Saturday, July 28, 2007

Joan Collins (née Coughlan) -1949, age 15

" I admired Dr Huppert greatly." - Joan

How did you feel about going into Craig-y-nos?
I was so ill that I really didn't know what was going on, if I'm honest. I was in ward 2.
I went in 2nd March 1949 and came out in November.

Oh, that was quite quick then, wasn't it?
It was a miracle, really, because I was so ill going in. I was the first to have streptomycin.

How long were you on streptomycin?
I think it was two months, four injections a day. That was it, two months.

Do you remember beginning to feel better?
Oh yes, yes, taking notice, and I remember … I wasn't allowed to sit up, you see, I was told you'd got to lay, and one of the girls - I think she'd had a camera or something brought in. And when the visitors had all gone, and we were all so excited and I sat up, and as I sat up, who walked in but Dr Huppert. Oh, I tell you what, I never sat up again.
The next thing I was down sister's office in a wheelchair, and she really laid in to me, which she had every right to. I remember her saying, 'We worked so hard on you and this is how you're repaying us.' Oh, I felt dreadful. I never sat up after until I was told.

What else do you remember about Dr Huppert and Dr Williams?

Dr Huppert was Austrian if I remember, and she was disabled, a very strict, very disciplined doctor.

She was good … I mean, what she said and did was for my own good. She was very, very strict, but she had to be. We were young. I remember the morning I came home, my mother came to fetch me, bless her.

We didn't have cars, we had a bus. And Dr Huppert was in sister's office with us, and she said, 'I want you to remember,' I can hear her now, 'one thing. You are not quite out of the wood yet.'

She said, 'You are to rest every afternoon at least two hours, and I mean that.' And she looked at my mother and she said, 'You are to see that she does.' And my mother did. But she was doing it for my own good. I don't know about you,
… people who have got discipline I admire.

As I say, I didn't dislike her, she was telling me for my own benefit. She had worked hard to save me. She couldn't afford to let me go back then, could she?

Oh, I admired her greatly although I was only young. I still admired her.

Dr Williams doing Long Round watched by Sister Morgan

Dr Williams was a nice gentleman, very pleasant. He'd make his rounds once a week, and he was always nice and gentle with us, and I remember … I'm going back, oh, as I say, we were only youngsters … and we all put a bow of ribbon in our hair, and we all said before he came to do his round 'If he sees us like this, he can't avoid getting us up out of bed.'

And we all had these ribbons in our hair. … I can see him now, coming in the ward and looking as much as to say, 'Well, what have we got here with all these ribbons.' But it was all fun. We enjoyed it.

Dr Williams had a young family, if I remember rightly.

Did you ever meet any of his family?

No, no. No children were allowed on the wards, which you could understand, although we were children. In those days, it was a killer.

Nurse Glenys Davies and Auntie Maggie

They were kind to me.
I remember Staff Nurse Rees, Nurse Davies, all the staff, but I can't remember the sister.Yes, Auntie Maggie, we always called her. A lovely, bouncy, pleasantly plump lady.and the other was a Mrs Harris. Well, they'd be called auxiliaries today We had two porters, Langford and Thomas, and Mr Hughes was the radiographer.
A very nice man.

Do you remember the food ?
Well, as far as I know it was all right. I don't think you would have complained like you would today. I think we accepted more, we were grateful.

Did you make friends with the other girls?
We were like one big family there, really, because you spent all your time together, and we were all there for a long time. So you did become like a family. It was quite strange then when you left and went home.

The lake

When you were up and about they would let you go down into the back, which were lovely grounds, beautiful grounds there. Of course, you weren't allowed in the front, which made sense. So, it was quite pleasant there.

We did have a surgical little girl. She was by me, in fact - Shirley - I don't know if she ever made it, and they used to lay her … every so many hours, she had to be on her tummy one time and it would be on a bed of plaster of Paris moulded to her body. And then, after a certain time, she'd be turned over and they'd have another one that took her back. And oh, she was just a bag of bones. I mean, I wasn't fat but she was even thinner.

Was it cold?
Well, I can remember there was snow - where I laid, the doors were never closed, you had big French doors where I was, you see, and because it was so cold and because I was so frail, if you like, I was given a hot water bottle.
I can remember my mother and my aunt coming up and of course they had to sit at the side, and their teeth would be chattering, and I'd be giving them the hot water bottle. It was cold but you see you couldn't have doors closed. You had to have them all open and these on the balcony were worse off but they had coats on and gloves and scarves. But you didn't notice it. You never noticed it, strangely enough.

Gastric lavages
Like if you weren't coughing up a lot, that's what they would do then.
Not very pleasant to talk about.

Children dying
I remember there was a young little girl. She'd only been in a little while and they took her down to sister's office, but what happened we don't know. She was just staring into space, apparently, and they just took her down there, and she was nursed in there. But what happened to her I don't know.
You'd ask after her and sister or nurse or whoever you asked, would say, 'Yes, she's doing all right,' but whether she ever came out I don't know. It was sad.

Balcony patients
They were geared up with their coats and their gloves and their scarves. Well, they weren't allowed in the ward, you see. That was day and night. The only time they came in the ward was when they were going for X-ray.

General atmosphere
I never knew anyone to be nasty there. all right, we'd have our crying days, but you'd expect that. That came with the illness.

Some people feel that it was a bad experience for them. You don't feel that?
No, I was just grateful that I was well and came out. Not for me it wasn't a bad experience.

I was seventeen before I was allowed to work and I got a job at Lovells in St Helen's Road, Swansea.
Well, the front of it was one side pastries, the other side confectionery, and then towards the back that was a restaurant, but I only worked in the shop part.

No, I was never told or asked about whether I wanted children. I just had them. Two boys. But I was monitored and for that I was very grateful.
I look at them sometimes … my youngest son is six foot four, so I think, well, I'm so lucky that I could see them grow up. One son lives in Berkshire. He's a male nurse, in Broadmoor, the high security hospital. My oldest son lives here in Swansea. He's with BT.

Edited extract from an interview given by Joan Collins to Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian, the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College, London.

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