Time to retire
58-year nursing career comes to an endPAT VELTKAMP SMITH
On Sunday, her last night shift done, Colleen Hopwood folded away her nurse's uniform and retired – after 58 years.
While her retirement marks the end of 58 years on a nursing roster that began when she was a 14-year-old nurse aid at Riverton Hospital, it would not stop her being a nurse, she said.
"Not stopping being a nurse: no."
Once a nurse, always a nurse,'' she said.
She entered the profession at 14, having left school early to help with illness at home, a move which she thought would prove a good start to her career, she said.
But it also proved a stumbling block.
She found work as a nurse aid easily enough but Southland Hospital matron Miss C M Lucas turned down her application to train because she had not been long enough at school.
Undeterred she continued to work as a nurse aid at Kew and Christchurch Hospitals, then moved to Timaru when, at the age of 20, she was accepted into the 1960 general nursing training intake from which she emerged three years later a graduate registered nurse.
She later did midwifery and neo natal nursing, acted as afternoon supervisor and then as night supervisor and has worked night shift for the past 12 years to free her days caring for a loved great nephew Nat, now a 15-year-old at Southland Boys' High School.
Her career has spanned nearly six decades of change, from open fireplaces heating wards to air conditioning regulated from Spain, she said.
She remembers Tuesdays for sharpening needles that are now disposables and Thursdays for punching down lumpy kapok-filled mattresses on wire, now replaced by air-lift beds.
At 15 she had her first death experience and credits nursing sister Rita Knowles, of Riverton, for showing her how to deal with it.
She'd known Anne Kerse as deputy matron at Timaru and was on hand to welcome her to the top job at Southland Hospital.
Miss Kerse asked her to take over as night supervisor.
"I nearly died and said I couldn't do it: at that stage all the wards were staffed by students.''
She said of course you can do it. Just give me a call if you can't.
So I did it, waking Miss Kerse with a cup of tea and the morning report as I went off duty.
We lived in the nurses' home then, nice flats and well looked after.''
She spent six years working at the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast from 1976, living on the infamous Falls Rd and working with women in the peace movement, two of whom. Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams were later awarded the Nobel Peace prize for work in this field.
In 1982 she was welcomed home by new matron Rachel Peek. She worked with Dr Frank Tyree ad Denise Neville for four years at the rehabiltation unit, Ward 18, and remembered that time as a period when "people sang as they came to work,''
Times had changed with as many offices as wards, as many computers as beds.
Nursing had changed and nurses with it, she said.
But 30 with whom she has worked over the years gather to farewell her at a dinner party tonight.
"And it is that, that camaraderie among nurses that I shall miss,'' she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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