Hospitals of yesterday

Dear Peg and Friends,
I have enjoyed a few hospital visits as a patient over the past eighty eight years. What with the odd accident and bout of sickness, they were a good refuge when you needed them. As well when healthy, a good place to keep well clear of, otherwise as Dr Pat Farry used to say, ‘People die in hospitals’. In early days, the Hospitals that I knew and remembered, were a large building divided into four or five wards. Each with as many as twenty beds lining the two walls. Nobody liked being allocated one of the two top beds, they were quickly labelled the ‘Death Beds’ It was a long time before I found out from someone in charge, this was where the ward sister would put her sickest patients, so she could keep a close eye on them. Naturally if you were desperately ill, bad things could happen to you. But they weren’t necessarily the place that you were put before you shuffled off this earth
Male and female were segregated into separated wards as were the maternity patients. It was very noticeable too that the nursing staff were ruled by a rod of iron through a peculiar heritage system that was in vogue at the time, and of the worst kind. After enduring some years as a ‘dogs body’ each of the Nursing Staff went through a metamorphous, when they graduated and then turned into a harridan in their own right, behaving every bit as bad as what they had been regaling against. Immediately they turned on the new suppliants, and commenced to put them through the same hell that they had endured for the past three years.
Normally the systems worked very well. However I can remember on one occasion, when a very sick patient across from my bed got into trouble, He had been given a large draught of morphine, heroin or laudanum, laced with brandy. Laudanum was prescribed for more than pain. It was an excellent cough suppressant. It  turned up too in many proprietary medicines, including cough cures. Yes, many did become addicted. Anyway as a result of this cocktail which put him into a deep coma and inert. He fell out of his bed. In doing so dislodged his oxygen mask. I was concerned while watching him, I could see him slowly turning blue. So I rang the alarm. No response, so rang again. Still no response. I got out of bed to attend to him, only to find the feed for the mask was too short. The patient needed to be moved closer to the wall, and the oxygen supply. I was busy endeavouring to lift him, when there was a screech of rage from the door. Help had arrived, I managed to understand and decipher between the yelling, that it was being directed at me.  Heart patients were not meant to be lifting fellow patients, even to help. If I expected a little gratitude, that wasn’t forthcoming either.
Hospitals of the time were full of unique practices. Vacuum cleaners were still to be invented, I suppose three pin plugs were also still coming as well. So to pick up dust, damp tea leaves were kept and scattered onto the floor, and then swept up. Window blinds all were pulled down to the same height. No sitting on beds. Counterpanes on beds all drawn up to the same height. I think some of the staff had been in the military, and saw people there, painting the stones around the huts.
Over time I noticed that some patient’s families brought in eggs. On arrival they had the patients  name written on them, from time to time these were cooked as a treat for their evening meal. I also noted trays of eggs were being brought up to the ward with the weekly supplies, but not enough for everyone. To correct this imbalance, I got out of bed whenever I got the chance, I then wrote my name on half the eggs in the tray. Now I was in a position as a benefactor to dole out eggs to any that fancied them.
Hospitals in the City were the place where you went for Surgery that was beyond the expertise of your normal provider. In the country we didn’t enjoy specialist service. Often we were lucky for a ‘specialist’ such as John Heslop make a call. He was a surgeon who called on a monthly basis, or whenever there was an important cricket match being held close by. He didn’t bring along an anaesthetist, or any specialist equipment. Just bottles of ‘local’ pain killer. However it worked, as I had a hernia repaired on a table at the local Medical Centre. The operation was about 98% pain free. My wife doubled as the theatre nurse. These surgeons provided a very valuable service, as we got access to the City’s top men.
Today not much has changed. However the Nursing staff are kinder to one another. Wards have been subdivided into cubicles. A lot of automatic monitoring equipment has been introduced. Not all is good, I particularly dislike the automatic blood pressure machines they trot out. With me, they throw up some very misleading readings. Such is the faith the staff have in their new technology, no matter how hard I suggest that the readings that they are getting are all nonsense. What would I know about such things. The fact that one has never come up with a correct reading over several years means nothing. They will learn that, just because it blinks from many lights, it doesn’t mean it is good and accurate.
Love from Christchurch,
Wally

I have enjoyed a few hospital visits as a patient over the past eighty eight years. What with the odd accident and bout of sickness, they were a good refuge when you needed them. As well when healthy, a good place to keep well clear of, otherwise as Dr Pat Farry used to say, ‘People die in hospitals’. In early days, the Hospitals that I knew and remembered, were a large building divided into four or five wards. Each with as many as twenty beds lining the two walls. Nobody liked being allocated one of the two top beds, they were quickly labelled the ‘Death Beds’ It was a long time before I found out from someone in charge, this was where the ward sister would put her sickest patients, so she could keep a close eye on them. Naturally if you were desperately ill, bad things could happen to you. But they weren’t necessarily the place that you were put before you shuffled off this earth

Male and female were segregated into separated wards as were the maternity patients. It was very noticeable too that the nursing staff were ruled by a rod of iron through a peculiar heritage system that was in vogue at the time, and of the worst kind. After enduring some years as a ‘dogs body’ each of the Nursing Staff went through a metamorphous, when they graduated and then turned into a harridan in their own right, behaving every bit as bad as what they had been regaling against. Immediately they turned on the new suppliants, and commenced to put them through the same hell that they had endured for the past three years.

Normally the systems worked very well. However I can remember on one occasion, when a very sick patient across from my bed got into trouble, He had been given a large draught of morphine, heroin or laudanum, laced with brandy. Laudanum was prescribed for more than pain. It was an excellent cough suppressant. It  turned up too in many proprietary medicines, including cough cures. Yes, many did become addicted. Anyway as a result of this cocktail which put him into a deep coma and inert. He fell out of his bed. In doing so dislodged his oxygen mask. I was concerned while watching him, I could see him slowly turning blue. So I rang the alarm. No response, so rang again. Still no response. I got out of bed to attend to him, only to find the feed for the mask was too short. The patient needed to be moved closer to the wall, and the oxygen supply. I was busy endeavouring to lift him, when there was a screech of rage from the door. Help had arrived, I managed to understand and decipher between the yelling, that it was being directed at me.  Heart patients were not meant to be lifting fellow patients, even to help. If I expected a little gratitude, that wasn’t forthcoming either.

Hospitals of the time were full of unique practices. Vacuum cleaners were still to be invented, I suppose three pin plugs were also still coming as well. So to pick up dust, damp tea leaves were kept and scattered onto the floor, and then swept up. Window blinds all were pulled down to the same height. No sitting on beds. Counterpanes on beds all drawn up to the same height. I think some of the staff had been in the military, and saw people there, painting the stones around the huts.

Over time I noticed that some patient’s families brought in eggs. On arrival they had the patients  name written on them, from time to time these were cooked as a treat for their evening meal. I also noted trays of eggs were being brought up to the ward with the weekly supplies, but not enough for everyone. To correct this imbalance, I got out of bed whenever I got the chance, I then wrote my name on half the eggs in the tray. Now I was in a position as a benefactor to dole out eggs to any that fancied them.

Hospitals in the City were the place where you went for Surgery that was beyond the expertise of your normal provider. In the country we didn’t enjoy specialist service. Often we were lucky for a ‘specialist’ such as John Heslop make a call. He was a surgeon who called on a monthly basis, or whenever there was an important cricket match being held close by. He didn’t bring along an anaesthetist, or any specialist equipment. Just bottles of ‘local’ pain killer. However it worked, as I had a hernia repaired on a table at the local Medical Centre. The operation was about 98% pain free. My wife doubled as the theatre nurse. These surgeons provided a very valuable service, as we got access to the City’s top men.

Today not much has changed. However the Nursing staff are kinder to one another. Wards have been subdivided into cubicles. A lot of automatic monitoring equipment has been introduced. Not all is good, I particularly dislike the automatic blood pressure machines they trot out. With me, they throw up some very misleading readings. Such is the faith the staff have in their new technology, no matter how hard I suggest that the readings that they are getting are all nonsense. What would I know about such things. The fact that one has never come up with a correct reading over several years means nothing. They will learn that, just because it blinks from many lights, it doesn’t mean it is good and accurate.

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One Response to “Hospitals of yesterday”

  1. Glenda says:

    ‘Wally’, although I must be around 25-30 years younger than you, I remember those wards well from my childhood days. How different it was then, I was in for neurosurgery (head work in those days), but still put in that long ward with beds up both sides. Gosh you have bought memories flooding back! Thank you