Helen showed us the ‘art’ of nursing

Helen Louise Tench
21 March 1951 – 15 May 2005

Helen Tench has been a trusted colleague and valued friend for 20 years. She came to work at the Royal Hospital for Women in Paddington in 1985. The Newborn Care Centre (NCC) benefited greatly as her arrival strengthened the friendly, caring atmosphere in the busy neonatal intensive care unit. She used her intelligence and skill to really show us the ‘art’ of her good nursing practice.

Helen was a complex person. She was all of the following adjectives and more: friendly, welcoming, accepting, generous, spirited, private, modest, neat, kind, polite, and quiet (well, mostly!). She was also professional, compassionate, helpful, a good listener, practical, slow to anger and quick to forgive, thoughtful, and always concerned for the welfare of others.

Helen came to her vocation of nursing after working and studying in technical drafting for several years, before surprising her family with her desire to be a nurse.

Her nursing career began at Ryde Hospital in 1979. She completed her General Nursing certificate and then a Midwifery certificate in 1983 at Canterbury Hospital. She went on to complete an Associate Diploma in Community Health Nursing at Cumberland College of Health Sciences in 1988 and a Graduate Certificate in the Management of Lactation and Infant Feeding at the University of Technology, Sydney, in 1997. Helen continued to work in NCC as a Clinical Nurse Specialist, and helped ‘the Royal’ move to the Randwick Hospital campus in 1997.

Helen became part of the fabric of NCC’s culture during her 20 years of service to the unit. She loved her work and was part of the nursing team. She always kept the nursery supplied with cards for baby nametags and special-day cards, for example, Christmas and Mother’s Day cards. I suspect that, over many years, she has done the foot- and handprints of thousands of babies with the nursery’s inkpads for thousands of grateful parents.

Helen was in charge of the 50 or so staff lockers in the nursery, and presided over their administration with a motherly zeal. The master keys were all kept precisely labelled and boxed and all new staff were ceremoniously written onto a master plan of who shares which locker. These sorts of jobs, though unrewarded, are so important in nursery life.

Helen never wanted recognition but quietly got on with the smooth running of nursery life. A successor will have to be found who can match her quiet enthusiasm!

Helen shared with her friends her wacky sense of humour. We will not forget her telephone-machine message from The Wizard of Oz of the wicked witch of the West saying, ‘I’ll get you, my pretty … and your little dog, too.’ Midwives have to let off steam somehow and Helen knew exactly when and where it was appropriate to do so. She liked a good joke to be shared at work. There was the day we all wore “HELEN” name badges, as one of the doctors called all the nurses ‘Helen’ if he couldn’t remember their name. As there were four or five ‘Helens’ working there at the time, he sometimes got it right!

Helen shared her life away from work with many friends who enjoyed her company. She was often an audience member of The Australian Ballet and The Australian Opera. She liked embroidery, tatting, and other forms of needlework. She loved to go to quilt and craft shows. Her own craftwork was meticulous and creative, although her perfectionist nature meant that she was never happy with what she created and strived to do better ‘next time’.

The historical romance was Helen’s favourite read. Many friends relied on the ‘Helen Tench lending library’ to keep them supplied with the latest ‘Kinley MacGregor’ or ‘Diana Gabaldon’ novel.

Afternoon tea parties with the girls have long been part of Helen’s social scene. She liked nothing better than a nice cup of Ceylon tea in a china cup. Some of our gatherings are legendary! They could go on for hours as we shared many pots of tea, much laughter, and one or three cakes!

Helen suffered with ill health during the last few years of her life. However, she always had a smile and some conversation for her friends, despite her troubles. She always put the needs of others ahead of her own and never wanted to inconvenience anyone at any time. Helen has been a loyal and dear friend to many. She is among us still. Rest in Peace now, Helen.

Michele Prentice
Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington.