Archive for the ‘Hygiene’ Category

Sadly, in 1921, one nurse was well and truly caught in the act.  A member of the public complains to the editor in the May 1st edition of the Queen’s Nurses’ Magazine:

‘Since visiting a nursing conference and exhibition, I have constantly had in my mind the figure of a Queen’s Nurse I saw there.  My attention was riveted by the bonnet, the straw of which was almost indiscernable, so caked was it with dirt.  The ribbon had faded to the last possible degree and was broken and frayed.  The whole bonnet appeared to be rotting with age.  The nurse had brown hair, which was lustreless and unkempt, and very dusty.  She wore no collar and the neck of her cloak was greasy and dusty.  I saw her from behind for a few moments only, and moved on, feeling distressed that a District Nurse should so abuse her influence as to appear in such a dreadful state.  I do not see how that nurse could insist on cleanliness in her patience and their homes.’

What do you think?  Would you say this man/woman (it would be nice to blame it on a man!) is in the right?  Maybe the nurse was just having a bad day!  My hair often looks ‘lustreless’ and unkempt, I’m afraid.  But should nurses be held to a higher standard?  Remember at this point that District Nursing was as much about teaching patients about proper hygiene as it was treating illness.  Should a nurse wear her uniform with pride?


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A district nurse on the west coast of Ireland wrote in despair to the Queen’s Nurses’ Magazine in December, 1904 about dealing with superstitions.  Do district nurses still come across superstitions today?

‘Patients are always inclined to postpone their ablutions till a later period, till they are “a bit better”.  I find it extremely difficult in some cases to overcome their prejudices as regards being wet.  It is an old superstition, particularly in some of the outlying villages in my district, that if the sick person is washed, their hair dressed and bed made neat, they will “do no good”, meaning they will not recover. 

On one occassion I was contemplating my patient and congratulating myself on having brought order out of choas when a relative remarked “God bless us, she looks like she was laid out!”

Though the patient may feel more comfortable and cheerful when I am there, when I am gone, the “knowledgeable” women talk it over and say such a thing was never done before, and they only hope it will be alright, but they don’t think it will….’

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Courtesy of Florence Lees in ‘A Guide to District Nurses.’ 1890.

‘The district nurse must be scrupulously clean and neat in her own person, especially with regard to the arrangement of her hair, which should be smooth and well kept.  The office of nurse is too high and holy for any woman called to it to wish to devote much time to the adornment of her person…

…her cloak should always be clean and well brushed before going on duty in the morning.  In the left-side pocket of her uniform dress, under her apron, she should always carry her notebook with the names and addresses of patients, a box of safety  matches and a roll wax taper.  In ascending dark stairs and in winter, the latter are absolutely necessary…’

What do you think?  Do district nurses have to live up to such high standards of hygiene nowadays?  Have things changed even in living memory?  And have any DN’s out there ever had to use a candle to get up the stairs?!

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