Thursday, July 24, 2008

Margaret Davies:"“Lighting struck the iron bedstead"

(right) Margaret Davies (nee Maddock) from Penclawdd, Swansea with the teddy-bear she had with her all the time she was in Craig-y-nos from December 1951-January 1953, age 5, for 13 months before transferring to Sully for half her lung to be removed.

Monday morning. Phone rings.
A lilting Welsh voice asks:”Are you still wanting ex- patients from Craig-y-nos?”

“Of course!”

“I was in from December 1951-January 53. I was five years old at the time.”
We have a chat.

(right) Auntie Maggie

What do you remember about Craig-y-nos?

“It was a terrifying place. I was totally Welsh speaking and the youngest in the ward. No one could understand what I was saying except for one nurse, Auntie Maggie, who spoke Welsh. I do not recall any of the doctors being Welsh.”

Eventually she did learn English.
That's when the older girls told her about the existence of the White Lady. If there were noises in the night they would say it was Adelina Patti.

“I was petrified by these stories. My treatment was such that I spent the whole time at Craig-y-nos lying on my stomach. To enable my seeing around the ward my head was at the foot of the bed therefore, the nights seemed scarier and I used to sleep with the sheet wrapped around my head. Something I did for years afterwards.”

(We share memories. I tell her: “I still sleep with a sheet around my head unless I am with my husband.”)

“I don’t recall it being dreadfully horrible, I have just patchy memories, probably because I was quite young.”

“You don't look back on it with affection?
She laughs at the idea:
“Oh no! It always seemed so grey and so cold with the mountains towering over us, and when it snowed, it really snowed.
I can remember the cold and wind. I don’t ever remember it being warm, or that there was any heating.”

Harry Secombe

Do you have any good memories? “
“ Not really. The only food I can remember is semolina, which I have not eaten since! I don’t remember birthdays or Christmas, though I do remember going to see Harry Secombe in the theatre. My bed was wheeled down: this was the only time, apart from x-rays, that I ever left the ward in the 13 months I was there.”

What was the most frightening time?
“That would be at night when it was dark, and creaks and noises would really frighten me.”

Margaret was eventually transferred to Sully where she had half her lung removed and she was to remain there for a further five months.

But how did she become ill in the first place?

“ I was the only child of relatively elderly, very caring, loving parents, both in their forties when I was born. I had been unwell for a long time, with childhood illnesses one after the other, eventually losing weight, coughing, very weak and lethargic. My mother was probably fobbed off by the doctor as an overprotective parent, but she persisted that there was something seriously wrong and insisted on my having a chest x-ray. According to my mother, when the results showed I had TB the family doctor came to the house and was genuinely upset and sorry for his misjudgement.”

“When I was admitted to Craig-y-nos I recall my mother saying that she was horrified when they took off my vest and liberty bodice and just put me in a pair of thin cotton pyjamas, at a time when the wind and snow were blowing outside!”

“I cried and cried after my parents left. I had a teddy bear, which was the only toy I took in with me. When I eventually left the hospital I was allowed to take it with me on the condition that my mother washed and disinfected it. I still have it in our bedroom today.”

A month went by before her parents were allowed top visit, and when they arrived to see her she “was not quite sure who they were.”

Visiting was only one weekend a month.
" Looking back now I realise how distressing this must have been for all the children and their parents.”

I tell her women in the Six-Bedder had visiting every week.
”Good grief! I never knew that! “ she says.
(It was news to me too, something I discovered during research for this book, for even though I was in for four years and the Six-Bedder was only yards away from Ward 2 - I knew nothing about life inside other wards, maybe because I was one of the "snow girls" - those out on the balcony).

Margaret was in Ward 2 ( top floor)

Life inside Ward 2
“ I used to write home asking for little knitting needles, wool, pencils and books. Often these letters were written when we had our lessons. How I managed to do all this while lying on my stomach I do not know, but I did! I remember the long room with 19 beds. The beds were very close together.

One big memory I have is the day lighting struck a bed. All the bedsteads were iron and the windows, as usual were wide open. During a thunderstorm lighting struck one bed. Fortunately, it was empty at the time.”

“I had started on streptomycin and PAS before I went in to Craig-y-nos, but obviously the treatment had not worked. Despite the continued medication and total bed rest in hospital for thirteen months there was no improvement in my condition. Added to this, the enforced bed rest result in my inability to walk.

Therefore it was decided that part of my lung would have to be removed and `I was sent to Sully hospital. Sully was lovely. It was light, warm and by the sea. What a contrast to the dark, dreary, misty Craig-y-nos with the over-powering mountains.”

“Looking back I do remember, when I was very ill, before admission to Craig-y-nos, my best friend, who lived nearby, was allowed, by her mother to come and play with me regularly despite the fact that TB was known to be such a devastating and contagious illness. I was so grateful for this friendship which has continued to this day.”

“Going home from hospital felt very strange, I was afraid of being left on my own.”

When she came out of Sully in June 1953, (the day before the Queen’s coronation) she was crowned Queen in her local street party.

Back to school
Despite having lost three and a half years schooling Margaret passed the eleven-plus and went to Grammar school, leaving after her O Levels to take a secretarial course. She worked as a school secretary until her daughter was born.

Later she returned to work as a practice manager for her local health centre in Penclawdd for twenty-three years.

Her one regret is that she never discussed her experiences with her mother.

“My mother lived with us for thirteen years prior to her death. It is a shame I did not ask her more questions about my illness. I could have found out so much more.”

Life today
Some time ago she had to see a chest consultant who was most interested to hear about her time in Craig-y-nos as a child. He advised her to write about it saying that doctors today have no idea what it must have been life for a child to be put into a place like that for years on end.

Talking about her health today she says:

“I have got bronchietatis in the left lung and I have had rheumatoid arthritis for over thirty years.”

“Craig-y-nos definitely had a psychological effect on me. It was bound to. How could it not?
It probably made me, on occasions, more defensive, and sometimes more detached.”

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