It was 1987 and it was winter night filled with snow in York.
I was transferred to take charge of an elderly ward as staffing was dire.
I was a very junior staff nurse supported by two support workers.
The support workers were two Jamaican ladies of mature years.
I was told to refer to them with a respectful " Mrs Lewis and Mrs Dawson by the handover nurse
" They will show you the ropes" I was told carefully.
I had never really spoke to a person of colour before. You never saw many non whites back then in North Wales and Chester, where I grew up and trained as a psychiatric nurse, but I was bright enough even then not to pull rank on two experienced nurse aides, and so I stepped back and allowed myself to be told what to do.
Mrs Lewis and Mrs Dawson worked at their own pace. They were unhurried and respectful, as they washed dirty bottoms and undressed the confused and the mute and I watched with some awe as together they bedded down 25 confused elderly ladies with the tired and practiced ease of two broad hipped grandmothers that had seen some hardship over a 40 year career.
They sang together as they worked and they laughed and hugged their patients with some warmth when hugs were needed and by midnight the ward was quiet as they dished out their own suppers of rice and peas and jerk chicken at the nurses station.
I was given a plate too, with a napkin and a glass of homemade ginger cordial and as I listened to them chat and laugh and I answered their questions about my home and family I realised just how sheltered I had been for the first 20 years of my life
At 6 am I asked their Christian names.....Matilda and Angel, I was told and we all laughed....
It was a cold and snowy night in York and I took charge of an elderly ward of 25 senile patients
And I learnt more about good nursing care and life from twoblack, big hearted support workers in 10 hours than I ever did from six months of my psychiatric nurse training.