Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Margaret Vicars, nee Rhodes, adds to her post on May 7th 2008

My Mother told me that she was always concerned how when I was wheeled out in the push-chair I used to hunch my shoulders & say “ooh my necky“, I would be about 3 years old at the time I think . ------In January 1941 15 months into the 2nd world war I remember standing on our door step holding my mother’s hand while she held baby brother Colin in the other arm listening to anti-aircraft guns firing not far away from us, and ready to run across to our neighbours’ house where we all sheltered in the cellar. At this time my Mother decided she would take me to the Doctor’s to see what was wrong. She was told by the Doctor (whose name I do know) to “go home you are a fussy Mother“! so she decided to take me to the L.G. I (Leeds General Infirmary) to see Mr. Vineing the children’s specialist at the time, without a Doctor’s letter. People told her he would be angry and my Mum was very shy, but he wasn’t, he was very kind & understanding, and when she pulled my clothes over my head he rushed forward and took hold of my face and said “careful Mother you don’t know what pain this child is in”. Mum said he knew instantly what was ailing me. From this day I did not go home for 3 years and 9 months .

I was kept in the L.G.I. on the Margaret Rose ward for a few days and then moved to Boston Spa Hospital for a short while and then to MHMH at Thorpe Arch, where my parents were told the Doctors could not operate as I had T.B. abscesses on the 3rd. 4th. & 5th vertebraes which was too near the brain for surgery. My parents were told the prognosis was not good and that I would either come out in a wheelchair or not at all. Apparently I screamed when they left me there ----Bless them they must have been devastated as unbeknown to me my lovely baby brother Colin died the following June 1941, 2 days short of his first birthday, from Meningitis.

Visiting hours at MHMH was only once every 2 weeks on a Saturday afternoon.

I had to lay flat on my back in a cast made of Plaster of Paris which smelled awful & felt awful as it was being slapped on my body, even my head, and ‘they’ had cut all my hair off and I looked like a boy. I had to lay on this plaster bed and also some iron things for my legs with supports to keep my feet up (which didn’t work) also a leather strap round my forehead. I learned to read and write etc. through a mirror suspended above my head.

Kindness from some of the nurses was in short supply, I would call them quite cruel at times. I remember once I could not wake up quickly enough for nurse Towers so she wheeled my bed into the x-ray room which was pitch dark and then was calling out to me that a “Bogey-Man “ was coming to get me. I was terrified. I would about 6 years old then.

We were pushed out on to the balcony in all weathers, even a howling gale. I cam remember us all laid there with the sheets tucked over our heads (shivering with cold I expect). Our parents were worried about the munitions being so close and we children used to wave to the pilots in their planes.

There are 2 foods I can not stand, one is spinach which I remember I could not eat so the nurse stood over me and made me swallow every mouthful. I hate the stuff. On another occasion it was tapioca pudding (dreadful), again the nurse stood over me while I swallowed every mouthful. Unfortunately for me it was always sleep time after lunch and I had not swallowed the last mouthful of tapioca and still had to swallow it. I vowed if I had children of my own I would not make them eat something they did not like.

I remember one time all the Mothers being really angry that we were not being given food that was being sent to us and as everything was on ration food was hard to come by. All the Mums got together and challenged Matron Downs - a strict disciplinarian - and she told them they should see her pantry, so she showed them all and my Mother told me it was stocked with all sorts of goodies , which I told Mum I do not remember much coming our way. Dr. Phillips & Mr. Payne used to make their rounds fairly regularly. Mr . Payne was a very bad tempered man but a brilliant surgeon.

One of the worst times of cruelty was when I was taken into the bathroom for what was like a bed-bath really. There were 2 nurses present and one had taken my gown off, Nurse Coleman was threatening to hit me with a broad strap across the front of my body because she said I had got pubic hair and at my age - about 7/8 - it was disgusting. I did not even know then what she was talking about, and I can see her and that strap as clear today as I could then. I think the other nurse must have stopped her, but I have never been so afraid of anyone in my life, I was frightened every time I saw her after that.

I remember Miss Fields the school teacher but only vaguely, but she was very prim I think but nice. I have a photograph of her.

After 3years and 9 months it was decided I could now get up and learn to walk again, which meant there would now be quite a bit of pain to cope with first as the supports that should have held my feet up did not work, and consequently my feet had fallen down and they had to be trained to stand up properly so I could put them flat to the floor. My nurse or probably the Physiotherapist I had to do the exercises with was lovely and very sympathetic. Her boyfriend was called Tommy and I used to call him “Tommy Tomato“ and he used to write lovely letters to me and always drew a big red Tomato at the end of them (I wish I had them now). I used to say to the lady if I wore shoes like Sister Morris (i.e. with a heel) it would not matter if my feet were not flat. Sister Morris was very stern but alright. When she left Sister “Lollipop “ came and she was lovely, always smiling, but I cannot remember her real name. Anyhow eventually my feet were in the right position and I could learn to walk again, which was done by a nurse (the 2 bad ones seemed to have gone then) whose feet I had to stand on and then she walked backwards. Clever I thought but it took some time.

After the first time I had been up and put back on the bed Delia Shaw in the next bed had dropped a book on the left side of her bed (which was on my left ) and I said to Delia “I will get it for you, I am a walking girl” , so I slid off the bed and I do not know how but I got to the locker and then to her bed down the right side and had just reached the bottom of Delia’s bed when Nurse Davidson came into the ward and shouted “Oh! Margaret Rhodes”, and ran down the ward scooped me up and popped me back on my bed (oh! And I did want to get that book). I explained what I was trying to do and she said I must not try getting out of bed on my own. Nurse Davidson was efficient but very nice. Nurse Nattrass was also very nice and always promising me a big parcel soon, which never came. Another lesson I learned - Never make a promise to a child if you are not going to keep it.

However the time came in September 1944 when I could go home and I remember a few of us girls were taken to the Vicar’s house for tea ---I can only remember it vaguely as a real treat and up until then I can not remember a Vicar being there.

A letter arrived at home in the morning post on 2nd. September 1944 (visiting day) telling may parents to come and take me home that day, the first they had heard of my being able to come home, I did not even have any clothes ! ----- it was a very long walk to the railway station and I could still not walk so my Mother and Father had take turns carrying me, 8 years old and only 2 stone in weight, puny for an 8 year old but still heavy for them to carry, and I still looked like a boy, and wearing a horrible leather jacket from my waist to my chin. It used to stain my skin. I think I wore it for about 10 months when either Prof. Clark or Mr. Broomhead said “We can throw this away now”, and I believe my Mum said it was during the V.E. day celebrations in early May 1945.

There was one very special thing that in my young mind kept me going while in hospital, that was my baby brother Colin. I loved him dearly and longed to go home to see him again. I used to tell everyone about him -----so on arriving home when my Auntie Margaret walked through the door with her young son, I just said “Oh! Colin”, to which my Mum said “no love this is Auntie Margaret’s Frank”, and then she must have told me that Colin was dead and I do not remember what happened next -- all I know is that years later Mum said “I would never do that again“. I miss that dear little boy as much now as I did then.

I was talking to my husband one day recently about MHMH and said I will look on the internet and was very disappointed that there is no history of the hospital at all.

I have photographs of the hospital which I have yet to learn how to get on to the website and I can remember almost all the names of the other children.

Does anyone remember a Radio? There must have been one as I can remember at least one of the popular tunes of the day ‘Mairzy Dotes‘.