Nurses’ Reunion, Remembrance, a very special place: The Fitzrovia Chapel

Dedicated to Kate

Nurses Reunion pin

Last weekend I gathered with a group of special ladies to celebrate 30 years since we had started our nurse training together.  Our school of nursing has long since gone, nurse training has changed beyond all recognition and neither of our teaching hospitals are in existence in their previous state.  But half of our nursing set gathered together in London, travelling from as far afield as New York, for a trip down memory lane and renewing/strengthening old friendships.

We trained at Bloomsbury College of Nursing and Midwifery and spent the majority of our time living and working between University College Hospital and the Middlesex Hospital, situated on opposite sides of Tottenham court Road.

UCH 2

UCH opened its doors on the Gower Street cruciform site in 1906 and this Victorian red brick building remains imposing, if impractical next to its modern day counter part on Euston Road.  A wonderful lady, Lucie, gave up her day off in order to show this group of old nurses around a building that closed as a hospital in 1995, but for us still holds so many memories….UCH 1tunnels beneath the buildings from nurses’ home to hospitals, cockroaches (Yes, REALLY!), endless stairs and the founder’s portrait on the staircase encased by wooden panelling and doors.

It was written into the Night Sisters’ contracts that at the beginning of their shift they must close these doors, for if the doors were left open there would be 3 sudden, unexpected deaths in the hospital that night.  The building is now used by the medical school for research labs, but it was lovely to see the preserved nursery rhyme pictures on the once children’s ward and the stunning architecture.

 

Sadly the future of the beautiful old Middlesex Hospital building on Mortimer Street was not so secure.  It opened in 1757 and had further wings added in 1766 and 1780, but the whole hospital was rebuilt in the 1920s only to be closed in 2006 with the opening of the new UCLH. The building was demolished in 2008 and due to the financial crash, the site remained undeveloped for several years.The Middx

The only part of our building to still be standing in the newly developed Pearson Place, is the grade II listed hospital chapel and it was here that we gathered for remembrance, commemoration, cream teas and Prosecco!  It felt strange to walk into the sleek lines of Pearson Place (also known as Fitzroy Place).  So many memories surrounded us and we brushed shoulders with many ghosts – including one of our own, to whom this post is dedicated.

 

The Middlesex hospital chapel was a place for patients and staff alike, situated in the middle of the hospital, stunningly beautiful, unconsecrated, without denomination and open to all.  We saw laughter and tears, fear and pain, marriage and love within that small pocket of calm situated in the midst of a busy teaching hospital.  I remember singing in there during night shift breaks – not allowed I’m sure – and hiding out after my first patient death.  In order for the space to always be welcoming and never shut away, the main doorway had a special glass door fitted to comply with fire regulations (I believe) and yet to be visible every hour of the day, open for all.

The Middlesex

Still part of the hospital, unrestored….spot the glass door!

Today the newly named Fiztrovia Chapel has been restored by the developers and has a cultural focus, overseen and managed by  a charitable foundation.  During the period that the site was undeveloped, the old chapel was closed up and reopening it, introducing the outside air pressure and movement actually caused damage to much of the original gold leaf decor.  A huge restoration project followed and the foundation to maintain the chapel was founded.  It was through the foundation that we were able to visit the chapel and were given a wonderful historical “tour” by the lovely manager Sarah.

She gave us information about the history of the building and archive material that she continues to uncover, and in turn we were able to provide stories from our time during the 80s.  Whilst there, a group of physiotherapists who worked in the Middlesex Hospital 50 years ago arrived to view the chapel and share memories.  This little Gothic place of beauty, full of gold mosaic and stunning stained glass restored so lovingly by a local firm, costs £10,000 per month to maintain – but to so many of us it is priceless.  If you are ever in the vicinity of Mortimer Street (just off Oxford Street), or are looking for a wedding venue or a film location – the Fitzrovia Chapel is well worth a visit. IMG_1648

Emotions were high on Saturday – for memories, for each other, for friendship.  We worked hard and we played hard – there weren’t many central London night spots unknown to us. Anyone remember the Dreamboys? We do!  We lived together, we grew up together  and we probably shared some of the most intense times of our lives.  Many a time we found ourselves thrown in at the deep end at such a young age.  Our life experience by the time we qualified in our early 20s was way beyond that of many of our peers – we were pretty street wise!

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Have we changed?  No…not really!  At breakfast on Sunday one of the others said that although the saying goes that people change, actually it isn’t true.  Despite marriages, children and whole different lives, we all slipped back to being twenty year olds without thinking.  I had been anxious about going and the day before the anxiety levels were growing.  Whilst my first back surgery was whilst I was a student nurse and I had always dislocated, had migraines, anaemia and fainted – only one of my peers has actually seen me “disabled” by my condition.  It still feels like a big thing to get my head around, and whilst they are nurses and can care for me, I actually don’t want my mates to have to take me to the loo!  So hubby became an honorary nurse for the weekend – he knows them all anyway!

So life goes on and we all leave behind our own little stories carving out a slice of  history.  When the very fabric of the buildings that you made that history in have changed beyond recognition, the emotions are so mixed.  The memories of the nurses’ homes – one at UCH and one at The Middlesex – will always be with my friends (refreshed as history repeated itself when we got in to trouble for setting off the security alarms 30 years on – a stunned student let a group of middle aged women declaring “we used to live here” into the building!), alongside friends & colleagues, patients and relatives, skills gained, calamities forgotten.

The Rockerfellar

The entrance to the nurses’ home – the security guard arrived soon after!

I felt that those familiar yet different surroundings triggered feelings and long buried memories,  hopes and dreams, the best and worst of life.  Is this a familiar sentiment for everyone at particular stages of life?  I wonder if sometimes we get so caught up in the minutiae of what is happening today, that the amazing things already achieved and shaping our lives are (unintentionally) forgotten. Maybe one or two of those ghosts that we all have, be they loved ones or for us patients, would even give us a pat on the back and tell us we did make a difference.

Hoodie!

Complete with set hoodie, adorned with our nursing badge and red hood lining – the same as our nursing capes!

I know that some of my set read this.  Ladies, I say to you that it remains an honour to have shared my informative years with you and last weekend just reminded me how much I have missed you all (I always felt rather disconnected from the set on my return after 6 months away for back surgery).  To don our hoodies and reconnect was a privilege – always have been and always will be ordinary girls/women doing extraordinary work.

This is in honour of Kate, who died when her career was only just beginning.

The-MondayMotivation

My Guest Post on “You are Awesome” Love Letter – Do You Remember?

Last week I was thrilled to be featured on Angela Noel’s blog “You are Awesome – Celebrating Inspiring People and Interesting Ideas” as her regular Love Letter guest post.

This is actually a poem that I wrote over 14 years ago for one of my closest friends, who had just died after a 2 year battle with breast cancer.  We found ourselves in a situation that I could never have envisaged as our close friendship became one of nurse and patient.  I was recognising signs and symptoms before they were diagnosed, and I encouraged her to accept a referral to my place of work for palliative care.  The day that I called my consultant to arrange for her to be admitted and then called her hubby to tell him, I went home and sobbed.

The next day I donned my blue dress and I went to work to care for my patients and my friend.  I was the nurse in charge and had to be professional, but after handing over to the night shift I couldn’t stop myself from begging the night girls to take good care of her.  She came home the next day, a Saturday, and died at home the early hours of Tuesday morning.  She was 37 and had the most beautiful smile in the world.

Please visit Angela’s post to read my full poem:

Love Letter : Do You Remember?

and have a look around the blog as Angela is one of the most inspirational and beautiful writers that I follow.  Thank you Angela for having me!

The-MondayMotivation

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New Year Meet and Greet

New Year Meet and Greet!

Dream Big, Dream Often

 

It’s the Meet and Greet weekend everyone!!  Strap on your party shoes and join the fun!  

Ok so here are the rules:

  1. Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post.
  2. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!
  3. Edit your reblog post and add tags.
  4. Feel free to leave your link multiple times!  It is okay to update your link for more exposure every day if you want.  It is up to you!

  5. Share this post on social media.  Many of my non-blogger friends love that I put the Meet n Greet on Facebook and Twitter because they find new blogs to follow.

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Be kind to Each Other – You are all Beautiful.

Our house is feeling slightly more stressed than normal, and that is down to upcoming mock exams.  The loBe kindvely girl is in year 11 at school and will be taking her GCSE esams next summer – and this is the first year of the new exams  to be graded 1 – 9 with a new syllabus.  I’m not sure how widespread the stress is on a national level, but in her school the homework is being piled upon the girls as the teachers seem a little unsure of what to expect, and a meeting was held with the girls as so many of them are showing signs of extreme stress.  I know that some of the parents are also adding to the problems with pressure to revise and one is not allowing her daughter out of the house other than to go to school.

Apparently these anxiety levels are some of the highest that they have seen as a school. Our girl is usually very level headed, feted by her friends as being the most sensible one and  yet she had a melt down last weekend over her work resulting in tears.  So out of character and not what a parent wants to see.

Earlier this week she came home and told us something that I really want to share.  One of her close friends, a lovely young lady who has suffered her own share of anxiety issues since year 7 (for reasons that I will not be stating), recognised that everyone was becoming more and more wound up and she wanted to do something.  She went home and wrote by hand a letter to each of the girls in their close friendship group.  The letters were all individual – she could have written the same to each girl – and she focused on telling each one of her friends what she valued about them and their friendship.  She wanted them to remember that they are so much more than schoolwork, exams, sixth form applications and stress.  What a wonderful thing to do!

The Rules! (1)

The girls!

The lovely girl really appreciated this and was full of praise for her lovely friend.  To be able to recognise at this age, that a beautiful human is made from a rounded, balanced life and that positive, loving comments are so important,  must be a gift – for many of us it takes a lifetime to appreciate this.  This 15 year old reinforced that it is so important to be kind to each other.

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School Runs and Shopping Trolleys

Empathy isn’t just for Xmas

We have been so unwell since my last post!  Duncan and I haven’t stopped coughing yet, I lost my voice completely last week – much to the delight of the kids – and have forbidden the student from coming home as I’m sleeping in his bed.  I have missed out on the various nativity productions at my primary school and have cancelled so many socials with friends I have lost count.images (7)  Panic started to kick in at the end of last week when the cupboards were bare and the fridge was empty, so we hauled ourselves coughing and wheezing to the supermarket.  As friends commented that they were busy getting everything done for Christmas, I was thinking that I hadn’t even thought about it let alone started!  Going from post operative recovery straight into flu/cough for nearly 3 weeks has not been a great seasonal prep time.

I have to admit that I have struggled with my back – coughing is rough at the best of times, isn’t it, putting stress on the abs, causing headaches and stress incontinence for us girls.  So the added stress on a not quite healed operation site has been tough.  My implant site (right butt!) and right leg has been so sore that some mornings I’ve woken up feeling like I’ve been beaten up and even resorted to my post op naproxen again.  The stimulation has actually made my nerve pain worse whilst I’ve been ill – I wonder why?  After nearly 3 weeks I am so fed up!  But on the up side, I have managed to get into the hairdresser’s seat this week and it is official – I am no longer grey.  Thanks to my lovely friend Bev, I now look and nearly feel 10 years younger!  Duncan and I got out to a carol service for the other school where I sit on the alumni association – I sang the carols beautifully.  Really easy to do when, as you open your mouth, no sound comes out!  It was here that I was given a piece of advice from an old school friend who has lots of remedies from his Indian grandmother.  We do lemon and honey hot drinks (unless like my brother and I, you can’t stand the smell of honey – long story going back to our childhood, our great grandmother and pots of coffee “thickened” with honey!!) whereas he recommended turmeric in hot water…..mmmm, delicious!  But I have been that desperate that I would give anything a go and, sweetened with a spot of brown sugar, it has proven oddly soothing.  Duncan has been well enough to drive to his parents today, we have shipped the teenage daughter off to stay with my brother and sister in law (thanks, Sandra!), and the boys are still at school/uni……so I am enjoying a glorious couple of days in an empty house.  Just me and my dog and rubbish Christmas movies……

For this is the season for goodwill, over indulgence, sentimental tv and bonhomie, isn’t it?  How many of us struggle to maintain the cheerful face as everyone around us appears to be having such a fantastic time?  Whether it is loneliness, grief, poverty or illness, there are a myriad of reasons out there that actually make this time of year very difficult for some of us.  Guilt is another emotion that gets in the way.  Guilt that you aren’t feeling jolly; guilt that your condition is keeping your loved ones from the activities that you feel they should be a part of; guilt that others feel that they must tiptoe around you; guilt that you can’t do for your friends and family what you would want to; guilt for feeling jealous of them.

It really is so true that when the chips are down, we find out who our friends are.  Over the twenty or so years since I have had my back problems, I have been surprised more than once by both the friends who have stepped up with support and those who have not!  This old adage is even more true with a chronic condition.  I am well aware that for some people my disability makes me a bloody nuisance these days, but it can still be hurtful.  I don’t want to have to constantly ask for a lift for instance, but when “friends” just no longer even think to ask or offer it is tough.  I was listening to the fantastic Adele’s song “Million Years Ago” and she seemed to be singing my song when she describes “not being able to stand the reflection I see; my life flashing by; missing my friends, when my life was a party to be thrown; but that was a million years ago”. images (8) I can see my friends’ lives moving on, careers unfurling, travels taking them far and wide, and I do feel that mine has come to a stand still.  Self pity?  I hope not.  More being realistic and understanding my limitations.  Note to self – New Year, new pain relief with the scs, new stage in my life!

I received a text today from a very supportive friend apologising for being a “rubbish” friend for not being in touch recently.  Yet her teenage daughter, who has an Asperger’s diagnosis, had tried to commit suicide.  Have you noticed that it is often the people who are in the most difficult situations themselves, who are also the very people who do make the time for their friends in need? I guess this goes back to the “when the chips are down” again – when we have been there maybe we develop a heightened empathy.  A friend who has been particularly supportive of me and of Duncan since his  mental health breakdown last year, has undergone her own battle with breast cancer, including extensive reconstructive surgery earlier this year.  Kylie Minogue took the time to surprise a young woman in her home, with a party live on a BBC show last night to “thank” her for the work that she has done for a breast cancer organisation.  What marks her out is that she was undergoing her own treatment for breast cancer, diagnosed in her late twenties, looking at the possibility of infertility, and yet pushed herself to run marathons, fund raise and praise the bravery of other women around her.  Of course Kylie had her own personal experience to drive her to want to do something for this young lady.

download (1)Christmas!  Looking on the bright side, Star Wars is back in our cinemas, the X Factor has finished and Jose Mourinho has been sacked……sorry, Duncan!