Intended for healthcare professionals


A personal therapeutic journey

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 21 December 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1599
  1. Cicely Saunders, chairmana
  1. a St Christopher's Hospice, London SE26 6DZ

    I began training as a ward nurse in 1941 at St Thomas's Hospital. We had a limited pharmacopoeia, which gradually included sulphonamides but no other antibiotics, and few of the other drugs that we now take for granted. There were no diuretics, antihypertensive drugs, antiemetics, or any psychotropic drugs beyond barbiturates and chloral. Linctus, mist expectorans, or mist potassium iodids, and the evil tasting potassium citrate were regularly prescribed, and much of what we offered would today be dismissed as “custodial care.” We boiled up our “porringers” for lotions, folded our dressings for autoclaving, and reused our needles after a period in spirit. Operation days were a nightmare of vomiting patients.

    Young patients dying of tuberculosis and septicaemia from war wounds begged us to save them somehow, but we had little to offer except devoted nursing. Osteomyelitis led to amputation and gastric ulcers to a milk diet. Penicillin appeared after D Day, when soldiers arrived saying that they could not face another blunt needle. We had morphine by injection but used it sparingly.

    We worked a duty of 12 nights on, two nights off for three months, with split duties by day, and we had one day off a week from 5 pm the previous day. I was tired but deeply happy and satisfied. I have never lost touch with my set: the remaining members still meet regularly.

    Invalided out with back trouble, I returned to Oxford in 1944, completed a war degree, had a laminectomy, and became a lady almoner (now known as a medical social worker) back at St Thomas's.

    Brompton cocktails

    In March 1948 I began working as a volunteer nurse once or twice a week in one of the early homes for “terminal care.” St Luke's Hospital had 48 beds for patients with advanced cancer. Here I met …

    View Full Text