Monday, 7 July 2008

Jane 's comments and questions to Barry Blackburn

Glad you enjoyed writing this so much - it's great to read it and I hope you'll think of more.

* I was very interested to hear that
you and your friend had gone to a school for Disabled Children. What kind of disability were you left with? I ask because I went to an ordinary primary school, in my spika – a sort of leather corset with steel reinforcements, which started under my arms, went down to my right thigh, and all the way down my left leg to the knee. I could walk around fine, but running was difficult, and if I fell over, which I remember doing from time to time, I couldn’t pick myself up and had to wait for someone to come and help me. Some of the other kids would stand over me and laugh, which was a bit miserable.

Once the spika was removed, I was always left with the feeling that I sat somewhere between being able-bodied and disabled. I could look like a fully able-bodied person, but because of my spinal fusion (lower back) I couldn’t bend so easily, found it difficult to sit cross-legged on the floor and get up quickly, couldn’t jump very well. Swimming turned out to be the answer to my prayers – something you could do with no danger of falling over, that still makes me feel wonderfully free

*Are there things you - or anyone else have found difficult?

* Are there also things you’ve got specially good at as a result of your patient experience? You mentioned your sense of being really lucky and of valuing the things you can do. For instance, I learned to read very early, and have always read a lot and lived in my imagination quite a good deal. So I’ went for a sedentary, bookish sort of career. At the same time, I love to travel, and have taken some quite adventurous journeys on my own in the course of my work – still do. I get a real kick out of the independence – though I also love to come back home.

*It’s very interesting, too, that you can remember so many names – one of the things that seems to be coming out of the blog is that most people can remember only a few. Could that be because you were older when you were a patient – some of us went in as quite small children (one was two, one was three, I was four…) and we were still quite small when we came out.

Barry Blackburn looks on his time at MHMH (1946-1948) with affection

I was very interested to read your letter in the YEP regarding the Marguerite Hepton Memorial Hospital at Thorpe Arch. I am not a computer man, so I thought I would write my “life story” and post it to you. I come from Bramley in Leeds and was 12 years old when I was admitted to hospital in August 1946 remaining until July 1948.

I often think about those days and how lucky I was (it was only my right ankle that was in plaster) as I could move about quite freely when my friends were restricted on frames etc.

That stay in hospital affected my whole attitude to life as having lived with other boys who were much worse off than me (in fact two died during my stay). I seldom complain about my ‘lot in life’. My medical records came in handy when National Service was due, as I was classed Grade 3 which was a failure in their system but a success for me, as I had just got married, passed my driving test and begun to earn good money. I always believed that my 2 years in hospital was a good training for life.

I have had no contact with anyone associated with the hospital since my best friend Ronnie Smith died in the early 1970s. We were in adjoining beds for 2 years and I was his best man when he got married. He named his son after me. Ronnie and I went to Potternewton School, Leeds, for handicapped children and we were founder members of the 19th North Leeds Handicapped Scout Troup (happy days!).

I did an engineering apprenticeship training as a draftsman before joining ICI and moving to the North East as a project manager.

It may seem strange but I still look upon my time in hospital with affection and it left me with no fear of medical matters or hospitals, even though I had a heart attack in 1990 and a cardiac arrest in the USA in 2006. However, all is well at the moment and my wife Joan and I are celebrating 50 years of ‘wedded bliss’ next month.

I enclose a copy of a letter to the magazine Best of British when they were asking how the 1947 snow affected readers. My mother used to sit with a hot water bottle under her coat whilst begging me to put on a warmer jumper (we were tough!).

The worst thing was having to get washed on a cold morning in a bowl of lukewarm water. (Most of the time we didn’t).

Sorry to go on but I’m enjoying this! I remember the horse chestnut trees down the hospital drive and the tumbler pigeons in the dovecote. Miss Budd the teacher was great! I was given a bottle green cardigan to knit and after a year it was given to the girls’ ward – did you finish it? I do not think I ever saw a girl during the two years, never mind spoke to one.

It has been good to put pen to paper on our (Jane’s and mine) 60th anniversary of leaving Thorpe Arch.

Here are some names I remember

Specialists Mr Broomhead, Mr Payne

Doctor Maloney

Sister Trout

Nurses Hodgson, Moss, Fowler, Natress

Fellow inmates Kenneth Inkpen, Terry Swift, Geoffrey Gresty, Cyril Gamble

Barry’s letter in Best of British

Getting cold feet

When the snow came in 1947, I was 12 and in the Marguerite Hepton Memorial Orthopaedic Hospital for Children at Thorpe Arch, Boston Spa, West Yorkshire, and we were virtually cut off. This did not cause me or my parents much of a problem, because visiting times were only two hours every first and third Saturday in the month.

Other weekends we received food parcels from home containing sweets and Wizard and Hotpure comics. Our teacher, Miss Budd, braved the journey from Walton village in her little Austin car she called Archie. She taught us everything from maths to knitting.

The main treatment in the hospital was ‘fresh air’ and we older boys slept outside the ward between April and October, under a ten-foot reinforced glass canopy. I woke up many times with frost on the foot of my bed.

Replies to my letter in Yorkshire Evening News

Hello again. I'm sorry the blog has been rather silent recently - the effects of my holiday, followed by rather a lot of work, which I had to get through before yielding to the temptations of the blog. This was specially frustrating, as I got back from holiday to find a whole lot of messages on the ansaphone, letter, and emails, in reply to a letter I sent to the Yorkshire Evening Post a while before going away on holiday. I got no reply and thought they just hadn't published it. I'm still following up the letters and phone calls, with some very interesting results to be shared. What I'll do now is put one up each day, trying more or less to keep to the order in which they came, for the sake of fairness. In the meantime, thanks to Barry Blackburn, Margaret Vicars, Andrea Kerr, and Norman Proctor for contacting me, and for interesting contributions.