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Sister Lorraine Lubbe on 5 Decades of Nursing

“I had the most incredible hay fever nursing Sir Seretse Kama... He had so many flowers from all over the world and I was on night duty.” Lorraine’s demeanour is incredibly welcoming. A soft spoken woman who has devoted her life to healing and attending to sick adults and children. A career spanning decades of medical advancements and one that has been deeply ignited by the lives she has had the opportunity to touch.

Sister Lorraine Lubbe began her career over 50 years ago - a time when Intensive Care Units (ICU) occupied no space in hospitals. “Critically ill patients were nursed in the wards behind screens,” the gentle Sister recalls. The first ICU was opened in 1967 at the Johannesburg General Hospital - where Lorraine completed her general training. "It was hallowed ground…” Lorraine says with a subtle smile, “nobody was allowed to walk into the ICU.”

After completing her midwifery at Queen Victoria Hospital in Johannesburg, Lorraine travelled to London, where she worked at St Mary’s Hospital and gratefully recalls the recognition South African trained nurses received. Pediatric nursing was next on the sister’s list and it was not long after she received her Diploma in the field, upon returning to South Africa (SA), that the humble nurse, her passion and pioneering spirit became the recipient of the honourable Florence Nightingale Award - serving to recognise those of exceptional courage and devotion to the wounded, sick or disabled; a trailblazer in the areas of public health.

“Ventilators could be carried in one hand,” sister Lorraine is back, walking us through the hospitals as they once were, “they were set by the Doctors and had no alarms”. The details of her early career help to understand the “stress, worry and anxiety” nurses still experience today in caring for critically ill patients. “Enstrom ventilators came next,” the sister says to me, “there were no infusion pumps… Isuprel [used to improve blood pressure] was ordered by drops per minute, so we would count the drops per minute every hour.” The facts are foreign to me, but what follows next catches me completely off guard and speaks of complete devotion and love to one’s work, “this became quite tricky at 3am on night duty…”

As we move through the years, we walk into the development of a second Medical ICU. “We still had the Enstrom ventilators with no alarms,” Lorraine confirms, “so we were never allowed to leave the patients. We cleared the airways every hour, and turned them two-hourly.” The picture her words paint comes to life in black and white - so far removed from the reality of nursing and medicine today. “Any infection control sister would shudder at the thought of re-sterilising and reusing glass syringes and needles,” her words spoken as a small chuckle. "Initially we had no sterile packs; we had to boil our instruments and bowls for sterile dressings in large sterilizers in the ward dressing room.”

Nurses were taught to recognise dysrhythmias with the introduction of ECG (electrocardiogram) monitors, used to display and record a patient’s heartbeat. Patients affected by heart attacks took up residency in hospitals for an average of 6 weeks, as opposed to the 3 - 5 day hospital stay today. “I will always remember the polio [Poliomyelitis] patient from Mozambique… she was 12 years old and went home when she was 15 years old. She was allowed to choose who could look after her and if she did not like you, that was that… you never looked after her.”

Swan Ganz catheters promptly followed - the passing of a thin tube into the heart and arteries leading to the lungs, used to monitor the functioning of the heart, blood flow and pressures in the heart and lungs (MedlinePlus, 2017). “Every patient admitted had to have a Swan Ganz catheter inserted,” says Lorraine, her nod denoting the seriousness of the task.

Before 1972, all open heart surgeries were performed at Florence Nightingale Hospital in Hillbrow. Lorraine documents the unit in detail: composed of six beds, enclosed in glass, with no visitors permitted. Sister Lubbe calls to mind the prevalent paediatric operations of the time, "most were Coarctation of the Aorta, artial and ventricular defects, Transposition of the Great Vessels and Fallots Tetralogy.”

1973 marks a significant rise, with regards to the frequency of cardiac paediatric treatments, in the sister’s mind. This was after one of the first Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG) was performed. “Today we have advanced to work on very complex heart defects and are on par with the rest of the world,” the sister proudly affirms.

The road Lorraine has travelled and seized wholeheartedly has allowed her to build and pave a path for the passionate servers of our world. “I have developed a course for nursing staff known as the Certificate in Paediatric Cardiothoracic Nursing at Sunninghill Hospital.” An intense course layered with knowledge and expertise to care for little patients affected by cardiac defects. “I hope this will be the legacy I leave."

“I nursed Mr Walter Sisulu - a very kind man. And Mr Mandela when he had his eye surgery. This was a tremendous privilege and honour.” The icons sister Lorraine has nursed mirror back to her the heroism weaved into her selfless dedication to humanity and the legacy she has brought to life. Lorraine recalls a poignant and intimate exchange between a young cardiac patient with a poor prognosis and Mandela: “it was so wonderful to see this little guy sitting with Mr Mandela, knowing that his lifespan was limited and here he was with his hero."

“I believe implicitly that when a mother hands her child to us to take care of, we dare not fail her.” Her words deeply meant and profoundly humbling. “And nobody can take the feeling that you feel away... that you have played a part in the healing process of a patient’s recovery”. "If I had my life over, I would do it all again."


© Maboneng Heart and Lung Institute 2017 | Featured Images: Lorraine Lubbe & Malaika Boon Sources:


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