But, being excluded, she remained pure except for smoking which was the only way she could feel like part of the cool group. Have a cigarette; no have one of mine.
So, a few years later when she began nursing training, she morphed into me and I still smoked but not, of course, where I could be seen. When a prisoner was escorted into the hospital one fine sunny morning by a contingent of police officers, hats on, very official, we were informed the man was a criminal. During a transfer to the city for a court appearance, attempting to escape, he had thrown himself out of a prison van. Apparently he had injured his spine.
First, he needed to be mopped, sutured, and put into a bed. A police guard of two stayed although the man couldn’t walk. I got my first opportunity to see him the next day on doctor’s rounds. We had three doctors in the hospital, though none were in the hospital except for rounds or emergencies. One was old, over forty and charming, one was a younger married man with two children and an ego to trip over, and the last was a learner doing his first locum. Dishy.
Dr Ego was the man in charge that day and he delighted in lecturing young nurses. He had a need to be smarter than someone. So, he showed the crowd of nurses he had gathered around to hear every pearl of wisdom that dripped from his sanctimonious lips how to test where, or how badly, the prisoner was injured. This is very technical and involves running a safety pin (I think he used the handle of my scissors that day because no one had a safety pin) along the outer edges of the foot. If the toes curl, the prisoner has been faking so that he can stay in bed all day and not go to jail.
His toes didn’t move and so officially he had a problem with his spine, though not a bad one, Dr Ego thought. Nevertheless, the two policemen remained to guard him. We pretended they weren’t there and went about our jobs. Privately, we thought it was hilarious that a man who was clearly bedbound and who had one leg tied into a Thomas splint (that’s on a frame and elevated by a rope) would need two guards. The prisoner was very polite and nice and in dreadful pain. Poor criminal.
He had test after test and it was said he would recover with the pressure taken off his spine, using the splint and bed rest for a few months. Eventually, even the police had to agree that he wasn’t going anywhere and in a few days he only had one guard, who got himself distracted by a nurse. The big boss policeman heard of this and we all had to line up for a lecture, because clearly nurses mustn’t distract policemen. I believe the lads also had a lecture that went the same way; we were distracting them. Women are a terrible danger. That’s the way of the world. Sigh.
So, the last guard was removed and we finally got to talk to the prisoner, who turned out to be a really nice man, polite, cooperative. Everyone liked him. We were never told what his crime was. Seemingly, that would have been a breech of something. We began to rehabilitate him and this next stage was expected to take some weeks.
He was incredibly helpful. In those days we had big wards and he was in the men’s, which I think slept ten. Two of those ten had heart problems, no relatives, and no one to take care of them, which made them long term patients. Another had dementia and yet another was an alcoholic who regularly came in drunk, got sober with a tipple of hospital brandy to settle him for the night, and went home to get drunk again. The prisoner watched over those guys, made sure they ate, and earned the respect of us all. I thought we should put him in charge of the hospital because he was running the wards better than Matron. Because he watched for the problems, we could get breaks, especially when he began to mobilise on crutches.
On yet another fine sunny morning, the wards being quiet, I had a break with another nurse at the back of the laundries where we could smoke without being seen. The prisoner was exercising outdoors on his crutches and he waved at us and called out, fine day, and we smiled and waved back.
We never saw him again. No, no, Matron. We didn’t see him. He vanished into thin air.
The crutches were found not too far away and from there he had taken flight. We were very poor criminals. Everyone knew we smoked behind the laundries but the hard evidence of the butts convicted us. So, the powers knew we had taken an unsanctioned break, giving the crim the opportunity to escape. We never mentioned his last wave to us, bye bye, see ya on the Gold Coast, gels. He had fooled everyone for three months.
His was a really great escape.