference, which revealed their mutual lack of knowledge about the history of their profession.
No one knew who had created their curriculum, how tutors were chosen, how examinations were organised or what bodies governed their profession.
With these questions and many more in mind, Ms Crombie soon found that hospital and training records had not always been archived or even kept in WA and began the research that ended in publication of her book.
It chronicles metropolitan and country hospitals and the roles they played to train enrolled nurses, back to a time they faced rigid, and sometimes unforgiving, discipline on and off-duty.
They could be dismissed for ‘wearing’ a ‘love bite’ or sneaking out of quarters at night; random testings ensured uniforms did not creep higher than 16 inches off the floor and shoes had to constantly shine so bugs could ‘slide’ to the ground.
No airconditioners or fans relieved them during long, hot summers; they were discouraged from having personal contact with patients’ families and they learned in their own way how to deal with the death of patients, babies or adults.
Ms Crombie’s record shows how much has changed for the nurses she said formed the ‘backbone’ of WA hospitals ” but she said some things never changed.
‘Nursing has to be what you really want,’ she said.
‘It has to be within you, and it won’t be in the lecture room you learn the most, but from your patients.’