Hilary Patton nee Harper,  1966 - 1980


I trained as a nurse at Wellington Hospital 1962-1965, and staffed for a year on night duty after registration.  At that time staff nurses from ward 19's regular staff took turns to do a month's night duty.  They worked 5 nights a week, and I began to relieve them on their nights off.

I enjoyed this, and decided that paediatrics was for me, so I joined the staff of ward 19 in 1966.  Helen Whelan was the ward sister then, and like Francie, I thought she was amazing - she had an uncanny ability to know that a child at the far end of the veranda needed a nappy change, without even leaving the office!

I worked there for a year before going to London to do my Sick Children's registration at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital.  I was amazed to find that GOS was still using rubber suction catheters with glass syringes, whereas Wellington had progressed to disposables, which of course were much more hygienic.

On my return from the UK I went back to Ward 19, then had a brief time as relieving Ward Sister in Ward 18 (the Children's surgical ward.). My lasting memory of that was the time when someone dropped a glass bottle of blood as they were trying to connect it to a child's intravenous line - the mess was indescribable - thank goodness for plastic in some situations!!

I did midwifery after that, and then the Diploma of Nursing, after which Gloria Grattan, Principal Nurse at the time, offered me the new and experimental position of Paediatric clinical specialist.  The idea was that an experienced nurse could actually be involved in patient care, be a role model and teacher, rather than making beds and supervising student nurses as they did the work, as most registered nurses did.  She used a relieving ward sister's salary for the position, but after two years, when she presented a case to the Health Department, but permission was denied.  I went to work at Karitane Hospital for a few months, then Francie left, I became Charge Nurse of Ward 19 in 1976.

I had a great team working with me, led by Professor Weston, and perhaps the greatest challenge was having to cope with big swings in workload - in winter I remember having over 60 and rarely even 70 children in the ward, whereas in the summer there might be less than 20, so we would have a lot of helpers who were not experienced when we were busy.  At night, when there were three staff on, if there were many babies needing to be fed junior staff would come from all over the hospital to help.  It would have been so much better on every level to have a parent there as happens today.

Some of the patients I remember were some children with Cystic Fibrosis, who were taking part in a clinical trial run by Dr Bob Elliott involving intravenous infusions of intralipid every four weeks.  The children coped with their frequent visits very well, but unfortunately later research did not replicate early promising results.

One memorable patient was a really angelic little girl who was born with a Tracheo-oesophageal fistula.  She had surgery, but was left with a very narrow oesophagus, and often obstructed, so was almost a permanent resident of Ward 19.  She stole the heart of the Charge Nurses of Cardiothoracic Theatre, who often came to feed and care for her, after she finished her shift.

I left the position in 1980 in order to work in various overseas posts with Red Cross and Save the Children, and the rest of my career in between missions was in paediatrics at Hutt and Kenepuru Hospitals.

Last updated 5 March 2021.