Book Review – Scissors, Nurse, Scissors by Greta Barnes

First published, 2009

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This diary covers the training years of a Bart’s nurse in the early 1960s. Written with youthful enthusiasm and well-worn but seemingly boundless energy, Greta Barnes gives a rather lovely insight to working at one of the most famous hospitals in London. My mother trained at Bart’s a year or two before the author and so a lot of the locations, key tutors and wards were familiar to me. As well as making wonderful nurses, Bart’s has a tradition of moulding storytellers and this diary, with its many anecdotes, letters and photos, gives the reader a glimpse of a nurse’s life at a particularly evocative time.

“30 December, Wednesday, 1959

“Miss Russell, the Night Superintendent, whom we call Jane after the film star Jane Russell, really is the limit. She is tiny and owl-like and looks as if she has never seen the light of day – but she is an ogre! She came into the ward tonight and I was told off for removing the screens in front of the ward door too early when a patient who had died from Dalziel, the ward opposite, was being taken to the mortuary. Corrinne was in trouble because she hadn’t had time to report a minor incident and we were told we would probably be sent to Matron.”
p28-29, Women’s Medical, Annie Zunz Ward, Nights, Nurse, Scissors, Nurse by Greta Barnes

Of course, Ms Barnes goes on to say that Miss Russell was a very devoted care-giver and a fierce friend but, like so many teachers who terrified me as a teenager, she took her time sharing her softer side. As it happens, all the nurses referred to Miss Russell as ‘Jane’. I suspect they all thought their Set was the one that started it, but I imagine she liked it.

A sweet diary. Any nurse, especially any Bart’s nurse, would adore this book.