Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Nurse Valerie Brent - 1946-48

Interview with Valerie Brent who joined the staff as a trainee nurse in 1946 as a 15 year old, and worked in Craig-y-nos for two years.

“I was an orphan, the youngest of 12 children.
My father died when I was a baby and my mother died when I was 15.

I had always wanted to be a nurse so after my mother passed away I came out of grammar school.
Craig-y-nos was my first choice and Matron Knox-Thomas took me in because of my circumstances even though I was too young.

I lived in at the hospital. I think my little room is still there even though it is now a hotel.

”I got paid £3.10 shillings a month plus board and keep and I had one day a week off.”

Nursing was in a three-shift system:

7.30 -4.30; 1.30- 8.30 and 8.30-8am.

“Because I was so young I was put to work with the very young children in the Glass Conservatory.

Here the children were between six months to 9 years of age.

“Part of me was still a schoolgirl. I threw myself completely into nursing and I think I appeared a bit older than my age.

Dr Huppert

It was Dr Huppert who took her aside one day and said:
“You must not stay here. You must go on and do better things.”

Yes the small children were frightened of Dr Huppert.
“It was her accent and she had such a deep voice. I can see her now coming down the stone steps into the Glass conservatory. She would say:

”Hullo my little children” some of them were frightened of her but she loved them all. She would go around each one saying:” Hullo my children...” I can hear her voice now...

Negative and positive
She recalls on one occasion being reprimanded by
Sister Williams, who for reasons unknown, was called “Boogie” for washing negative and positive toothbrushes in the same bowl.
“I had no idea what she meant so she explained to me that some children were positive with TB and others were negative.”

Night duty
As a teenager she would often be left in charge on night shifts with 20 or more babies and toddlers in the Glass Conservatory.
It was, Valerie says, a “skeletal staff”. She could if a crisis arise call on the night sister.

Death of a teenager
One night though Sister Williams called on her to help.
She asked her to go to Ward 4. It was full of teenagers and young women, and Sister Williams kept warning her not to be afraid.

She kept telling me on my way down:”I don't want you to be afraid of anything nurse” she didn't explain what it was all about.

“She told me to put on wellingtons, a long gown, mask and gloves then took me into this side ward.

There was this young girl. She was beautiful, like a Madonna. Only 16. I had to help lay her out.
The tears were running down my face. All you could see of me was my eyes

I think Sister knew I was crying. The girl was only a year older than myself.”

Yes there were a lot of deaths in Craig-y-nos in though not as many as some people used to think.

Some stand out in your mind even after all these years. I shall always remember Lorraine, a really beautiful young woman. One day she came to the Patti theatre very proud she was in her new blue suit.
Soon after that she died and the nurse who had looked after her had taken quite a shine to her. You were not supposed to get emotionally involved but sometimes you just can’t help it.
Well, this nurse asked me to help lay Lorraine out and she said:” I am going to bury her in her blue suit.”
And that’s what she did, instead of the usual hospital gown.
I shall always remember Lorraine in her blue suit...

There was one little girl; she would have been about three years of age, very, very blonde and quite plump. She didn’t look ill at all. She had a very straight fringe and she never smiled. Quite a surly little girl really. And I remember being told that she was a terminal case and not quite believing it and they said:”look at her nails and feet”.
I did . They were very, very clubbed and that’s a sign of advanced TB. I used to bath and wash her little feet. She had such a beautiful complexion. I can see her now in her cot...

Placards “silence”.

Some young people used to walk around the grounds with their little cardboard signs in front saying:” Silence no talking.”

I can recall the first time I saw this.
I said:” what on earth is that all about?”
I could see them from the Conservatory walking around the grounds and they were walking around the grounds for hours.

I was told it was so that nobody would stop them to talk to them.
“It was all part of the treatment. It was to rest their lungs.”

The Glass Conservatory - children were wheeled out during the day for the fresh air

The sanatorium regime
My diet was 4,500 calories a day. They were
very strict because of the nature of the disease.
Nurses had to eat 4,500 calories a day.

There were days when you thought:” oh gosh I don't really want that, but the one in charge Sister Williams would come in and says” no food, no ward”.

Because the nature of the disease you were putting yourself into a vulnerable position.
We weren't allowed to touch a thing on the ward, nothing to eat, that’s why our diet in the dining room as very high and nutritional, even though it was Post war there was no rationing there We had plenty of everything.

We had very good food. Before drugs came in the main cure for TB was rest, good food and fresh air.

We used to have Tonsil Day when the ENT surgeons would come up from Swansea Mr Crowther and Mr Robinson. That was a big day really, a big day for our ward.
They removed the tonsils because they thought that would stop infection and stop them getting better. But they didn’t know at the time that they were there for a purpose.

Another big day was gastric lavage day.
“It was horrible, a horrible procedure. But you had to do it.”
Children as young as two years of age had “gastrics”.

Sister Powell did them. She was “very firm” and one nurse would have to hold the child tight.
“You had to watch your fingers cause the children would bite you.” (With the small children a nurse would have to put her fingers in to the child’s mouth to hold it open while Sister Powell pushed the tube down.)

Valerie has written a book on her nursing career called: “Life isn’t all kiwi and oranges”. (Published by Life story Services, price £9.99) which includes a small section on Craig-y-nos.

(The second part of this interview will be published tomorow).

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