I have read with interest the various accounts of ex patients of MHMOH which became their home not by choice but a valued necessity for I too was a patient there with spinal TB in the years 1939 - 1945 - the war years. Thoughts and memories crowd my mind some sad and some glad in that period of my life which affects me to this day. A lump had started to appear on my spine when I was five in ‘39, thought to be the result of a fall from a tree in a coppice in a little village called Clifton a year earlier. The doctor, a Dr Heseltine, diagnosed TB of the spine and I became a patient of the Marguerite Hepton Memorial Orthopaedic Hospital. Although I was approximately six years there, I haven't many visual memories structure wise of the hospital as I was supine in a half plaster cast with a mirror above my head to view around. No doubt the cast would be changed as I grew. I do remember the avenue of trees so colourful in the autumn and the sunny days outside on the terrace. It’s strange but I cannot see any wet days in my memory or the pain I must have gone through, just an acceptance, a boy who knew of nothing else but that present time. Over the span of time I was in hospital my body was subjected to various ailments as the disease progressed. Boils on my back to be burst through the application of linen boiled in a cloth, the water wrung out then hot the linen applied to the ripe heads, near mastoids in the ear and a stay in Killingbeck hospital when I caught Scarlet Fever. There was no quick remedy for TB and no antibiotics at that time.
A year before I came home a decision was made to operate which required my parents blessing as its success rate was 50%. The surgeon who performed the operation was a Mr Payne, a wonderful consultant and very strict (my mother would tell me afterward). I think the operation was done in Leeds and can still remember the pad and chloroform being put on my face. When I think back, I have nothing but respect and admiration for Mr Payne. He cut away the diseased bone of my spine around the spinal cord and replaced it with fresh bone from my left shin to make a new vertebra. He certainly saved my life.
Various incidents do spring to mind whilst at MHMOH, as being the war years I remember the dog fights high in the sky in daylight, (the airfield at Church Fenton was not far away), planes circling beyond the trees trying to bomb the underground munitions bunkers across the road. Of boys from an approved school going round picking up the shrapnel after the all clear.
Not all raids, however, were done in daylight, for many a night we would be pushed in our beds to wooden huts away from the hospital in case the hospital was hit during a night raid. On one occasion a cone shaped fire extinguisher fell of its hook due to the explosions and landed on a bed, was activated and soaked the poor lad under it. Though it was dark I could see the sister or nurse, a cape over her shoulder, a silhouette in the doorway lit up by flashes, on guard, an assurance to our young minds all would be well.
On good days we enjoyed the sunlit air away from cover of the veranda, the sun lighting up the silver barrage balloons, one occasionally drifting off as it broke free of its moorings. From the mirror above my head I watched my father climb the steps to the entrance to disappear then to re-appear at my bedside. Dad was exempt from doing national service because of his job as a lorry driver at Walker Bros in Brighouse. Those times were special as it was midweek and he had managed to make time to visit me. Normal visiting was once a fortnight and on a weekend, travelling by bus from Clifton to Leeds then by train to Boston Spa in all weathers and maybe having only ten minutes of visiting time left.
Being a lorry driver, Dad had contacts and knew where to buy toys difficult to get hold of. A dye cast searchlight I would shine on the ceiling in the night. Black faced luminous watches would glow under the sheets; I had quite a few of them over the period I was there, for as, even with the searchlight, they seemed to ‘disappear’.
One particular and fond memory I have of my stay at the hospital concerned a little girl called Ruth Tutin who never seemed to receive any visitors. Like me she was fitted with a half plaster cast and a mirror above her head and most times she would remain unnoticed, alone in a corner under the veranda. This concerned Dad and Mum who upon enquiring why she was aside out of the way and not with the others outside, would be told ‘she has been naughty, soiled herself’. ‘Poor beggar, bring her outside with the others’ dad would say, and made sure she received a present on visiting days along with a bit of TLC. Ruth would often call father ‘Dad’ and many is the time I wondered what became of her when I came home in February 1945. Dad did make a few discreet enquiries later, and heard she had gone down south.
I am now in my 76th year. My spine bears the scars of a time when there was little technology as we know it today but the skill was there. My doctor said later, had penicillin been available then, the possibility of a cure in six months was not beyond the bounds of probability and I would have been taller. Losing 3ins in height has suppressed the capacity of the lungs making me short winded at times, but I count my blessing over and over that I have led an active life and still do God willing.
The breathing exercises I was advised to do long ago have come naturally with singing. Singing to His glory in church and concert platform and oratorio works.
Looking back I cannot thank the staff at MHMOH enough for their dedication and care. The love and devotion my parents gave to me is ever before me as I reach the eventide of life. Marriage to a loving wife and the added blessings of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren is living testimony to their dedication.
Think of me when you are happy, keep for me one tender spot. In the depth of your affection, plant me one for-get-me-not.
The seed was sown long ago.