A diary is a good thing to keep; you never know when it might come in handy. Eleanor Sinclair uses extracts from a diary she kept as a nurse in training as the basis for her book, Our Lamps Were Heavy.
A retired registered nurse, Sinclair relates the sharp learning curve she experienced as a teen in the 1950s while in training at the Holy Family Hospital and School of Nursing in Prince Albert. She soon learned there was more to nursing than wearing a white uniform.
This book is not for the squeamish. While assisting in a delivery, Sinclair witnessed both mother and baby die in childbirth. Then she had to carry the stillborn child to the morgue and clean it for burial.
Her narrative slows somewhat when she uses medical terms, but is most lively when she quotes from her diary: “I copied doctor’s orders wrong today and had a baby girl to be circumcised tomorrow. Did I ever get teased.”
Sinclair supplements her text with three dozen black and white photos taken while she was training.
All the incidents in this book are true, based on Sinclair’s memory and diary. As a precaution, she changed the names of all the people involved, and for good reason. Her diary recorded surgeons coming to work for an emergency operation in the middle of the night while they were half-drunk. “So you guys got your weekend party interrupted, did you?” she wrote.
Sinclair’s descriptions of her training shed light on hospital conditions in the 1950s, which, although only 60 years ago, seem almost like the Dark Ages. I wonder if she kept a diary of her subsequent nursing career.
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