Starting hospital-based training in Norwich, England in the Winter of 1984, I emerged as a Registered Mental Nurse three years later. I even had a white coat. These years saw the gradual abandonment of the big former 'lunatic asylums' and the celebration of deinstitutionalisation - the buzz word of the zeitgeist. All good in theory but many former inpatients effectively ended up on the streets, vulnerable and untreated.
The lovely old buildings themselves often got squashed, reused for offices or sold off as flats. This was true for both the UK and Australia, the latter with many beautiful old asylums being built from sandstone.
Based at at Hellesdon Hospital, I also did tours of duty at Thorpe St. Andrews Hospital, The David Rice Hospital, The Norvic (Forensic) Clinic and did time in Norwich Prison who were keen to recruit. On the good side. Mostly.
A trip to Australia in 1989 found me working in a private mental health unit, Sydney's eminent Northside Clinic. I'd shipped my beloved Suzuki GS(X)1200 'drag bike' ahead and proceeded to fang it around Highway 1 on a work visa. I ended up in Townsville working as a Community Psych Nurse.
A subsequent thrash down to Tasmania the following year secured a bid for Australian Residency. I worked in an acute psychiatric unit and later moved on to running a day centre for the long term mentally ill. With nurse training in Australia shifting to the university sector it was time to upgrade the qual's which involved returning to NSW in 1993 to undertake a Nursing degree at Sydney's University of Technology.
After graduating I travelled and taught English, facilitated by a TEFLA Certificate at the Bondhi Junction School of English. By that time I had returned to Sydney's Northside Clinic and presently took a position there as Nurse Unit Manager. Some time later Redfern Community Mental Health Services beckoned, leading to a return to the community and a Graduate Diploma in Psychotherapy followed.
A growing interest in computers caused a move to the celebrated Rozelle (Psychiatric) Hospital to help develop an IT infrastructure for various hospitals and health centres around central Sydney. After spending some time travelling between Australia, the UK and Greece, I took a position as a Team Leader at Compaq Computers in Western Sydney in 1999. Our team's tasks included developing and supplying computer systems to Australian forces serving in East Timor. The systems had to be robust enough to be run from a generator in the middle of a field.
A return to the beautiful roads and countryside of Van Diemen's Land in 2000 led to more two-wheeled tarmac thrashing and a teaching position with TAFE Tasmania. This provided opportunities to gain more certification in both the IT and VET (Vocational Education & Training) fields. I later transferred to TAFE's health programme, shifting from teaching IT to teaching Nursing.
This background was about to lead to an unexpected opportunity in 2008. While undertaking a Masters Degree in Clinical Nursing at the University of Tasmania, I was invited to join the Faculty of Health. Utas needed someone with clinical and IT skills to develop their new Simulation Centre, used for training nursing and medical students and post-grad stuff.
Closely resembling a real acute clinical facility combined with a sound studio, the centre housed a number of 'Sim People' - simulated humans on whom clinicians could practise their skills at resuscitation and other interventions. It was a time of developing cutting-edge training facilities at campuses in Tasmania and Sydney (popping back to Rozelle Hospital again) and I also lectured in med/surg/psych Nursing at the Tassie campus.
Despite a love of teaching I decided I wasn't an academic and began hankering for a return to life at the coalface. So 2010 saw a return to clinical work with the community mental health teams and later with the Medicare-funded Mental Health Nurse Incentive Programme. This involved working in primary mental health, taking GP referrals for patients requiring psychotherapy and treatment for more severe forms of mental illness.
Subsequent positions have included phlebotomy RN at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service and Court Liaison Officer with Community Forensic Mental Health.
I do look back on my years in the erstwhile asylums with fondness. There was a real family atmosphere and some incredible times were had. Living-in at the nurses home was a complete riot! I saw things that made me laugh. I saw things that made me sad. Maybe one day we'll all go back to the days of yore and institutional care, once more. There are so many ways in which people were better off..
Life in a Community rehabilitation facility..
You always know when you've arrived for duty at Random House. If the acrid stench of stale piss doesn't get you first.. [read]
II: Pulp Friction
Has she been helping herself to the residents' medication again..? [read]
III: Student Nurses
They're not bad," Maudlin replied, "We've got one male and one female this time. Jeff, the male, is interesting.. [read]
The laundry bag creaked a bit at the seams as the rope tying it to a radiator inside gave a little, but it held strong.. [read]
V: Evening Shift
Andy looked up from his microwaved lasagne and carefully wiped his lips with a napkin, "I'll deal with this one.".. [read]
VI: Rehab & Reality
"Hey cheer up Nurse Andy!" said a bright apparition standing at the office door. "Wot you got to be so down in the dumps about..?" [read]
VII: Body Fluids
Now, I truly tried hard to find a nicer term here, but nasal mucus doesn't really begin to describe.. [read]