From her first glimpse of Bermuda, Flo was hooked
Flo Hall intended to only be in Bermuda for six months but from her first glimpse of the island, she was hooked.
She sailed into Hamilton Harbour on the Ocean Monarch in January 1960, having been hired as a nurse by King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.
“It had been cold in New York and we had a rough trip over,” the 85-year-old said. “We entered the harbour first thing in the morning and the sun was shining. There were white roofs, with all this green and blue around. It was just beautiful.”
Her family back home in Canada, in rural Haney, 50 minutes east of Vancouver, thought she was crazy.
“They said, ‘Why would you want to go so far away?’” she said, explaining that for them, a big adventure was camping in the nearby mountains.
“My parents, Percy and Mabel Lilley, were total homebodies. My father was a heavy duty machine operator and my mother stayed at home. I was the fifth of six children.”
Her new home was the nurses’ residence, located on the ground floor of the hospital. It was known affectionately as ‘the dungeon’ because to get there you had to go down various flights of stairs. Conditions were a little less modern than what she was used to in Vancouver.
“We only had cold water to wash our clothing with,” she said. “They had an old-fashioned machine at the back that we shared. We all had our own rooms but shared bathrooms and showers. We all got along really well.”
The nurses were not paid much – £46 a month – and they worked six days a week.
They were also carefully monitored to make sure they did not bring any men into the residence.
“That was a ’no no’,” Mrs Hall said. “And we were not allowed to live outside of the residence. It was like we were student nurses again.
But she did not mind. The captains of visiting military ships frequently hosted dances and invited the nurses to join them.
“They would send taxis,” Mrs Hall said. “We had a great time. The sailors would treat us wonderfully.”
She met her husband, Grant, when he came into the Emergency Department with a rugby injury.
“He was an accountant and was also from Canada,” she said. Although she did not like him much at first they kept meeting up, and he was persistent in asking her out.
In July, they will celebrate sixty years of marriage together.
“We were hoping to do a cruise to Alaska with our daughter, Dianne, and then stop off for a few weeks in Vancouver to visit family,” she said. “But with Covid-19, I don’t think that will happen.
“By chance, seven of the nurses got married the same year, and we are all still here. We have status.”
After Dianne was born, Mrs Hall shocked her family again, by returning to work.
“That was just not what you did,” she said.
But in her family, she had a reputation for doing just what she wanted to do, regardless of the general opinion.
She worked in the lab at the hospital, drawing blood.
“I had done intravenous work in Canada before I came to Bermuda, so that came easily,” she said. “I did that for a long time.”
She remembered how, during her training at St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, needles and syringes were washed, sterilised and reused, repeatedly.
“Sometimes, when the nurses worked nights in the operating room, they had to sharpen the needles,” she said. “They also washed and sterilised the syringes, which were made of glass.
“They didn’t fit interchangeably. You had to have the right two together to have them work. Today it is very, very easy. You just get a disposable syringe and put a needle on it, and you are done.”
She became a nurse for lack of any better option.
“In my day there weren’t many career options open to women,” she said. “You could be a teacher, nurse or secretary.”
The advantage of nursing was that after six months, the training hospital paid $10 a month.
“You could live on that, because they gave you room and board,” she said.
After her training she joined Pearson Hospital where she worked with post polio patients.
“These were the people who had survived and were still functioning. One of them was a fireman. Every weekend his buddies from the fire hall took him home to his wife and family.
“There was a young boy who was about 16. He was studying Russian. He was in an iron lung all the time. He just lay there. They tipped him over each way and he had these reflecting things when he lay back and he could read.”
The hospital had an artist come in and teach the patients. Mrs Hall has a painting hanging in her living room that one of them made using a brush held in his mouth.
She worked at KEMH until her husband was seconded to work in London, England in 1988.
When they returned to Bermuda two years later she joined obstetrician Joseph Woolf, and stayed with the practice for ten years.
“Then the hospital called and asked if I would come and do relief in the lab again,” Mrs Hall said.
Although she didn’t want to work full-time she was often “doing more than two or three days a week”.
In 2013 she retired but continued as a volunteer with the Bermuda Red Cross and the Blood Donor Bank for several years.
Mrs Hall used to regularly meet a group of nurses who worked during the 1960s and 1970s but has not “been able to do that since Covid-19 started”.
Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Wednesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them