Saturday, 2 August 2008

Jane responds to Rowland and Fred

Thanks for sharing these memories - it must have been quite difficult getting them down on paper in order, and you're the first one to have done it so frankly! Like Fred, I find they remind me of some negative memories, too, especially of being left at the hospital by my parents. I'd been transferred from a hospital in Wales, and had spent about a month at home, encased in a plaster cast. I remember lying on a sofa in the front room downstairs. Looking back, I can't imagine how my mother coped; she told me that in the first days when I got home, I regressed to a sort of baby-ish state when I wouldn't let her out of my sight for fear she'd disappear, I suppose. She even had to negotiate to go to the loo. So I felt desperately homesick when I got to Thorpe Arch, and I remember being told off because I wouldn't stop crying.

I don't get the nightmares you write about, but I was a very fearful child for quite a long time. do remember a lot of harsh treatment from some of the nurses. I still remember how one night a nurse took away the rag doll I slept with to punish me for being naughty - don't remember what I'd done - and gave it to the girl in the next bed. This doll was made for me by my Granny, and I think it was like a safety blanket to a smaller child. I cried and cried till in the end this girl got fed up and gave it back to me for a bit of peace. The nurse came to see whether I'd fallen asleep crying, I suppose, saw me with the doll, and took it away again... That kind of thing seemed like pure malice to me.

However, Fred had these second thoughts after responding to your email, which fit well with what I want to say here: "Maybe it's too easy to judge the MHH nurses by today's standards. Some of their actions would probably have been considered far less shocking fifty years ago, and were probably based on their own childhood experiences. Fred remembers his parents threatening to serve up uneaten food at the next meal time. My own parents' reaction to my pickiness was to take the plate away from me when they'd finished eating: "Oh!, so you don't want any more", till I got so hungry I ate pretty well everything that was put in front of me, with a few exceptions, like slimy mushrooms and tapioca (as I think I've said before). As their contributions to the blog show, many of the nurses were trainees and probably only in their teens with little knowledge of how to deal with awkward, stressed children in an alien environment.

I think the once a fortnight limit on visiting was the rule, actually - as you'll see from the other messages. What really used to bug us, though, was that the visit day would sometimes be postponed a week if it coincided with some apparently arbitrary date, like the 1st Saturday of the month. Then we had to wait three weeks.

I've done a bit of research into the way the rules on visiting changed, as child psychologists became aware of the damage early, sudden separation from parents could do to children. In 1956, under the Labour government of the time, the Ministry of Health set up a committee which took evidence from a huge range of people - doctors and nurses, of course, but also parents of children like us and child psychiatrists. They issued a report in 1959, called the Platt report, discussing the whole thing, and recommending more frequent visiting - though they recommended that it should be carefully managed in long-stay hospitals, where it was also important to create some semblance of a normal life for children, including school and independent play time.

Some of the evidence they considered came from letters in reaction to a series of BBC programmes. Only the scripts are left, and I've been able to see some of them in the BBC's Written Archives. They were broadcast by Woman's Hour, and some were outside broadcasts to village halls, to conduct a sort of panel discussion with local people, a bit like Any Questions nowadays, I suppose. Many ordinary people, but especially doctors and nursing sisters, were against more visiting, which they thought would disturb the ward routine and upset the children when the parents left. But the research showed that children settled better if they saw their parents more - couldn't we just have told them that!

After that, they began to bring in new policies and nowadays, of course, we have daily visiting and parents allowed to stay with their kids. I'm sure these would have created other problems for our parents - my home was in Pontefract, so the journey for my Mum was a long one, too, as she had no car, though I remember kind friends giving her lifts in their cars.

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