Thursday, January 10, 2008
Sylvia Moore (née Peckham) 1953-57
Sylvia was admitted to Craig-y-nos as an 11 year old. She remained there for five years, and then she returned to nurse for a further two years.
"I lived with my father and I think it was due, actually, to poor upbringing. Luckily for me, I had appendicitis and was admitted to hospital to have the operation where they discovered I had TB. In those days it was really poor diet, poor upbringing.
So you spent more or less the whole of your teenage years there?
Yes, I did.
Are your memories happy or sad?
Fantastic. It was a wonderful, wonderful place.
Glenys and one or two other people (ie. Beryl Richards and Ann Williams) have said that you had a good attitude. Glenys told me about the tennis and how you wanted to watch Wimbledon and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I wasn’t allowed to sit up. I wasn’t allowed to get off my back and of course Wimbledon was starting and I adored Wimbledon. We’d had this television set donated to us, and I asked if I could watch it. Glenys turned round and said, ‘If you sit up I shall put the screens around you for the rest of the day.’ And I can remember those words so vividly and I was feeling so sorry for myself. I thought, ‘Oh well, that’s it.’ But within about twenty minutes or so in she comes with two porters dragging this most enormous dressing table with a mirror on it and positioned it so that I could see the television and watch Wimbledon. Now, that’s true dedication, isn’t it? People wouldn’t think of doing that sort of thing.
Glenys instigated a lot of things.
She was the most fantastic nurse, she really was.
Everyone has said that about her.
She deserves an OBE really.
Did you not have a mum?
No, I did not. My mother and father divorced when I was just over a year old so I was brought up with my father and between his sisters as well. Six months here, six months there …
Did you have any brothers and sisters?
No, I was an only child.
It was monthly visiting and only my father came to visit, and then he couldn’t always afford to come up so I didn’t see him every month.
Where did they live?
Llanelli, which took three and a half hours on the bus. So it was a full day journeying.
What about the food?
The food was absolutely fantastic. I can’t remember the chef’s name but he was an enormous person. But he did brilliant, brilliant food – good wholesome food.
What about entertainments?
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to those because I was on my back for three years so I didn’t get to go to any of those.
Did you have TB in the lung?
Yes, in both of them. I wasn’t expected to come out. I was really poorly. I was put in a room next to Dr Hubbard.
Did they give you streptomycin?
Yes, thank goodness they did and I was able to take it because that’s what pulled me through.
Glenys did say that you were very poorly. She did say that you were very, very sick.
That’s right. I was well under six stone. I had nothing on me at all and I always remember Dr Hubbard when I first went in there. First of all, I was covered in iodine from when they swabbed me all over to have the appendix operation. She came to examine me and she pulled the clothes back and said, ‘What is this?’ As if I hadn’t bathed, you know. Then I told her what it was and she said, ‘Oh, I see, such a lot of mess for a little cut.’ I always remember her saying that to me. Then she gave me an examination and said to me, ‘Do you like milk?’ And I said, ‘Yes, yes.’ I was almost too frightened to talk to her really. She said, ‘Good, you drink for me lots of milk – four or five pints a day – and we’ll get on well together.’ And out she walked. She used to come in and see me two or three times a day. She was lovely. A very formidable lady, mind. She’d put the fear of God into anybody, I would think, but she had the patients’ interests at heart. That was her first and foremost thought.
There are mixed responses to Dr Hubbard. Some people have said she was awful and others say that they owe her their health.
I have great, great admiration for that lady. Yes, she used to come into the ward and if she saw anybody sitting up that shouldn’t be, she’d shout at them, and they’d get down straight away. We could hear her coming because, unfortunately, she’d had polio herself, you see. We could hear her coming up the corridor so quite often she never caught any of us. She was a wonderful, wonderful lady, she really was.
Peter Wagstaff said that it was due to her that he got out of bed. He was in bed for four years and she got him up within six months of her arrival at Craig-y-nos.
That’s right and the same applied to a couple of others that were there as well, according to Peter. She said, ‘What are they doing in bed? Get them up and get them up now.’
You were in for five years. That really took your whole teenage life away. And you were on your back for three years?
Three years, yes.
What ward were you on?
I was on Ward 2. I was up in this room with Dr Hubbard for eighteen months on my own.
Then little Joan Nicesro – she was deaf and dumb …
Well, she came in with me and she taught me the deaf and dumb alphabet and we communicated, but she was only there for about four months that I can recall. Then she was put into another ward and then Theresa came in to me – Theresa Thomas, as she is now – Theresa O’Leary she was then.
She was another one who wasn’t expected to go out.
Theresa and I became great friends. I was there on my own for about eighteen months and then I think six or nine months with company before I went down onto Ward 2.on the balcony.
What about education? What about the schooling there?
No, I didn’t receive any education because I was so ill that they wouldn’t let the teacher near me, put it that way. Not because I was infectious because, luckily, through streptomycin, they stopped the TB germ working, but I wasn’t allowed to move, to write or to do anything.
As far as education is concerned, I’m self-taught.
What about your decision to go back there as a nurse.
That was pre-empted by Dr Williams. There were three of us. There was Theresa (O’Leary), Diane Hughes and myself. We were all about to be discharged. Well, I nagged to go home really because I had done my grading.
This took the best part of fifteen months, it was that slow. Then he (Dr Williams) said, ‘Yes, you’re alright, you can go home.’ But I had to be very careful. Then he just got us together and he said, ‘Don’t you think it would be a wonderful idea if you came back to nurse here?’ We all sort of looked at each other and thought, ‘Well, great,’ because that’s an offer of a job, isn’t it?
We thought, ‘How wonderful is that. Why not?’ So in January the following year the three of us went back there. I was discharged in the November and I went back in the January but of course it was a ploy, wasn’t it, to keep an eye on us.
I was there for about two and a half years and Diane and Theresa, I think, about the same length of time.
It was a ploy on his (Dr Williams’) behalf and very cleverly done. We learned afterwards from Sister Powell that she was to keep an eye on us and make sure that we didn’t overdo things to start with, and not to be out late at night and all that. It was very, very cleverly done and it kept a good eye on us for about the first year. Then after that we were allowed to do what we wanted to do, more or less.
Did you live in the nurses’ home?
Yes, we did.
Having been there as a patient for five years, you didn’t mind going back?
Not in the least. It was our home, it really was home. The nurses were absolutely fantastic. We had a great deal of fun with them. They really did used to entertain us. For example, we had the domestics chasing Glenys with a wet sponge into the ward so that we could see what was happening. They were wonderful like that.
Did it feel strange being on the other side?
No, because when I went back there, I went back into the children’s ward, and I was only there for about nine months before they transferred all the children (in 1958). Then it became a ward for ex-miners with silicosis, and the other wards became geriatric. So it ceased to be a hospital for tuberculosis.
Did you stay there or did you go with the kids to Talgarth?
No, I stayed at the hospital.
Tell me your typical day as a nurse. What sort of things would go on?
We usually had a seven o’clock in the morning start. We’d go onto the ward and we had thirty beds (to make). Those beds had to be made within half an hour.
Two nurses per bed. They were totally stripped, mattresses turned, backs of the beds wiped, put back with crisp sheets, etc., and the patients put back into the beds. Breakfast was then served and then on would come Sister Powell and she’d do the inspection. In those days the corners of the counterpanes, if they were not at ninety degree angles, she’d pull the counterpane up and tell you to make the bed again. It had to be absolutely spot on.
My daughter runs a bed and breakfast and she does hospital corners as well.
What else would happen?
Then it would be bed-bathing the patients. That would take most of the morning. Then the domestics would clean the ward; then it would be lunch for the patients or getting them out of bed and putting them into the chairs or taking them outside for a walk. The days went very, very quickly there. In the evenings when matron came on her six o’clock round, she’d come in with a beautiful red setter dog that she had, named Patty. She’d come on the wards and the dog would follow her around, but before she came on, all the nurses had to roll down their sleeves and put their white cuffs on, and stand by the beds while she came round. Honestly, talk about Hattie Jacques. She was just like her.
Did she bring the dog onto the ward?
She did, and Dr Hubbard used to bring the cat onto the ward.
She had a cat called Thomas. That cat followed her everywhere.
The cat used to come onto the ward and around with her. The patients used to love it, absolutely love it. She absolutely adored that cat. Glenys, you see, has a phobia about cats, so when the cat used to come onto the ward, Glenys would climb up onto a table. She had a dreadful phobia for them.
She didn’t mention that.
No, she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t mention the cat because she hated the thing (laughs). It was wonderful. They used to bring the animals on and the TB patients used to absolutely love it.
Theresa O’Leary is now living in the vicarage where Betty Lewis used to live. She bought it. It’s the vicarage on Penwyllt Road in Pen-y-cae, just below the hospital. She’s Theresa Thomas now.
Sister Betty Lewis is the niece of the first sister at Craig-y-nos, Sister Margaret Phillips, who lived in Penwyllt. Margaret Phillips was there in the early 1920s and set up the hospital with the first matron. Margaret Phillips married somebody called Lewis and all the very early photographs of the hospital that we have came from her son, Phil Lewis. I only found out that Betty Lewis was related to her when I interviewed her.
She remembered being very fond of Dr Hubbard and she used to take her out to tea in her car and shopping in Brecon. Apparently, she took the place of Sister Winnie Morgan. Was that right?
I wouldn’t know because I was a patient of Dr Hubbard when Sister Lewis was running Ward 2, and I didn’t know of her until I came down into that ward. I do remember an occasion – I don’t know if Sister Lewis told you this – where none of us were behaving in the ward.
Well, she came into the ward with a bandage around her head, and she had smeared it with some sort of jam or something or other. She came into the ward and she said, ‘Look what you have done. You’ve made Sister bang her head. Now, will you all please be quiet.’ We all thought, ‘Oh, did we really do that?’ She wasn’t very good at controlling us, put it that way. She was too soft for her own good! Whereas others would just come in and bang the door with the side of their fist and say, ‘Will you all rest now!’ Or else … Sister Lewis was lovely but soft.
She is quite sweet, actually, and amazing for ninety-nine. What made you leave?
Well, I met my husband, Donald, in April 1960.
He’d just started there and he was walking near the nurses’ home and I had the window slightly up. Do you remember the lemon Jiff squirters?
I’d filled one of those with water and squirted him with it as he went past, for devilment. He found out who it was and he returned the compliment, on the ward, needless to say. I ran into the sluice room and stood with my back to the door and my legs sort of apart. Of course the door of the sluice room didn’t go right down to the ground, and underneath came this lemon squirter, and of course I was absolutely soaked. That’s how it started. We got married about ten months later.
He was an engineer, wasn’t he?
Yes, he was.
Everybody has said that you were full of fun and were a bit naughty!
I was, yes. Apparently, I used to roll bottles across the ward in the middle of the night.
Beryl Richards (Rowlands) told me about that. She said that it happened the first night she was there and she was absolutely petrified, and stayed under the bed covers all night. She later knew that it was you. Of course, it was the fear of ghosts, wasn’t it?
That’s right, yes, and of course it was a wooden floor and the sound of these bottles rolling across. I got another girl into trouble, apparently, when I thought Glenys was in the lift. I said to her, ‘Glenys is coming down in the lift. Jump out and frighten her.’ She and Christine (Bennett) both did it and of course it was Dr Hubbard, wasn’t it. Lots of things went on and a lot of them are hard to remember until someone jogs your memory about them.
What with being there as a patient and nursing there, it was about seven years in total, wasn’t it?
That’s right. I was there really from eleven to nineteen years of age altogether. There are quite a few girls who would say that they were the happiest days of their childhood.
I think Christine Bennett does.
Yes, she’s the one who got into trouble with Dr Hubbard.
Why do you think some children found it very unhappy and some children didn’t?
I think perhaps it may depend upon the age that they were at the time, but I think, like entering a hospital today, it’s all very frightening anyway. It’s no different really. I honestly think that they perhaps exaggerated the position because they were so young. It’s so difficult to say why really. I’ve heard of one example where somebody said that Dr Hubbard had pulled a plaster off her neck and pulled her skin along with it. Now, Dr Hubbard would never ever have done that. Yes, she might have taken the plaster off and caught the hairs on the nape of the neck but she wouldn’t have done anything of that nature at all and not cared about it. Another one said that she got locked in a room by Dr Hubbard all on her own. Never, because there were no locks on any doors in any of those rooms. She would never have done anything like that. There’s one girl, Ann Williams, I don’t know if you’ve spoken to her.
Yes, I have.
What has she said?
She was quite happy there.
There you go. The happiest days of her childhood, she said.
She was also in bed for about three years.
Yes, but she was up on blocks and virtually upside-down.
Did you have the dreaded gastric lavage?
Oh yes, indeed, where you had to swallow the tube. Luckily for me, I was very good at swallowing. A lot of people are not. They washed the contents of your stomach out, and they did that for three days in a row. Luckily for me, with streptomycin, at my very first test the bug had stopped.
You were lucky.
I was very, very lucky.
Did you have streptomycin when you first went in?
Yes, I had two injections a day because they couldn’t give it to me in one. They had to split the dose, which meant that I had an injection in the morning and an injection in the evening. I had that for one year and then I went onto one injection for the next two years. So your backside became like a pincushion.
Glenys told me that she became terribly sensitive to streptomycin after giving it so frequently. She ended up not being able to anywhere near it.
She couldn’t. It affected her eyes.
She said it was dreadful and she was moved to the X-ray department.
She did occasionally still do it but she suffered afterwards. She was brilliant at giving injections, Glenys was. We had some that weren’t so good but it had to be like that because the experienced ones often developed the allergy (to streptomycin).
I never gave streptomycin. By the time I went back nursing and once the children had been transferred, it wasn’t a TB hospital. And of course I was just a student and wouldn’t have been allowed to give it anyway.
How long were you there before they all got moved to Talgarth?
About nine months. The children didn’t go to Talgarth. They went to Llandough and Rhydlarfa Hospitals which is towards the Rhondda Valley. That’s where the children went.
Did you know that Adelina Patti had some beautiful peacocks?
That’s right, a peacock and a peahen.
They were just there in the grounds. They were well looked after and it was lovely to see them when you did your grading and went for your quarter of an hour walk as far as the first oak tree. After that you’d go as far as the second oak tree and that sort of thing.
After you left, did you have to keep going for check-ups for a long time?
No, not once I went back there nursing. I didn’t have any more check ups. But unfortunately for me, because I didn’t have an operation … well, actually, it was Dr Patrick Mulhall … he did his very first bronchoscopy on me.
I saw him the other day at the reunion (in April 2007) and he said, ‘Oh my word, you survived.’ Because they didn’t have the proper equipment to do it, I was tipped up on this table and strapped to it whilst they took the photographs (they used rigid bronchoscopes in those days, not the flexible fibre optic scopes used now). I should have had an operation to have part of my lung removed, and I didn’t. Consequently, when I was twenty-four, I became seriously ill and I got aspergillosis (a severe lung infection caused by a fungus of the Aspergillus species). It obviously got into my cavity that I still had there and it caused an immense amount of bleeding and I was haemorrhaging rather badly and I went into the Brompton Hospital, London, because they couldn’t find out what it was. There was a Professor Scadding there.
He found out what it was, luckily, and I had an operation in the Brompton.
Virtually all of the left lung was removed there.
So you had a rough time.
Yes, unfortunately. If I’d had the operation it wouldn’t have happened, but where I got the aspergillosis from was just a puzzle. They had no idea.
You’ve been okay ever since, have you?
You never had any recurrence of TB?
No, nothing at all. As a matter of fact, when I had the operation, the very first thing they said to me was, ‘What you need to do is to go and get yourself pregnant.’
So that’s what you did?
That’s exactly what I did.
How many children did you have?
I had two, a boy and a girl.
TB does compromise fertility and some ex-patients didn’t have children.
Did Glenys ever tell you about the BBC programme that was made there?
It was done in the late 50s. It was a night time programme where they wanted really to just have Patti’s voice in the background singing, ‘There’s no place like home,’ and a nurse going around the wards with a candle. It was Glenys that was chosen for the job. Did she tell you that?
There were all sorts of things that she didn’t tell me and I feel that she was reticent about these sorts of stories as if she didn’t want to be in the limelight or to say too much about herself.
She was chosen for the programme. You didn’t really see her. She just walked around the ward and patients were just lying down in the beds and she’d go up to them and just have a look. The BBC did that programme and it was late 50s.
Have you been told about the gardeners giving the patients boat rides on the lake?
Whilst the nurses are always in the forefront, the gardeners did a tremendous amount. They were so friendly and they did an awful lot for us as well. Indeed they did, and the porters. They were all absolutely great there.
The head gardener was Edgar, wasn’t he?
There’s a photograph in the exhibition of a load of girls sitting in a boat.
That’s right. Edgar was the head gardener and Alfie Rapado. They all did their bit."
Sylvia Moore (née Peckham)in telephone interview with
Dr.Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London .