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Barbara Diggins - Wards 28, 20/17 and 18     1968 - 1991

When I worked in Victoria Ward, old Ward 28, it was either 1968 or 1969, the design of the Ward was an old Victorian design, an open Ward. We had children with all kinds of illnesses, the overflow from Wards 18 and 19, as well as quite a lot of children with disabilities. It had a dumb waiter that we used to have to go down, they’d bring the food over to the ground floor and we used to have to run down and unload the food into the dumb waiter and then pull it up. That’s how the laundry came, too. The laundry came in a truck and then  we loaded it into the dumb waiter and then we would pull it up and unload it. While I was there I met Eric Heath from the Dominion newspaper, and he offered to do a whole lot of paintings of nursery rhymes (he was a cartoonist). Eric was coming to the hospital because his son was in the Ward. We moved down to the King Edward hospital and we were in Ward 20, which later became Ward 17. 
On Ward 28 in the early days we worked with a lot of children with severe disabilities who had only ever lived in hospital. Later on these children went to the home of Compassion or to Levin, and some went home to live at home.
The Doulton tiles were there, they had come from England when the hospital was originally built. We had a school teacher (children stayed longer in hospital than they generally do these days) and the teacher had a classroom attached to the Ward. Children could go to the classroom if they were allowed out of bed, or if they weren’t  the teacher gave them work to do on their beds. We encouraged mothers to live in. They slept on mattresses beside their children, on the floor.
The first bone marrow transplant was done in the old Ward 18, in the late 1980s. We did the transplant in a side Ward.
When we moved downstairs to Ward 18, it became a surgical and medical Ward (Ward 18 had been the old children’s surgical Ward). When we moved into the newer children’s hospital a man came from England to advise us about how to move the tiles. In the new Ward we had beds attached to the wall so that parents could stay overnight in single rooms, or if they were in a 6 bed room they could sleep on a lazy-boy.
The children were aged 5 to 12 years, except for cancer patients, who ranged from 6 months to about 13 years. If they were older than that they went to the adults’ Ward. We had a big team, the oncologist, the surgeon, the child psychiatrist, the paediatric visiting nurse and the parents, as well as the charge nurse. We met about the children’s care and progress once a week and parents could access medical staff at any other time. I thought this would have been good for all the other children with severe and chronic illnesses. The dream was that the pediatric nurse could have followed them in the community, as well as the children with cancer.
We always decorated the wards for Christmas. Each year the Father Christmas came in a different way, in an ambulance, in a helicopter...and we dressed up, including the house surgeons as fairies. We did this a few days before Christmas. Each child got a present. On Christmas Eve the nurses went around the wards singing Christmas carols, in the evening.
I can remember forging friendships with parents, particularly the parents of the cancer patients who were there for a long time.
There was a lot of walking. In the older open wards the toilets and showers were quite far away from the open Ward so we were back and forth quite a lot.

The official Ward rounds were very formal in the early days. They did rounds every day with big teams, medical team, surgical team, orthopaedic team, cancer team, urology and neurology teams. Doctors decided what to do and nurses did what they were told to do. As time went on, doctors began asking the opinion of nurses, and taking it on board as well.
We spent a lot of time as staff on washing and showering children, doing their dressings, making beds. When the parents began to be encouraged to stay on the Ward they wanted to help and they took some of that workload off the nurses. In the early days the meal trollies would arrive, you had to plug it in to keep warm and the charge nurse dished the food up and the nurses delivered it to their patients. The dishes went into the kitchen on the Ward and the wards maid washed them.
I remember some children were so often in hospital that they spent more time with us than with they did at home. 
The best thing for me was seeing children who came in very ill and having a poor prognosis going home well, and coming in later to let us know how well they were doing. I valued the opportunity to know the children and to know their parents, and I really loved knowing they were back at school and on a good track. Much later I met the parent of a child who had not survived, and she told me that her son looked forward to coming back to see us... and her stories about trying to get hold of the most comfortable mattress to sleep on over night were very funny.
I was pleased about the way the strictness of access to coming in to visit changed over the years, so that parents could come at any time and that families were able to be part of the children’s care, and also that education continued for the long-stay ones.
Changes in treatment and technology have meant that the time spent in hospital is much less for many children, which seems to be a good thing. But this also meant that we didn’t know them or their families so well, or their situations and what kind of supports they might need.

I remember working very hard and for really long hours, but never minding that, because I could see that I was helping and making a difference. And when I worked with doctors and specialists who also worked extremely hard and had that kind of commitment to the children we were caring for, the sense of working in a team and doing the best we could each day meant I felt that my profession was really a vocation.

Last updated 1 February 2021.