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Banburyshire Family History

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go back to the last page you were on Hospitals - The other side of the coin!

Muriel Wells

I enjoyed Dawn's account of her student nursing years. Anyone who finally made it through their training certainly had the vocation to be a nurse.I did a bit of hospital cleaning for a brief spell, and can endorse the horrors endured in the sluice room! Even in 1978/9 some of the equipment was archaic and difficult to clean.[1]

Before I continue about hospitals, I must tell you of my first medical memory in 1933. My baby sister was born when I was 2 years 6 weeks old and I was thrilled. "Oh, my little joy," I am reputed to have said. I was a rather precocious toddler with a large vocabulary ---- (and the family insist that I haven't stopped talking since!). Naturally I paid close attention and helped with the baby's toilet and bath routines. One day I decided to clean my nostrils with a cottonwool pledget like Mum did for the baby. I pushed the cottonwool up too far --- and there it stayed, despite my mother's best efforts. She bundled up the baby warmly into her pram and we raced down to the surgery, quite some distance away. Dr. Clark was most amused and produced forceps and soon had the offending piece of cottonwool out. I didn't try it again! What was my sister's name? They named her Joyce, and she has blamed me ever since!

When I was almost 3 years old I caught scarlet fever. It was a rather virulent strain of it at that time. I was whisked off to the isolation hospital and my home was throughly disinfected. I was in there a month, with no sight of my parents, a rather distressing thing to inflict on a child. Unknown to me, my parents could view me through a one way window, and it must have been equally hurtful for them to see an ill, bewildered and unhappy child, and be able to do nothing about it.

The ward was a large one, and the routine was rigid. There was no playroom and we had to remain in bed. Wet beds, which can happen when you are so ill, were punished as were slight spills or stains when meals included soup or gravy.

Eventually, after a long 'grey' time, I was told that I would be going home. New shoes were produced, as in the interim I'd outgrown my old ones. I was allowed out of bed --- and found that I had to learn to walk all over again! It was wonderful to be collected and taken home.

The next memory is a home situation, but stems from the previous experience. I began to get tonsillitis attacks and so severely that my speech became almost incomprehensible. So it was decided to have my tonsils removed privately. I guess I hadn't got over the earlier trauma!

My doctor was to remove them, and the anaesthetic would be administered by another G.P. colleague.

On the appointed day I was laid on the kitchen table, and the colleague put a mask over my nose and began to drip ether onto it. I can well remember the stifled choking feeling, but then --- blackness. I woke in my own bed, vomiting blood just as my father came in with a little celluloid doll which they'd promised me 'if I was good'. My recovery was uneventful, after that.

Now for my final memory for you of a hospital decades ago. It was in November 1951 when I needed to enter hospital rather urgently. Although the consultation took place in the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital I found myself admitted to Manor Hospital, Nuneaton, a week later as a bed had become available there.

Manor Hospital, small in size, inhabited its original Victorian building. I was admitted to a long ward, with beds both sides and with another small ward across one end. For the first night I did have the privacy of one of the curtained cubicles, so that all the 'prepping' could be accomplished. Then early next morning I was dressed in an operation gown, my spectacles taken away --- and gosh, did that make me unhappy? The time was 9am. and there I lay, adjured not to move as I had a catheter in place, and feeling like a trussed fowl! The hours went by, I was uncomfortable, hungry, thirsty and frightened, but I had been brought up not to make a fuss --- so endured. The pre-med was administerd at some time during the morning and finally as lunch was being served the porter wheeled me off to the theatre.

I wish that I could say that all went smoothly, but it didn't, as I reacted to the anaesthetic and vomited for hours. We had the misfortune to have a rather nasty specimen as our night nurse, too. It was a relief to all when the roster changed.

Sister was a remote, but kindly figure, and held sway from her desk in the middle of the ward. The coke stove was there as well, but seemed to have little effect on the temperature. This was probably due to sister insisting on 'fresh air', so our windows were open even in cold November.

The ward maid had to move beds out from the walls daily. I remember cringing in my bed at the thought of any movement on the first post-operative day. Castors were all kicked straight and we were straight-jacketed into our beds by the tightly tucked sheets for doctors' rounds or visiting hours. No personal clutter was allowed on the lockers, which had our jug of water and glass on it --- but we were allowed to have fruit juice or lucozade there as well. We had few visiting times, so didn't get encumbered with too many offerings to fit into our locker cupboard.

Privacy for treatment was afforded by portable screens, so little remained private. If someone was delirious, disturbed or dying we got no sleep. But the upside of this was the tremendous camaraderie that prevailed, and patients 'looked out' for each other.

There was always something happening, so the hours didn't hang heavily. My consultant did his rounds --- a lordly remote figure, trailed by his entourage. His conversation to a patient was always condescending. Matron glided by now and then --- for that we were straitjacketed again! She wore a wonderful lacey cap on her head, and was graciousness itself.

At that time I was given a copy of "The Egg and I", by Betty Macdonald, and as I read it I laughed until I cried. My outstanding memory of this period is of clutching my stomach whilst I laughed, and the tears poured down my face! I had to read just a little of it, and recover before I could read the next bit. This amused the other patients greatly.

So that was my last brush wih Victoriana, and I must say that subsequent stays in hospital, with a more relaxed ambience and modern facilities, have been more comfortable ----- but not necessarily more interesting or enjoyable.

Ward Cleaning at the Horton

Written by Muriel Wells