Dental nursing could be quite a fiery occupation. This dental nurses’ veil in the Puke Ariki Heritage Collection is in pristine condition but according to Diane Flavell, who trained as a dental nurse in the mid 1950s, they could be dangerous. First-year students wore a cap, like those worn by medical nurses. In the second year, trainee dental nurses wore veils, made from a material, Diane describes as “a fine lawn, almost organza, but with a very tight weave”.
“The veils were very dangerous because we all had Bunsen burners to heat, at the time, copper pellets so they softened and we mixed them and when they were mixed we put them in a little piece of gauze and squeezed out the mercury. Often you would turn around to talk to the patient or the parent and you would be too close and because your veil was very spiky and stiff and beautifully starched you caught the end of the flame” Diane says. “Often you wouldn’t know until the patient said ‘you are on fire’. My whole veil never went up in flames. You went through lots of veils because they were always getting singed and burnt and you had to get another one. There were lots of cases of them going up completely in flames. I can’t remember anyone getting hurt. You just pulled them off and threw them in the sink.”
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