A Presentation by Mengia Nicholson (Semadeni) at the 2012 Luncheon
Mrs. Du Gas and Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Class of Sept ‘62, and Classmates,

It is an honour to say a few words on behalf of the Class of February ‘62 on this, our 50th Anniversary!

It is also very special to be able to thank you in person, Mrs. Beverly Witter Du Gas, our Director of Nursing. Mrs. Du Gas, you were a wonderful role model for us and an outstanding nursing leader. It is now that we more fully realize your considerable contribution towards insuring good learning experiences for each of us as well as appropriate support during our training. We warmly thank you and we wish you the best.

Thank you, President Kathy Murphy and Alumnae Executive for your many activities to: – assist VGH students; – bring together the classes of the School of Nursing at these lovely luncheons, – and your timely development of the Website and Archives. Your work means a great deal to the VGH nursing community. We also congratulate classmate, Gail McKay, on receiving the honour of a Life Membership today.

Thank you, classmate Pat Berda and your committee; Pat G., Mollie, Gail, Marian, Marleen, Ruth, Anne, Rea, Pat J., Sharon, Pamela and Mardy; for wonderful reunions over the years, and for this special day! We greatly appreciate the many hours of planning and arranging of many, many details on our behalf. Regrettably, some classmates cannot be here today; they send greetings. We wish they were here with us. We remember classmates who have passed on. They lived and learned with us; they also loved our profession and contributed greatly. We remember: Giselle Doyon, Lillian (Gee) Ng, Carol (Putnam) Rowse, Leona (Smud) Erickson and Dale (Reeves) Collingwood. We are thankful for their friendship – they will always be in our hearts.

We are grateful for and fondly remember: our Instructors, Matrons, Nurses, Doctors and Staffs who, each in their own way, (and some of these were quite memorable!) guided us towards proficiency in nursing. They would be proud of the students they taught and guided.  Upon reflection, we realize the richness of those three years at our VGH School of Nursing.

Life in residence and classroom learning was our introduction to nurses training.  Most of us were fresh out of high school; some had been inspired by Future Nurses Clubs. We were in for experiences of all kinds! The strict expectations of the ‘50’s still held in1959, residence rules echoed the discipline and regimentation of Hospitals in the then-fading British Empire. As we recall, our natural exuberance was sometimes curtailed! For example, ‘no shorts when leaving the residence’, even if going to Stanley Park for a bicycle ride.                                                                                                                                                                 

A few residence recollections, (among many!):                                                                                                                    When we first started training, some students had rooms on the first floor, North Wing, while most of the class were on the second floor. Two friends looked for a place to plug in the 2-prong plug record player. All the outlets had 3 holes and you needed a big adapter to plug anything in; plus appliances were to be first inspected by a hospital engineer. The florescent light fixture above the mirror on the dresser had a 2-prong outlet but the holes had been filled with putty. No problem! They would just pick it out with a bobby pin…                                                                                                                                              But – as they were picking away, the other end of the bobby pin accidentally touched the metal of the light fixture; there was a huge flash and sparks! All of the lights in the north wing of the nurses’ residence had also blown out!  They were 2 scared Probies! But, when the Engineers came around, it seems these girls had ‘no idea’ why the lights went out. With an overload of soap in the washers and suds everywhere, laundry rooms were a bit like the ‘Ma and Pa Kettle’ movies of the day; – we laughed as we mopped.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Although very active on the wards, some of us still put on a few pounds with the generous amounts of peanut butter, jam and bread. We also wondered if VGH owned a pineapple cannery; pineapple seemed to be ever-present at most meals!  We enjoyed painting windows and decorating for Christmas in residence and on the wards. Everyone seemed to be knitting Phentex slippers… (Who started that?) They made wonderful gifts that our student stipends could manage.                                                                                                                                                                    Matrons somehow ‘always knew’ when we gathered in someone’s room; holding our breaths and holding back giggles, as the approaching sound of heels clicked on the terrazzo floors…: ‘‘Girls, candles out NOW, please!‘‘                                                                                                                                                                           At one of our ‘full uniform’ Teas presented for VGH Members of the Board, the huge silver urn had developed a tiny leak… When we turned on the spout to fill the bone china cups, a few drops of tea also dropped into the saucers! – We kept on smiling while busily wiping saucers and serving our honoured guests!

Our first classes were in the Residence basement:                                                                                                               The daily Roll Call held expectant pauses: – how would today’s Matron pronounce some of our more unusual last names? For the first 6 months we daily sang a Hymn to begin classes; our own Marie (Glaholm) Tucker accompanied us on the piano. One particular Instructor, on our first class with her, decisively strode to the blackboard, and then most vigorously printed, in capital letters: “BESWETHERICK”.                                                                                                                                 – “Pull and TIGHTEN that Drawsheet – I want to be able to BOUNCE a dime on it!” -“Don’t EVER put your purse on the FLOOR! – it will pick up all the dirt of Granville Street!”  She was able to leave us with an indelible memory of important matters.  Miss Fleming, her face often reddening, emphatically taught us every detail of knowing and administering meds, including how to perfectly perform injections.

Warm friendships:                                                                                                                                                       Students came from near and far. The ‘out of towner’s’ enjoyed kindness and generosity of urban classmates who warmly invited them to their homes. Merry personalities lightened up serious ones, quiet and serious ones offered another perspective to consider. A wonderful mosaic formed that helped us to better understand and respect various beliefs and outlooks. We learned a lot from each other.  Our Big Sisters kindly answered our questions; Training sometimes seemed like a maze to us.  We soon became a sisterhood, sharing experiences, clothing and jewelry, but especially becoming reliable sources of support for each other. It kept us going; our sisterhood gave us the support of a family. A medical specialist, a former UBC School of Medicine Resident, recently said, ‘VGH nurses were the best’. He felt that ‘living in residence’ helped shape VGH students into very good nurses’. We certainly had fun and a sense of community: We had a student newsletter: The Drawsheet. We had fund raisers: – many of you will recognise this book: “Captivating Cookery,” illustrated by our own Gail McKay!   At our Capping Ceremony, we staged some musical numbers, setting our own words to ‘South Pacific’.

Our aim was learning how to care for patients who had all types of needs.  Our patients were to be found somewhere in that ‘collection of buildings’; ancient and new. We trekked through halls and tunnels, through all levels of light and dark, temperature and humidity and on elevators each with its own “personality”!                        On the wards, there was no confusion as to who was allowed to do what; each had a specific uniform denoting a specific role, – and each had a readable name tag!  We were sure to rise and stand for doctors arriving at the nursing station! 

One morning in the Nursery on Maternity 4th floor, there were a lot of babies to bathe; so the students set up an assembly line – one undressed, one lathered and rinsed and another dried and dressed. Worked well, except the RN walked in just as somebody was rinsing a baby under the running tap. A student new to O.R., having been given no prior instruction, continued to pour acetone on the limb being prepared for surgery, thinking the Orthopedic Surgeon nearby would tell her how much to use. Eventually he tactfully indicated it was time to stop pouring, with: ‘Gee, I sure would like you to be the one that pours me my gin fizzes in the morning’!

There were many challenges to adapt to, and much to learn; but we did.  Teamwork and protocols for nursing and medical staffs; physical sciences, many procedures, skills, understandings and techniques… We absorbed psychological, sociological and anthropological basics.    Open-mindedness, acceptance and understanding of humanity in all walks and conditions of life, have indeed stayed with us, all of these days.  Finally, we were ready for Graduation! Then, with RN certificates in hand, we began our nursing futures.          

In the five decades since;Life’ has presented various opportunities and circumstances for our nursing and personal lives… 

VGH’s fine foundation has held well! This is evident from the accounts of our class’s nursing careers. A brief overview of our class’s accomplishments certainly illustrates the variety of work and skills they, as RN’s,     carried out.                                                                                                                                                                                 We salute our classmates who are still actively nursing! You deserve gold stars to have kept up with all of the changes!  One of our class members said: “Once you’ve worked in healthcare all your life, it’s hard to give it up totally.” She then went on to say: “Other folks just don’t seem to relate well to our weird sense of humor!!”Many provided reliable and vital core staffs in hospitals and health services: O.R., ECU, ICU, Cardiac, COPD, Emerg, Premie and Psych; and Supervision, Head Nursing, Administration, Informatics…. Others, recognized as highly proficient in their field, were asked to teach clinical students. Some worked as Casuals or Floats, often between having their children – we recognize how adaptable one must be for that type of nursing…    Some nursed in rural or remote Canadian communities, the North, in foreign countries, developing countries and in Missionary nursing.                                                                                                                                                         Some worked beyond hospital walls, pursued further studies or specialization, Bachelor or Master’s Degrees; working for Federal and Provincial governments in policy and statistics; or became Educators, Counsellors or entered Community Services. Two taught RN Refresher courses. One opened and administered the Child & Family Health Research Institute at B.C. Children’s Hospital. One worked with Medication Clinical Trials and Animal Research. Some taught Pre-Natal, several provided Community Health Nursing. One worked in the Air Force, one became a Para-Medic, two nursed in Prisons, (Juvenile Corrections, and Medium Security). Some did Insurance Medicals, Private Duty, Home Care, Long Term Care, Doctor’s Office, Physiotherapist‘s Medical Office Assistance, Walk-in Clinics, and one nursed at a race track! One is a Parish Nurse and volunteer (Military) Reserve Nurse. One worked with the deaf, another was a ‘standardised patient’ for UBC’s Med. School.                                                                                                                                                                                     Some later choose other fields; such as realty work, newspaper production management, advertising, one achieved a CGA. Some have held public office, one worked for a MLA in his Constituency Office. One is an author and sought-out speaker for her spiritual leadership.                                                                                         We’ve had the good fortune to be able to contribute to society.                                                                                                    Some generously shared in financial ways; establishing and supporting foundations to significantly assist our VGH Student Nurse Bursary program, special projects for two Interior Hospitals, the UBC School of Medicine and also Cancer research in B.C. We thank you.                                                                                                                                            Some personal accomplishments have also been outstanding; among them, the ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro (5,895 M.) by one of our classmates – at the age of 71, no less!  – Way to go, Pat J.!                      &nb
sp;                                                                          Our children and grandchildren have benefited from what we could teach them about staying healthy. Many of our children have chosen careers in nursing, medicine, and physical or social helping.                                                                                      

Our VGH School of Nursing provided not only solid nurses’ training, but also gave us the confidence to carry on and to try new things. Miss Helen King and Mrs. Beverly Witter Du Gas likely envisioned this for us; we owe our deepest thanks.

 What does ‘nursing’ mean now, fifty years later?                                                                                                                                                                                             

50 years ago, we had to possess good skills in communication, observation, assessment and techniques, provide emotional and physical support and accurate information for patients and families, (appropriate to the specific area).  These ‘elements of nursing’ continue, however they continually change with evolving processes and new settings. Nevertheless, our patients (and families) will continue to need these ‘elements of nursing’.

As our VGH Crest symbolises, Nursing was, and still is, about: ‘Compassion, Peace, Tradition and the Values of the Great Beliefs’. Our School Motto underlines this with: “Non Ministrari Sed Ministrare.”

On behalf of the Class of February ’62, I would like to thank the VGH School of Nursing for the exemplary foundation we received for our nursing and personal lives.

And on behalf of our class, we thank you, Kathy and your entire Executive, for keeping these realizations before us. Thank you for your kindness and leadership.                                                                                                                     We are honoured to be your guests at this lovely Luncheon and to have this special time together.

Thank you, and all the very best to everyone; until we meet again.       

(For ‘a little bit of spice’: Feb ’62 Class members then sang a bit of their version of ‘There is Nothing like a ’Male’ (Dame) from ‘South Pacific’).