Trouble at the Nurses Home

Another story in the series, going back to earlier events

By Tara Patterson

 

Navy Staff Nurse Meryl Taylor once again tried the door handle on the front door of the Nurses home. It was locked. As the church clock began to chime midnight, she muttered under her breath: “Worse opening hours than the Navy, this place, or school for that matter.”

Meryl, unusually, was not in uniform; today had been a rare day off. She was dressed in jeans, blue Clarks sandals, a checked blouse and a navy blue duffle coat, her auburn hair tied in a loose pony tail. This was the autumn of 1976. The twenty-five year old Royal Navy nurse was on a short term placement to a North Yorkshire cottage hospital to help cover a staff shortage. Several of the nurses had left unexpectedly, leaving the small hospital dangerously understaffed and under threat of closure. The hospital was a typical Yorkshire cottage hospital. The nursing staff not only covered the surgical wards and out-patients clinics but also acted as the local midwifes and district Nurses. It was still very traditionally run. Matron, no one actually used or knew her real name, still ruled the roost both in the wards and in the converted Victorian Villa next door that acted as the Nurses home.

“The door is locked at 9:45 sharp in the evenings and opened again at 5:30 in the morning. If you are on nights, you should be out and on duty in the Hospital, and if you are not, you should be tucked up in bed. No one has any business coming or going between those hours,” The Matron had said curtly to Meryl on her arrival several weeks ago.

Meryl had settled quickly into not just the routine of the hospital but to the homely atmosphere in the nurse’s home. After years of boarding school and Navy barrack blocks, Meryl found the home most comfortable and, what’s more, her parents were only an hour’s bus ride away. Just right for Meryl to pop home on her days off.

Meryl found herself sharing an attic room with a student nurse, Jenny Garratt. In a very short time the two became very close. Meryl helping the young nurse with her studies and the two of them advising the other on what to wear or what to do socially away from the hospital, they had become almost like sisters. There was one blot on the landscape however. There seemed a strange atmosphere in the hospital, especially around the Matron. There seemed to be a real fear of her and how she dealt with the nurses who did wrong. Meryl was used to firm rules and strict discipline, but this seemed much different.

‘I wasn’t even doing anything that daring ether,’ thought Meryl as she considered her options of where to bed down for the night. There was always the all-night waiting room back at the bus station, perhaps she could go and sleep in the staff room at the hospital or even in that ambulance that was always parked around the back near the mortuary.

Suddenly the first floor bathroom light came on. Meryl seized her chance. She picked up a handful of gravel from the drive and began to throw the small stones at the window. Eventually the window opened. Meryl breathed a huge sigh of relief; it was Jenny, her roommate.

*          *          *

Not long into her shift the following morning, Staff Nurse Taylor was summoned to seen the Matron.

Meryl stood smartly to attention before her in her mid-blue uniform dress. Her white apron, collar and cuffs were crisply starched and pressed to the standards of the Royal Navy, her hair was pinned tightly up below a white cap, on her feet a pair of highly polished black lace up shoes. On her bust, a fob watch and QARNNS broach badge shone brightly.

The Matron looked critically at Meryl, trying to find something wrong with her uniform. Her face was red, she was so angry.

“Typical behaviour of a sailor. You are a a tart, Staff nurse,” she began. “I do not expect my nurses to be out at all hours dragging the reputation of this hospital through the gutter. I should have known better than to agree to have navy nurses here. I know the reputation of you service girls. You are all a bit too free and easy for my liking. I have seen how you and the other Navy girls carry on with the male staff here and last week, when you should have been doing your rounds, I saw you at the railway station being rather too familiar with a train driver, of all people.  It won’t wash here, Taylor. You are a bad example to my nurses. If any of them follow your sordid ways there will be even more trouble. So just why did you think you could stay out until goodness knows what hour? No doubt you have got some clever excuse. Your kind always does. So let’s hear it.?”

Meryl thought for a moment. She was used to getting a dressing down when she had done wrong, but being attacked like she was, being accused of being a tart or worse, that was so unfair, especially as the reason for her lateness was so innocent and in some ways typically her. Why did the Matron think so badly of her? She couldn’t be more wrong. Not that she had that sort of reputation. Did she? Yes, she’d had boyfriends since school, a couple of them had been quite passionate relationships, but she was becoming a little tired of relationships failing because of postings or long separations because of her love of going to sea. She thought she had actually been quite well behaved since she had been back in Yorkshire. She had met up with some male company but, well, not in the way the matron had in mind.

Meryl decided she must try and explain herself, but in a way she also had to stand up to the Matron to show the other nurses that they weren’t there to be bullied.

“Permission to speak, Ma’am?” She began.

The Matron nodded.

“I’m going to try and explain my actions, not that I think it will help. It sounds like you have formed an opinion of me already and decided on the outcome. I visited my family back home in York yesterday. My Father and older brother both work on the railway, which is the reason I was talking to that driver last week. He is my father’s old fireman from steam days and a very close family friend. We haven’t seen each other for years, hence why you probably saw me giving him a hug, and I was on the station during my break time. It made more sense than coming all the way back here when all my calls were over that side of town.

“And the reason I was late back from my day off is quite innocent. I took my nephew to the new railway museum for the afternoon. I have been promising him a visit there since it opened and then I went home to visit my parents. Father was on a middle turn so we ate late and then I’m afraid to say I nodded off on the sofa after a couple of sherries. I’d still be there if it wasn’t for Ma waking me up in time to get the last bus back here. I nearly stayed over, but that would have meant that I would have been late on duty this morning.”

“Rubbish,” scoffed the Matron. “What an absolute load of tosh. You were out with a man who was having his way with you and were late back because of it.”

“No Ma’am, I’m telling the truth.” Interrupted Meryl.

“Silence!” Snapped the Matron. “I am going to teach you a lesson; teach you how a nurse should behave. You shall be dealt with in the most severe way I know how. I have my own private methods to keep you girls in line, as you have no doubt heard about from the others. Staff Nurse Taylor, I’m going to cane you.”

*          *          *

Meryl returned to the hospital staff room and began to get ready for her afternoon rounds. As she was taking off and folding her starched white apron, Student Nurse Garratt came into the room. She looked worried and put her hand on Meryl’s arm in a friendly and caring way.

“You ok, Meryl?” She asked. “Staff Nurse Teale just told me you have been in front of Matron about being late in last night. Did she? What does she know? Did it hurt? Am I…?”

Meryl smiled at her roommate.

“No, it’s just me that is in trouble. She didn’t ask who let me in. I’m fine for now, the painful bit comes later. I pointed out to her if she punished me this morning I wouldn’t be in a fit state to cycle around for afternoon rounds and questions would be asked if more appointments were missed by staff shortages, so she backed down and put it off until later because there is no one else to go out this afternoon. I’ve got to go back at 16:00 to face the music.”

Jenny frowned. “That’s why they left, you know.”

“Who?” Asked Meryl.

The other Nurses. We had six leave in a very short time. It’s why we have got you four in from the Navy. Matron thinks her way is best. She is a bully. She thinks slippering us and using that cane are the ways to get us to follow her outdated rules. It’s how she has always run this hospital. She likes to keep it as it was before the NHS. Even the administrator and doctors are frightened of her and won’t challenge her how she treats us. No one outside knows she canes us. And all that business about us not being allowed to use a car for rounds? She does and claims mileage allowance for it. You know two of the girls who left after a caning say they will never nurse again and the others got transfers to larger hospitals. Pam is even working in a prison hospital ward.

Meryl could feel the anger boiling inside her as Jenny spoke.

“What about replacements?”

“Err, well that’s the thing too,” continued Jenny. “We have been offered them but they have been, well, err, how can I put this, Matron sent them away because she refused to work with Colonial Nurses. Which is ironic really as she employed me knowing that I was born in Rhodesia. Although I haven’t been home in years because of the War.

“So it’s not just me and Navy Nurses she doesn’t like then?” Scowled Meryl. “An old fashioned, stuck in her ways, racist bully. No wonder this hospital is short of staff. Look, I know I’m Navy and I’m supposed to follow orders, but I’m not going to give her any satisfaction out of thrashing me. I’ll show her. We were brought up tough in my old school in the lakes. I can take it.”

*          *          *

Just before four that afternoon, Meryl was standing once again outside the Matron’s Office. The district rounds, normally a part of her job that Meryl loved, had really dragged. The prospect of what she had to face grated on Meryl’s mind, her stomach was in knots. She hated the waiting before a punishment. This one seemed so unjust too. Meryl had been caned several times before when she was a schoolgirl. Normally, she realised that she had done wrong and accepted the consequences, but this one felt different. A few of her patients had commented to her that she seemed quieter than normal.

The door opened.

“In you come, Nurse Taylor,” said the Matron curtly. “I’m late enough as it is tonight without having to deal with you.”

Meryl was used to the procedure of being caned so she wasn’t surprised to see a wooden chair strategically placed in the centre of the room and a very sinister looking yellow cane with a curved handle lying on the Matrons desk.

“I’m guessing you know what to do,” snapped the Matron. “But if you don’t, I want you bare bottomed, bending over that chair. Grip the seat and be quick about it.”

Meryl’s mind flashed back for a moment, back to the times she had been caned or strapped at school. Her former headmistress had been a very skilled and accomplished caner. A school punishment always carried a certain amount of professionalism and ritual. She took a deep breath and lifted her uniform dress and slip before taking up her position behind the chair. As Meryl was sliding down her dark blue knickers, the matron tutted, her voice ringing with sarcasm.

“I’m sure you would be much quicker pulling them down if there was a man involved, Taylor.”

Meryl said nothing she bent over the back of the chair and gripped the seat firmly.

Almost as soon as she was in position, the first stroke hit.

Meryl gasped as three sharp, stinging strokes hit her bottom in quick succession. There seemed no accuracy to the matron’s strokes. They just appeared to hit their target randomly.

“Take that, that will teach you,” snapped the matron as, once again, she lifted her cane and thrashed wildly at Meryl’s behind.

The young nurse gripped the seat of the chair tighter and tighter. She could feel the tears starting. Meryl wanted to cry out, but she was determined not to give the brute of a matron the satisfaction. She tried to count the strokes in her head, just like she had done at school. This caning was so different, though. Meryl could feel the anger and hatred of her in each stroke, as if the matron really meant to hurt her, or was it that, despite her fondness for the cane, she just didn’t know how to use it?

Finally, after nine very hard strokes, the cane was put down.

‘Nine?’ Though Meryl. That seemed an odd number. She had always experienced canings before in multiples of six. Her old headmistress had liked it that way. Somehow that had always been a comfort, something to aim for, knowing when the end was going to come. This had been possibly the worst caning Meryl had experienced up till now. She sensed the matron was punishing her through her anger. That was never good. Meryl even remembered a time when she had been belted by her father, being made to wait until he had calmed down. Despite the pain of being belted, her Father had assured her he would never beat her when he was angry. Now she knew why and how wrong it was too.

“Now get out!” Snapped the matron.

*          *          *

Meryl closed the door of Matrons office and walked as quickly as she could down the hospital corridor with its highly polished floor. As she moved, she felt her suspenders chafing on her bottom. She passed a group in the corridor; two men in suits with briefcases, and a very senior looking nurse in a dress and cape she didn’t recognise. Meryl saluted the group out of respect and habit, but she tried to avoid eye contact. She just wanted to be on her own, to vent her anger and frustration at the whole unjust situation.

Back in her room, Meryl wrenched down her knickers and kicked them off with her shoes before pulling off her starched cap and loosening her hair. She threw her cap and belt on the floor by her wardrobe. She crashed down on her bed, face down, lifting her dress to take the pressure of the fabric off the very sore weals that were beginning to form on her bottom. It was at times like this when Meryl felt at her worst. She had been strong and tough all through her punishment and afterwards, but now she felt the opposite; exhausted and alone. She buried her head in her pillow and sobbed.

It was the gentle chink of something being put down on the bedside table that made Meryl stir. Through her tears, out of the corner of her eye she saw a green cup and saucer steaming with a hot drink. There was even a biscuit on the saucer. As she turned her head to the cup, Meryl felt someone sitting on her bed, then soft caring hands began to gently apply a cool soothing cream to Meryl’s throbbing bottom.

“Well done you,” said Jenny softly. “It’s all happened this afternoon. She is gone now, finished.”

Meryl lifted her head out of her pillow and looked at her friend. Jenny smiled, her uniform looking immaculate, just how a nurse should.

“Who’s gone?” She asked.

Jenny’s face lit up.

“Well Meryl, while you have been up here crying, Matron had a visit. The county head of personnel and senior head of nursing called in for a surprise visit to our hospital administrator. They seemed very concerned as to why Matron hadn’t resolved the staffing crisis and why she keeps rejecting the nurses sent from York and Leeds. Well, apparently they went to ask Matron for an answer and saw a nurse looking very upset leaving her office. I guess that was you, wasn’t it? Well that’s when it all happened. They saw the cane, asked questions and Mr Milner from county was going to suspend Matron for further investigations, but she was having none of it and resigned on the spot. Stormed out without even clearing her desk. She has gone, Meryl. You did it. If you hadn’t stood up to her and insisted on being caned after your rounds then they wouldn’t have seen you.”

The End

© Tara Patterson 2017