Friday, July 20, 2007
But that day they lifted me into a proper bed! It had an arched frame to raise the bedclothes free of my leg. Nurse told me they’d listened and yielded to my wish. Hope leapt up in my breast: hospital could be fun if they went on doing that. The events of each day proved otherwise, dashing all such hopes. If you called “Nurse!” for the bedpan---I had to copy others to find out what to do---a Sister would not even look up, unless you called “Sister!”, and then she would find a nurse to perform the menial task. Sisters were nurses in a different colour of uniform. I had several painful injections each day. The kinder nurses, who were outnumbered by the fierce ones, would take care to choose a spot on my buttock which had not been stabbed before.
I was sent for an Operation. As the trolley was wheeled to Theatre, we passed glass cases on the walls, full of gleaming instruments. Perhaps they were museum pieces as a form of decoration, but I saw them as instruments of torture. The Theatre team had masked faces but played jolly clowns, like a magician at a children’s party. They drugged me with chloroform and the bright lights revolved sickeningly. Their voices squealed and splintered like breaking bottles and . . .
I woke up in the ward, with my leg in plaster of Paris, a red rubber tube snaking into a hole they’d drilled into my knee. On a pole stood a jar of yellow liquid at the other end of the tube. It was penicillin, at last available in sufficient quantities for use in peacetime hospitals. This was 1949: a couple of years earlier, my infected knee would have been amputated. Still, the doctors were careful not to raise my mother’s hopes too high. Every Sunday evening Canon Griffiths asked his congregation to pray for me.
Not long after, we all caught chicken-pox and the ward was closed in quarantine, a prison within a prison. No parental visits and no presents, unless they were to be donated to the hospital afterwards. This was to keep in the contagion. Then it was May and our quarantine space extended to a shady balcony, where there was a bookshelf on wheels, full of tattered books left from a previous outbreak of chicken-pox.
Slowly I was learning to create my own freedom, with bravado as the main weapon. The food was disgusting but some of us boys (we were segregated) made a point of pretending to relish it and asking for more. In many little ways I learned to be cheeky with the nurses, to amuse but not infuriate them. I was less successful in this than my peers but you had to find your own technique and it helped pass the days.
The quarantine was over and I suppose I had a visit but I don’t remember it, only the present of two books: Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows. I was enchanted by the first and bored by the second. My opinion hasn’t changed in nearly sixty years.
Then we were plunged into quarantine again. This time it was measles and I was moved to a smaller hospital, St Helen’s. It was nearer home but what use was that? I was in an isolation ward, with only five beds, like a boarding-school dormitory. The blinds were kept drawn and the lighting dim to prevent damage to our eyes. We had calamine lotion for our skin but my leg itched madly under its plaster. There was a heap of old comics to read and nothing else to do but argue amongst ourselves and, to the extent that our illnesses allowed, jump from bed to bed like fleas.
to be continued . . .
Posted by Vincent at 5:55 am