Thursday, 10 July 2008

A dialogue with Kathleen Ward (nee Forbes, 1945-1950), aged about 6-11: food, school and learning to walk

My name is Kathleen Ward nee Forbes. I was a patient at Thorpe Arch from 1945 to 1950. When I first went into hospital I was admitted to Leeds Infirmary with a TB Hip. My weeks there were very frightening and I cried and fretted so much I was moved to IDA Hospital, Cookridge, where I settled down. After a few months, I was transferred to M.H.M Hospital, Thorpe Arch, and lots of that time was as happy as a child in hospital could be.

Eventually the doctor and consultant found out through some sort of test that I didn't have TB Hip, after being on a frame (as we called it) for a few years. I then had an Osteotomy and was in plaster for six months, before being taught how to walk again.

I loved the schooling we got. Our teacher was called Miss Field, and I think Mrs Budd was teacher on the boys ward, and was classed as the Head teacher. They must have given us all the basics and it can’t have been easy with most of us bedfast. The reason I say this is that I was not behind my age group when I got to school after being discharged.

Having read about other patients’ experience with the Dentist, I can verify that I too was petrified of having any treatment and the only way I would have any teeth extracted was by general anaesthetic.

My memories of food aren't too good, for instance I hated porridge, rolled herrings (which we called donkeys ears) and tapioca (frog spawn). Occasionally you would get a nurse that would bring it back the following meal trying to make us eat it. You can imagine the outcome! I can’t face any of those foods to this day. I suppose many a child in that day and age would have given their all for any food.

However most of the nurses were kind. I did see odd acts of cruelty to some patients if they soiled the bed etc. But myself personally didn't suffer any of this.

Visiting was 2pm to 4pm once a fortnight on a Saturday, and of course no ward phones etc. So letter writing was very important. My family used to bring me envelopes ready stamped and addressed.

I do remember radio stars visiting us, also having film shows at times.

On the whole, my years in Thorpe Arch were happy and I really missed my friends when I went home, until I made new ones.

Other Memories

  • Bonfire night. They used to build a big one.
  • Christmas - the nurses coming round carol singing on the ward Christmas morning. Father Christmas visiting. Sometimes the nurses would sneak on the ward to show us their dresses before going to the staff dance.
  • Lady Baden Powell coming to the hospital early one morning for the guides to sign a scroll. Can’t quite remember what it was for, but I know it was very important at the time. Our patrols were called Swallow and Bullfinch.
  • Miss Field bringing each of us a Christmas tree to stand on our lockers and making our own decorations. Of course the ward had a large tree.
  • The forces donating a rubber dinghy to the hospital and those who were learning to walk at the time, sitting on the side and using it as a paddling pool.
  • Trying to play cricket on crutches!

Jane follows up Kathleen’s first message

You and I must have been there at the same time - I was there from 1944-48. I suppose remembering each other would depend on how old we were - I was 4 in 1944 (my age goes with the year, which makes it too easy to remember!).

I think we all remember Miss Field - and the 'boys' seem to have equally good memories of their Miss Budd. In fact, when you read all their comments, you realise what a terrific job they did, because none of us seems to remember being behind at school. I do remember her trying hard to make us talk 'posh' - with not much success! She'd start off the morning with a little rhyme, all pronounced very poshly, for us to repeat: "'Good morning, good morning, I wanted to know if I could see a Mrs Snow.' 'Mrs Snow, Mrs Snow, I don't know a Mrs Snow'". Then we'd all chorus back with our Yorkshire accents unchanged! It used to make her quite cross, and I think we did it to wind her up!

Your memories about the food (and see also Margaret Vicars’s posting, yesterday) really jogged mine. I also hated the tapioca, and haven't eaten it to this day. I was lucky there, because my Dad also hated it, having been given it at boarding school when he was little, so Mum didn't dare cook it for us! I also hated leeks - same reason I think, they were very slimy the way they cooked them and I just couldn't swallow them down. I suppose that was the problem with the tapioca too! It was all so much worse when they came round for a second time. Then a friend served up leeks one day, cooked a different way, and I really like them now! But when I got home from Thorpe Arch, anything strange that had a bit of a slimy texture I wouldn’t touch – all kinds of things I love now, like mushrooms for instance. My Mum, bless her heart, wanted to make up for lost time and feed me up, and she found my 'pickyness' very upsetting.

Something that crops up really often (it’s also in Margaret’s posting yesterday) and that I'd really like to explore a bit more with you all, is this whole business of learning to walk again. It hit me when I had a hip replacement, about 10 years ago, and realised that was the third time I'd learned to walk, and I really started to think about it, and what difference it might have made to me in later life.

I'd also be interested to know whether you found that your experience affected your ability to do physical things - gym at school? sporty things afterwards? I was a bit of a duffer at gym - I think I was afraid of falling, perhaps because when I left Thorpe Arch I had to wear a sort of leather and steel corset (a spika) that went from my chest to the top of my right leg and down to the knee on my left leg, and I went to my first primary school like that. So when I fell down, I couldn't pick myself up.

and Kathleen replies

I don’t remember Miss Field’s verse but I do remember her wanting us to talk posh. However as you say they did a great job. I was born in 1938 so I was a bit older than you. When I got out of hospital I wasn’t allowed to do any P E or swimming - no physical exercises at all.

Also when I had the osteotomy operation I didn’t have a fixed hip, and it caused me to have a three inch shortening of my right hip. After another six months they did an operation on my left, so called ‘good’ leg to stop the growth, for my right hip to catch up. I was 11yrs old at the time and they put staples in my knee on the left leg, and I had a 3in lift on my shoe. When I was taught to walk and went home this was lower as my right leg caught up. Then I had to go in Pinderfields in Wakefield to have the staples out. I think I was in there about six weeks before going home. This happened when I was 14yrs old, I think I had my fifteenth birthday in there so had left school by time I got home.

I was always frightened of falling. It’s amazing how eventually you learned how to put up with these things and get on with life. To this day I can’t swim, never had the courage by the time I had been given permission from specialist.

However as the years went on I got married had four lovely healthy sons who married and had families so have lots of lovely grandchildren.

I also had a replacement hip in 1984. I think that’s the best part of my body now, most joints have arthriitis in them and walking is very difficult. In my home outside my family push me around in a wheelchair. Neither myself nor my husband can drive so family have the burden. They are my rocks. Of course they always have a babysitter handy and we all love each other to bits, so I have my uses.

Like you, I too was told to lead as normal a life as possible. Can’t really say why I wasn’t allowed to do sports etc. Parents and doctors in those days just expected you to take their word for it that it wasn’t good for you. The only explanation I have come up with is that the 3 inch lift on my shoe would have made it impossible for me to wear plimsols.

However even when I had my hip replacement I didn’t get the physio the other patients did, just gentle exercises like feet up and down, tightening knee muscles etc., no leg lifting. My consultant just said “you will get them moving in your own time”, and of course he was right.

Having a family to look after you get on with it and find ways round doing things, but it’s been a lot of fun along the way.

On the whole I don’t feel as if I have missed out on anything in life and I really think Thorpe Arch days helped to give me patience and take one day at a time.