My Best Student Job ever

I was a student on the 1980s. I know, that makes me very old indeed, but even the most hard-headed individual would have to admit that the 80s were by far the best decade for music, fashion and culture. So to be a student in the 80s was very lucky indeed!

My course was 4 years long and in each of the four summers that I had between years I was lucky enough to get a job in the local hospital – Monklands Hospital in Airdrie (centre of the universe). Now for those of you who don’t know Airdrie, it is in West Central Scotland, very close to Glasgow and shares some of the same characteristics. For example, unemployemt is high, level of higher education is low compared to the rest of Scotland and the local hobbies are drinking buckfast and eating deep fried food.

As such, you can imagine that working in a hospital in Airdrie might be pretty hard work and I certainly had a few shocking days and nights. A&E on a Friday or Saturday, for example, was always pretty hard work but, to be honest, it was a really enjoyable experience and helped me when it came to getting a full-time job when my course had finished. Across the 4 years I worked as a cleaner twice and a porter twice.

Being a porter was certainly easier with much more downtime, particularly on the night shift, and paid better as well. Having done each for between 6 and 8 weeks at a time, I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who does the job full time because both were always hard graft.

On my first day on the wards after my basic training, our job was to replenish the water jugs and make sure each sink in every bedroom was clean and had soap and towels. After a few rooms and some cheery remarks from old ladies I started getting a bit friendly and asked one lady if there was anything else I could help her with. “Aye son”, she replied, “a new leg”. At which point she threw her covers back to reveal the stump from her recent amputation. That first summer I also had to clean behind the operating theatres, which was not fun when bagged body parts removed from bodies during surgery were lobbed out at you.

During my second year I spent quite a bit of time cleaning in the psychiatric wards, which was an experience. Most people were really lovely and friendly but not everyone including the old guy who took a whizz on one of my colleagues’ hoover (really). The key learning here was patience. There was a woman who was convinced we were all waiting for a train and constantly asked when the next one was due; a young guy who followed me around and wrote everything I did in a notebook and another woman who asked every day how to apply to be a cleaner because she thought her son could do it. I later found out he was in his fifties and worked as a lawyer in London.

One of the very strange experiences I had was cleaning the infectious diseases ward where one of the first diagnosed HIV positive patients in Scotland was being nursed. At the time this was a condition that was new, not known about and feared. As such the poor guy was pretty much isolated away from the rest of the hospital. I have to say, the staff were always brilliant with him, even if the administrators were terrified.

After two summers and one Christmas as a cleaner, I got a step up (in pay at least) to be a porter. Again the variety of things that needed to be done was huge – from transporting people to surgery to taking bodies to the morgue, unloading casualties from ambulances, taking food to the wards and much more. I knew my first body was going to be a chance for the full-time guys to try and scare me, everyone got done on their first body. Unfortunately mine came in the middle of the night.

Having loaded what was a very small old lady onto the trolley (I then realized what ‘dead weight’ actually meant, she was tiny but very heavy) I set up with my partner towards the morgue. To be honest, the morgue in the middle of the night is scary enough. Set in the bowels of the hospital, all the lights were off and the doors locked so you had to open each door and put the lights on.  I got through about 3 sets of doors into the morgue itself with nothing happening. I relaxed. The body had to be loaded into a drawer, which were marked as empty by having no names on them. I pulled out an empty drawer only for there to be a body already in it, which sat bolt upright and said “boo”. I let out a shriek like a teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert. I’d been done.

Those two summers as a porter were both really enjoyable, I met some good friends and earned enough for a couple of lads holidays in dodgy foreign resorts.

So, what is your best temporary job as a student? Was that your first experience of working? If so, what did you learn that you applied later? And what would you tell students today looking for temp work?

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