Saturday, November 17, 2007
Betty Thomas ( nee Dowdle) 1941. Age 20
Betty, from Swansea,arriving at the Patients Reunion with her niece Gaye
“I’m eighty-six and I’m in quite good health, I’m a bit slower than I used to be but I’m still driving," says Betty.
Getting sent to Craig-y-nos in 1941
I was supposed to go up to Denbigh (sanatorium), which was two hundred miles away in north Wales, but my mum asked at that time, ‘Is there anywhere nearer?’ The doctor said he’d try and get me into Craig-y-nos, but there were five hundred on the waiting list. Well, it was rampant in those days then, a real killer.
I went with my boyfriend (later my husband) to the Empire Building (Swansea) to a show the night before I went in .
Memory of Craig-y-nos is so vivid
Each time that I talk about Craig-y-nos I’m there, do you know what I mean? When I went up there first and I had to lay on my back. The first day that I wasn’t allowed to do anything, I counted the squares on the ceiling.
When I got in the next day I had complete bed-rest for three weeks.
I wasn’t allowed to pick up a cup or anything. I went in on the 13th August and I was there until the following February. The only treatment I had was fourteen gold injections because it was all experimental then.
TB was all “hush-hush”
No one would tell you any details of where, why or what was happening to you, or where you had the TB. I knew it was on my lungs but it all seemed to be hush-hush. We weren’t told in those days about those things. She said, ‘If one lung was bad and it pressed on the good lung, then it would spread again,’ so you could understand that but three solid weeks. And I wasn’t allowed to hold a book or read.
Yes, we used to go to the (Adelina Patti) theatre to a film show and the only time that we knew there were children was when we passed through the rose garden at the front. You could hear them. You never saw any children, ever.
We used to hear stories from the nurses how the children used to cry and cry because they had to leave a nurse and go with these strangers – their parents.
Then, on the balcony at that time were adults and some of them were in plaster from chest down, that sort of thing, but no one was allowed to speak to anyone. There was no communication. I used to go out for a walk when I was allowed but we all had to keep very much to ourselves.
Regime in Ward 4
In the wards we were ten. Ward 4 was divided into two, with offices and rooms just between the two wards, ten beds in each. We were not allowed to go to anyone’s bed to talk. When we had promotion, as I called it, from bed-rest and we were allowed to go to the toilet once a day at first, we had to pass the beds at the bottom but we weren’t allowed to stop to speak. They were very, very strict but they had their reasons for that.
The food – maggots in the porridge
Well, the first morning that I got there, the girl in the next bed to me said, ‘Be careful about your porridge.’
So the porridge came and I looked at her because everybody was new (to me), and there were maggots in the porridge. So I put them at the side when I found what it was. She didn’t say what it was, and I left it. And the sister that was there, very strict but very kind, she asked me why I hadn’t eaten my breakfast and she said, ‘You eat it and put them (maggots) alongside’, so we used to take the maggots out and then … well, it was
wartime and food was very scarce with rations.
Carole Reeves:Did you have maggots every day in your porridge?
Well, you had to look for them. It could have come in a sack or something. Oats, you know, or whatever. But we always had to look through the porridge. It most probably was that particular time but I was warned when I went in. We used to laugh about it.
Trolleys for the dead
In one of the letters again (on Ann’s blog), they were saying that the screen used to go (round the bed) and trolleys (taking people who had died away). Well, that was going on all the time. We’d know, not so much in the ward, but they’d be put in side wards and then you’d hear the trolleys going, so I identified a lot with what was said in some of those letters.
Wireless on loud covering removal of dead bodies
Of course there was no wireless on in Craig-y-nos but sister always put it on very loud when any wheels had to go or someone had to be taken out. The wireless would always go on, so that was another clue that someone was going, you know. But we never knew, really, who it was because we weren’t in connection with the other ward or the side wards. We weren’t allowed to see or talk or anything.
“Would you like chicken?”
Sometimes a bed would be moved out of the ward and go into a side ward. You knew that was the next step because one of the patient there, Lorraine her name was, she was so ill, and she said, ‘Now, if they come and move you into the side ward, you know ...’ There was always … not a joke but a lightness about it as well, ‘… you know you’re on your way out.’ Or, she said, ‘If they come and ask you, what would you like to eat? Would you like chicken? You know that you’re on your way out.’
And I passed her bed as I was going to the toilet one day, and I did stop. We weren’t supposed to but you’d have a look, you know, to see how things were, and she said, ‘Aren’t they kind here. They asked me today would I like chicken.’ But she didn’t realise.
You didn’t see a lot of people always crying. People used to be quiet of an evening. If you saw someone that was all cuddled down after supper instead of talking, no one would say, ‘Oh, what’s the matter?’ They’d look at one another and say, ‘It’s OK,’ especially if you were new there, ‘It’s alright, just leave her. She’ll be alright in the morning.’ The crying used to go on, not loud, but of course, people (were sad) … the two married ones had children and they couldn’t see their children. They didn’t see their children.
“I was the only one that survived”
’ But I can’t ever think that I was afraid or thought, ‘Am I going to die?’ or something like that. So whether I buried it, I don’t know. I might have. It didn’t affect me because there was sadness about the things there, and I suppose, yes. There was companionship in the wards but so many people died.
Out of the ten people that I was with there in seven months, I was the only one who survived out of that little group that we had.
People went home and we kept in touch, they died a year after, two years after. Yes, I was the only one who survived.
You weren’t allowed papers.
You weren’t allowed to read a book. It wasn’t that you weren’t allowed to read, you weren’t allowed to hold a book.
It was total rest. I had fourteen gold injections.
I used to write letters every day when I was able to sit up in bed.
I remember writing once to my father and saying I wanted to come home. Could I come home, I was so unhappy there. And he wrote back and he said, ‘I’m very sorry my dear, but you’ve got to stay.’ So I stayed.
Swans on the lake
There were two swans on the lake,Peter and Wendy.
And one died.
And the cry from that remaining swan! They mate for life, don’t they?
But the cry through the night and everything. I heard that.
And it was an awful cry.
Separate walks for men and women
The men used to go down over the little bridge and into an island with all rhododendrons on it. That was the men’s walk. The women’s walk was along the path and round the lake, and never the twain should meet.
“We were not allowed to mingle”
We were kept very much to ourselves. I mean, even when I used to go for a walk up around the lake.
I saw in one of the photographs (on Ann’s blog) that someone was in a boat, but there was nothing like that when we were there.
I started off with a five-minute walk that was in front of Ward 2 on a path (between) two statues (stags). Two and a half minutes there, two and a half minutes back, and then I had to go back in.
There were another ten beds in the top wards but we weren’t allowed to mingle. We weren’t allowed to get together. Most of my time was spent bed-to-bed talking.
Visit to the dentist
I had two front teeth up the top and he drilled out the decay, filled it with cotton wool and oil of cloves, and he never came back .
I had this gaping hole for a long time. No, he never came back. Well, he never came back to see me anyway.
Hair washing not allowed
Do you know, we weren’t allowed to wash our hair.
I was there nearly seven months and I never washed my hair. I used to brush it and I used to put a little drop of water on it and brush it.
People were afraid of catching TB from you
The fear that people had when you were around although the disease was dormant, or whatever. You always had to have your own handkerchief. I wore a little white bag with a strap round my neck with number 81 on it and 81 on my handkerchief, and I had to wear it the bag always, like a gas mask, in Craig-y-nos.
Yes, I was numbered and my handkerchief was like a man’s handkerchief, and it was numbered so that you had your own handkerchiefs back.
Procedure when visiting a doctor
They were very, very strict, and when you went to the doctor to be examined, there was a certain routine. You turned your head … I do it now if I go (to the doctor), automatically. One doctor said, ‘I can see where you’ve been.’
BT: Well, you always had to have your handkerchief out, turn your head to the side, and while they examined your right side you’d turn it to the left (and vice versa). And when they asked you to cough, it was in your handkerchief, and you always had to turn your head away. Never face a doctor.
Hospital visiting rules
The rule was the same visitor could not come two days running: either Saturday or Sunday, not twice.
Though it was wartime, there was no food allowed to be brought in, only sweets and they were on coupons.
Walking in th grounds
When I got to the walks and I got up to two forty-minute walks a day, I was allowed … I used to go on my own … I used to go down and walk past a river, beautiful in the spring. I think it’s the River Tawe, you know, the beginning, bubbling over. It was lovely. I’d walk over to the lake and once round the lake, and back. I always went on my own. There was no one else.
the other patients were all at different stages. No, I never went in twos or anything. Of course, we were very friendly in the ward. We all knew about one another, there used to be a lot of laughter there and we made our own fun.
I remember the beds getting wet. I called the nurse one night because all windows were open, and it was wintertime and the snow was blowing in, and my bed was getting wet. So I rang the bell and this little nurse came in. She’d only been on nights a couple of nights, and I said, ‘Please will you close the window.’ ‘It’s not allowed,’ she said. She brought me in a thick canvas and she put that over the bed till the morning.
I used to have a cup of water at the side, and in the morning that would be frozen.
Hot water bottle for visitors
I used to get a hot water bottle or whether my mum brought it up, I’m not sure, and she would hold that to try and keep warm.
Ice-cream twice a week
The only joy that we had at that time, we had beautiful ice cream twice a week but you know what that was? That was the American soldiers that were over here at that time.
Birds in the ward
And the birds going right through the ward. We’d have breakfast in the morning … of course no trolleys over the bed then, you had to balance a tray. Margaret, the girl in the next bed, said, ‘Put your knees up, put a piece of your bread on your knee and don’t move.’ I was in the top bed (by the window) and there’d be robins and everything, and they’d fly and they’d come and take the bread and fly back to the table to eat, and we had lights over the bed … a little arm thing and a light. When the birds would get up there, she said, ‘You’d better duck.’ To avoid the droppings. But there were terrible screams going on one day in the side ward. We said, ‘What on earth is that?’ And the nurse said, ‘It’s alright, it’s alright.’ There was a bird in the side ward and of course there was a thing about birds where there was sickness. If the birds come in, well, that was it, you know.
I got engaged in July before I went away (to Craig-y-nos), not knowing if I’d be back or not. My father took Ted, my husband (my boyfriend then), into the front room and he was there an hour spelling it all out to him how, maybe, when I came back that he didn’t want me hurt in any way because it’s a long time to go away for fourteen months, and wartime as it was. Anyway, we got engaged, and I went in on 13th August.
Reading all the things on Ann’s blog last night, brought back a lot of memories that I had forgotten and really, when I think about it now, I didn’t go to sleep till about a quarter to three, not that it worried me but I was thinking a lot about it, There’s a lot of sadness. I think there was a lot about me that was hidden, do you know what I mean?
TB – unemployable
I couldn’t work when I came out although I was quite well, no one would employ you if you said that you had TB. That was it.
The fear of TB with friends
There was one person … we chummed up and we used to go to the pictures together.
She used to come up to our house and have tea one week after the pictures, and I would go and have tea with her. And one day, I got up there. Her mother was there. I thought she seemed a bit strange, a little bit different, you know. This still must have been wartime or the end of the war, and I got up there and we had a cup of tea, and I had a different cup, saucer and plate to the other two. Of course, nothing was said but I knew what was between us then. She’d found out that a few years ago I’d come out of a sanatorium.
Visits to the Swansea TB clinic
I had to go down and ask permission,if I could I wash my hair, and I asked permission if I could get married. It was very, very strict.
Fear among villagers
Even in Llanybyther Sanatorium … we had more freedom there and worked hard. We had to walk up the road but not down towards the village. But this one (person) that I became friendly with, she died when she was thirty. She was from Treorchy in the Rhondda. Anyway, we went down to pick some blackberries and the people were coming up (from the village) and they had their handkerchiefs over their mouths as we passed.
Leaving the hospital
Of course, you could leave the hospital anytime but if you did, no one bothered with you. If you went to the clinic, they wouldn’t bother with you because you took your own discharge.
My faith has helped me
Oh, I think about what happened often. I’ve got quite a good outlook on life. I have a strong faith. I go to a United Reformed Church after my husband died in May 2003, the Good Lord has given me contentment because I’m quite happy to be in my home. I’m able to do things, to look after myself although things take longer than they used to. I can look back over the time but I don’t dwell on it
We’ve always got choices, everybody has got choices. You can either sit here now and have a pity party or you can get up and do something.”
This is an extract from an oral recording Betty Eunice Thomas (née Dowdle) gave to Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London.
I am Betty's great neice now living in Australia, my mother sent me the link to the blog. It is wonderful to read Auntie Bett's memories of a time so distant to us now, I wouldn't have thought to ask. I am so proud of my aunt and her strength, attitude and faith. Really thought provoking. Lisa