At a recent 60th anniversary celebration for Cariboo Memorial Hospital (CMH) retired nurse Jean Bishopp was one of the invited guests.
When the hospital opened for patients on Sept. 5, 1962 she was on duty and helped welcome the first patient, Bill Dingwall, who was transferred from the old hospital and wheeled in on a hospital bed.
“He was a really nice man, I remember him,” she said.
Bishopp arrived in Williams Lake in 1958 to work at the War Memorial Hospital with friends.
They’d started out in London, Ont. moved onto Calgary and then to Williams Lake.
“The hospital didn’t look like a hospital. It was a little cottage that looked as if it was ready to fall apart. We had no money to go anywhere else so we stayed.”
One of her funniest memories in the old hospital was of the autoclave used for sterilizing instruments.
Its four legs were screwed to the floor, it ran on gas and the pilot light kept going out.
“You would have to crawl underneath to go and light it and we never knew if it was going to blow up or not. It worked, but the thermometer used to go into the red sometimes and it used to jump on its feet. It could go up high because it was nailed to the floor, but the whole thing would shake.”
Williams Lake was a little ‘rough and ready’ but Bishopp and her colleagues got used to it and started to have fun.
“We became Caribooians.”
Originally from South Africa, becoming a nurse was the last thing Bishopp expected herself to do.
“I had a choice of three things when I left school. One was a teacher and I couldn’t stand school so that was out. The other was a secretary and having to sit at a desk and use a typewriter and that was out.”
Her mother had a friend whose daughter went to England to become a nurse in a smaller hospital where they did not teach doctors, but nurses instead.
“You got to do a lot more because there weren’t medical students there. She said why don’t you try nursing? If you really don’t like it, we will bring you back. The rest is history.”
Nursing was a profession she could travel anywhere with and in 1964 she left Williams Lake to work in Inuvik in the Northwest Territories.
While stationed there she did a lot of exploring because of the job and the zone director who visited many of the small settlements.
“I managed to see the central Arctic and a friend and I also went to the Eastern Arctic to see the difference.”
She returned to Williams Lake in 1978 to work at the hospital and officially retired from nursing in 1999.
Through her career she did mostly medical and the intensive care unit nursing and was the head nurse in those departments at CMH.
The friends she moved to Williams Lake with in 1958 moved on, one got married to a Canadian and the other one had to return to Britain because her father wasn’t well and she never returned to Canada.
Nursing was very interesting and rewarding in many areas at times, she recalled.
“You had other people’s tragedies to deal with and there were sad times but on the whole we enjoyed it.”
Bishopp has remained single all her life mostly because there were too many things she desired to do.
“I really wanted freedom to travel all over the place, which is what I have done.”
When asked about her favourite destinations, she responded “everyone keeps asking me that and honestly, every country I’ve been into has their own qualities. You just enjoy the people and the food.”
Two countries she would not have minded living in were Argentina and Italy. She visited both with a tour group.
“They know how to live those people. They are very happy and seem to know how to enjoy life.”
Bishopp keeps occupied and likes to read science and history or a good whodunnit.
“We’ve got a very good library here and if they have not got it, they’ll get it for you.”
She goes to the Seniors Activity Centre often and said COVID has been hard on everybody, but especially the elderly if they cannot get out.