‘I hadn’t been in Hackney for 24 hours but I knew that the way I saw life and people had changed forever. There was such goodness here but there was a sadness I had never imagined before, and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet …’On a hot summer’s day in 1969, fresh-faced 17 year old Nurse Sarah Hill arrives at Hackney General Hospital in London’s East End.Battered suitcase in hand, she takes eager steps in her white calf-length Mary Quant boots towards the towering sandy-grey building of the Nurses’ Home. Looking up at the rows and rows of little windows, full of nervous excitement, she couldn’t have guessed just what she was getting herself into …It’s the end of the swinging sixties, Britain is changing and the everyday life of the nurses and patients plays out against a backdrop of a failing government, strikes, immigration and women’s lib. Nurse Sarah Hill, together with her companions; the serious minded, politicised Maddox, the quick witted Lynch, who falls in love with an upper crust young doctor, golden girl Nursery Nurse Appleton, and ex-musical hall star turned midwife Wade are thrown in straight at the deep end, working long hours with few days off under the watchful eye of the stern matron.More than just a hospital, Hackney General was part of the community just as much as the Adam & Eve pub the staff frequent. A place where the poorly children of Hackney were nursed to health, a place where young nurses would discover just want they wanted from life, fall in love with shy photographers and grow into women. But it’s not all smooth sailing in Hackney: for every baby that goes home to its loving family another is abandoned, unloved, or never gets to go home at all.Funny, warm and deeply moving, Sarah Beeson’s poignant memoir captures both the heartache and happiness of hospital life and 1970s London through the eyes of a gentle but determined young nurse.
The New Arrival by Sarah Beeson MBE was published by Harper Collins in paperback in March 2014.
Although the majority of books that I read are fiction, I do try to read at least a couple of non-fiction every month; usually biographies.
I'm not a nurse, but have spent a lot of time around nurses in my life. I worked at a psychiatric hospital for many years, and my long-term medical condition has meant that I've been cared for by a wide assortment of nurses over the years. I have the greatest respect for the nursing profession, and have a particular fondness for books and TV programmes, both fiction and reality that concentrate on this subject.
I was really interested to read Josie's review of The New Arrival at Jaffa Reads Too as Josie herself was a nurse and I felt that her experiences would flavour her feelings on this book. Josie really enjoyed it and I can honestly say that I've really loved reading about Sarah's experiences too.
Sarah was only seventeen-years-old when she arrived as a student nurse at Hackney General Hospital. Sarah was well-educated, from a fairly wealthy family, and London's East End was a whole new world for her. The fact that she stayed and completed her training when so many other students left is an indication of her strength of character and commitment to nursing that shines through her writing in this quite poignant and eye-opening memoir.
Times have changed within the NHS so much since Sarah's training in the early 1970s; changed for women, changed for nursing as a whole, and changed for the patient. Long gone are the Matrons who ruled with a rod of steel, yet many of the problems within society are still with us, some would say that these are worsening. In the days of unheated houses and poverty, many of the illnesses that Sarah treated were to be expected, yet some of these illnesses and problems remain with us today, exacerbated by the financial crisis and difficult choices such as 'heating or eating' experienced by so many.
The New Arrival is a real joy to read. Sarah writes with warmth and humour about her experiences, and yes, about her successes. Her determination to ensure that she used her training for the best of others, rather than just for herself is palpable, and we as patients should remember and be grateful to all of those dedicated health workers who continue, against the odds, to provide such a magnificent service to us.
Historical, funny and memorable; The New Arrival is well written memoir, I enjoyed it very much.
My thanks to the publisher, Harper Collins who sent my copy for review.
In 1969, 17-year-old Sarah arrived in Hackney in the East End of London to begin her nursing career. Six years later she went into health visiting, practising for over 35 years in Kent and Staffordshire, and building up a lifetime's expertise and stories through working with babies and families. In 1998 Sarah received the Queen’s Institute for Nursing Award and in 2006 was awarded an MBE for Services to Children and Families by Queen Elizabeth II. She divides her time between Staffordshire and London.
For more information about Sarah, visit her website www.sarahbeeson.org
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