“I’m going to be a nurse” had always been my answer to that perennial childhood question. It seemed to satisfy the questioner and happily deflected any further enquiry. When I was sixteen, five sturdy school friends organised a week’s trip, to a hut on the edge of Diamond Lake in Paradise Valley, near Glenorchy. To get there involved a bus trip from Dunedin to Queenstown, the Earnslaw Steamer to Glenorchy, a hitched ride to Paradise, then a walk. All this involved money, and I didn’t have any.
I needed a job for the preceding two weeks, preferably with lots of overtime. Just such a job appeared at Seacliff Mental Hospital, so I swapped my gym frock for a rigidly starched pink uniform, crowned by a board-stiff white cap and ventured into the Admissions Ward.
At 7am each day the six duty nurses stood around the oak desk in Sister’s office and read THE REPORT. Among other helpful nursing tips it offered a assessment of the mental condition of New Admissions. These individuals were invariably described as “pleasant and cooperative” or “sullen and resentful.” Most of the nurses would also fit the latter category.