THEN AND NOW: Registered nurse Kay Hartley with a picture of herself  while in training.
THEN AND NOW: Registered nurse Kay Hartley with a picture of herself while in training. Belinda Scott

Nursing Nana has no plans to retire anytime soon

KAY Mathews wanted to be a telephonist.

Her cousin wanted to be a nurse.

Kay landed in the hospital and her cousin at the switchboard.

Fifty four years later the switchboard has disappeared and Kay is still nursing.

The youngest of eight children, Kay grew up in a village outside Dunedoo, where schooling only went as far as the Intermediate Certificate.

A friend had a grandmother in Bellingen and16 year old Kay was able to move there and become a trainee nurse at the Bellinger River District Hospital, gaining both a job and training.

The year was 1962 and discipline was strict - the teenage trainees, all girls, had to live in the nurses' home at the hospital.

They slept in dormitories; had to be in bed by 10pm and were allowed only one leave pass a week.

" I did get homesick - there were some times of crying," Kay said

It took four years of work and study to become a 'sister' - a registered nurse, with each year adding a new notch to the cap and finally, a band of lace.

Many trainees fell by the wayside.

Those who left to get married were not allowed to continue training.

Kay said she recalled only one girl who married in secret, concealed her pregnancy and graduated.

The hospital was also a conduit to romance for Kay, who met and later married Max Hartley, the matron's nephew.

On the Bellinger River District Hospital's honour board of nurses who graduated between 1932 and 1968, Kay is the second last name on the board and the only one still working.

Now a grandmother, she has managed to combine a nursing career with raising children and helping her husband.

Nursing today is totally different to the 1960s, Kay says.

In those days nursing was a lot more physical and there were far fewer aids.

"I suffer from a bad back," Kay said.

'I have lifted a lot of heavy people with shoulder lifts, because there were no mechanical lifters.

"People have invented amazing things to move and lift patients, as well as electronics machines and things like continence aids, kylies and slide sheets.

" Now (registered nurses) don't do a lot of hands-on nursing," she said.

" These days the medication round is the biggest thing and all the paperwork you have to do."

In 1985, after 10 years out of healthcare, Kay returned to a different area of nursing when she began work in a Coffs Harbour nursing home.

She has spent many years working in a dementia-specific ward, where she said the challenge was to move people from being lost and confused when they first arrived to being happy and settled.

Next year will see Kay mark 50 years since she graduated.

She does not have a retirement plan.


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