Thursday, December 13, 2007
Pat Davies,(nee Cornell ) age 17, nurse -1951-54
Nurse Pat Cornell ( centre) with Amy Edwards (right) and Mrs Northcote
"I went for an interview to Swansea General Hospital with the matron, and she said, ‘Oh no, my girl. You haven’t been to grammar school. I don’t accept anybody that hasn’t been to grammar school.’ I felt really deflated but a few days later, in the evening paper – the South Wales Evening Post – there was an advert for nurses for Craig-y-nos, so I wrote to matron. I knew the matron because she was the matron when I was there. Matron Knox-Thomas
a fantastic woman. I went up for an interview. She remembered me and she said, yes, I could start, and I started there.
I always wanted to be a nurse
What was a typical day?
Well, we lived in the nurses’ home and I had a room of my own. I can remember most of the girls who were there at the time, starting with Glenys Davies, Peggy Taylor and Staff Sally Jones. They were in the nurses’ home. There were two Jean Evanses, just to make confusion. Kathleen Fielding, Gwyneth Woodlake, and we had a German girl for a while – Heather Schumann – and another girl who had been a displaced person.
Pat with Mary Leo
She came to work as a maid at Craig-y-nos and she’d worked with matron who’d taught her English, and then she came and joined us as a nurse. Her name was Mary Leo.
She came from Latvia. She spoke German and Polish as well as her own language, and then she became fluent in English as well. She was a very clever person.
What sort of day did you have?
Well, Night Sister used to wake us in the morning. She’d enter the nurses’ home and put all the lights on, and knock on everybody’s door. She’d come in and put the light on at the back of your bed (over your bed), and say, ‘Seven o’clock, Nurse!’ Seven o’clock you were woken up, you had to get out of bed, go to the bathroom and get washed and dressed, and being in the dining room before half past seven, and then you went on duty.
Glenys Davies said that you had to strip your bed as well.
Oh yes, we did. Sister or Matron came around to check, which they did quite often, and if your bed had been made they’d strip it – which they did quite often!
We’d go on duty and do the normal things like changing the patients’ beds from the night to day covers, helping with breakfasts, washing the patients and giving out any medicines that had to be done, supervising the patients who were getting up. We’d see to them and make sure they were going for their walk as they should do. We had to go to lectures as well.
We had an assistant matron. If I remember, her name was Rees. She was very small but she used to wear platform shoes to make her look taller. She used to give us lessons.
Did you have lectures from the doctors as well?
Dr Huppert did occasionally but mostly it was the assistant matron.
Did you take examinations?
Yes, we did. From Ward 1, I went down to Ward 4.
One sister down there was of the old school. She was older than most of them, and she said, ‘Right, you’re going to learn everything I can teach you on this ward.’ I did learn from her. She was absolutely fantastic. I did gastric lavages and I gave all the injections. I went back then to Ward 1 for a while and Sister Jones couldn’t give the (streptomycin) injections because it affected her very badly (she had become allergic to streptomycin – Glenys Davies was also badly affected). She had a reaction to it.
I used to give the injections and then occasionally I’d be the only one that could go and do them because people had a terrific reaction to them. I used to go to Ward 2.
Nurse Glenys Jones
Glenys was saying that lots of staff developed an allergic reaction to streptomycin.
Nurse Jones did terribly. If she was anywhere near where you were mixing injections, her face would swell.
Did you feel that you were more in tune with some of the patients because you had been a patient?
Yes, I thought so, and I could talk to them in a different way, I think. I understood how frustrating it was to be tied in bed. That was another thing they used to do then. If the children tried to get out of bed too often, they were put in restrainers.
It was horrible, absolutely. It was to make sure that they did as they were told.
One little girl was on a plaster bed. She was on Ward 2. I used to talk to the children – I’ve always loved children anyway. I used to talk to her quite a lot and help her when she was on this plaster bed. She was going down for her operation and a number of us had to go and watch. It was performed by Mr Rocyn-Jones .
Joan (right) on her plaster bed. Is this the same child that Nurse Cornell remembers? If so Joan and I were best friends on the balcony with our beds next to each other for the summer.
We had to go and watch this particular operation. He took a fragment of bone from the pelvis and grafted it round her spine. He replaced part of her spine. It was fantastic. I moved from that ward and went back down to Ward 4 again. It was a little while later, about a couple of months, and suddenly one of the patients said, ‘There’s a little girl out here to speak to you.’ When I went to the window, it was this little girl. I think her name was Joan, and she said, ‘Look, I’m walking.’
And something a nurse is not supposed to do – you are not supposed to show emotion and it’s very difficult, and I can remember the tears streaming down my face. I went outside and gave her a big hug. It was so wonderful -- a little girl that couldn’t remember walking.
How old would she have been?
She’d have been about nine or ten.
She had the operation at Craig-y-nos?
Did they used to do quite a few orthopaedic operations there?
Yes, they did a lot of them. Children who had had TB of the hip, they did quite a lot of those (Rocky Jones used to come on special days. They also did tonsillectomies. Messy (laughs).
Very often children were in plaster round their waist and down their leg in TB hip, and sometimes the plaster would dig into their skin, into their bottom usually. I can remember one little boy. He was crying one day and wouldn’t turn over and tell me what was wrong with him. When we turned him over the plaster was eating into his bottom.
I think it was Dr Huppert who came and she cut the plaster around and then we had to use penicillin snuff (antibiotic powder) to fill the dent that it had made.
What about pressure sores?
That was another job we did, that was regular. That was always done in the evening after supper, between supper time and before you went off duty.
That was with methylated spirits, was it?
Yes, and cream.
Considering that some of them were on their backs for years, I’ve asked them and nobody has said that they had pressure sores.
Sister Jones and Sister Morgan insisted that you did that. That was an instruction you had to do, so it was done every day.
How long did you nurse at Craig-y-nos?
I left in 1954. The reason I left was that I’d met my future husband. We were getting married and the rule was they didn’t like married nurses.
Tell me about the staff
Sister Roberts was on Ward 4 -- after Sister Outram had retired. Everybody knew Sister Outram. The dragon!
Sister Roberts was quite a short, stubby little woman. She always used to use a very strong perfume.
Nobody said anything to her?
Oh no, they wouldn’t dare!
She died young, you know.
She died when she was fifty.
I got on with her quite well. I always remember one instance with her. A young girl was brought in as a patient. She was shown to her bed and settled down, and after her mother had gone, Sister said, ‘Would you take her to the bathroom for her to have a bath to settle her in properly.’ Sister came with me and she was absolutely … oh gosh, everything on her body, lice and all. Sister went beserk. She said, ‘Go into the store room and get me some carbolic soap and two new nail brushes.’ And the stuff that they used to use for the hair (delousing).
She put her in this bath and literally scrubbed her.
She was about fifteen, this girl. Sister Roberts very annoyed because she said that she was old enough to keep herself clean.
Was it uncommon?
It was uncommon, yes. Sometimes you’d get patients coming in with bedsores because they were waiting to come in (patients sometimes spent weeks or months in bed at home before they got a bed in Craig-y-nos).
That sort of infestation was quite rare then?
Yes, it was.
Obviously, people did come from very different backgrounds didn’t they, and some children came from quite poor homes, didn’t they?
Yes and some children were literally dumped. There’s no other word for it. Their parents didn’t want to know. They left them there.There were quite a few. There was one that was adopted by one of the bus drivers, Bubby … I can’t remember his last name. It happened quite a lot (children being adopted).
People have mentioned one or two cases but nobody’s said very much about what happened to the children. So, parents just left them in Craig-y-nos?
There was one little girl. I can’t remember her name but she was on Ward 2 and she’d been to Cardiff to have her lung operation She was only between five and six-years-old and she came back to us and they tried to get in touch with the family, and they didn’t want to know. When she was fit enough to go into an orphanage, the women on Ward 1 below, rigged her out – they knitted cardigans and all sorts of things for her.
It was quite common.
Dio you recall any children dying?
Well, when I was on night duty, we had the death of a child. That really upset one of our nurses. Her name was Jean Evans. She was locally from one of the farms going up towards Brecon. She called me but this girl was a Down’s syndrome, a lovely little girl in a room on her own. She had photographs of her brothers on her locker and everything. She was really charming but she was very, very ill – that’s why she was isolated on her own. Jean Evans went in one morning and she came running out to call me. She said, ‘Oh, come quick. I think the little girl’s died.’ She had, yes.
Did you enjoy your time there?
I did, yes. There was so much that we did at different times. We used to play badminton in the (Adelina Patti) Theatre with Dr Williams. We did have lots of shows and different things, and one thing has always stuck in my mind. You know that they used to have a Remembrance Day Service at the Albert Hall?
Matron (Knox-Thomas) insisted that if we were in the Nurses’ Home, we had no choice but to go down to the Theatre and the first television was there. It was a tiny 14-inch one, and we had to watch it. Before that, we had to listen on the radio. We always had to observe the two minutes silence.
Did the children have to keep that as well?
Oh yes, she was very strict about that. I don’t know whether it’s true but somebody told me that she lost her fiancé in the 1914-18 war.
That was the reason why she was so strict about observing Remembrance Day. We always knew when she was coming onto the ward because she’d come up in the lift and whether she stamped her feet in there or what, but she was a very big lady, and you’d hear the rattle. I’m trying to remember the name of the staff nurse that we had on Ward 1. She was from Pen-y-cae and was quite a large lady.
One thing that really sticks in my mind – we were giving out dinners – we’d just done the dinner round and the pudding that day was the little round Lyons ice creams. Well, this staff nurse was behind the door and she’d put one of these in her mouth, when suddenly we could hear the rattle of the lift, and she swallowed it (laughs). She went out and said, ‘Good afternoon, Matron.’ We used to have quite a lot of fun. I don’t regret my time there, I really enjoyed it. I’m very fortunate because I have a niece that lives in Pontardawe – well, it’s my husband’s niece – so I stay with her when I come down.
when I was a patient there … you know, we weren’t allowed to have chewing gum. We were told that it was very bad for us. I don’t know how it all came about but after one visiting day, there was a little girl on the balcony -- I can’t remember her name – but she died and they said it was because she’d eaten chewing gum. I mean that’s silly. When I got older I couldn’t understand that.
What else can you remember?
I can’t remember her name – all I remember is looking down the valley towards Swansea, there was a church on the right hand side, and her brother was the minister there. She came to us for a while and she was very, very strait-laced.
We used to a sing-song when I was on Ward 2. If I was on until eight o’clock, after they’d had their supper and the beds had been changed and we’d got the night rugs on, I used to have their hair ribbons and go and wash them and bring them back into the ward to iron them. We used to have a sing-song. They all had their choice, what they wanted to sing. Another thing that I can remember so vividly. We had to sing ‘Jerusalem’ for the hospital governors, and I think their name was Williams. They came up to our ward because they said we had the best singers. So we had to sing ‘Jerusalem’, but it wasn’t the usual version. It started off with, ‘Last night I lay sleeping, had a dream so fair, I stood in old Jerusalem beside the temple there …’ It was that one. I’ve always remembered it.
It wasn’t a bad time and I think if you talk to any of the ex-patients, none of them would say they were unhappy there.
"Father Christmas" -Jenkin Evans, the dentist, with matron Knox-thomas in the background
Has anyone mentioned Mr Jenkin Evans who was the dentist? He always played Father Christmas.
When I was down on Ward 4, his daughter came in as a patient.
Margaret Jenkin Evans. I nursed her.
She was about eighteen.
She was a difficult patient. She could be very awkward at times.
Did she survive?
(Pat Davies in telephone interview with Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine University College London) edited extract.