Monday, 8 June 2009

Judith on Visiting and Her Dad's Views

The comments on the blog about separation from loved ones and normal family life, highlight how devastating it was to have children in hospital long-term and often at some distance from home. Visiting, as other people have pointed out, was hugely important and when I was in MHH it was every day and, I believe, at tea-time/early evening. We lived in Armley, Leeds, I was an only child and, to cap it all, my parents were totally blind (I wonder if Sister Lodge remembers Mr & Mrs Best - 2 blind parents can‘t have cropped up that often). 

Dad visited at weekends but Mum visited 5 days out of 7, accompanied by her sister, my Aunty Clara who lived with us, and sometimes other aunties and uncles too. They had to get 3 buses to Thorp Arch except when the hospital bus ran (was this just Sundays?). There was great camaraderie amongst the parents on the bus and they used the trip as a kind of ’user’s group’ to get support and swap information. Mum visited me for 2 years 10 months and in all weathers including the harsh winter of 1962-63. Looking back, I’m amazed and proud at her dedication but at 5 years old I was pretty aggrieved that she didn’t come every day. 

During weekend visiting, Dad used to get incensed that the TV, which was high up on the end wall, was switched on. He thought that visiting was for conversation, not for families to sit and stare at the box together. He repeatedly asked for it to be turned off, making himself rather unpopular, not least with me once Dr Who started. 

I should point out here that my father held strong opinions and could be an extremely difficult man - intelligent and articulate, but difficult - and we had a fraught relationship later. He was a great complainer and letter writer (he could type) and had a particular loathing for the medical profession. He referred to the doctors as ’ghouls’ and thought they were experimenting on us children for their own dubious ends. My consultant was Mr Clark and every 3 months I had an X-ray and he saw my parents to say, “Perthes not run its course yet - see you in another 3 months.” Dad just didn’t believe they knew what they were doing (doctors then wouldn‘t have discussed what was happening to my bones in the detail he wanted) and such was his rage that he stopped attending the consultations and let Mum go on her own. As “2 years” had been mentioned at the beginning, when 2 years arrived and Mr Clark was still saying, “Not over yet,” Dad asked for a second opinion. I went to Leeds Dispensary to see Mr Fitton who echoed Mr Clark’s view and Dad got the chance to fume, “They’re all the same.” Both doctors though, could no doubt see from my X-rays that my bones weren’t sufficiently recovered to allow weightbearing so knew I had to rest for longer. 

Years later when bed rest and frames had given way to home treatment, Dad was convinced that they’d known all along that hospital stays were unnecessary. Personally, I believe that the 1960’s doctors were giving me what they thought was the best treatment possible according to the knowledge they had at that time. Ideas change - that’s progress. 

A letter Written by my Dad to the Evening Post.

A resident child psychiatrist! He was ahead of his time.

Judith's Drawing

I don't know whether there was some kind of extra block on the end of Small Boys with an aerial on the roof, but the rest of the drawing clearly shows Small Boys with the TV high up on the wall. And Babies Ward adjoining with the high sided metal cots. The stripy things also high up near the ceiling are the ventilation fans. One of my diary entries mentions a bird getting trapped in one of the fans and Mrs Cooper has done a little drawing of her own (as she sometimes did) of the stripy fan and a flying bird.

Judith at "School"

My memories of the two ward sisters, Sister Gough and Sister Lodge (now Mrs Ibbotson!), and the succession of nurses, are that they were largely kind and caring. But the person I really adored at MHH was our teacher, Mrs Cooper. She taught us English and Sums and got us to keep our News Books. I only kept these in term time - there are gaps for the school holidays. 

Mrs Cooper was always bringing us nature and weather reports and updates on what she‘d seen in her garden. She made us a tin & string telephone, painted scenes on the windows at Christmas and when new boy Leroy arrived, whose family came from Jamaica, Mrs Cooper taught us where Jamaica was and how Columbus had bumped into the West Indies while looking for India. 

If I didn’t have my diaries to jog my memory, the only other children I’d remember would be: Coralie (best friend for quite a while, but no idea what her surname was), Steven Woods (he lived near us in Armley), and Joshua (his mum used to pass a comic or sweets to my mum at weekend visiting to give to Joshua every Monday with the hushed words “Our Joss Monday”. This became a catchphrase - “ArJossMundy”.) Of all the patients and staff I remember though, I can’t actually visualize any of them – they’re all impressions rather than faces.

An extract from my Diary

Judith Jones (nee Best) Patient 1961 to 1964

These are part-memories and partly lifted from the diaries (News Books) which I kept at MHH from 1962-64, and from a memoir written by my dad.  

I was a patient in MHH (which we called Thorp Arch) from August 1961-June 1964, aged 4-7, with Perthes in both hips. I’d been limping and complaining of pain in my legs and Perthes was diagnosed by Mr Payne in Leeds. Mum said it was the nearest she’d ever come to fainting with shock when he said that I’d have to go into hospital for 2 years otherwise I’d be unable to walk by the time I was 30 and in a wheelchair by 40. 

I don’t remember arriving at the hospital or being upset for the first week as my dad said I was. He said I cried every time they left, locking my fingers behind Mum’s neck and begging her not to go. Then, after a week, I ’accepted my fate’ and hospital life became normality. 

I found it heartbreaking to read some of the accounts of other patients on this blog, especially Rowland’s, but I have to say that my memories of MHH are almost entirely happy ones. I can still picture the long, long ward - Ward 3, Small Boys Ward (actually a mixed ward) - with the rows of wooden beds which were constantly being moved around. ‘I’m next to Susan’, ‘I’m in the middle of Stephen and Diane’. The beds were pushed outside a lot in fine weather and the ‘shades’ (must have been those pull-out awnings on some of the photos) constantly being put up and down. 

I was on traction for a couple of weeks while my frame was being made – were they bespoke? The frame was metal with padded leather bits for my head, body & legs, straps and a metal bar across my chest to stop me sitting up. It was raised above the mattress so a bedpan could be slid underneath. You just had to ‘go’ and hope the bedpan had been well positioned. Some of the lads used to rock their frames from side to side, building up momentum so that it was possible to crash over the side of the bed and onto the floor. Needless to say, this was a terrible crime - ‘Ian is in a cot because he has been rocking on his frame’. The cots on Babies Ward had high metal sides. 

All our toys, etc, were kept in our bedside lockers, frustratingly just out of reach. I had a small suitcase full of comics, crayons, etc, which was mostly wedged between the frame and the side of the bed so I could get to my stuff easily. I wrote a lot about ‘playing with’ the other children and swapping toys around. 

 Bryan, my husband has called this photo 'Swinging Judy'. Well, I remember being desperate to go on the swings (fat chance) so asking my uncle to push the bed under them before taking the photo.

Yes - I was on traction briefly, then the frame for what felt like ever, then calipers which I never managed to walk on. Hideous things - gave me blisters. And Ward 3 was definitely mixed - probably as many girls as boys, although staff still referred to it as the Boys Ward, not Small Boys, even though there was another Boys Ward. Confusing.