Have You Thought About Becoming a Nurse?

Another flashback to Meryl Taylor’s youth recalling the incident that sparked the beginning of her Nursing career.

By Tara Patterson

Mr Rose, the Deputy Headmaster of Queen Anne’s, stood at the lectern at the end of morning prayers on this May 1968 morning and addressed the school.

“You will be pleased to know that your Headmistress is recovering well after her surgery following her unfortunate riding accident. She is expected to make a full recovery and return to her duties soon but in the mean time I will be acting headmaster.”

Mr Rose then continued into a long lecture about reinforcing the school rules and discipline. Sixth form pupil Meryl Taylor wasn’t listening. Her mind wandered; she thought about her home in York and her recent locomotive footplate trip with her father during the Easter holiday. Suddenly something in the Headmasters speech snapped her out of her daze and grabbed her attention.

“It seems that some of you have developed the habit of leaving this establishment for socialising and entertainment during night hours. This practice will cease with immediate effect. Should anyone still be foolish enough to be caught out of their dormitory after ‘lights out’ then I can assure them of the most severe consequences.”

“He can’t stop us getting out,” whispered Meryl’s roommate, Rebecca Morley, as they filed out of the hall. “They can’t possibly know the ways out we use; we will just have to be more careful, that’s all.”

Rebecca couldn’t have been more wrong. The two girls occupied room 231, a large first floor six berth room with a large sash window that opened up on to a small balcony. In the following few days, new security measures were fitted. Bars appeared on the bathroom windows and a new electric alarm trigger was fitted to the landing fire escape.

“That’s us stuffed now,” complained Rebecca over breakfast one morning as she played with her lumpy school porridge. “How are we going to get out to see the lads in the coffee bar? It’s getting like that prison camp, you know, Colditz. Didn’t they think that was escape proof? We will have to get out of our window from now on. Any ideas how we can get down? It’s only one floor and we are all good climbers. I never thought what we do in PE would be useful, though, but now is our chance to use it.”

*         *         *

Two days later the answer presented its self. Meryl and Rebecca’s fifth year roommate, Milly Robinson, who was a keen member of the Schools Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, somehow got hold of a climbing rope.

“All we have to do is tie it off on to one of the bunk beds and throw it down,” she suggested.

That evening the girls all dressed in dark jumpers and trousers and excitedly waited in the dormitory for Matron Routledge to call lights out. Milly tied the rope to Meryl and Rebecca’s bunk bed. After testing the rope was securely tied, she threw it out of the window over the balcony and skilfully descended to the ground. The other girls followed; the decent was harder than they imagined but Milly’s idea had worked.

*         *         *

A week later and Rebecca egged the others to go out again.

“Phil’s band is playing tonight at the community hall. We can’t miss it. Who’s coming with me?”

Milly and Meryl both agreed.

After lights out Rebecca swore the other girls in the room to secrecy. The three second year girls who shared the room with them were scared of Rebecca and each pretended to be asleep while the three senior girls changed into their long boots and fashionable miniskirts. Milly tied the climbing rope to the bunk bed and threw it down.

“Come on, Meryl, you are first this time,” Rebecca commanded.

Meryl, not sure about climbing in her boots, slipped on her PE plimsolls and hitched up her mini-dress before she took a firm grip on the rope and gingerly climbed down. She found it helped using both the rope and the large cast iron drain pipe.

“This pipe feels looser than before,” she thought.

Meryl was soon down at ground level. She hid behind a bush to change her shoes so she didn’t see Rebecca beginning to climb down. All she heard was a scream and a thud as Rebecca hit the hard ground.

Meryl ran over to where Rebecca was lying. She had been knocked out and was just starting to come round. Both her left arm and right ankle looked to be in a funny position. Meryl thought quickly and called up to Milly.

“Quick, Mill, call Matron. Tell her to get an ambulance. I think Bex has broken her leg, and her arm looks bad too. Throw me down my St John pouch will you?”

Milly was up in the room panicking as she hurriedly tried to hide the rope.

“Oh shit, Meryl, what are we going to do? What can I say has happened? Oh god, we are in so much trouble. Can’t you get her up here and we’ll say she fell out of her bunk or something? Oh this is bad.”

Meryl shouted up again.

“Will somebody help me down here? Rebecca is hurt and needs us. Sod the consequences of what will happen to us. It’s Rebecca who matters right now.”

With that, a head appeared over the balcony and threw down a white St John Ambulance First aid pouch.

“Is this what you need Meryl?” Called down Lucy Moore, one of the younger girls. “Don’t worry, Mitchell has gone to get Matron.”

Meryl did what she could for Rebecca. The contents of her pouch were very basic. She held on to her friend and talked to her and tried to keep her calm. She worried that, despite her treatment, shock was starting to set in.

After what seemed an age she heard steps running up across the gravel drive. It was Matron Routledge with two boys from the sixth form rugby team who were carrying a stretcher.

“Just give me the facts, Taylor,” barked the Matron. “We will worry about how and why you are down here later. How long since she fell? The Ambulance is on its way although it looks like you have got the situation in hand.”

*         *         *

The next day, as the School clock chimed two, the five remaining girls from room 231 stood before Mr Rose in his study. They had all taken much care with their uniforms. As it was the summer term they were each wearing the summer blue gingham checked dress and black shoes. The study smelled strongly of pipe tobacco, a very different aroma from the perfume of Mrs Whitaker.

“Right, ladies, it’s time you told me just what happened last night,” quizzed Mr Rose. “Before you start, I can tell you that your friend is doing well in hospital. She is sitting up in bed and her family are with her. With any luck she will be home to recuperate by the beginning of next week. Her injuries are serious but not as bad as they could have been thanks to prompt and competent first aid attention at the scène of her fall. That is one positive that we can draw from this sorry situation. Now it is down to you all to explain what happened.”

Milly Robinson cleared her throat and began to speak. Her voice quivered with emotion and fear as she spoke.

“Firstly Sir, the three sprogs here, sorry I mean, Dunderdale, Moore and Mitchell, had no part in what happened. They weren’t coming with us. Rebecca threatened them and swore them to secrecy. They are not involved really, well, other than calling Matron when Morley fell. They are innocent. Sorry, girls.”

Mr Rose addressed the three junior members of the group.

“Well, girls, it looks as if you three are off the hook. Thank you for your honesty, Robinson. Back to your lessons, you three, and now, Taylor and Robinson, I want answers.”

Milly hurriedly explained how Meryl had climbed out of the dormitory and how the drainpipe had come away from the wall as Rebecca had begun to climb. Meryl got the feeling Milly was trying to downplay her own involvement and blame her and Rebecca. Mr Rose listened to what the girls had to say before he spoke.

“Right, ladies, I think that covers it. I cannot for one minute condone your actions, but in a way I understand. As you know, I was a navigator in the RAF before I became a teacher. I spent three years as an uninvited guest of the German Luftwaffe so I know a thing or two about escape. However, now as it was then, you going out at night, just like us escaping, is totally futile and will not be tolerated. And at the risk of sounding like my old camp commandant, it will also be severely punished.

A wry smile broke over Mr Rose’s face.

“You will be pleased to know that I can’t sentence you to the standard camp punishment for escape of thirty days in the cooler on bread on water, but I can assure you of an appropriate punishment for your involvement. I will now discuss this matter with matron and call you back individually. Both of you wait outside in the corridor facing the wall with your hands on your heads. Do not talk to each other. If you do, I will automatically double your punishment. Do not think that Morley will get away with this. I intend punishing her when she has recovered and returns to us. In the meantime, it would be unfair on your fellows if Morley’s domestic duties were not done, so you will both share her work until she returns.”

*           *         *

Meryl stood in the corridor facing the wall. She strained to hear what was going on inside Mr Rose’s study, and then she heard it; the unmistakable crack of a cane followed by a scream.

Meryl’s heart sank. In a way, she had little thought for her own fate, just a concern for her friend.

“Poor Milly,” she thought. “She isn’t good with pain.”

There it was again, those sounds. In all, she counted six strokes. The study door creaked open and a very tearful Milly limped out.

“Your turn now, Meryl,” she whispered.

Meryl reluctantly entered the study. The desk had been cleared and both Mr Rose and Matron Routledge stood behind it.

“Well, Taylor, what to do with you.” Said Mr Rose. “In a way you were the hero of the hour last night. You took charge of the situation and administered the correct first aid to your friend. I am told by the doctors at the hospital that your actions greatly reduced the severity of Morley’s injuries. It may be overstating things a little but you could have possibly saved her life. However, before we congratulate you too much, the matter remains that you, Morley and Robinson did break curfew and were attempting to leave your dormitory by a most unauthorised and dangerous route. As you have just seen, Robinson has been caned and we will be punishing Morley when she returns. You understand that we must punish you for your disobedience last night. However your selfless first aid actions have bought you some favour. You will not be caned like your fellows but you shall receive six strokes of Matron’s strap.”

Meryl looked at Mr Rose and Matron. She chose her words careful before she spoke.

“I understand that, Sir. I’m sorry for going out. We didn’t mean it to end like it did. I am just relieved that Rebecca is okay. I expected to be punished as soon as it happened. I just want to get it all over with now and draw a line under things.”

Mr Rose moved to the door.

“Very well. Carry on, Matron. I have a tour of inspection to do around the school now. I’ll leave things in your capable hands.”

Matron Routledge picked up her thick leather strap and sternly barked at Meryl: “Right then, Taylor. As you wish, let’s get this over with. You know the routine, you and I have been together like this too often, haven’t we? Now assume the position.”

Meryl lifted up her dress and slip and stretched over the familiar surface of the head’s large leather topped desk. She gripped the far edge with both hands and focused on the wall behind. She concentrated hard looking at the details on the wood panelling, trying to take her mind off her impending punishment. She then felt Matron’s cold fingers in the waistband of her knickers as Matron swiftly pulled them down to the top of her thighs.

‘On the bare,’ thought Meryl. ‘Some favour!’

Matron Routledge then tapped the strap on Meryl’s bottom before she swung it for the first stroke.

THWACK.

Meryl bit her lip and gripped the desk tightly. Her left leg lifted as she tried her best to absorb the stinging blow without making a sound. She was determined not to give her old adversary the satisfaction of making her cry out.

THWACK, THWACK.

“HAAA,” Meryl muttered under her breath. Matron knew how to use her strap. Each hard blow landed on fresh skin.

THWACK.

“Arrrh!” This was starting to get too much. Meryl could feel tears welling up inside her now but she was determined she wasn’t going to cry out. She knew the last two would be hard ones. That was Matron’s way. Meryl tightened her grip, closed her eyes and waited.

THWACK, THWACK.

The tears were flowing freely now but Meryl had done it. She felt a private feeling of adulation that she had endured a harsh strapping without making a sound. She could feel her bottom red and glowing. It was going to be uncomfortable to sit for the rest of the day.

“Right, up you get, Taylor,” snapped the Matron.

Meryl stood up and faced Matron Routledge. She went to put her hands on her head as was usual after a punishment but Matron Routledge was looking less stern than usual and a little relieved.

“For once, Taylor, I’m not going to ask you to do that, but you and I have further duties to complete in relation to last night’s incident.”

Meryl’s heart sank as she imagined a further punishment or an unpleasant task to do.

Matron continued.

“Now that this is over, you are excused lessons for the rest of the afternoon. It is visiting hours soon at the hospital and you and I are going to visit Morley. Her parents are with her. They would like to thank you for what you did last night. Now, Taylor, go and wash your face and tidy yourself up. I will be waiting by my car for you.”

*         *         *

Meryl sat uncomfortably in the passenger seat of Matron Routledge’s white Morris Minor Traveller as the car twisted and turned around the Lakeland roads on the journey back to Queen Anne’s. It was a hot sunny day. The leatherette seats had become very hot and sticky during the time the car had been parked at the hospital. Each time Meryl fidgeted in the seat it seemed to chafe her tender bottom through the thin material of her cotton knickers and dress. The visit had gone well. Meryl was quite relieved to see that Rebecca was recovering well and was in good spirit. Rebecca’s mother was very friendly too and after thanking Meryl for helping her daughter she commiserated with her and hoped that she hadn’t been punished too severely.

Matron Routledge broke the silence and spoke to Meryl. She seemed uncharacteristically informal and relaxed.

“So, Meryl, what are your plans for when you leave next year? Are you hoping to go to university or will you be starting work?”

Meryl though for a moment.

“Well, Ma’am, it wouldn’t be fair on my father to fund university for me, so I think it will be to start work. I’ll probably try for an administration job on the Railway or in the Carriage works.”

“That would be a pity, in my opinion,” replied Matron. “A waste of your natural talent. Tell me, have you any nurses or medical people in your family?”

“Not really, Matron,” said Meryl. “All of father’s side are on the railway. Engine-men, mainly. I suppose that’s what I would have become had I been a boy and ma was a chocolate packer in Rowntree’s before she got married. Oh, there was a distant aunt on dad’s side who was a nurse, but I think she died in 1917, so even father doesn’t remember her.”

Matron Routledge continued: “I have been observing you these last few days. The recent events surrounding Morley’s accident have confirmed my thoughts that you have what it takes to become an excellent nurse.”

“Really, ma’am?” Replied Meryl. “I only got into first-aid after hearing some of father’s horror stories of accidents at work and how he felt better because he was able to do something and help his mates because he was in St John Ambulance. I can see what he means, though. I would have felt so helpless if I didn’t know what to do last night.”

Matron Routledge seemed to smile as she responded.

“Precisely, Taylor. I wish all the girls shared your view. That is exactly the mature attitude that would give you a good start as a nurse. Other than call the ambulance, I did very little last night. You handled the whole incident confidently and calmly with little thought to your own fate. You seemed so calm under pressure. Many others would panic in that situation. It’s not just that, though, your bedside manner just now with Morley was so natural and even the determined and stoical way you handled being punished are all signs to me that you have what it takes. You know, I can see you one day as a ward sister or as a midwife. In fact, you might even make it to Matron somewhere, if you work hard.”

Meryl Laughed.

“That would be something to aim for, wouldn’t it Ma’am? Matron Taylor?”

The End

© Tara Patterson 2015