Monday, 5 October 2009

Colin Welbourne's further recollections

First, now that I come to think of it, at times there were some other girls on the ward we called ‘The Small Boys Ward’ although I seem to recollect that girls were on the ward infrequently and most of the time it was just boys. I always thought it was through lack of space on the girls ward, but I don’t know – maybe, as there was no ‘small girls ward’ any young girls were admitted to the boys ward until they were old enough for the girls ward. I can remember a girl called Pauline on the ward. The handyman – I think his name was Mr Bennett – made her a beautiful toy shop – a greengrocers – and I can remember him presenting it to her – obviously he had a soft spot for her. We all wanted one of course, but he didn’t make any more.

Like Ian’s mum’s note in an earlier entry, my Perthes started with ‘leg ache’. By the time I was five the medical people had finally diagnosed the problem but it had taken an awful long time and many x-rays for them to reach this conclusion and I didn’t know what was happening – all I knew was that I got ‘leg ache’ after I had walked a short distance. I can vividly recollect standing on the railway station on a January morning in 1943 with my father who was taking me to Leeds. I was five years old and thought I was having a day off school. He took me to the infirmary and after some chatting I was put in a cot and my father left me, saying he would see me soon, but the ‘soon’ turned out to be a long time.

After a couple of weeks in LGI, and some more x-rays, I was transferred to a hospital on the moors at Otley. It overlooked a valley and in the distance the railway ran along the other side. We took great joy in watching the trains running on it.

The hospital was a series of wooden huts – like army barracks - and apart from the one I was in, they were occupied by American or Canadian soldiers, all sporting bandages of some sort or other. They had a gramophone and played records almost continuously.

I can’t remember much more of the stay there apart from the fact that the hut was heated by a coke stove in the middle of the ward – we used to put our cod liver oil capsules on the top, they created a dreadful smell!

Anyway, six weeks later I was transferred to MHMO and again, that first day is very clear in my memory. I was taken straight to the treatment room in the Small Boys ward and put on a frame and moved out to the ward. School was just finishing and they were singing ‘Jesus bids us shine’ – a hymn I had never heard, didn’t like it, and still don’t like it!

The six weeks stay at Otley leads me to think that the frames were custom made for us and I wasn’t transferred to MHMO until it was ready. Either that or they were waiting for a bed to become vacant as I cannot recollect having any treatment at all and was able to walk around the place without restriction.

The frames were beastly things. As has been described in other contributions they were a metal frame, running from below your feet up to your shoulders and they were made to ensure that your hip joints didn’t move and that no pressure was put upon them. We laid on a leather pad – we called them saddles – and the frame kept your legs apart. Elastoplast was taped down both sides of your legs, terminating at the ankles with tape loops through which cord was passed and tied to the frame which extended past your feet. These elastoplasts were called extensions. The elastoplast must have been about three inches wide, so there wasn’t much flesh uncovered by the time it was applied to both sides of your legs. Your feet rested on upright supports which were metal arches over which canvas bags were placed (gallow bags they were called). These were pretty useless as either the metal bits (gallows) slipped down or the gallow bags tore under the pressure of our feet. There were two sets of curved bars over your body, I seem to recollect these bars were tied together with cord. Shoulder straps stopped you slipping up the frame and prevented you from sitting up and groin straps stopped you slipping down it! Our legs were first bandaged with light cotton bandages over the elastoplast extensions and then bandaged to the frame with stronger bandages to complete the immobilisation.

Changing the extensions was a time we dreaded. There was no simple and painless way to take remove an elastoplast and there seemed to be no releasing solutions in those days, so it was a sly distraction by the nurse and a quick ‘rippp’ and an instant howl!

Comments have been made about the use of methylated spirits. When the nurses bathed you they took you out of the frame and washed your back. They then rubbed meths in and finished with a dusting of talcum powder. As far as I was concerned it was very effective as I never had bedsores. But for me the smell of meths is very nostalgic – if ever I use it it brings back instant memories of MHMO!

Because of the way we were strapped down, I seem to remember that we wore either pyjama jackets or cardigans back to front, but I am unclear on this. It wasn’t the modern hospital gown, of that I am sure.

I stayed on a frame from the age of five till I was nine, when I went on to the next stage of treatment which was called mobile traction. For this, we were taken out of the frame but the extensions were kept on but this time they were tied to cords running over pulleys over the bed end and attached to weighted bags – they actually contained lead shot – great fun was had by all if one burst! The bed end was raised to allow more travel on the weights. The mobile traction got your joints working again as, with not having any physio, they had all seized up. Knees had to be taught to bend again, as well as hips, and we could learn to sit up at last and muscles slowly regained strength. The only photo of me in all my time in MHMO (which I can’t find) is of me in mobile traction.

The next step was walking on callipers which kept feet off the ground. I had them on both legs. I didn’t have problems with the calipers at all and could go at a fair rate on them after I had had them for some time. My problem was that I managed to break them quite often - I suppose it was metal fatigue.

There were no parallel bars or equipment of any kind to help you learn to walk, you relied on nurses to give you walking lessons by standing you up and helping you along. At the time I was learning to walk we got our first male nurse – it seemed so strange to us as this was really unusual – nurses were female, not male, but he was a good fellow and we all liked him. One day when my callipers had been put on me and I was waiting for a lesson he was busy so he just gave me a chair to lean on and push around rather than help me to walk – it was probably the first zimmer frame! Anyhow, this helped me greatly and I was soon fully mobile.

I went home in July 1947, the day before my tenth birthday and four and a half years after walking into LGI with my dad. He had bought cheap day return tickets to take me to Leeds as they were cheaper than a single. I found the unused return half in my mum’s belongings when she died. She had hung on to it all those years, probably as a momento of the day her son went away.

Contributors mention the food we had. I don’t remember having many problems with it despite hating scrambled egg and although I can eat porridge I simply can’t look it in the face any more. The other interesting thing is that I don’t think we ever had tea to drink – I still don’t drink it.

We sometimes had corn flakes for breakfast as an alternative to porridge. They were mainly Dalton’s Cereal Flakes which came in a red and yellow box and were truly delicious. If they hadn’t enough of them they would use Kellogs, which weren’t half as nice and we would frequently argue about who had which. The big thing about corn flakes was that they come in a cardboard box and this was super material for making things with and we always competed for the empty boxes. They stopped making Daltons flakes somewhere around 1957, such a shame as I would love to have some again!

We invariably had fish on Fridays for lunch. Sometimes it was fish and chips – the only time we seemed to have chips and which we all loved, other times it was steamed fish in a parsley sauce which most people hated.

I can’t recollect being made to eat our meals, maybe we were just hungry and scoffed everything! In school time there would have only been two hours between twelve and two for the nurses to serve lunch, clear away and clean us up and settle us down for our nap so if we didn’t eat our food there wasn’t much time to do anything about it. I don’t think we realised how difficult the food situation was outside and it must have upset nurses when we wasted food, maybe that was the cause of any food bullying but, come to think of it, all parents try to get their children to ‘eat up’, so it wasn’t any different for us.

We had a light blanket to cover ourselves with. Because it was next to our skin it was called ‘Next To’ but we always pronounced it ‘Necks Too’. This served many purposes, it covered our bodies, kept us warm, and if we dropped something we could use the blanket to drag the item closer to the bed to see if we could manage to pick it up. At night, or sleeping time (we had a nap every day after lunch) we covered our faces with it and as a punishment in the day we would be made to cover our faces with it so that we could no longer talk or play. It would have been plain for all to see if we were playing with a toy under the blanket or reading and the nurses were very good at spotting this. It was known as ‘Going down the Bed’.

The other punishment we were given was a rap over the knuckles with the nurse’s scissors – very painful! The smart boys discovered that the louder and sooner you howled, the quicker they stopped. I don’t think the nurses caught on to this dodge! However, I can truly say that I was never bullied, abused or mistreated by the nursing staff. The nurse I mentioned previously who was universally hated was just exceedingly strict, liked a tidy ward and didn’t like us talking and hated rumpled beds. We were frequently ‘sent down the bed’ when she was on duty and she made our lives a misery.

The design of the lockers was interesting. From the side they were ‘L’ shaped, with the foot of the ‘L’ being a storage box with a hinged wooden lid. The lid made a very satisfying bang when dropped and with a bit of co-ordination from everyone on the ward we got quite adept at making a machine gun sound which we loved doing and frequently finished being ‘sent down the bed’ as a result! The upright part of the locker had a shelf, forming an upper and lower compartment and these were open at the sides. The upper compartment was at bed level, making it an ideal playing arena between yourself and the chap in the next bed and this was the base for many risky adventures and you could whisper through it when we were supposed to be asleep.

Being adventurous and inquisitive boys, we got up to all sorts of things in that secret little locker area. Battles were fought, plays staged, factories, airfields and roads were built and bombed. I well remember that, following a visit by the fire brigade one evening to pump the boiler house out, we entered on a ‘boiler making’ phase. Once again, plasticine was the material we used. We made containers to store water in (we used our drinking water or took a bit from our washing bowls). Pipes were moulded by wrapping plasticine around pencils, the pipes were ‘flanged’ at each end which enabled us to join them, and we finished up by having a maze of pipes running from our boiler, ending in taps to catch the water at the end. We had a few floods, but were never caught out.

The boiler phase turned into a new phase – harbours! We built walls (good old plasticine, reinforced with pencils) at each end of the locker shelf and filled it with water and sailed model boats on it. Plasticine only floats if you make hollow boats from it, but we made quite a few good cardboard models to sail. Apparently one pair of smart lads had a pier in their harbour, complete with a battery-powered lighthouse! Unfortunately, the night nurse saw a light coming out of the locker and discovered it. A quick check of other lockers was made and a couple of others were found and a mass knuckle rapping session followed. Fortunately for me and my mate (can’t remember who he was) we had emptied ours that day and so we got away with it. We had moved on to something else by then, probably more dangerous as among other things, we went through a cooking phase using candles made from Glitterwax ( a tallow based substitute for plasticine) to make Oxo drinks!

The radio played a major part in our lives. We had school singing lessons from the radio – I vividly remember the over-jovial voice of the man who took the lessons, we used books bought from the BBC for these lessons. We listened to sports commentaries of football, boxing and horse racing. Raymond Glendinning, Eamon Andrews and Stuart McPherson were the main commentators, I think, and we would try to imitate them as they spoke so fast. We followed Bruce Woodcock, a northern boxer (?any relationship Jane?) and would get permission to listen to the commentary of any of his fights. I remember that we also got permission to listen to the serialised medical murder drama ‘Green for Danger’ and got ourselves scared stupid by it. Anyone due for surgery at that time were certainly not very happy bunnies! We needed special permission to listen to these programmes as they were broadcast after our bedtime.

We were all interested in sport. There was little interest in football - rugby league was our thing. The main teams supported by different boys were Leeds. Hunslet, Bramley Wakefield Trinity and I think St Helens, mainly of course because these teams were local to where the boys came from (except St Helens- that was too far afield). I think the St Helens or Warrington team came to visit us once and I do believe that Eddie Waring, who became a commentator on sport and ‘It’s a Knockout’ was amongst them.

We were keen enough on rugby league to devise our own version. One boy had a rugby ball bladder, which we could punt around to each other. There were metal tie rods going across the ceiling at the end of the big boys ward and the idea was to punt the ball with your hand (rather like in volleyball) to see if you could hit the tie rod. If you did, this was a ‘try’ for your team and you could have a go at converting it by attempting to punt the ball over the tie rod. The lights took a battering, but fortunately they stood up to it otherwise we would probably all had rather sore knuckles for a few days!

We devised a horse racing game which involved one boy being selected as commentator. He blocked his ears and sang so that he couldn’t hear us whilst we chose the name of the horse we would ride. When all was agreed, the commentator was given the horse names (but not the riders) and he would start the race and do a commentary from his imagination, doing the best imitation he could of Raymond Glendinning, whilst we did the best imitation we could do of riding. If your horse was said to be in the lead, you ‘rode’ that much faster, until the commentator reached the end and announced the winner. Stupid, I know, but we wore ourselves out on this one! It was our version of the real life thing, - we had our own versions of most sports.

We did a lot of jigsaw puzzles, Waddingtons , the game manufacturers, would send us a couple if you wrote to them asking them to replace the parts of one of their games, I expect they got wise to it in the end!

We were able to do these things because there were not many nurses on duty at any one time, probably two or three at most with a sister in charge whilst at night there was one nurse on duty on each ward with a sister in charge over all of the wards. There were no wounds to dress, no medicines to dish out, their duties must have been feeding and bathing us and making beds and taking temperatures – more meths to sterilise the thermometers! They were all very young I seem to remember, probably straight from their initial training course.

We spent most of our days in the open air as it was deemed to be beneficial, particularly to TB in those days. In winter we were well wrapped up and in summer we wore something similar to a loincloth (they were called splashers) but no regard was paid to the strength of the sun and there was no suntan lotion in those days. I got a serious dose of sunstroke one year and was dangerously ill with it, to the extent that my parents were asked to come and see me – the doctors must have been very concerned.

Looking back, some things come to mind which I suppose just wouldn’t happen nowadays. We left hospital totally unprepared for the big world outside. We were not very worldly and had no manners – other than an occasional ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. My parents had to sort all this out, as well as teach me to hold a knife and fork properly when I got home. We were a thankless, almost selfish, lot as we didn’t have to give much and it grieves me now to think that we never wrote a note of thanks to any of the organisations that had given us a party or sent us something – how good it would have made them feel – but I don’t suppose that we knew about such niceties. We had been in an all boys environment with no physical contact, protected from any harm or violence or cuts and bruises and we rarely encountered girls. We didn’t have to share things, although we swapped comics with each other and I don’t think we had any monetary values although I was aware that things weren’t easy for my parents. We didn’t know an awful lot about the world outside although, to a point, the radio kept us in touch with real life, and we read the papers on Sunday, but all in all it was a very closeted, almost monastic, life. Children entering the hospital younger than I was when I was admitted would have very little concept of what the world outside was like and would have had much to learn when they went home - nowadays television brings the world to you, but of course, there was no television in our time. If counselling had been around in those days I suppose we would have had endless sessions to prepare ourselves for the big world outside.

I settled back at home quite well although, after a lot of thought, I have realised that over the next few years I tried to get back all the boyhood things I’d missed in those years in MHMO, charging around everywhere and going on mad adventures. I have two elder sisters and a younger sister and brother and they seemed to accept me as though I had always been there. I went back to ordinary school when the Autumn term started and fitted in with a school class of children of my own age without too many problems but had to take a few weeks off when the time eventually came to discard the callipers and learn to walk normally again.

When I left school it was obvious I didn’t have the strength for manual work and settled for an office job. I have lived a normal life without obvious disabilities although arthritis crept in at quite an early age and I have had one hip replaced and might in time have to have the other done. The MHMO experience has left me to be quite skilled with my hands and I am quite inventive and have a dogged determination to fix things and make them work, it’s probably due to all that plasticine modelling!

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