Thursday, February 25, 2010

Irish Healthcare - September 1968

With all the emphasis now on long hospital waiting lists and outrageous periods of time spent in A&E Departments I thought I'd share this somewhat lighthearted experience I had in hospital many decades ago. It was an era when you would be admitted in jig time following your doctor's referral (and that would be as a public patient) in fact, you would be in before you could say "Ooh Matron!"

As it was over forty years ago I've used some diary entries to recount the event.

Another return trip to my local hospital, this time for my first D & C. I was admitted on a Sunday afternoon at 4.00pm to an eight bedded ward and what I clearly remember is that a lot of the beds were empty most of the time I was there, no bed shortages back then! During my pre-op assessment the doctor expressed a great interest in the hairiness of my legs. Hadn't started to shave at that stage so my legs were akin to those of a footballer's.

My trip down to theatre the following morning and my subsequent waking up afterwards are all but a blur for some reason. Maybe they decided not to wake me from my pre-med slumber. It was night time, around 9.00pm, when the woman in the bed next to me set off down to the kitchen to make the supper - tea and biscuits, seemingly this is what she did every night.

I don't know if it was something to do with my hairy legs and arms but I now feel that they were carrying out some sort of research on me. All my pee had to be collected in a jug plus they were taking blood samples twenty four hours a day which included through the night. Even back in the 1960s you only remained in hospital for a couple of days following a D & C but they held onto me until the Friday afternoon, five and a half days in all. It wasn't all bad in fact I had a very interesting time observing everything going on around me. The nurses were a howl, one of them was always singing the Mary Hopkins song, "Those Were The Days" which was a chart topper at the time.

Another thing I was very aware of was how particular the cleaners were when carrying out their work. The beds were taken out into the middle of the floor to wash behind them and the head-rests were wiped down with a damp cloth. Often when Matron entered she would swipe her finger along a ledge to check for dust, and when the nurses knew she was coming they would very quickly tidy the bedclothes and lockers.

The supper-making lady in the bed next to me on my right hand side had goitre, I think she was waiting for her operation. From my second night onwards she allowed me accompany her to the kitchen to prepare the supper. The elderly woman in the corner opposite me was dying and it was heartbreaking every time she would call out for her son. The woman in the bed next to her wasn't in good shape either. The other beds remained empty.

On the Thursday afternoon a poor soul was brought in, obviously a psychiatric case. They put her in the bed two down from mine and had to restrain her arms because she was completely hysterical. Shortly afterwards she went to sleep no doubt because they had tranquillized her. Even though I felt very sorry for her I was terrified she'd wake up and kill me! My fellow patient was scared too. I explained my fears to the nurse and it was decided that both my friend and I would be moved over to the ward across the corridor. As the poor woman would only be there overnight the other two patients who were both too ill to notice were not moved. The same day painters arrived on the ward, just as well I liked the smell of paint back then.

Life on the other ward was a bag of laughs so much so that I was really sad at having to leave the next day. I'd made friends with a girl who was about thirteen or fourteen, we got on great sharing stories and having a good old giggle as teenagers do. Later I watched Paul McCartney singing "Hey Jude" on Top Of The Pops, it was a real treat as we didn't have BBC at home because we only had the "cat's ears" on top of our telly. That Thursday night we sat around the bed of a woman who was also up for a laugh, listening to a pop music programme on her transister radio and telling jokes. God, I didn't want this to end, it was the best fun I'd had in ages.

It was around 11.00pm by the time we all settled down and as the young girl and I were still a bit afraid of the psychiatric lady I asked the nurse could she and I sleep together. Surprisingly she said we could but we would be in trouble if Matron came in! We took the chance and whispered and giggled till God knows what hour.

Friday arrived and little did I realise how sad I'd be at leaving all my new found friends. I got talking to another lady on the ward who'd recently had a hysterectomy, I'd never heard of it before. I didn't really mind her explaining the gruesome details of her operation, in fact it was very interesting. I'd learnt something new and facinating about the intricate workings of the human body.

It was early afternoon when I bid farewell to my friends and kind nurses.

To sum up my feelings about my overall care as a patient I would have to say:

Nursing Care - Excellent. Nurses had time to sit and talk with patients. No bed shortages. Clean wards.

Where did it all go so horribly wrong?

Above image of my then local hospital taken by me in 2002.



  1. Your story has reminded me of the time I spent in hospital in the early seventies. I was supposed to be in for two days but it turned out to be sixteen in all, just to have a sebaceous cyst removed from the area at the base of my spine.
    The cavity it left had to be packed until it began to heal, hence the long spell. Things were completely different then with a staff nurse overseeing everything, making sure the nurses were doing their job, and the wards were spotlesss with none of the superbugs we have today lingering about. I have a great story to tell of that time and it will be included in my book.
    Thanks for jarring my memory.
    Nostalgia, you can't beat it.

  2. The matrons certainly ran a better ship then, and it's a pity that things are not run the same way today instead of outside firms coming in and doing jobs the permanent staff used to do. The staff nurses of today only have control over the nurses, whereas in our day the matrons had control over everything connected to their wards. A better idea all together.
    I had better stop ranting on, and keep this for my opinionatedpensioner blog ha ha.
    Cheers for now.

  3. Thanks Donald, gosh your cyst removal sounds like it was extremely painful but I imagine you were a lot safer as regards infection back then than you would be now! Yes indeed, matrons were a breed not to be trifled with, the ones nowadays are only in name. There's too much familiarity now on wards with staff referring to each other by first name instead of nurse whoever or matron. Respect for the uniform was one of the first things to go, of course they don't wear proper uniforms anymore either. If I was matron I'd bring back the old starched dress and cap and no nurse worth her salt would be seen outside the hospital grounds in her outfit I'd have them hopping! Cheers for now Donald.