Bringing Health to the Community; This Year Marks the 150th Anniversary of the Birth of District Nursing Charity, the Queen's Nursing Institute. Emma Pinch Talks to Two District Nurses Who Covered the City, Past and Present
Byline: Emma Pinch
EVEN with rain pelting her face and sturdy iron bike weighing a ton as she heaved it up Parliament Street, as a district nurse Beryl Delve maintained her strict sartorial standards.
Black lace-up shoes, black stockings and stiff starched collars, which had a tendency to dig into her neck at times like this.
It reflected pride in their profession, of course, but in Liverpool they were the smartest in the country.
"We had to be very immaculate in our uniform, especially in Liverpool, because we were all very aware it was the cradle of district nursing," says Beryl, who qualified in 1951. "We had it shovelled into us."
But the era left its mark when it came to career choices when she left school.
You had to do something the country needed," she says, slightly wistfully, reflecting she'd have quite like to have been a journalist.
"The war was on and if I didn't choose nursing the Government would have put me in the Army or WAAF."
The training was long and arduous. She qualified in London after five years then came home to Stoneycroft, Liverpool, to look after her father who had come out of the Navy with emphysema after his boat was torpedoed at sea. She took further training as a district nurse.
When he died a year later, she was duty-bound then to care for her mother.
"I was just trying to do the right thing," says Beryl, 81.
"Daughters cared for their elderly parents. There weren't so many nursing homes for the elderly or hospices then.
"There were a lot of single women around then, because a lot of the men didn't come back.
A lot remained single."
But it meant she could throw herself into her work which, despite the restrictions of the uniform, offered freedom.
Her team of 10 would meet their superintendent at 8.30pm at the district office who would then hand out jobs. At 9am, they would sally forth on their bikes, vast leather bags strapped on rattling with equipment.
"We didn't wear caps, we were issued with storm hats which we could pull down over our ears when we were cycling about, because it could be very cold and wet. It could be very tiring getting to patients, because Liverpool is quite hilly. You couldn't go from house to house according to who was the nearest - you first went to people who were most seriously ill and you were criss-crossing the area all day. I must have covered the length and breadth of Liverpool.
It wasn't like Holby City.
Christian names weren't tolerated, and, as for all the romance, nothing could be further from the truth."
First task was always the diabetics, who needed their injections of insulin so they could begin their day.
"We'd give all sorts of injections, like iron injections for anaemia. We didn't have those throw-away syringes. They were glass and metal and we had to boil them up on people's cookers to sterilise them. Everything was done in the kitchen."
Dressings changes - bandages boiled and re-used - catheterisation, and washing and turning of bed bound patients were routine. The likes of MRSA was practically unheard of, Beryl says.
"There was lots of TB in Liverpool then. We had to go round testing sufferers' urine to find out whether they were taking their medication. We were given special gowns to wear in the home, and our hands were sore with wash, wash, wash wherever we went. Now it's all gels. Such a waste, I think."
Without so many treatments to offer for cancer, nor hospices, nursing cancer patients at home was common.
They were issued with morphia to administer to help sufferers sleep, sometimes visiting with it twice a day.
"I would have loved to have been married and have children but the men were all lost in Dunkirk," says Beryl.
"But, because I didn't have a husband to go home and make an evening meal for, I just pressed on. …