End of an era for city’s voluntary nurses

2009-03-12 00:00

A chapter in the city’s medical history is closing as a voluntary nursing group folds after 32 years. The Non-practising Nurses’ Society (NPNS) was launched in 1976 and held its final meeting in January.

The group was formed when the then Natal Provincial Administration (NPA) put in place a disaster management strategy, including backup medical personnel. Grey’s Hospital was identified as the centre to treat patients in the event of a disaster and the hospital called for non-practising volunteer nurses. Those who came forward attended a 10-week refresher course.

“They called us ‘The Disaster Nurses’ and the chairman was ‘The Major Disaster’. That’s probably why they never really let us near the patients. The closest we got was making beds and working in the kitchen,” joked Phil Nanni (85) of Howick.

Like Nanni, most of the members of the NPNS had trained in the forties and fifties, and many at the old Grey’s Hospital. They found the refresher course so informative and stimulating

that they decided to form a professional society in order to stay up-to-date with medical developments.

The group’s chairman for nine years, city resident Barbara Gathorne, explained that they met once a month to listen to a talk by a medical practitioner. “Many medical practices taken for granted today, like hip replacements and treatment for HIV and Aids, were introduced after most of the members trained.”

The group made all the beds in the wards in the new Grey’s Hospital and nurses’ home. It was called in to help at Grey’s during the ’flu epidemic of 1982, the kitchen workers’ strike in 1993 and in 1990 when Edendale staff went on strike and patients were transferred to Grey’s. The group helped in the kitchen and with basic patient care, like bed-making and taking patients to the theatre or for X-rays. They also participated in voluntary projects like knitting clothing for babies in the Grey’s neo-natal nursery, working in the Comrades Marathon medical tent and taking blood from suspected drunk drivers as part of the NPA’s Drunk Drivers Campaign.

NPNS members agree that the monthly lectures and the camaraderie were the highlights of the society. “We are grateful to all the speakers who gave of their time and knowledge. We had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun together. We lost count of how many beds we made when the new Grey’s opened in 1984 and I learnt never to volunteer to peel beetroot,” laughed founding member, Monica Greene, of Pietermaritzburg.

At its height, the group had about 70 members from as far afield as Hillcrest, Greytown and Wartburg, with a recent average of 45. “Nowadays, most nurses keep working when they marry or have children, unlike in our day, so no younger non-practising nurses have volunteered to run the group. We have all had turns to carry that responsibility and we feel we are too old now, so we have decided to stop. In future we will meet once a year for a reunion tea in June, the anniversary of our founding,” said Gathorne.


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