Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Yvonne, patient in the 1960s, kept a pet rabbit on the verandah

I was transferred from St James Hospital Leeds to MH Hos around 1960 I would be about six years old then, I had an operation on my left hip cos I had osteomylitus. I was at MH Hos for about a year convalescing. I had a twin sister who they let in to see me but not very often, I really cannot recall much except that I learnt to walk again there. I can only recall kindness but I do remember having very long hair and much to my mothers dismay they cut it all off-she was mortified!. I recall being pushed out on my bed (I was on traction for 9 months) to the balcony for fresh air!!. I also had a pet rabbit while I was there and they allowed my brother to bring in a puppy he had bought for me!. I wish I remembered more like who the nurses were etc, but I have lost both parents now so cannot even jog their memories. I have a silver spoon awarded to me for the silver jubilee of the hospital and I also have an actual visitors pass that my parents used to use for admission to see me. All so long ago but quite an important time in my life! I have tried to see if any records exist so that I could find out the actual period I was there but don’t know where to look, I also tried to find out if the hospital was still there but again have drawn a blank-can you help?

I live in Egremont, Cumbria now but back then I lived in Armley Leeds.
Yvonne Farrer nee Galert.

Harry sparked off more memories for Jane

Your memories triggered off so many of my own, I think I need to do away and think about them.
I think you and I must have overlapped a little, if you were there 8 years from 1937 you must have left around 1945, and I went in in 1944. But if you were 10 when you left, and I was 4 when I entered, we may never have met, because I was in "small boys" at first - yes, boys and girls together, until we got to a certain age and were moved to girls only - can't think what age that would be, and you were in "boys". And of course we couldn't walk about and talk to people in other wards.

I had forgotten Mr Payne, for instance - though I remember his name now. I never saw it written down, and I also remember thinking of it as 'Pain' - he was the man who did operations and caused pain. Unfair really, he seems to have been a good surgeon. Can you remember what date you had the operation? Was it what they call a spinal fusion, where they take away the diseased part of the spine, and graft two vertebrae together to make one? That's the kind of operation I had, which is why I always was a little less 'bendy' than the people I went to school with.

When I left the hospital, I had to wear a kind of leather and steel corset, called a 'spika', encasing all of my torso and part of my left leg to just above the knee. I started going to school with this on. It made life quite difficult, especially if I fell over, as I couldn't bend enough to pick myself up, and had to lie there and wait for help. Some kids were pretty mean and used to just stand there laughing. Not a good memory.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Harry Dodgson was at MMH in the 1930s

n the pre-1939-1945 war period tuberculosis was a common illness in England. This was exacerbated by the fact that many of the cattle on the farms were tuberculosis carriers and one could get tuberculosis simply by drinking milk. The government of the day had programme of eradicating tuberculosis in cattle and so reducing the risk to humans, however it was slow going. It was whilst my father was employed on a dairy farm that I contracted tuberculosis. At the age of 12 months or so, through drinking contaminated milk, I contracted Tuberculosis of the spine. As I became more and more ill my mother took me to see many doctors, none of whom could diagnose my illness. Eventually she did find one that recognised the tuberculosis and I started to get some treatment I was in various hospitals for the next 18 months or so before arriving at Thorpe Arch.

In the early stages of my hospital life, before I went to Leeds Infirmary, I was allowed home for short stays even though I was encased in a plaster cast. This must have been quite a trauma for my parents. I vaguely recall a few occasions of my mother taking me out in a pram where I had to lay on my stomach in a plaster cast which overlapped both ends of the pram. One such memory is lying on my plaster cast, in a pram, watching a colour movie. This must have been 1935 or 1936. I recall I was in the aisle whilst my parents were sitting close by. I have no idea what the movie was.The first hospital that I can recall being in was Leeds Infirmary in Yorkshire. I must have been about three years old. I spent some months in Leeds Hospital in plaster. I have a distinct memory of lying in that hospital and seeing an airship in the sky. At that time airships were being constructed in Yorkshire near Selby. That must have been in the first half of 1937 as I was in Thorp Arch Orthopaedic hospital in by 1937 where I stayed for several years
My next memories are of being a patient in Thorpe Arch Children’s hospital. My parents were visiting me. In this hospital, on warm summer days the patient beds were often placed outdoors. My brother, Frank, who was my elder by eighteen month, was showing me spent firecrackers he had found, which had been lit the night earlier. It was probably in 1937 as I also recall clearly being told by a nurse that the fireworks had been to celebrate the jubilee so this must have been in 1937 the firecrackers had been to celebrate that event.

At the start of the war a very large munitions complex was built very close to the hospital where my father was employed as a truck driver. A new housing development for workers in the munitions complex was completed at a nearby village, Boston Spa and my parents were allocated a house there which made it quite easy for my parents to visit me in hospital.

I spent most of the war years in Thorp Arch children’s hospital. For me, life in a hospital wasn’t dull. After all, I knew of no other life. I had never been on a bus, ridden in a car, rode a bicycle or been to school or even played with other children, so to me hospital life was normal. In the hospital we had a female teacher who came daily when we were given various lessons such as arithmetic, reading and writing. In fact I read so much that I became a very good at writing and I was accomplished at spelling. However I had little knowledge of other subjects which was taught in normal schools in those days.

My teacher must have thought deeply on how to keep us occupied without being bored and so amongst other activities we were taught embroidery and knitting. We patients spent many hours knitting huge woollen stocking with very oily wool. These stockings were called Sea Boot Stockings and were issued to sailors on the winter convoys going to Russia.

Many of the hospital regulations were rather harsh compared to those of today. Parents were allowed to visit only one day each month, and that was for one hour only. Towards the end of my stay in hospital in 1943, this was extended to one hour per fortnight.

The German airforce bombed the near-by munitions factory several times during the war but surprisingly did very little damage. All the munitions storage and plant was underground. I think it was in 1940, during that hot summer, one hot sunny day all the patients’ beds had been taken outside. There was an air raid on the munitions factory and one bomb overshot and landed in the hospital grounds. I remember seeing three German aircraft flying very low, with the explosion very quickly afterwards. Although little damage was done to the hospital, it was extremely frightening for everyone. 1940 was a long hot summer and when our beds were taken outside we frequently could see the dog fights between the fighters above us. We children had no notion of the death and injuries sustained by pilots of both sides at this time. Neither had we any idea of the hardships of the civilian population. Food rationing and other difficulties were totally unknown to us patients.

One aspect of my long stay in hospital was that I did not catch any of the normal childhood ailments such as mumps, chicken pox etc. I was not until my eighteenth year that I caught chicken pox and when I was twenty five I caught measles. Other diseases such as mumps and scarlet fever etc I never did have. Although most of the patients, like I, had spent years in hospital which had become a normal existence, we must have wanted go home. So it was either 1939 or 1940 that, together with another boy, I decided to run away from the hospital. I think we both had some idea of going home although neither of us had any idea of where home was or how to get there. In addition neither of us could walk. I cannot recall how we got out of bed onto the floor but do I remember crawling away, finishing up in a field only several hundred yards away. Apparently we were not missed untilafter dawn when this caused a furious uproar with the police being called and our parents were notified that we were missing. Apparently my mother, when being told that I was missing from the hospital, got on the nearest bicycle she could find and rode at a fast pace the few miles to the hospital. I was told that her language was a little heated when she faced the hospital staff. I have no idea how long it took for the authorities to find us two run-aways.

I think it was in 1941 that it was decided to operate on me to cure my tuberculosis. The surgeon that performed the procedure was a Mr Payne. I clearly recall fighting the ether as the anaesthetic was administered. To this day I remember the nightmares I had whilst I was unconscious during the operation. I also recall waking from the anaesthetic and seeing my mother standing by the bed, after the operation I spent many months in plaster. Plaster sores were a frequent result of being encased in plaster for a long time. These sores were very painful and had a terrible smell.

The picture above was taken in the summer of 1940 when I was eight years old. My mother is on the left. The soldier in uniform is my Uncle Bob who was later killed in the war. His wife, my aunt Mary, is standing behind him. I believe that the woman on the right is my aunt Muriel, Shortly after the above photo was taken she joined the WAAF. In 1945 she married an American G.I. and went to the USA.

The operation on my spine appears to have been a success in that my spine has never given me any trouble at all since the operation. However it did leave me with a large lump in the centre of my back which has affected my entire life, not always for the worse either. There have been very few instances during my life where my spinal disability has prevented me from doing exactly what I wanted or from going wherever I wished. I have however often noticed that it has made a distinct difference with the response I noticed from some people. However I learnt very quickly that such people were not worth my knowing.

At the age of 10 I finally was discharged from Thorp Arch Children’s hospital. I was provided with a brace or corselet made of leather and an aluminium frame. This covered me totally from the shoulder to the hips. It was not very comfortable and I was glad to be able to finally shed it about a year after leaving the hospital.

As I could not walk very well or very far, I had a wheel chair and my brother Frank would push me to the village school each day. I have never ridden on a bus, rode a bicycle or even played with other children. To this day I remember my first day at school when I was ten years old. I knew nothing about what I had to do or what happened in school and so quite a few things I did and said caused roars of laughter from my schoolmates; however I was not badly treated by the other children and soon learned the ropes. The school was the old Boston Spa Village School in a sandstone building and consisted of a few rather small classrooms. We had to walk perhaps half a mile from home to the school. Or rather my brother did-I was pushed there and back in my wheelchair by him.

In spite of the long time I was in hospital I have had a remarkably healthy life. After leaving Thorp Arch until I reached the age of 55 the only health problems I had was the occasional cold, I have never even had a headache. In spite of my disability I have travelled the world. I have lived in several parts of England. Spent some years in Africa and travelled very widely throughout Asia and the Americas. I have a wonderful wife and we have lived in Australia for the past 34 years. I consider myself a very lucky man.

29 April 2008 13:33


Monday, 28 April 2008

Jane replies to Fred

Your memories, Fred, are so much more vivid and detailed than mine. I wonder if that has anything to do with the age we were at when we were hospitalized? I was three when I was first diagnosed, and 8 when I left MHH.I'm particularly interested in how much you can remember of the layout of the place - my memories of this are really really vague and patchy, more like snatches of dreams than real places and events, and some of them via photos. 

I also had a rather interesting experience many years later, when a friend was in the Lord Mayor Treloare hospital near Alton, in Hampshire - not far from where I now live. It had been a military hospital, and before that a TB sanatorium. As soon as I walked in, the layout rang bells - there were floors with sparkling mica crystals in them, and long wards with verandahs...

I've always wondered whether my lack of a physical sense of the place was an effect of being in bed for so long at such a formative age - a bit like what you say of the effects on your eyesight. Maybe if you don't walk around anywhere for all those years, you just don't develop skills for finding your way about. Does anyone else have any ideas about this sort of thing?Your account of the contraption you were laid in, Fred, is fascinating - I remember some people with weights and pulleys, and children walking about with calipers. As a TB spine patient I was in a plaster bed, set up on a wooden frame; I remember others whose TB was in the upper spine, so they were in plaster beds including their heads, with their heads restrained by a sort of wooden bridge. So they couldn't lift their heads to see around. I have a vague memory of them wearing some kind of glasses to help them look downwards - am I inventing this?

As part of my delving for memories, I found a reference to a 1936 film about plaster beds at the Wellcome Foundation Library, and arranged to go and watch it. It was a training film, showing how to make plaster beds. It was quite a weird experience to watch it and I was glad there had to be a library staff member there to show me!Obviously, since we were growing kids, our plaster beds had to be remade to fit us every so often, and one of my most vivid memories is the unmistakable, sticky sickly smell of plaster of Paris as it was slathered onto bandages laid on my back, and the sensation of it shrinking to my shape as it dried.Part of the construction, of course, was a hole for the bum, below which bedpans could be placed, though when nurses were in a hurry this seemed a bit hit and miss sometimes!

This photo is taken from the Yorkshire Evening Post of 9th March 1948 and shows us having lessons from one of the nurses, out on the verandah. I am the one sitting on the left with bows in my hair. Does anyone else recognise themselves?

me with my mother

With my "Uncle Earnest" my godmother's husband and it was taken in 1948, two weeks before I was discharged

I do remember a verandah where they wheeled out our beds, in quite cold weather so we were all muffled up in coats and pixie hoods (very 1940s!). So there must have been one of those on the older girls' ward too. I'll try to post some photos that my parents took when they came to see me, and one of all us kids having lessons outside - on that balcony!

We also invented a clever sort of game you could play lying down. It involved throwing rubber balls up onto the sloping shades of the verandah (we weren't under them, but facing them) and catching them as they rolled back down. Of course some got lost, and you didn't always catch your own ball!

I also remember visits from Wilfred Pickles, and Christmas decorations and parties - the nurses did make a huge effort - but no film shows. We might find reports of them in the Yorkshire Post archives. I've enquired about these, but they aren't online, unfortunately. They're held in Leeds, so that's another one to go and view some time when I get up there. We listened to the radio a lot - no public telly in my day - Workers' Playtime and other record request programmes, including Children's Hour. We used to shout at the radio to make it play what we wanted. Sometimes it did! Magic!

My memory of visiting is quite like yours, Fred: visitors every two weeks, but if a visit fell on the first weekend of the month, it was postponed, so there was a 3-week gap - heaven knows why. When there was a chicken pox outbreak, we were all isolated, though in fact I didn't get chicken-pox until much later, and measles only as an adult. We also got nits a lot, and I remember having our hair shorn and shampooings with horrible carbolic shampoo.

I could go on and on, but will wait to respond to other people's memories

28 April 2008 07:25

Fred Dubber remembers MMH 1950-1953

Fred Dubber, a patient from about 1950-1953
I spent around 2 and a half years there having first spent 6 months in Leeds Infirmary. Many memories are faint and others still very clear but I know I returned home shortly before the coronation in 1953 so I'm guessing I arrived in MHH in 1950.

I remember four wards, the babies and young boys wards were parallel to the driveway and were connected, an older boys ward was further up the drive closer to what was an older building housing, (I think) operating theatres, X-ray and physio facilities as well as a girls ward. It may also have been a nurses home. The older boys ward had an external veranda and this was used to give those in need an airing, I think they (and I) stayed out all night in the summer months but I could be wrong.

On my arrival I spent some time in a small shed together with another boy who I had known at Leeds Infirmary His name was Jonny Turton who coincidentally lived very close to my home in Leeds. He also had Perthes disease and we were both to receive similar treatment at MHH. After what seemed like an age, but at 5 years old time seemed to pass much slower than it does today, we were assigned to the small boys ward.

I remember being attached to a metal frame which I had to lie on, with legs slightly apart and two pairs of ribs across my chest fatened together with a jubilee clip type threaded strip (I was in trouble several times for undoing them and sitting up). The whole thing raised me probably around 4 inches above the bed. My legs had strips of sticking plaster attached full length on the inner and outer sides (sometimes causing nasty sores) and they were then wrapped in bandages. At the bottom of the sticking plaster cords were attached which ran over pulleys to weights hanging from the foot of the bed. The purpose of this frame was to prevent my sitting up thus moving the hip joint suffering from the disease. The weights applied traction to ensure the hip was under no load. I remained in this frame for most of my stay but towards the end I was fitted with calipers consisting of a steel framework with a padded ring for my hip which took all my weight with my leg held in place with leather strapping and my foot left in space about 4 inches off the ground, The caliper had a rubber foot plate and a stilt was attached to the shoe of my good leg to even things up. I was then taught to walk again with this odd arrangement and had to keep it on for about a year after I left hospital. Ironically one of my neighbours has a son who suffered a similar complaint as a child in the seventies and his successful treatment was 6 months bed rest. Can't help feeling a bit badly done by! MHH wrote to me in the late 70's and asked me if I would aid their research by returning for examination, this I did but my lasting impression then was just how small the whole hospital appeared to be.

I remember a teacher called Miss Clark who I thought of highly although education must have suffered for all of us there. Film shows were put on frequently (possibly weekly?), Popeye being my favourite but feature films were also shown. The nurses made a big effort decorating the wards over Christmas and we received many presents but sadly I don't know who provided them. On one occasion the nurses put on a Pantomime for us somewhere in the main building and we were all trundled over there in our beds. Bonfire night was also celebrated with fireworks and a fire. Wilfred Pickles visited us on more than one occasion too. I seem to remember a magic act being performed and wondered how the magician managed to connect those hoops together. We were also visited by an orchestra and can remember the Trumpet Voluntary being played, it has stayed with me ever since. Miss Clark came up with some sort of projector which I operated some evenings after dark. It projected black and white slides above my bed with short stories and pictures. My task was to read the stories to those nearby who could hear me. Just before I left in 53 someone brought a number of televisions in and we were able to watch the 'Stanley Matthews' cup final, a great treat for us all.

I think MHH must have been a training hospital as even at 5 or 6 years old it was obvious that the nurses were attending numerous classes and were under tuition on the wards. I don't remember any ogres but some nurses were much friendlier than others but just like today they tended to talk over you as if you didn't exist on occasions. I learned on one occasion to stop being too mouthy, I was taking the mick at the poor lad in the next bed because he was frightened at being given an injection. The nurse rounded on me and asked how I would feel if she gave me one too. Not wanting to back down I said that it wouldn't bother me and before I could blink she actually did inject me in the thigh, probably with something very benign. It served me right but it was a bit of rough justice and would no doubt have had her dismissed today.

One of the odd attitudes, at least by today's standards was the business of visiting, I thought we got 2 hours every alternate Saturday afternoon but I've read other accounts of only one visit a month and there is now doubt in my mind.

I have often asked myself what were the long term effects of the hospital stay. I blame my short sightedness on being in a ward with limited horizons and believe my eyes were not exercised normally causing this condition which appeared 2 years after leaving hospital. Being restrained in bed meant muscle wastage, my legs were like sparrows when I went home and I think my eventual height was also affected as I only achieved 5' 7" whereas both my brothers were over 5' 10" as adults.

By the time I returned home I was very happy to spend time alone, was never very demonstrative with my parents, very shy with girls (I hadn't spoke to one in 3 years) and extremely independent. These characteristics remain with me today, some more noticeable than others.

27 April 2008 22:51