By Geraldine Perez

Since I was a young child I always wanted to be a nurse. When I took the boat to England many years ago, the initiation of my ambition began. I had never been away from home before, not even on a holiday.

The extent of my travel was a day-trip to Belfast – that was some excitement! My uncle gave me a pound and took me to Woolworths – the big department store. I saw so much it took my breath away, so I ended up buying nothing.

My first real journey in life began when I embarked on my nursing career. I will never forget that boat trip to England – I was travelling on my own and it was so frightening. The Irish Sea was choppy and the waves crashed over the top of the large ship. I spent my time praying, as I thought I was going to drown and I’d never see my family again.

Finally, the ship pulled into Hollyhead. I had landed in England! There was so much noise and such crowds of people, I thought I would faint with fear. People didn’t seem to see each other, they all buzzed around like bees.

I thought there was no use asking them for help with my directions as I felt invisible. I then decided to pull myself together and find someone who looked official so they could tell me the right train to get on. I eventually found someone who gave me directions and at long last I was on my way.

When I arrived at my destination –  Joyce Green Hospital – I was met by the house-matron and her greeting was, ‘Welcome, Nurse.’

I looked around to see who she was talking to and I realised it was me! She then brought me to the matron’s office. Again I was greeted by the matron who instructed, ‘Sit down, Nurse.’

I was then briefed on the first step of my nursing career. I would be taken to the needle room to be measured for my nurse’s uniform the next day.  But first, the house-matron showed me the dining room where I would have my meals and then I was shown my accommodation which would be my home for the foreseeable future.

I was taken to home number one. It had long corridors with doors leading off on each side. My room was number twenty seven. How daunting it all was and how homesick I felt.

Suddenly I heard Irish music in the room next to me and I decided that there was light at the end of the tunnel after all!

The following day, I was fitted out in my uniform – I wasn’t exactly what you’d call a fashion icon – the uniform was nearly down to my ankles. I then made my way to the dining room for my breakfast. It was a very large area and all eyes turned to look at the new kid on the block!

The house-matron introduced me to some other student nurses. She then informed me that I would be doing an early shift for the rest of the week and she would knock on my door at 7am sharp.  She then went on to state that I couldn’t go on duty unless I had my breakfast.

My first day on the wards transpired to be male medical That was a shock in itself! I felt so shy, especially when the ward sister said, ‘Nurse you need to do a bottle round.’

What was that, I asked myself? But I soon discovered what she meant by a ‘bottle round.’  I was blushing to the roots of my hair as I carried out my first nursing duty! Things certainly come back to bite you. I remember my grandmother saying to me when I told her that I wanted to be a nurse. ‘You need to get those blinkers off your eyes, there are a lot of messy things to deal with in nursing.’

On my day off, I decided to get the bus into the nearest town called Dartford. It seemed so large compared to my own small hometown in East Donegal. I had to ensure I took the right bus back to the hospital so I asked the bus driver, luckily he was pleasant and helpful.

I wandered around the crowded town and while there were so many people there, no one seemed to be talking to each other. How alone I felt that day.

While initially the start of my journey on a nursing career was an isolated one, I subsequently enjoyed a long, happy and very fulfilling career in nursing. It was during my time working as a nurse that I met my handsome Spanish husband in the hospital where I worked.  

In fact, he told me afterwards that when he saw me that first morning in the dining room at breakfast, he said to his colleague at the table, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.”
We enjoyed thirty six great years of happy marriage until he sadly passed away twelve years ago but now I have wonderful memories to look back on.

Read memories like these every week in Ireland’s Own