A nursing treasure: Jan Aisbett retires after 50 years

IF YOU grew up in Horsham during the past few decades, chances are you or one of your family members have crossed paths with Jan Aisbett.

Mrs Aisbett completed her final shift at Wimmera Base Hospital on Tuesday -  exactly 50 years after she started her nursing career as a fresh-faced 17-year-old.

Throughout the past half-century, Mrs Aisbett has worked in most areas of nursing and has had a range of roles in the hospital and with Horsham City Council.

"I worked for 17 years as council's headlice nurse, so a lot of people will remember me as the 'nit nurse'," she said.

"I was also the immunisation nurse practitioner and I was a family planning practitioner for eight years - I used to give lectures in schools about what's happening with your body and teach boys to put on condoms and all that sort of thing.

"Throughout my career I've probably met someone from every family in Horsham."

Mrs Aisbett received a bursary from the RSL to study nursing after completing her leaving certificate in year 11.

"I found the first 12 months very challenging," she said.

"I didn't like the discipline. It was very strict. But after the first 12 months I loved every day."

Mrs Aisbett spent the early part of her career living in nurses' accommodation.

"That was a lot of fun," she said.

"There was a curfew, but we didn't really adhere to it. There was a fence the boys used to climb - there was a lot of camaraderie there.

"The old nursing sisters were very strict, but they taught us all so well.

"They taught us how to care. They taught me to be a good nurse."

Mrs Aisbett said lack of modern technology 'in the olden days' meant nursing was very much a hands-on appraisal of a patient's body.

"There were no blood pressure machines, no cardiac machines," she said.

"We used to count each IV drip before there was a machine to regulate them.

"We also used to have to clean the syringes - and we'd sharpen the needles on stones on Sundays.

"Everything is different now."

Mrs Aisbett said the one thing that had not changed was the camaraderie between co-workers.

"Nurses have a very good ability to cope with illness," she said. 

"You laugh and joke together and do what you need to do to get through."

Mrs Aisbett said there were days she went home crying.

"Sometimes you think 'not another woman with breast cancer', 'or not another young father dying'," she said.

"Dealing with sick children is very hard. If there is a still-birth, the whole ward suffers."

Then there are the good days.

"There's nothing better than childbirth. Nature is so clever," she said.

"It's wonderful to see people go home after a long period of time. At the same time, death can be very kind. It can be an escape from illness."

Mrs Aisbett said retirement would take a while to get used to.

"It was a very good journey," she said.

"It was just the right time to go."

She said her farewell celebrations were overwhelming.

Hospital co-workers baked cakes, presented her with cards, flowers and presents and took her out for dinner.

"I thought there might be a couple of people at dinner, but so many people came," she said.

"I didn't expect this much attention, it's just been wonderful.

"I'd like to thank everybody for their companionship and for the opportunities I've received over the years and for being so kind in my retirement."

Mrs Aisbett plans to devote her spare time to her two other loves - family and travel.

She met her husband Robert at a school dance when she was 15.

"We've been together ever since," she said.

The couple has three daughters - Tania, Belinda and Tracy - and two grand-daughters - Amy and Beth.

"I'm going to spend more time with them and there will be a few trips planned," Mrs Aisbett said.

"My husband and I do a lot of travel. We want to go everywhere.

"I also do a lot of craft work, such as tapestries and embroidery.

"I don't think I'm going to be bored."

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