Jewel had made good progress in her studies, maintaining no lower than a third position in class, which people like Gertrude had found surprising considering her lack of formal high schooling, which had been another reason for developing a strong rivalry against her.
One day I was in charge of the Maternity Ward when the telephone had rung while I had been involved with some activity I couldn’t leave, and had asked Jewel to take the call for me. Unfamiliar with the type of telephone, she had picked up the receiver but was uncertain which end to put to her mouth; and becoming aware of her problem I had demonstrated that it was the end to which the connecting wire was attached.
When the call was over, Gertrude, who had been looking on, could not stop talking about the incident, saying she didn’t know that they didn’t have telephones in the district from which Jewel had come. I had tried to explain that they had only a few of the modern types, but that most were the old-fashioned kind with the mouth and earpiece separate. She had persisted in spreading the news, however, that Jewel didn’t know about telephones, being from the rural areas, which is how she described the outdistricts. She considered it a great distinction to be identified with city dwelling, in contrast with others who were “backward.”
She joked to her other colleagues that she liked working alongside Jewel, who willingly took on the slush work in exchange for her sewing services, Gertrude claiming that Jewel was her little cow whom she was milking. It had been obvious to most of her listeners that she was jealous of Jewel, who was good-looking, smart, efficient, and held in higher esteem than she was, besides having been one of her Aunt Pauline’s favourites. Jewel was not unaware of her attitude, but was forbearing and ignored her bad behaviour.
Jewel’s best friend, Sonia Duncan, however, was a thorn in Gertrude’s side, and made every effort to even the score by paying her back every time she caught her putting Jewel down.
Jewel had a habit of changing aprons often, as she did not flinch from cradling and hugging sick babies when she was working in the Children’s Ward, her favourite, and often getting soiled by their effusions. Gertrude, on the other hand, would declare loudly and often that she “didn’t come here for that,” that is, to do what she called “slush” work; and she didn’t care whom she passed it on to, just as long as she didn’t have to do it.
One night when Jerome was at our house drying the dishes as I washed them, the children at the dining table with their homework and Nigel resting on the couch in the living-room, I had taken the opportunity of asking him how things were working out with Jewel, whom he referred to as my protégé. He had replied it was good that I had brought up the subject as there was something to which he had wanted to call my attention.
He had told me that her performance was excellent and that he had had only good reports from all those he had consulted; but that one night recently as he was crossing the walkway leading to the radiography department, his attention had been drawn to two figures, a male and a female, going towards the nurses’ quarters. He had noticed that the female was a nurse and the male a policeman doing security work on the compound. The constable had had his hands around the nurse’s shoulder and he had made a mental note to make a report to the department about this action, as there was a strict rule against fraternizing while on duty. He could not be certain, but from her distinctive walk the female appeared to be my protégé and, if so, I might want to speak to her about it.
Knowing that Lucille and Abel had given Jewel a strict upbringing, I had had no qualms in asking her about the incident, and she had been forthright in admitting that it had been she, which had made it easy for me to suggest that her parents might think it too familiar for a young man to put his arms around her shoulder. She had been quick to agree and had admitted, somewhat shamefacedly, that she had not liked it but had not wanted to “rough up” her friend, whom she had known from home.
I had taken the opportunity to advise her that if a young man did something that was improper and made her uncomfortable, she should not be afraid to correct him, in a nice way, as her reputation was more important than pleasing a friend. She had been upset that her behaviour had been so “bad” that it had been reported to me and had apologized profusely for giving me trouble. I had tried to calm her down by assuring her it was no trouble, but that I was only trying to keep my promise to her mother to protect her and prevent anyone from taking advantage of her inexperience. Somehow she had seemed unable to leave the subject alone until the whole story had come out.
The young constable had been in love with her from when they were at home, but she had told him then that she wasn’t ready for that, as she wanted to complete her training before she could even think of having a boy friend. He had seemed to accept her decision, and when he had been transferred to the capital, had hailed her and they had chatted a little, but he had not “put love” to her any more. Now, however, he had become interested in one of her classmates and trying to enlist her help in making contact. At this, it had been easy for me to give my frank opinion that she should avoid getting involved in his personal life, telling him he needed to stand on his own feet in such matters; and she had thanked me for my help and interest and we had finally been able to put that problem to rest.
The Chief Medical Officer went on a six-month furlough during 1964 and Jerome, being the most senior officer on staff by reason of being the head of surgery, had acted in his place, and immediately seized the opportunity to institute some changes regarding trainees in the nursing programme. Whereas it had been the policy to allow the trainees to select and be confined to specialties such as paediatrics, public health, maternity and surgical nursing, the shortage of nurses overall had been affected by the limitations imposed by these specialties. In an effort to remedy the situation, Jerome had decided to have all trainees concentrate for six months at a time on their specialties, the rest of the time spread over the other topics, thus creating a more versatile pool from which to make assignments to the various departments, until such time as there was an increase in the total nursing staff.
Because of his good public relations, his proposal had been accepted with the minimum of resistance and by the time the CMO had returned from leave, the changes had been absorbed smoothly in the running of the institution. The CMO had agreed with Jerome’s strategy except in the area of surgical nursing, which he had felt should remain exclusive to those in that specialty, as it required a concentration of certain skills which were not common to the others. They had been able to agree on allowing this to continue until after completion of the current six months training period, so that until then all trainees were involved to the same extent in all areas of specialty.
Gertrude Atkins started a rumour that Jewel was in love with the head of surgery as she seemed to think he was perfect and never had any complaints about him like many of her colleagues. By now Jewel, obviously benefiting from earlier experience, had learnt to keep her opinions to herself. Gertrude had deliberately baited Jewel, who never had anything to say when others were running off their mouths with the intention of rattling her and thereby affecting her performance.
As part of the exam in surgical nursing, each trainee had had to be in attendance at a short mock operation and participate in simple techniques of responding to the surgeon’s need for instruments, for which purpose it was necessary to maintain eye contact with him. The effect of Gertrude’s teasing on an already shy Jewel had been to make her nervous and self-conscious when in Jerome’s presence, so that she kept looking down and trying to anticipate his needs rather than making eye contact. The result had been that Gertrude had made a perfect score whereas Jewel had been penalised by the lowering of her score by ten points. Fortunately, she had been able to achieve a perfect score in all the other areas of study, to offset the deduction in surgery.
Lucille, Abel and the whole family had attended the passing out of Jewel’s group, travelling by bus for fourteen hours to do so; and it had been delightful to witness their solidarity and love, which not even Gertrude’s sharp comments had spoilt.
When Gertrude had remarked that they had “lost the pattern” after Jewel’s birth, her good looks and dark complexion a striking difference from the other children’s, Jewel’s friend, Sonia Duncan, had invited Gertrude to give her mouth a rest and had escorted the family far away from her before she could do any more damage.
(Chapter 25 in Friday’s Amandala.)