Thursday, 31 July 2008

Fred responds to Rowland Jagger's account.

Rowland was a patient during the time I spent at MHH, 1950 to 1952 and we are of the same age. He has awakened in me memories that I had long since forgotten or perhaps I had managed to shut them out where he has struggled. I found reading his account to be both heartrending and disturbing. I don't believe my life was scarred by the experience but it has had a lasting impact on me. I find it easy to withdraw into myself and am content with my own company. I am almost compulsively independent and find it extremely difficult to ask others for assistance, I need to be in control. Oddly enough I feel very comfortable being this way, confident that whatever life throws at me I can deal with and there have been challenges to face as is the case for everyone. I believe this resilience stems from the time at MHH.

Hospital antiseptic I remember as ether, but I've always liked the smell, can't say the same for the boiled cabbage but I don't mind the smell of methylated spirits even now. I cannot remember protesting too much against being strapped down in my frame but I do remember, when I first arrived, hoping that they weren't going to strap me down in one of those things.

Yes I have memories of unkindness, sometimes being subjected to mental cruelty but in my case it had the effect of hardening me up, if I kept my head down and didn't make a fuss, withdrawal I suppose, I could get by without becoming the centre of some nurses anger.

Looking back I remember the good times more readily than the bad, maybe my "conditioning" was more effective than Rowland's e.g. I cannot leave food on a plate and will eat most of what is in front of me even if I don't like the taste and maybe I began to believe I was "too big to cry". I suspect Rowland's will was probably more resistant than mine and he remembers the struggle more because of it.

I wonder how Rowland feels about the medical profession today, I have had to return to hospital for major surgery on a couple of occasions, admittedly they don't keep you in quite so long these days, but I had few fears of the surgery and only warm memories of the way I was treated by all the medical staff attending me. Even today I attend outpatient clinics and almost look forward to them, certainly without any trepidation.

Finally I wonder if Rowland had the same disorder I had, Perthes disease. It is a condition affecting the hip joint and my treatment was exactly as described by him down to regular x-rays and hip manipulation. I was completely cured, physically anyway, by my hospital stay. Length of stay was dependent upon how far the joint had worn before diagnosis and how quickly the hip ball joint recovered, in his case considerably quicker than mine. I am not entirely sure complete mobility would have been restored with TB and await someone more knowledgeable to correct me.

Rowland Jagger (a patient in 1950, now living in Spain) raises some issues about the effects of visiting restrictions

I was a patient at Marguerite Hepton Hospital in 1950 at the age of seven years for a period of about 12 months for what my parents were told was a TB hip.

I have been trying to put my thoughts down on paper without sounding too negative. In all honesty I do not feel that that part of my life holds any fond memories for me at all. It was a time of my life that I would prefer to be able to shut out from my memory but I cannot. Now at the age of 64years I can at least look back objectively without feeling aggrieved and troubled.

I remember it as being the unhappiest time of my young life and I am convinced that my life was scarred forever as a direct result of that experience. I remember being very frightened and I cried a lot. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t even have time to say goodbye to my sisters or grandparents and as my parents weren’t allowed to travel with me in the ambulance I believed for a long time that I had done something wrong and was being punished.

MHH was a small cottage hospital but in reality to a small frightened little boy it didn’t look like one to me. It was alien and scary with the huge hospital grounds set inside dark thickly wooded areas. So far away from my home in Leeds I felt as if I would never be let out or see my home again. Once inside children were not allowed out. Average length of stay could be anything from 6 months to years.

On arrival I remember having all my clothes taken off me including a few small toy lead soldiers that I always carried around with me. (I remember being told not to be a silly boy and to stop crying as I was too big to have toy soldiers at my age).
Forty miles is no great distance to day with almost every body having a car, but in the 1950s my parents, ordinary working class people struggling to bring up three children didn’t have a car. The public transport in those days was poor if non-existent out in the rural areas. The infrequent journey’s they tried to make every fortnight to see me was a long drawn out affair and must have been a serious drain on their tight budget.
I remember clearly the first time I was taken on to the ward; the beds with metal cages and some with strange looking gadgets above which I later learned were pulleys with which to raise the limbs. The noise of children shouting and crying, pulling on the metal bedstead’s jerking their frames up and down to make a banging noise was alien and I was petrified.

This was something I learned to do my self in later weeks when I wanted attention and was frustrated and bored which was often It was if I had arrived in bedlam. The smell was a sickening mixture of hospital antiseptic, boiled cabbage and methylated spirits. The latter I would find out to my horror was used as a treatment for bed sores which I would suffer greatly from. I remember carrying on alarmingly when they first strapped me down on a metal frame all the time being shouted at and told that it was for my own good and not be a silly child. For days I cried myself to sleep pleading for my mother, wondering what it was that I had done so terrible to be sent there. For years afterwards when I was well into my teens, I would frequently have the same recurring nightmare that I remember having that first night. It would always be the same. I can’t breath, I can’t move. My head feels as if it’s going to burst. I’m trapped inside my body and I’m being crushed.

I remember stubbornly refusing to eat any of the food. All I wanted was Mother. The nurses would sometimes get cross and shout at me not to be a silly child and hold my nose whilst forcing food into my mouth. Sometimes, I would gag and be sick on purpose. I soon learned not to do that as any uneaten hospital food was put in front of me for the next meal.

The occasional stinging slap from an overwrought nurse and the threat of having a large tube that they waved in front of me pushed down my throat eventually made me conform. Strangely enough even today I am what my wife calls a very fussy eater.

As far as I can recall there were about twenty other children in total in the ward. Not all were on bed frames. Some were allowed to walk around with callipers on their legs. I was so envious of them.

Some of the nurses I remember as a child were not very nice or understanding, but there were some nice ones and one in particular. She would often sit next to my bed at night time and hold my hand telling me everything was going to be all right. She had lovely red hair I recall and she was very pretty, and smelled just like my mum.

Being strapped to a metal frame, I had to learn quickly to hold my bodily functions often crying in pain. On the occasions when I couldn’t wait and had an accident. I would lay in fear waiting to be found out. The punishment was always the same and even to a seven-year-old was humiliating. The bedclothes would be yanked off the bed, an angry nurse telling everybody watching that you were a dirty boy. A favourite punishment was to have my penis pulled with one hand whilst in the other, the nurse held her scissors over me threatening to cut my jimmy off if I wet the bed one more time.

The boy in the next bed to me was called Lorry I think it was short for Lawrence. I’ll never forget his name. He was older than I was and would throw things at me when I cried. He had a shock of white hair. I recall thinking how funny he looked because he had a bald patch at the back of his head with the constant rubbing of his head on the pillow. I remember thinking as a child how naughty he was. He was always being smacked for messing the bed.
He learned his cunning the hard way and when he had an accident he would throw his stools under someone else’s bed space, invariably mine. Despite that, I remember feeling sorry for him. He was always crying, but I didn’t know why. He used to scream at night times complaining that his legs hurt. When the nurses came to him he cried even more and struggled with them as they rubbed methylated spirits onto his bedsores.

Within a few weeks of being there I myself learned from first hand experience the stinging pain bed of sores, and the skin chaffing that the restraining straps caused on young tender skin. After the first experience of having mentholated spirits rubbed into my bedsores. I tried very hard not to complain but the nurses checked every week and the treatment was always the same.

Bed times were always the worst for me. I recall always crying when I thought of my mum, I missed her so much. Every day seemed like an eternity and even though I’m sure there must have been moments when I wasn’t unhappy, in all honesty I can’t recall them.

I remember vividly the first time my mum and dad visited me at the hospital. Mother now says that it was only two weeks after I had been admitted but I don’t know. To a child it seemed like years. I remember screaming the place down as they left. Mum says now that they could only visit every fortnight, but other children’s mums and dads seemed to visit more frequently than mine. Not that I feel bitter about that now as an adult. They did what they could at the time I’m sure.

We had schooling every morning, not that I was in any frame of mind to learn and as a direct result when I was eventually discharged and went back to school I was hopelessly left behind. Fortunately, I was able to make up some lost time, but I always remember my later schooling days as difficult and demanding.

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. Lying on a frame on your back strapped down unable to move anything but your head and arms when you don’t feel unwell was a torture devised in hell. To see other people walking around albeit on callipers was to me so unfair. I would struggle and strain against the straps but only until the pain became unbearable then I would just lay there sobbing. I remember after many months been taken for several x-ray’s and seeing several doctors at MHH who tried to make me do all kinds of exercises with my legs, but they wouldn’t do what I wanted them to. I had in my mind a plan that when they eventually did take me off the frame that I would run away.Strange as it may seem, psychologically I must have became used to the life in the hospital because the periods of crying and wanting to go home no longer plagued me.

A couple of weeks before I was discharged I remember being taken off the frame every day for physiotherapy. I still couldn’t move my legs the muscles had wasted so much. I recall screaming in pain as my legs were being manipulated. Thirteen months almost to the date that I had been admitted I was fitted with callipers and discharged. I couldn’t walk with out them. My legs unable to support the weight of my body. The were muscles weak and ineffective through twelve months of inactivity were useless. Nearly six months later after hours of out patient treatment I could walk again unaided.

I ask my Mother today what exactly was wrong with me? What symptoms did I have? What treatment was it I was subjected to? Didn’t you ever feel the need to question what was happening to your seven year old son? The answer is not all that surprising as a strict authoritative demeanor ruled throughout, for this was the approach of the time in the fifties. No one especially parents questioned doctors, complained, or challenged the circumstances at the time. This meant that many children myself included suffered the indignity and damage being in institiutions where parent’s visits were strictly controlled and were they was not involved in any treatment programs.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am pleased that whatever it was that I was suffering from was diagnosed and treated in time. I believe that I was one of the luckier ones. I went on to be able to participate in all kinds of sport successfully. I spent 6 rewarding years in HM Forces and then followed a successful professional career for the next thirty years before being able to retire early. But, I did suffer and still do psychologically. The impact of being removed from my family, seemingly forever, without really understanding why, of living apart in a building labeled a "Children's Hospital", of having significant life altering medical and surgical procedures done without real understanding, and involvement in the "real" world cannot ever be truly measured.

I'm now 64, and live permanently abroad in a beautiful part of Spain known locally as Xabia or better known as Javea approx 70 kilometres north of Alicante. I have lived here now for 11 years with my wife Kathleen spending my time gardening, doing D.I.Y. and writing which is my ultimate and untiring passion. We also spend a lot of our time travelling around this beautiful country which we both love trying to absorb as much of its history and culture that we can.