Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Caroline Boyce (nee Havard) 1949-51

Caroline:" It is hard to imagine that anyone was left unchanged, even to a small degree, by such an extraordinary experience, often at a formative time of life."

Memories of Craig-y-Nos

Ny name is Caroline Boyce, née Havard, and I was born in Brecon on 23rd November 1940. I am married, and have a daughter and a son and three granddaughters. I was a patient at Craig-y-Nos from November 1949 to July 1951, so was there for twenty months.

I have only recently been able to pinpoint the exact time I was in hospital from a diary kept by Mary Slater, one of my contemporaries there.

Getting diagnosed
Before being admitted to Craig-y-Nos I can remember being taken to the doctor with shiny lesions on my shins, which the doctor diagnosed as erythema nodosum, a symptom which indicates that infections are present in the body. I was then taken for consultations and X-rays in a first floor surgery in Brecon quite near the Watton Pitch, after which Dr. Williams diagnosed pulmonary TB. I recall my mother reacting tearfully, and feeling very helpless and confused myself.

Arrival in Craig-y-nos
I have little recall of actually going to Craig-y-Nos, but I think that my mother and I were taken to the hospital in a black car driven by a family friend. I was put in the top floor children’s ward (girls only), with windows overlooking the front courtyard and the main road, and the grounds at the rear of the castle. I got to know these views very well – I was in the same room for my whole stay.

On visitors days, when we had reached the stage of being allowed out of bed, we would stand at the windows waiting for the visitors to arrive and would wave and call to them before they were allowed in at 2 pm. I remember that it seemed to take ages from the time they entered the front door until they arrived up at the ward. The two hour visiting time seemed to fly by.

Inside Ward 2
I think that the ward itself was painted a neutral colour, and contained eight to ten iron bedsteads, possibly more. There was a large wooden table in the middle of the room where we ate meals once we were allowed out of bed. As far as I remember there were no beds on blocks in the ward, no pictures on the walls, and I cannot remember curtains at the windows, flowers or plants. The floor was shiny and brown and was polished regularly by a quiet, pleasant woman wearing a well-washed pink and white striped overall. Was her name Annie? She had a large tin of liquid polish which she placed in dollops on the floor with a stick before attacking the floor with a buffer hinged on a very long handle. I do not know how the room was heated, and cannot remember feeling especially cold. Apparently when I returned home I did not appear to be affected by cold weather, so perhaps I was acclimatised to low temperatures by then!

My treatment seemed to revolve around bed rest and eating, although the only food I can remember is porridge, which I hated – it was grey and contained crunchy bits which I likened to nail clippings. I still do not like porridge. I seemed to be in bed for a long time before I was allowed up for the first stage of half an hour a day, progessing to one hour and then on to a full day in one hour stages. When the two hour stage was reached we were allowed to wear day clothes – a great excitement. Unfortunately for me I was a bit too active when I was first allowed up (I remember dancing and singing) and my temperature shot up. I was put back on full bed rest for a while.

Caroline out walking in the grounds with some young friends

At a particular stage (3 hours?) I was allowed to go downstairs to visit the older girls’ ward and balcony, and then out into the grounds for walks which became longer and longer. This progression in activity was decreed at the regular Ward Round, where the staff led by the doctor moved from bed to bed reviewing each child’s progress. I can remember children crying when they were not allowed up, or when their hours up were not increased. Every day, regardless of what stage of treatment one was at, there was a rest hour, during which one had to try to sleep or at least remain still and silent on one’s bed. I don’t think that I ever had gastric lavages, although I can remember seeing white enamel kidney basins and long red tubes in a treatment room. We were periodically X-rayed, I think every six months. It was a very tense experience because so much seemed to hinge on the results. The little X-ray room on the ground floor, not far from the theatre, was bleak and cold.

The staff
They varied – Dr. Williams was a kind of god, Dr. Huppert was terrifying, Sister Morgan stern but kind. One nurse I remember with mixed feelings was Betty Rowe. I believe she came from Ystradgynlais. I realise now that she must have been a young auxiliary, but she seemed very powerful at the time. I was frightened of spiders, and one day she put a dead specimen in my bed. At other times she could be relaxed and quite kind.

The Patti ghost
She sometimes talked about Adelina Patti’s ghost wandering the corridors of the castle, which fed my terror of the plaster room along the corridor from the ward – it was a big walk-in closet where unused plaster beds were stored upright, and in the gloom they looked like large, grey/white, misshapen figures. Whenever I had to pass the room I would hope that the door would be shut, and run (which was forbidden) past as quickly as I could if it was open.

Teachers Mrs Thomas and Miss White

Memories of other staff members, both domestic and nursing, have been jogged by seeing their photographs recently, and these are generally good ones, although I never felt particularly close to any of the staff. Recollections of the teaching staff are few and far between – the two teachers, wearing blue overalls, appeared sporadically with sheets of simple sums and a choice of books to read. There appeared to be no plan or system of education, and the little work we did was collected without comment and never returned. I can remember doing a lot of drawing, reading anything I could get my hands on, and writing letters and stories , in my own time. Twenty months of little or no education left its mark. Although I passed the 11+ to Brecon Girls Grammar School some months after returnng home, I only just scraped in. I managed to redeem myself a little as I progressed through the school, but missing years of maths education left me sadly below standard in this area particularly. I also found the discipline and routine of a formal grammar school education difficult to accept after so many months of sparse, poor quality schooling.

Mary, Ann and Caroline

Although I have little recall of specific interaction with other patients, I can remember the feeling of companionship in the wards. The girls in my room were generally younger than me, I think, and I always enjoyed being able to go down to the ward below to visit the older girls, including an acquaintance from Brecon, Mary Davies (now Slater), who was in my ward upon admission and had been transferred downstairs, and Ann Rumsey (now Shaw), whose mother sometimes gave my mother a lift to the hospital on visiting days. I envied the girls on the balcony. Although exposed to the elements they seemed much freer, and had wide panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. There was a low cliff face a little distance from the balconies, and it was rumoured that a man was once seen jumping from it to his death. Walking with a group of girls in the grounds was a special delight. I can’t remember whether we were escorted by an adult, but it was marvellous to escape the confines of the ward, go down the terraces and across the bridge to walk along the paths through the trees and rhododendron bushes to the lakes. I think I can remember a small, wooden summerhouse in the grounds somewhere, and swans on the lakes

Memories of Christmas are hazy, but I can recall parcels on my bed, and unpacking a little tin tea set. I do remember being uncomfortably aware that I had more parcels than some of the other children, particularly Sybil, a traveller’s child with dark unruly hair and very dark brown eyes, whose bed was opposite mine. (I can remember her arriving at the ward with her parents, who seemed terrified and reluctant to leave her. They hovered by the door weeping, while Sybil cried frantically and miserably. When they entered the ward they brought with them a strong smell of wood smoke). I can recall going down to the theatre for a show, but I’m not sure whether it was a Christmas pantomime – there was lots of singing and laughter.

Pyschological impact
Overall, my memories of Craig-y-Nos are of long periods of seemingly- endless boredom, but when I was discharged I missed the companionship of the other children and felt lonely at home. My parents bought me a radio for my bedroom, and this established a listening habit which has never left me. Upon returning home I was made to rest during the day for some months, and was not allowed to play games at school for several years, so was consequently disinterested in, or inept at, any team games. I can understand other ex-patients when they say that they were “a bit of a loner”, “emotionally vulnerable, but self-reliant” upon discharge, and I felt a certain dislocation from my family, who I think found me “difficult” when I returned home. The whole experience turned me into quite a detached person for many years, and sad though it sounds, I think that for the remainder of my childhood I expected everything and nothing from adults – a good coping strategy.

My career
Upon leaving school I trained as an occupational therapist, married – young and happily – had two children, and then retrained as a teacher. I combined the two disciplines and taught children with two categories of special needs, cerebral palsy and autism. It is easy, looking back, to see where the roots of this career path lie.

Looking back
I have never spoken much about my time at Craig-y-Nos, even to my family, and it has been an interesting and enlightening exercise to write this account, and recently to see so many photographs and records of other people’s time at the hospital. Individual memories seem to vary widely, but it is hard to imagine that anyone was left unchanged, even to a small degree, by such an extraordinary experience, often at a formative time of life.

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