People's History of the NHS

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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.

Source:
All photographs copyright of Inès Elsa Dalal © 2019 www.ineselsa.com 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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2 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

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