Kintyre community nursing then and now

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By Mark Davey and Sarah Abley/Royal College of Nursing

In the mid-20th century, during winter weather, Kintyre district nurse, Mary Smith née Mathieson, regularly drained coolant from her car radiator due not having anti-freeze.

Skip forward 71-years and her 21st century counterpart, Senior Community Nurse (SCN) Aileen Rodger, may not have to go to those lengths but the job is still challenging requiring much lone hard work and dedication.

Mary  was a passionate nurse and midwife. Her niece Anne Mathieson, now in her late 70s, remembers: ‘When she visited our house in her uniform she always looked so professional – never a spot on it.’

The hard winter of 1947, which coincided with a country still in the grip of wartime austerity, saw Mary battling through deep snowdrifts, from February 10 onwards, to see her patients.

By 10 March Mary ‘couldn’t believe her eyes’ that it was still snowing, but one of her most challenging nights was yet to come.

Called out at 1.20am to a patient in labour three miles away in Killeonan, she was forced to leave her car halfway into her journey and continue on foot.

In her memoir, she recalls: ‘The family, knowing the terrible conditions, had sent one of the sons to meet me. He saw my light coming, then disappear.

‘I knew the road, but the night was dark and the snow was heavy and the drifts high. I wondered if I would ever reach my destination.

‘I passed abandoned cars and tractors, and only the tips of the telegraph poles could be seen.

‘I knew there was a deep ditch near Marchfield that I had to cross … I linked up with my escort, who previously kept calling to me and sometimes I could see the stable lamp he was carrying.

‘We reached the house and I was drenched in snow from the waist down. I had a bath and change of clothes and was ready for my job.

‘I never would have safely reached the house without my escort and without doubt would have lost my way.

This extraordinary experience prompted Mary to write a memoir which was given to the RCN after her death.’

Today there is a bigger team but also there are nearly 8,000 people in the Kintyre catchment area.

Aileen has faced her own winter challenges particularly in 2013 when she was caught on the Isle of Gigha.

Aileen said: ‘I was due to leave on the Friday morning, but severe weather had cut off the power and the ferry to the mainland was cancelled.

‘There’s a nurse’s house on the island, which I’d stocked with tins and dry food, but my fresh supplies, including milk, were finished.

‘When I checked the ferry service on Saturday morning, I was told while the ferry was running, the roads on the mainland were completely blocked and I wouldn’t be able to get home anyway. It was best to stay on Gigha.’

Modern community nursing has one challenge that Mary didn’t have to face. For all the benefits of new technology, life in a rural area can often mean you just can’t get a phone signal.

Caseloads have to be carefully prioritised and while Aileen says that hers may seem small to district nurses in more populated areas, the number of visits that can fit into a day is limited by time spent on the road.

Whether it is community nursing in 1947 or 2018 there are lots of rewards.

Aileen said: ‘It’s a privilege to be allowed into people’s homes. It is often an elderly person who is socially isolated and frail or I’ll be helping a patient or family through a life-changing event such as major surgery or end of life care.’

Mary Mathieson on qualifying to be a nurse. NO_c10districtnurse01_Mary Photo from Campbeltown Heritage Centre collection.

Campbeltown’s homecare team of which Aileen Rodger is a part. From left: Catriona Grahame, Carolanne Shields, Aileen Rodger, Kirsteen McIntosh, Adina Lupu, Mairi Allibone and Sarah Livingstone. 25_08communitynurse22

Senior Community Nurse Aileen Rodger has become a frequent ‘flyer’ on the Gigha ferry. With one of the MV Loch Linnhe’s crews, from left: Skipper Phil Salvadori, John McVean, Aileen Rodger, Jane Clements and Iain Wilson. 25_08communitynurse28

SCN Aileen Rodger outside the legendary district nurse, Mary Smith nee Mathieson’s Machrihanish house. 25_08communitynurse13

SCN Aileen Rodger with on a sunny February day with Glenbarr patient Charlie McArthur. 25_08communitynurse37