People's History of the NHS


Portrait of Verilline Vassell

My name is Veriline Vassell.  I was born in 1930, Springfield, in the parish of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica.

My father was a farmer but I answered the call for nurses by the United Kingdom and flew to England in the early 1960s.
I rented rooms in a house in Wolverhampton owned by cousins who had arrived in England years earlier.  It was here I met my future husband who was also renting a room.
I was employed as an Auxiliary Nurse at The Royal Hospital Wolverhampton before spending 25 years at New Cross Hospital and finally Penn Hospital.
I worked on the Geriatric Ward, this ward was exclusively for the elderly, I suppose in a time before care homes came into being.
Initially I was shocked to find elderly ‘white’ people existing in sometimes a state of degradation, right here in the ‘Mother Land’, it never occurred to me that white people could live like this.
At one point I was assigned to Parkfield Road Hospital to care for disabled children, emotionally I could not cope, it broke my heart to see children so poorly, so I returned to New Cross.
Hand on heart, I loved my job, I truly did, I derived so much satisfaction in looking after the ‘old’ people.  Every now and again though, you’d encounter a patient who did not want to be treated by a ‘black’ nurse and would scream out loud if you came near.  Some patients could be really unkind with their words and actions but I learnt eventually to shrug it off.  Fortunately this was not the norm.
The first time I saw snow was during a shift, my colleagues and patients were most amused when I inquired as to the location of the cotton field, I mistook snowfall for cotton blowing on the wind.  When they told me it was snow, I ran straight outside without a coat to feel it on my skin.
Those English winters of the 1970s were harsh, I'd cry in the mornings cleaning the ash out of the grate to light a fire to warm the house before the children rose to get ready for school, it was so, so cold, ice on the inside of the windows.
Christmas was a fun time for nurses back then and the Annual Nurses Ball was the event, a happy excuse to wear your finery, eat, dance and drink all evening with your work mates.
My career as a nurse ended with the onset of Crohns Disease, I missed my job very, very much.
Now I am 88 I have lost all mobility and struggle to use my hands and arms, I use a wheelchair.  My bones have been ravaged by Osteoporosis and Arthritis in the joints and I suffer pain daily; a testimony of a time when training in lifting techniques did not exist, nor Slip Sheets, Cricket Hoists, Bath Lifts, Sling Hoists, patients were physically lifted from bed to chair, onto and off toilets; can you imagine lifting and lowering into a bath another adult? Bending low to physically take them out again and manoeuvring them to be dried and dressed?  Now imagine doing that several times a day, several days a week.
I think often of the friends I had made through nursing, I miss my job and their companionship still.

All photographs copyright of Inès Elsa Dalal © 2019 Commissioned by Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, 2018. No photographs or text may be referenced or published elsewhere, without prior permission.

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5 thoughts on “Portrait of Verilline Vassell

  1. It is a minor point, but jarred slightly seeing peoples’ portraits and powerful personal testimonies under the heading ‘museum object’ – but a lovely project and look forward to seeing the number of testimonies grow

    1. I recall as a child my Mother explaining to me that her priority first thing, when entering the hospital ward was not having a hot drink and a pleasant natter with colleagues but to prepare wood and coals for a fire to warm the Ward and be keep the patients as comfortable as possible.
      Can you imagine that level of commitment an and care !!
      Despite all the physical , stressful and emotional work. Mom always had time to show us kids Love.

      To see age and the effects of her job ravage her health saddens me daily.

      But stop for a moment and think how many lives has she and others like her, touched with love and kindness. Especially while at their most vulnerable. ..I Love my Mommy.

      1. Nurses do amazing and HARD work at every level, from the physical work of keeping patients comfortable, clean and well-nourished to the emotional work of caring for patients and their familes, often at their worst moments. Thank you for reminding us of this in such a personal and moving way. And thanks to all the nurses out there!!

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