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Gang fights and charred underwear - an interesting career for nurse Beryl

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Retired nurse Beryl Bartlett (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Ann Tatters Dill, Jean Nunn, Esther Murray, Wendy Lee and Beryl Bartlett (far right) at a Christmas party in 1969 (Photograph supplied)
Beryl Bartlett in her garden (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Beryl Bartlett still chuckles when she thinks of a patient who started a fire trying to dry underwear in the oven.

The district nurse called the Fire Department and, because the woman’s bras and underpants were charred to a crisp, headed into town to buy her replacements.

She saw that and more in the 30 years she spent on the job. Her territory stretched from Court Street, Hamilton to Collector’s Hill, Smith’s.

“Some of the loveliest people lived there,” she said. “And some nasty ones too.”

She remembers dressing an elderly patient’s diabetic wounds band being asked to tend to injuries a younger family member had sustained in a gang fight.

She never called the police.

“If I had told, they would have made short work of me,” she said.

The 78-year-old grew up Marsden, West Yorkshire, England, with her parents Frank and Phyllis Staniforth. Her first patient was her grandfather who had type one diabetes. A local nurse taught her at the age of 13, how to dress his wounds and give him insulin.

“I really liked that, and she said I would make a good nurse one day,” Ms Bartlett said. “I took to the idea, but my parents thought I was too sensitive.”

She ignored them and pushed forward with her dream, becoming a registered nurse and a midwife in Manchester.

“It was fabulous,” she said. “I enjoyed the patient interaction, and everything about it. I had a lot of compassion for people.”

One of her first assignments was in the rural countryside around Oldham in Greater Manchester.

“An ambulance would drop you off outside a farmhouse,” she said. “You had all the necessary birthing equipment with you. You stayed there until the baby was born.”

It was the late 1960s, most of her clients did not have telephones.

“If something went wrong with the birth, the father would be sent to the nearest corner store in the village,” she said. “From there he would call for an ambulance.”

She loved the challenge of the job, but hated the long, cold Yorkshire winters.

“We would wear layers and layers,” she said. “You would have your nurse’s uniform on and then have several vests under that. Then you’d have more clothes on top of that.

“There was always a roaring fire in the fireplace of the farmhouse and always water on the fire boiling continuously, just to get things going. There would be lots of cups of tea.”

One spring she became so fed up with the cold that she started applying for jobs in the warmest places she could think of, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Bermuda. A friend, Jean Nunn, followed suit. King Edward VII Memorial Hospital was the first to accept their applications.

The pair arrived in Bermuda in September 1967. The humidity, and the size of Bermuda’s roaches, took their breath away.

“But it was very beautiful and the people were so friendly,” Ms Bartlett said.

She was pleased to be placed in maternity.

“When you came to a place like this you didn’t know where you would be assigned. I felt like I was really lucky.”

She lived in a repurposed ward in part of the hospital with other nurses.

“It was pretty dire and cold,” she said. “The nursing residence was being built when I arrived.”

Ms Nunn went back to England after a year. Ms Bartlett continued as a midwife for eight years before transferring to district nursing to get away from shift work.

“You worked during the day,” she said. “You also worked weekends and holidays, but that was part of the job and you accepted that.”

She met her husband Richard in 1969, at a pool party on Knapton Hill in Smith’s.

“He came down and had a swim,” Ms Bartlett said. “We chatted and we liked each other. I saw him at another party a few weeks later. Eventually, we started dating. He is a gem. He is a lovely man.”

In 2001 she had a heart attack and needed bypass surgery. Once recovered, she returned to the Health Department working part-time as a maternal health nurse. She then joined PALS as a private duty nurse, working mostly at night.

“I backed away completely in 2008,” she said. “I thought I was just getting too old for it.”

Today she stays busy volunteering for the Bermuda National Trust. She works in the office on Wednesdays and helps them to organise bake sales.

“I enjoy that because there is no one saying to you, ‘I am constipated’, or ‘Can you look at this, nurse?’” she said. “It is nice to walk away from a profession that you have loved, when it is time.”

Now, her passion is genealogy and gardening.

“I grow a lot of vegetables, but they have been blown away lately by all the wind,” she said.

She and her husband have two children, Sally and Alex, and two granddaughters.

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Wednesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

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Published January 27, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated January 25, 2021 at 9:03 pm)

Gang fights and charred underwear - an interesting career for nurse Beryl

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