“Chummy” and nursing. a delicious archetype!

Call The Midwife!

be sure to click on the hyperlinks!

Yesterday was episode three of season one, here in Hawaii. I gather that my friends in U.K. and Oz saw this series last winter. And it has also been thoroughly reviewed. In that respect, this is like dating your best friend’s girlfriend – you feel torn between wanting to know what they thought on the one hand, and wanting to experience things yourself  with no forewarning.

My own bias?

I am person who hates most medical shows. If they don’t get the medical details just right, or if they do not show the emotional involvement of the nurses, or (worst of all) if they don’t show the nurses as full professionals with a practice of their own, I find myself turning the channel. trash.

Anyway, Call The Midwife is excellent. The portrayal of nurses is exquisite. A balance between the skill and what the nursing professors would call “caring.”


we all know people like Chummy. Imprisoned, I suppose, by the realization that she will never be captain of the cheerleaders. Her biggest obstacle is herself. I have several women in my life like Chummy, and I would not trade them for anything.

The setting is a convent in the East End of London during the post-war baby boom years, and there is a wonderful group of older female actors who portray the nuns. The convent does double-duty as the dorm for the younger nurse-midwives, and that is where the main character comes in.  But there is also – “Chummy.”Maureen Ryan, The reviewer for Huffington Post, wrote:

 Jenny Agutter provides “Call the Midwife” with a solid center as the head of the order of nuns with whom the midwives live and work, and several other razor-sharp character actors fill out other roles extremely well, but Miranda Hart, who plays Chummy, walks off with the show. By the time the sixth episode rolled around, the fate of her tentative romance with a working-class policeman made me alternately joyful and tearful, never mind all those babies or Nurse Lee. Chummy’s nervousness, her inherent kindness, her fear of upsetting her upper-class mother and the dawning realization that someone could actually love her are all depicted with delightful skill, sweetness and humor. A second series of “Call the Midwife” has been ordered, and if Chummy’s not part of it, I may stage a public protest.

I have had Chummy in my class. about a dozen times.

Oh no, that does not mean that I taught midwifery in the 1950s. That does mean that I have been privileged to see the personal growth of  certain young women who were previously sheltered from the world. Let me tell you about one such.

I will call her Barbara. Barbara was overweight and very near-sighted, shy and not athletic. At the University level, Barbara was taking classes alongside other students who had been cheerleaders in high school, or airline stewardesses,  or captain of their volleyball team.  Sometimes when I assess these latter type of students, it becomes clear that everyone gives them a bit more slack than they ought to have, simply because they have better social skills and are more outgoing. YAVIS syndrome is alive and well. Compared to these other students, Barbara was not an attention seeker.  Probably did not expect attention. Probably the kind of kid that was teased in junior high school.

Barbara at lab

Each student needed to be able to demonstrate various sterile procedures. Barbara’s hands were chubby, and it took five long minutes for her to don the sterile gloves. I took her aside and said “I have big hands too. When you have big hands, don’t rely on the gloves in the kit. always carry your own sterile pair in a size that you can don quickly.”

I always used to go to coffee at the same time as the whole clinical group, and I emphasize team bonding.  But it was at the University cafeteria that I noticed something. I was eating lunch while the students happened to be having a study session nearby. Every time there was a question, Barbara had the answer, and it was invariably correct.  She was a resource for her whole group, and they knew it.

And so I made my assessment of this student. I think her nearsightedness contributed to her lack of interest in sports.  Maybe she did not have the kind of social life growing up that her peers had as members of the cheerleading squad; but –  if it was a question of personal effort, hard work and study, Barbara was going to show them a thing or two.

Which was exactly what she did. When Barbara came to me and asked for a letter of reference for a prestigious summer internship at the biggest hospital in town, it was time for “payback.”  And what exactly did I do for “payback?” I wrote:

“Barbara is a bit shy at times but do not underestimate the effort or time that this person devotes to studying nursing.  She is a resource to her group and is very helpful in sharing her knowledge. She will work hard and will outshine the more glamorous students in her peer group. She will be a positive addition to any workgroup she joins.”

In other words, not just the stock letter of reference. She got the internship, and the rest is history. To this day she still does not know what I wrote in that letter. And the best part of the story is, I saw her not too long ago and she is still a staff nurse at that hospital, she loves her job, and seems to love her life. For me, the privilege comes when I realize that I got to be a part of her journey into becoming a professional person. I have had many other such students.

Back to Chummy

I like to think that nursing, as a profession, rewards skill and study, and is more than just a glorified charm school. That’s why I think Chummy is so intriguing.  I am predicting that Chummy will also learn and grow over the course of the series.


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