by Debbie Hulston
When I was a trainee nurse at Wellington Hospital in the 1977 I lived in the Wellington Hospital Nurses home. The nurse’s home was a large old brick double story building. The ground floor had beautiful wood panels and ornate grand stair cases and large living rooms for the nurses to enjoy. I lived with other trainee nurses and we had a lot of fun together pulling practical jokes on each other. Our uniform was a white smock, white stockings and white shoes. We had a red woollen cape for winter days. On our heads we wore a white cardboard cap with stripes to show what level of nursing you had achieved. Our practical jokes included things like sewing up someone’s pockets and sleeves on their uniform or gluing up the keyhole to your room. The Nurses home also contained a large cafeteria which offered nurses and doctors meals three time a day. The food was good and it was set in a very formal setting with enough tables to hold about one hundred staff. There was a very ornate entrance way into the cafeteria with steps leading into a carpeted foyer.
One day during my lunch break I went to the staff cafeteria for a meal. The Nurses home had just finished putting down new plush red and gold carpet in the entrance way and throughout the cafeteria. It smelt very new and looked stunning. There was also a conference on at the hospital for the New Zealand and Australian Royal Society of Anaesthesiologists. A wave of about sixty doctors in dark suits were about to descend on the cafeteria. At the entrance way I overheard someone ask if they needed to take their shoes off before walking on the new carpet. I had a sudden idea for a quick joke. I found a piece of cardboard from outside the kitchen and wrote neatly on it
NEW CARPET PLEASE REMOVE YOUR SHOES Thank you
I put the sign at the top of the steps to the entrance way into the cafeteria just before the rush of visiting doctors arrived. No one noticed me as I was dresses like all the other nurses in a white smock and red cape. While eating lunch with my friends we noticed more and more men in suits walking around with no shoes on. Some had odd socks and a few had their toes poking out of holy socks. It was a funny sight and even some of the shoeless souls were laughing at each other. When we left the cafeteria, the entrance way was crowded with men in suits hopping on one foot whilst trying to put on their shoe. There must have been at least fifty pairs of black leather shoes which all looked the same. One muttering doctor was throwing the shoes out of order whilst looking for his shoes. It was complete chaos. I quickly lowered my head and scuttled back to work a little stunned as to how intelligent people would actually take the sign seriously. I was glad I hadn’t confessed to my friends that I was the person who instigated the chaos. A few days later the matron requested any information about the sign as it was not appropriate behaviour for the nursing profession. I was eighteen and felt really guilty but I kept my silence and learnt my lesson. A week later everyone had forgotten about it.
It taught me that common sense and intelligence are two separate things. Common sense cannot be assumed to be the same for everyone. We all think in so many different ways depending on how we interpret words to cultural customs or blind acceptance of just following the rules. Having a degree or doctorate doesn’t make you intelligent but being curious and questioning the things around you certainly does. So always keep quite if things go pear shape, question what you read and never leave home wearing holy socks.