Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Nurse Glenys Davies - 1943- 73
“I have very happy memories of my time working at Craig-y-nos” - Nurse Glen
Nurse Glenys Jones is remembered with a great deal of affection by ex-patients.
Today Glenys, now in her 80s, still lives in the Swansea valley and, while she is not as active as she was, she still maintains her love of life, her sense of humour and her independence.
She is referred to as “the Rock”, the unchanging figure in the history of Craig-y-nos as a hospital.
For her connection with Craig-y-nos goes back thirty years despite an inauspicious beginning.
Much to the chagrin of her parents, she chose to nurse TB patients instead of working on the family farm.
“I was called up in 1943 (during the Second World War) and I was offered munitions or nursing. I didn’t want munitions so I took up the nursing but then I was restricted. I could only go to Craig-y-nos or to Pembrokeshire, and living just outside Swansea, I thought, ‘Oh, good Lord, it’s a long way from Pembroke. It will be easier to get from Craig-y-nos.’ So I accepted Craig-y-nos.
Father against it
My father wasn’t willing at all (for me to go to Craig-y-nos) because we had a smallholding. There were six boys and myself. My mother had plenty to do, and of course this came as a shock and he wasn’t willing at all, but anyway I had to go.
I wanted to go nursing and he didn’t accept that I was going to a TB hospital. I went to Swansea somewhere to a Board because he was objecting to me being sent to a sanatorium, and I do remember him saying, ‘Well, if she does contract anything, you’ll be responsible.’
I didn’t see any danger really. Mind, we were taught to be most careful. If you were speaking to a patient and the patient was coughing, (you were taught) to turn your head a little, but not to make it obvious to the patient. If they offered you a sweet, to take it but pretend you couldn’t put it in your mouth then because you were busy, you were doing other things."
Glenys never qualified as a nurse even though Dr Williams encouraged her to do so.
I didn’t go to do my general nursing because I was so happy at Craig-y-nos.
( Maybe this was one of the reasons why Glenys was such a popular figure. She had not been subjected to the strict discipline of the formal nursing education which included keeping your distance emotionally from patients.)
“I knew I was going to improve by going to do general nursing but whether I’d be as happy, because there were more restrictions with general hospitals, weren’t there?’
That was the main reason.”
Patients who joined the staff
Euryl Thomas was a patient and she became a member of the staff as a clerical person. Then there was Sylvia Peckham (now Moore). She was desperately ill when she was in Craig-y-nos. Afterwards she joined the staff and she was good.
Craig-y-nos was a happy place to work.
I must say that I was very happy there .
They had their rules and regulations. I remember we’d only have a quarter of an hour for a tea break – ten o’clock until a quarter past, or quarter past to half past ten – and during that time you had to make your bed, having stripped it when you got up in the morning.
Some mornings, Matron used to do a round, or the Home Sister, and some mornings you’d think, ‘Oh, I won’t bother today.’ And that would be the very morning you’d go over (to the Nurses’ Home) at lunchtime and your mattress and everything would be on the floor. You’d have more work then to do it up, and then you were late going back and you had to say the reason. They wouldn’t do that today.
Days of work
We had only a day a month off. We’d have two half days in a week. You’d finish at two o’clock and you were off for the rest of the day. You’d go on some mornings at seven o’clock until half past four or you’d be going on at two o’clock until eight.
Events that stand out
I remember VJ (Victory over Japan) day, and they had a big bonfire on the mountainside. You looked out from the balcony. We were all up there in uniforms and our capes were showing up. We had a wonderful time then.
We had the Coronation of course. Every November we had Guy Fawkes. They used to ask the patients’ relatives to bring in fireworks and they had the people from the village to come as well, and they pooled all the fireworks. The porters and the boiler men, and even the doctors, would be there. All the children were on the balcony. Those are the big things that you remember.
Badminton and tennis
We used to play badminton. Abercrave people used to come to the (Adelina Patti) Theatre. We used to have badminton in the Theatre, and the tennis was in the grounds, of course. I didn’t enjoy tennis as much because the gnats used to play havoc with me.
The introduction of the streptomycin changed the treatment forever. Glenys still remembers vividly the arrival of one young girl, Mary Williams from Talgarth, who was brought in to die and thanks to streptomycin got better within weeks.
“It was like a miracle!”
In the beginning it was given four times a day – like an antibiotic. In the end, we were giving it in one injection.
All patients had to have their lights out by 9.30 pm and nurses by 10.30 pm.
They were very strict in the nurses’ home.
You were not allowed to go out in your uniform, not even just across the road to the shop, which was just the front room of a nearby cottage.
“If you went you had to go in mufti and if you did go in uniform and were caught you would be very sorry for it. You would get a row from matron. “
Staff catching TB
We were told of the dangers and were expected to abide by the rules, which we did. I don’t recall any nurse working in Craig-y-nos who became a patient from nursing there.
But we had patients from Swansea General Hospital at that time with TB, and some had advanced TB. Three of them, I do remember, died.
Nurses at other hospitals were not X-rayed as frequently as we were and we had quite a number of nurses as patients from Swansea hospital, and some died.”
The very sick
“If they were very ill we would bring them to certain parts of the ward so that we could keep an eye on them”. (Gulp! that was me in my first winter in Craig-y-nos where my bed was directly opposite the glass door to the ward and I would see Dr Huppert peering at me from time to time, that was the Christmas mother brought me budgies, Bubble and Squeak.)
The patient who became a doctor
There was Gwyneth Davies from near Talgarth who went on to become a doctor and anaethetist.
“She had asthma very badly. There was one evening she was so ill that Dr Williams stayed with her for an hour and gave her an injection even though he was on his way out to a dance.
(I recall the occasion when Dr Huppert put Gwyneth out of the balcony during a very foggy spell because she was convinced that it would do her asthma good. But Glenys has no recollection of that little” experiment” which ended with Gwyneth getting a severe attack in the middle of the night).
Christmas panto: Nurse Glenys Davies with some of the small children
Empathy with patients
I always used to feel for patients that didn’t have many visitors. Quite a lot of the patients were comfortably off and others were very much poorer.
I used to feel that they’d been left out a bit, but that’s all I would do, perhaps make more fuss of them than the others, but I didn’t notice I was doing it. I was trying to keep them happy.
“All the patients seemed to tolerate streptomycin but I had a very bad reaction. It was awful. My face would be covered with pimples. I would feel my eyes going first.
In the end, Dr Williams said, ‘We’ll have to take her off the wards.’ I’d been on the wards with the children ever since I started there. In the X-ray department, they would do clinics. People would come in from outside for check-ups.
If they brought patients down for X-ray and they’d been recently on strep, I had a reaction.
Even handling the patients, just dressing and undressing them. Oh yes, it was pretty drastic when it did affect you although I don’t think it lasted very long.
Early rumours about CYN
When I first went there, you were listening to gossip about it being the place you went to die, but of course there was no treatment or anything then.
A few children died before streptomycin but not to the extent that it was thought by people.
Sometimes we would take people home to die.
Death at CYN haemoptysis
I’d heard about but never seen a fatal haemoptysis -- the patient coughing part of their lung up.
In my early days there, Matron Evans was there then, I remember running back to the ward after lunch and she said:
“ Where’s the fire or the haemoptysis?”
I looked at her stupidly really. I’d heard of a haemoptysis but I thought, ‘What’s that got to do with me running?’ Anyway, she said, ‘Go back and walk.’ I had to go back to the bottom of the stairs on Ward 2 and walk along the corridor. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘the only time you run is for a fire or a haemoptysis. That’s when I learned what haemoptysis was.
Death in the Six-Bedder
Many years later, I was on night duty in the six-bedded ward. We’d only gone on at about eight o’clock and this little woman, who had a little child about six months old, was knitting away and showing me what she had done. At that time there were no internal phones. What every ward did was this – Ward 2 was the ward where Night Sister would sit, and in every ward as soon as you went on duty, Ward 1 would ring one bell, Ward 2 would ring two bells (that was where we were), Ward 3 would ring three bells and Ward 4 would ring four bells. You had to concentrate on those, and if one of them didn’t ring, you’d have to report it to Night Sister. Anyway, we were on this ward (six-bedder) this night and the bell rang for emergency – and that was the first haemoptysis I ever saw. She died – she was only in her twenties.
Yes, very sad. It did live with me for a long time because she was talking to you one minute and showing what she was doing, and the next minute she was gone. Very advanced TB of course, but we saw many advanced cases who later went home to die.”
“She always kept herself immaculate in white.
She did have a lot of good in her, despite her mannerisms. It was her speech really. She obviously wasn’t a Welsh person but you could understand her. She always wore a white coat and a white blouse mostly, with the collar out, and she always smelled of lavender.
She liked colours and she loved to see the children in bright clothes.”
Glenys recalls a clash she had one day with Dr Huppert.
“She wanted me to walk the children down the stairs instead of taking the lift.
She didn’t want them to be too ‘mollycoddled’, but I was worried that some of the less able ones might have difficulty and I didn’t want to be responsible for accidents with such a large number of children. So I took them in the lift.
The children used to call her, ‘Drop down, carry one.’
There was something loving about her but she was very strict. She’d go up and down in the lift to her room and she could see the children and she’d be shouting. Then, perhaps later that day or the following day, on her ward rounds, she’d say (in an Austrian accent), ‘I saws you, I saws you had tripped.’
I know that the majority of children probably didn’t like her, but deep down she was good and they probably have a lot to thank her for really.
He lived on the premises too. He played badminton with us, and was very down to earth off duty, but when you were on duty, he was very much the superintendent.
Miss White, headmistress (right) with Mrs Thomas in the courtyard of Craig-y-nos Castle
Most of the children didn’t like schooling, which they had daily. The headmistress, Miss White, she was a strict person too. The girls would say to us, ‘Oh, bath me tomorrow morning.’ So, of course, we would bath them in turns – it was bed baths at that time, of course – but that was short-lived because instructions came from Miss White saying, ‘No bed patients to be bathed during school time.’
Nurse Glen with Muriel, one of the patients
My typical day
Well, at the beginning of the day, it was just bed making, washing and bathing patients, but then some of them were having treatment such as artificial pneumothorax (collapsed lung therapy). You’d collapse the lung. Dr Huppert would do some and Dr Williams would do some as well. Dr Huppert was doing them mostly but then of course when Dr Mulhall came, he was doing them. Perhaps you’d have pneumothorax on Tuesday and Thursday, so you’d have to get the trolleys laid and the doctors would say what time they were coming. You had to get the patients ready in the wards. You’d stay with the doctors whilst they were doing it and see that the patients were comfortable. Dr Williams always insisted that the young children – the little ones upstairs – had to go to sleep for an hour after lunch. You had to be there in the ward making sure they were lying down. Some did sleep, some didn’t of course, but he insisted that they kept that hour for a rest. Then school would start again at two o’clock. In the meantime, they’d had lunch.
The lunch trolleys would be brought to the ward and Sister would serve, and you’d take the meals to the patients and see that they ate their lunch. If they didn’t, you’d have to say (to Sister) that so and so hasn’t eaten this, and Sister would go and ask why. There were patients that couldn’t eat, they were small eaters, but you had to give them milk afterwards.
Perhaps they preferred a milk pudding better than a dinner but they were always given something to try and make up for what they hadn’t eaten.
(This is total news to me and I was there for four years!)
Once the school had finished, of course, they had their mad half-hour as we used to say.
Yes, perhaps only once every three months. I don’t think it was more often. An ENT specialist from Swansea would come up (I can’t remember his name now), and it would be done in the theatre. Perhaps he’d do six or eight patients in the morning. That was interesting because they’d be brought out from the theatre into the ante-room and the doctor would be coming round to see them, and would say, ‘They can go back to the ward now.’ Then you’d have to specialise them, get them to eat and drink – ice cream used to be the favourite. Then you’d get them to eat a bit of toast if you could later on.
Patients who were having their lung collapsed would be taken down to be screened. They wouldn’t be X-rayed but they’d be screened so that you could see how much it was collapsed or how much it was coming back up or whatever. They weren’t X-rayed very often but they were X-rayed more often than the patients that weren’t on treatment.
Types of TB
There were quite a lot of orthopaedics – bones – but I think the chest cases outnumbered them really. There were patients on blocks.
It depended where the lung cavity was. They’d be layed on the cavity side to close the cavity – there was a good deal of improvement with this treatment. With the little ones it was difficult because you couldn’t get them to lie on their sides all the time.
They were elevated perhaps from four up to eight, and eight up to twelve (inches), or reduced according to improvement.
Auntie Maggie (right)
She was an auxiliary but she was very good and she was local. She’d do shopping for the patients. She was very, very kind to them, I must say. Although visitors were coming more often later on, for a birthday or Christmas, they’d ask her to get things for them. They’d have a present then for their parents and that was a big thing for them, wasn’t it? She was very good.
We were sort of filling in for the parents. When it came to visiting, particularly with the smaller children, the three and four-year-olds, the parents would come in but they’d be clinging to us. Then you’d say, ‘Oh, go to mam now. Mammy’s here today.’ They would eventually but they’d be running back and forth, back and forth. You had to encourage them because you weren’t the parent and it was awkward for the parent to see their children not looking at them, no love for them. If it was a month between visiting, of course, they’d forgotten again.
Parents bags searched
That’s true, bags were seached. That was the ruling. It had to be done because if someone had brought sweets in, perhaps, and the child was going for tonsillectomy in a day or so (it could have been dangerous).
We used to keep toys and wash them, and if there was a child not well, you’d give them one. The other thing was that some children would have several toys and then others would have nothing so you had to even things out.
Social background of children
Some children came from quite poor backgrounds. Others were different.
I remember a little girl from Cardiff. She was the daughter of a police inspector. It was the time that nylon ribbons came out and she had two plaits. She had two bows at the top. Oh, everyone thought nylon ribbons were wonderful. We had about six or eight sets of different coloured ribbons, which we washed every day and kept in the office. Then, her parents would bring more and of course we’d take the older ribbons for other children so that they were all provided with them. Some children had plenty and others had none so you’d have to try and even things out.
Learning to share
You could see it happen. They’d say, ‘Oh, pass this for so-and-so.’ In the beginning, perhaps if they were an only child and they had no one else to share with, it was difficult. But then, with so many looking on, they learned to share. They were very good like that, I must say.
They had Girl Guides in Craig-y-nos. One of the hospital secretaries – she again was an ex-patient – Ina Hopkins, same as Euryl (another medical secretary who was an ex-patient). She came on the staff and she took the Guides (Ina was the captain of the Guide group). They were able eventually to go out amongst the local people and they had their flag blessed in the Abercrave church.
Christine Bennett was a Guide and I always remember that she was carrying the standard and Sister Morgan was always worried about the clock outside the door. ‘Watch that clock, watch that clock!’ Poor Christine was worked up and down it comes, oh dear, dear. The end of the world! It was only a clock anyway.
I remember Harry Secombe coming up to do a pantomime (1953). All the children were down there (in the Adelina Patti Theatre) – the porters were very good, they’d carry them down. Harry Secombe’s eldest daughter was there, she was only about four. I think the pantomime was Puss in Boots. When the cat was coming up, the children were saying, ‘It’s behind your back, it’s behind your back!’ Oh, it was comical. There were several choirs used to come on a Saturday and give concerts.
Death of patients
This was very upsetting.
Oh it was awful. It was really, really awful. I remember a little girl called Ann on Ward 2 who was with us and she died around midnight.
When this little girl was dying, her mother was also dying on Ward 4. The little girl died first and of course they didn’t tell the mother. Then, later that evening, there was only one nurse on Ward 4 and you were allowed to go down and help that nurse when the Night Sister was sitting on the ward instead of you.
I went down that night and this woman was speaking, ‘Don’t go now, I’m coming. You wait for mammy now, I’m coming.’ And they both died, unknown to each other.
Oh, that was terrible. Around midnight.
It was tragic and that lived with me for a long time.
Hospital versus farm life
Glenys says life at Craig-y-nos offered more freedom than at home on an isolated farm
“It was very much greater to what I would have had at home even though in the Nurses’ Home, you had to be in bed by ten and lights out at half past ten.”
The end of Craig-y-nos as TB sanatorium
The children were taken from there in 1959 and then we turned over to geriatrics and the miners.
I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to nurse there much longer because it was getting different. Nurses were coming in who wouldn’t be told anything. They didn’t have the discipline and couldn’t take discipline. I would say, ‘I’m not asking you to do anything that I’ve not done.’
I left three months short of thirty years service – from 1943 to December 1973.
I moved to Glynneath as a matron of an old people’s home – a new home that was opening – and within three years I got married. I was fortunate in many, many ways. When I was in Craig-y-nos, people used to say, ‘Why don’t you come from there, you’ll never get married.’ ‘I don’t want to get married,’ I said. Then when I left there and had not much company, I suppose, it was a different thing, you know.
“I have very happy memories of my time working at Craig-y-nos”.
Nurse Glenys Davies was in conversation with Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London.