Saturday, 28 August 2010

Reflecting on the Past - School and Hospitals

Going Home from School

When I was six my mum stopped collecting me from school. She had to push my younger sister in the pushchair on the two miles round trip. So she stopped doing it. My brother walked with me to school each day and when it was fine weather I walked home on my own. But when It was rainy I had to wait across the road in the junior's cloakroom for my brother for half an hour. My mum wouldn't let me go on the bus on my own. I sat on a bench, pushing the coats back to give me room. It was dark and gloomy because of the rain. I never had anything to occupy me apart from my thoughts. 

A Thre'pny Bit

We always carried a thre'pny bit each for bus fare in case we needed it. A thre'pny bit was a small, octagon shaped yellowish thick coin. It felt heavy and satisfying in the hand. We were always given a thre'pny bit each for the church collection plate. It was the value of three pennies. A penny, in those days, before the decimalization of the British currency, was a large brown thin coin. A sixpenny bit was the same size as a thre'pny but very thin and silver. 

Outside Toilets

The infant toilet block was a scary place. In the shade of the ewe trees, corrugated asbestos for walls that started at knee height and ended with a gap before the roof. No windows or electric light. Smelly and cold. A big girl, a member of the large, poor and smelly Churchill family, locked me in a cubicle one time during playtime. She must have been standing on the other side of the door. I never really wanted to go there, especially to move my bowels. They were called 'outside toilets' because they were not in a building. Across the road the juniors had toilets that were inside a building. Accessed only from the playground and no heating, but what luxury!

Moving Bowels - or Not

When I had a chronic constipation problem at age 6 I asked to go to the toilet during lessons and when I was a long time the teacher sent someone out to check if I was OK. How embarrasssing! Walking home, I would get tremendous pains in my abdomen that I would have to stop walking until the pain passed. Sometimes I would pass some faeces on the way. This was very embarrassing and I would go home and wash my knickers. I would sit on the toilet for ages in such pain, passing nothing. I'm not sure how my mum found out. It could have been because of the soiled knickers or maybe the teacher told her or maybe that I was taking up so much time in the bathroom. My mum went on about how stoical I was. Well, I think it was more to do with embarrassment than being stoical. 

My mum took me to the doctor who decided I needed an operation to widen my back passage. He showed me a long clear perspex tapered stick that he said would be placed in my anus and pushed in to widen it! But I wouldn't feel anything because I would be asleep. 

There was no talk about diet at all. Dietary fibre had probably no been discovered. Nor was the fact that a wheat and gluten intolerance could have been the cause. 

Hospital in 1960

So it was off to the hospital for me just before Christmas. Parents were not allowed to stay with their children then, so I was left on my own. I arrived the day before my operation and that night I don't remember sleeping at all. I was told I must have slept, but I do remember the ward was a busy place all night and I don't remember waking up. The nurses opened the curtains in the morning and a lady came along pushing a trolly giving each child their breakfast in their bed. She passed the end of my bed without stopping or acknowledging my presence. Well, I was very hungry and I started to cry. She came back and told me that I was being silly. Didn't I remember that I was to have an operation that morning, and so was not allowed to have breakfast? There was a sign on the end of my bed to tell her so. Well, of course I knew about the operation, but the missed breakfast part had passed me by, and I couldn't see the sign on the end of my bed!  

There was a girl in the ward with a broken limb. She told me she often broke something because she liked being in hospital. I thought this was very odd. Now I think it was likely that the hospital felt a safer place to her than her possibly abusive home. 

Visiting - or Not

I remember there was a visiting time when I had no visitors. It was horrible. I watched all the other children being fussed over by their families. A nurse came and talked to me for a bit but it didn't really help. My mother swears that she came every visiting time. I decided then that I would not let that happen to anyone I knew. 

When I was an adult my elderly neighbour who I regularly visited, went into hospital. She had a sister and a nephew who lived quite a few miles away and they didn't plan on visiting much. So I found out when they were going and filled in the gaps. My lovely husband usually came with me even though it was really quite hard with both of us working every day. She was there over Christmas and on that day there were no set visiting times so we all ended up being at her bedside together. 

Hospital in 1980

It seems very odd today that children with broken limbs would be staying in a hospital ward. Also that anyone who was not ill would be taking up a hospital bed just to make sure they don't eat before an operation. They were still doing that when I was 24 and had all my impacted wisdom teeth out. 

My husband took me to hospital to check in. I was very anxious and felt like I was being incarcerated. I was required to undress and get into bed at 4pm! I balked at this and said I wanted to go for a walk in the grounds. I went even though the nurse was reluctant to let me, for she thought I might not come back. It was a horrible night. A fit and healthy young woman listening to ailing women calling for bed pans to no avail, and then calling out that it was too late. This was so distressing that I got up and helped an old lady to the toilet. A nurse appeared and scolded me severely because I wasn't insured should the lady fall. 

After the operation my mouth felt so dry that I called for water. The nurse (who was the mother of one of my pupils at school!) was very kind and washed my mouth with wet cotton wool. She apologised that I couldn't drink because the anaesthetic might cause me to throw up. 

That evening, my head of department at school, came to visit her mother who was in the bed opposite me. 

I was perfectly healthy when I went into hospital but felt very ill when I left. My temperature and vital signs must have been OK but I felt like I had flu. I realised later that I was having a reaction to the anaesthetic! My whole body hurt and felt very heavy. 

Years later, when I told someone that I wouldn't be able to do something after my dental appointment because I always felt ill afterwards, I found out that I had a reaction to the adrenaline in the anaesthetic (as well as wheat and gluten).