Monday, December 10, 2007

Judy Smith ( nee Allsopp) - 1943

This is Judy's personal account of her childhood with TB and time in Craig-y-nos.

"Here is my story with a small preamble first. I keep on thinking of memories I could add but some are difficult to verbalise.

I went into Craig-y-nos-the Welsh name means “rock of the night” or “black rock” on February 18th.

Death of brother
I remember the date ‘cos it was my brother Tony’s birthday and he had died on March 1st.-coincidentally Welsh St. David’s day-1943 at the age of five (I was six).
It was very quick. One day we were “dainting together"-one of our favourite games walking on tip-toe, laughing at each other- the next day I was peering through the window of the rented bungalow near Lenham, Kent (we moved a lot during the war as our “Daddy was in the Army) and I could just see his shape on the bed. That was the last time I saw him. He was ill for two days. He died in hospital of tubercular meningitis. I found this out years later. All I knew was that my favourite playmate was gone. My brother Robert born Nov.27 1939 and sister Wendy born June 14 1941 were too young to play properly!

Move to South Wales

Not long after this we went to live in South Wales where our mother came from.

Search for father figure
Daddy was no longer around. I was told that he had died during the war. I remember helping him clean the brass buttons on his uniform and I felt proud when he carried me to school on his shoulders. The buttons and leather belt and cross straps of his uniform looked very smart and of course he was my Daddy.

I have searched for a tall man with strong shoulders and loving smile all my life-and that feeling of being loved.
Years later I found out that he was not dead but that he and our mother were divorced-so he might as well have been dead.

Uncle dying of TB in front bedroom
In South Wales our mother ,Robert and I lived with Aunty Linda, an older sister of our mother and Uncle Dai. It was a three bedroom house and Uncle Dai was dying of T.B. in the front bedroom, a common situation in those days in the Welsh valleys of mines and steelworks. I shared a back bedroom with someone-was it our mother or Robert? Wendy lived with another sister of our mother from the age of two till she was six.

Falling sick
I remember going to school, having a cough and strawberry tongue which I knew was significant but didn’t know why. I had to go into Swansea on the bus, which took ages,to the T.B. clinic at Grove Place for X-rays and examinations and being weighed and chest listened to. Once I caught a glimpse of someone having a lung drained-I think that’s what was happening-so I feared it would happen to me.

Arrival in Craig-y-nos
I remember being told that I had to go into hospital-just me-but the details of the journey on two buses and of being left in a frightening environment –totally alone-escape me.
Loneliness and fear from then on were constant companions.

Ward regime
I remember a large room (ward) full of beds,only girls no boys-there was strict segregation! For the first six month strict “bedrest” was the norm; getting out of bed for any reason even to go to the “loo” was forbidden. We had bedpans and blanket baths and temperatures were taken twice daily. We had to cough sputum into little dishes every day and to keep our bowels open we had to swallow either syrup of figs or cascara . One tasted sweet and the other nasty and we were never told before which was which!

Music in the wards
I remember Nurse Brenda Cowling. She was fair haired and plump and “warm” but no hugs came my way. There was Mrs. Williams who came on to the ward to play the piano. That was the first time I heard the “Moonlight Sonata” which is beautiful but I cannot listen to it or other classical pieces for too long because the feelings it arouses are too painful. We also played musical instruments in our beds which was fun except that I always ended up with the triangle when I wanted the drum! We also had some schooling but the details escape me.

The "tube"
Once a month (I think!)we were given toast for breakfast instead of porridge and then you knew that it was your turn for the “tube” which we dreaded. I was held down in a chair in a side ward and salt water was poured down a funnel into a tube in to my stomach so that I retched and heaved and spat.We weren’t told why at the time but I think it was to examine the sputum to see whether T.B. bacilli were present.

Body held in a leather and metal device
In one ward opposite me was Christine Walters. She had dark hair and T.B.lung as I did. But then she started having a pain in one leg which she could not move so she was put on to a leather and metal device in the shape of an upside-down Y; her head and body were on the straight bit and her legs were strapped to the two arms. She could not move. It was very painful and she cried a lot.

Children "disappearing" in the night
There was Joan Williams next to me. She had blond hair and blue eyes and rosy cheeks. One night she disappeared and I never saw her again. That happened often. Now I know that high colour and and feverish eyes were symptoms of the final stages.
When you were taken into the Duty room to be weighed which happened regularly and a screen was around the bed you knew that someone was dying. One day from my bed I saw what looked like a coffin being taken down in the lift.
Children were also put into wooden boxes which looked like coffins with no lids when they had T.B. of the spine. There was a patient named Leonard Smallden who had a leg amputated; I remember seeing the shape of the cradle over his body when the door of his room was left open. I was convinced that the same thing would happen to me.

Patti's legacy
After six months complete bed rest we were allowed “lav walks” then time allowed out of bed sitting in a chair at the side of the bed and eventually outings in the grounds of the sanatorium. The building was originally a “castle” or country house owned by a very famous singer of operas named Adelina Patti. She used to have country house weekends to which the king at the time Edward 7th.and his entourage were regularly invited. His train used to stop specially at Pen-y-cae station! Our heavy white counterpanes were embroidered with the King’s coat-of-arms.
In the harsh winter of 1947 some of us were wheeled out on to the balcony for the fresh mountain air.The snow was beautiful!

Brother Robert admitted to Craig-y-nos
Once my brother Robert who came to Craig-y-nos after me (he had pleurisy first) fell into a stone trough in the grounds and I tried to get him out but I couldn’t reach and I had to run for one of the nurses.I could see bubbles in the water.
I used to suffer from huge cold sores on my chin which were always painful; I don’t remember any treatment.

Wetting the bed
I remember wetting the bed regularly and sometimes the nurses wouldn’t change the sheet or my knickers as a punishment. I can still smell that stale urine and feel the dampness that I slept in.

Sexual abuse
The worst memory –which I didn’t remember till nearly 40 years later when I was having counselling for depression- was of Sister 'X' who smelled of nicotine putting the screens around my bed as though she was giving me a blanket bath. She used to touch me in a place where I knew she shouldn’t and manipulate me. I knew this was wrong and I felt dirty and guilty as though it were my fault. I don’t know how long it went on and I never told anyone. I’m sure this is where my claustrophobia originated.

Years later
For years I thought about death every day and looking back to my teenage years I realise that I was suffering from depression and anxiety then and to a certain extent this has remained with me.
My brother and I have visited Craig-y-nos on one occasion in the past few years to lay a few ghosts. The grounds are now a country park so out of pain and terror has come beauty and life."

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