The following comments are extracts from emails and letters sent to us by users of our services #ourmarvellousteams
To celebrate 70 years of the NHS – please read memories from our local residents.
It was a few days before Christmas 1958, and on this particular evening I was feeling quite unwell with severe pains in the abdomen. I had just returned home in the Old Town area after visiting my patents in Hankham, and dismissed my discomfort as something I had eaten. The pain persisted throughout the night with several bouts of sickness and no sleep. About 5.30am my wife went to a nearby call box to telephone my workplace to say that I would not “make muster”. About 8.30am she again made a call call box to request the attendance of our Dr Emslie at Arlington Road. Dr Emslie promised to call after his morning surgery. He arrived about noon, diagnosed gastric problems, issued a prescription for medication and advised I stay in bed. He arranged to see me again the next day. He visited again about noon and I reported that all was now well, that I was anxious to resume duty. He opted for a physical examination part of which was for him to push down on my abdomen with firm pressure and asking “does that hurt”. It didn’t until he suddenly released the downward pressure. I gave a yelp and almost lept out of bed with the pain “you are going to hospital immediately I will arrange an ambulance”. He diagnosed appendicitis.
The ambulance arrived about an hour later and by 2.30pm I was in the care of Mr Bagulay, who was some supervisory medical post at Alfriston Ward, the surgical unit at St Mary’s Hospital, Church Street. Alfriston Ward was reminiscent of a well organised barrack room; it probably had been in the previous century. On entering the double swing doors there were about ten beds on either side of the room, Dr Lawrence Snowball wartime exploits were known to me so I knew I was in good hands. He was commended after carrying out a double amputation.
Some while later I was given a pre-med injection, but recall very little thereafter and could not begin to guess at the time I was taken to the operating theatre. My only recollection is someone with a surgical mask asking “where is the pain” to which I replied very drowsily “I haven’t any pain” which was followed by amused chuckles from those gathered around.
My next conscious memory was waking up in the bed. The ward was in darkness expect for a shaded lamp immediately over the nurses table at the end of the ward. My mouth and throat were dry as dust and I was desperately thirsty. I managed to attract the attention of the night nurse who was busy at her table and asked for a drink of water. This request she refused, but she was allowed to moisten my lips with water. I was parched, but she would not relent and give me more. The nurse remained at her station, but every now and then would make a thorough check on the wellbeing of the whole ward, but no amount of pleading from me for a decent drink would she depart from her instructions.
About two hours later, the man in the next bed to my right awoke and asked how I was feeling. I complained of my severe thirst and asked if I could have a drink from his untouched jug of orange cordial. He kindly poured me a tumbler full which I swallowed gratefully. A few minutes later he passed over another glass of his orange “nectar” and this illicit supply of liquid continued until the passing of the final tumbler full, which emptied his glass jug. Night nurse however spied what was going on, she rushed over, grabbed the tumbler and severely scolded my neighbouring benefactor. It was now that she explained that there had been a serious complication in theatre, hence the instruction “nil by mouth”. Now I realised why I was so long gaining consciousness and my earlier thought of being in “good hands” had obviously been reality. There were sincere apologies from us both. Fortunately my boozing session had no ill effects, but night nurse continued a very wary watch until she was relieved by the daytime staff.
During daytime we had Mr Baguley and the male orderly, there were others all of whom were always industrious it seemed although Matron and Assistant Matron would probably disagree, these two ladies were greatly feared (respected would probably be a more appropriate description) but the declaration “Matrons coming” would see all hands to the pump with ward efficiency being immediately raised several notches, a reaction that was not lost on me having left the armed forces nearly five years earlier. Matron, to us patients was a lovely lady, caring and very pleasant, she did not come to the ward overmuch, but her assistant matron would make several visits each day and night.
The twenty or so patients in Alfriston ward were a typical cross section of working, middle class society, and once again I can clearly call to mind some, but most have exited my memory due to the passing of time.
Christmas Eve was just a normal day with meals served, visitors admitted, with those of us now in residence settling down for the night, shortly before lights out the ward lighting was reduced unexpectedly and I thought I heard carol singing in the distance. A few moments later the singing became louder, the swing doors were opened and in came a procession of carol singers made up of about a dozen nurses lead by assistant matron. Each was carrying a lantern and all were dressed in full uniform including capes. A magnificent spectacle which had all of us completely spellbound, because not one of us was aware that this event had been planned. They traversed the ward still singing and as suddenly as they had appeared they were gone with their voices fading as they continued on the other wards. It was brilliant and totally unexpected a memory that has remained with me.
Christmas morning was another surprise; there were nurses everywhere, particularly between the period of breakfast and lunch. I asked why and was told that all the young nursing staff were to be on duty during Christmas morning, after the usual wound dressing and pill popping the ward was not unlike a popular social club with nurses circulating and everyone being in a jolly mood. Shortly after breakfast a photographer from the Gazette and Herald came into the ward, he recognised me and requested that the nurses congregate around my bed for a photograph.
We now settled down for Christmas dinner, which was to be an event of even more surprises. The ward doors opened and in came Dr Snowball dressed in full chefs uniform pushing the food trolley on which the centre piece was the roast turkey. He then set to carving the bird and placing good amounts on each and every plate, with nurses adding the trimmings and delivering the meal to each patient. Until it was my turn, I still had not eaten any solid food, Mr Snowball eyed me shook his head and said “Oh dear Mr Wallis, I don’t think you ought to have anything, I was crestfallen and ravenous. He then continued “yours was the most filthy gut I have ever seen, perhaps you can have some, if necessary I can always operate tomorrow”. Sheer bliss, with my intake of solids returning to normal after that splendid feast.
Afternoon visiting was soon upon us and we were all amazed at the number of friends and relatives waiting to enter the ward, and on this session, the strict rule three to a bed was waived. I recall there were in excess of a dozen people seated in a semi-circle around mine. Our guardian angel for Christmas night was the jolly nurse once again, lights were extinguished but both Jim and I had been slipped miniature bottles of hooch by our visitors. I was discharged on the 29th December and now all these years later I still regard the Christmas of 1958 as one of the very best.
Memories before and after the NHS
I would like to share some memories of life before and after the NHS was started in 1948. I am 84 years old and was brought up in Hailsham and certainly remember life and health issues before the National Health started. Obviously I did not realise at the time how difficult it must have been for my parents to pay for out medical needs. I do know they belonged to a Friendly Society, who collected money from them regularly and then helped to pay fees. Also a hospital box stood on the mantelpiece and any odd coppers over at the end of the week were popped in and remember distinctly one visit to Princess Alice Hospital mother produced the box and the contents was emptied.
Pre 1948 I had my tonsils removed in 1939 in the children’s ward at PAMH, the best bit being having ice cream afterwards. The next visit was in a St Johns Ambulance in the middle of the night for an emergency appendix removal, this was in the middle of the 1939-1945 war and the boys ward had been damaged by bombs and girls and boys were in together in the girls ward called Anne Elizabeth, my own name as it happened. The surgeon was a Mr Snowball, a lovely man and indeed all the staff were superb especially under such difficulties with continuous air raids. Since those days, I have had one or two visits to St Marys Hospital and the Leaf Hospital and on all occasions had wonderful treatment. These hospitals of course have now disappeared and we have the District General Hospital where again on numerous visits, the standards have always been high. I give heartfelt thanks for a successful operation for bowel cancer after which I had chemotherapy; again I could not have had better treatment. These days I live in Hooe and any visits to hospital would be the DGH or the Conquest the latter being the destination after falling and breaking my hip quite recently. As always the treatment was excellent.
Finally I must add that both of my daughters took up nursing as their careers. The older one now reaching the end of her long caring life in nursing is at Watford General Hospital. The younger after training at Brighton General Hospital has worked back in Eastbourne, at St Mary’s Hospital until it closed but for a long time at the DGH in the Coronary Care Unit, so I feel that though them we have paid back for all of the care my parents and my family I have received over many years.
Memories of 1960
In the 1960’s Matron Marchant was in charge of the Royal East Sussex Hospital, and for deputy was Miss Blunt.
• No makeup could be used,
• Finger nails cut short,
• No earrings or jewellery worn.
• Nurses got 1.5 days off per week.
• Black stockings and black shoes to be worn.
• Monthly inventory on the wards.
• If a nurse broke a thermometer that nurse would have to go to the Matrons office to get the thermometer replaced
• Married women were not encouraged into nursing
• Christmas Cards on the wards, when the nurses went out of the wards singing carols the cloaks were turned inside out to show the red material.
• Matron round of the wards
• All bed wheels at the bottom of the bed, had to be turned inwards
• The ward had to be clean and tidy
I qualified in April 1956 as a diagnostic radiographer at the Middlesex Hospital in London (I was born and have lived in Hastings all my life) I began work as a junior radiographer at the brand new x-ray department at the Royal East Sussex Hospital (RESH) Hastings. Here there was a staff of 4 radiographers, 3 office staff and a consultant radiologist most of the time we were upstairs with the casualty departments downstairs, there was a small lift where we sent the wet films down to be viewed . in those days it took at least 2 hours to get a dry film (10 minutes develop and fix, 20 minutes wash, then dry and write name of patient on film with white ink) – compare that to nowadays, almost instant with modern equipment and computers.
I spent the next 40 years at various x-ray departments mostly part-time alongside brining up my 2 children. I did locums at RESH, Buchanan, Bexhill and the Conquest Hospital. But things have rather changed.
One night I was called out to x-ray a premature baby at Buchanan to discover out processer was not working. I had to take the film to develop at RESH and return by car with the wet film. I’m glad to say all was well with the baby.
The Buchanan Hospital in Springfield Road, St Leonards was excellent in many ways. I was a patient there twice as a child and twice as an adult as well as working there. It was a very happy place to work and the matrons did a good job.
St Mary’s Hospital
I started work in 1957 at St Mary’s Hospital as a junior clerk in the offices of Mr Percy Terry the hospital secretary at the time. In 1962 I transferred to Princess Alice Hospital as secretary to Dr Owen Fox, Radiologist in the x-ray department. I worked there until I left to get married in 1970. I believe I was the first clerical person to work at the DGH, I was asked if I was willing to work one of two evenings a week filing x-rays in the new place. I began to do that from 1st May 1976 at that time there was only a porter and myself in that very large hospital. I began to work as a receptionist in the Accident and Emergency Department commencing 6th September 1976. I remained there until I retired in July 2001. Very happy memories of my many years in the NHS.
Memories of 1940
In 1940 I had a very bad burn accident over my body (right side, right arm and thigh grade 1, 2 and 3 burns. I first went to Princess Alice Hospital, I cannot remember much I was only 2.5 or 3 years old, I can remember when the bombs came over, I was told it was the man upstairs so the nurses put me under the bed for protection. I then went to Stoke Mandeville the only thing I can remember of this is the service men giving me a ride on their wheelchairs to the cinema in the hospital and on sunny days putting out beds in the sun.
I went to St Thomas in London for check-ups, I went to Brighton Children’s Hospital here I can remember a little old man called Mr Cobbles he made up stories to read to us we all loved him. I was also given the job of rolling up bandages (in those days they were washed) it was exercise for my arm that had been badly burnt. I also helped to tuck the sheets in (my physio) I’ve also been to East Grinstead to have treatment for the muscles down my right side to extend my muscle and skin grafts. I am still in and out of hospital knee replacements. I was still going to see Mr Elliott Blake at 16 years old. All the year I have been in hospital I have had the best care ever. If it was not for the NHS care I might not be here today. And don’t forget the matron she had a big part in running the hospital. Thanks to the NHS.
Memories of 1949
At the beginning of 1949, aged eight and a half years, I had my tonsils removed at St. Mary’s Hospital, Old Town, Eastbourne. My mother said I went off to the Hospital quite happily and I pointed out to her that the notice board said children could receive visitors on a Wednesday afternoon.
As soon as we entered the ward I was whisked off to have a bath although I had just had one at home. I remember it was very big. When my mother asked when she could say goodbye she was told it would not be a good idea even though I was not crying or distressed. The only time I remember having tears for a few seconds was when I came round from the operation. I have a clear memory of the operating theatre with its large oval window which I saw a photo of in a book about the history of the hospital. The stay at the hospital was very interesting watching the work of the staff. It gave me the idea of becoming a nurse but, at seventeen and only five stone, I realised this was not a good idea.
When my mother came to take me home the first thing I said to her was “You did not come to visit me”. Apparently she had been told she was not allowed and I wonder if it was that Wednesday was the day after the operation. How different an experience to when my own son was in hospital.
Buchanan Hospital 1960
My memory on the NHS was at the Buchanan Hospital, St Leonards. One evening in June 1960 when I was 7.5 months pregnant with my second baby I was rushed into the hospital with appendicitis. The surgeon Mr Faulks was sent for and successfully operated, saving my life and that of my baby.
My daughter Chris arrived safely 6 weeks later weighing a healthy 9lbs 5ozs. She is now married and has a family of her own, and her 2 sons were both born at the Buchanan.
It was a nice hospital to be in and was known as the “ladies hospital” us patients would make a cup of tea and take it in the garden in the afternoon. I shall always be grateful to the NHS for that and a few times since.
Health before the NHS
My father served with the Royal Navy, like many Navy men, he suffered from TB while on active duty; they were treated in a sanatorium. Part of the treatment was to wheel the patients on to a veranda during the day in all weathers to breathe the good air as it was considered to be beneficial for their lungs. There was no known cure for TB at the time. Unable to resume duties in the Royal Navy my father was discharged on medical grounds.
With father unable to work, mother nursed him and became the breadwinner with five daughters to support. I remember clearly a discussion my parents had. They counted their money together to see if they had 7s.6d for father to visit the doctor. They had not. Being near the end of his life, father was placed in an isolation ward of the hospital which was at the top of the building. Children were not allowed in isolation wards. Two nurses supported father as he waved to me from the hospital window while I waved from the street outside with my mother. This was my 7th birthday. He died soon after. This was before the NHS.
Now with the use of antibiotics TB is treated swiftly and very effectively, a situation we should all be extremely thankful for. Without any doubt, I am.
In celebration of the 70th anniversary of the NHS I wanted to share my experience of the wonderful treatment that I received when I was seven years old after an accident that I had on Christmas evening 1948. Whilst my parents were out shopping for the last-minute Christmas presents my elder sister and I were playing Hit Chase (Tag) with our friends. I was about to run across the road when I noticed a Brickwoods Brewery lorry coming towards me so I stopped at the kerb. However, the person who was the ‘Tagger’ hadn’t notice the lorry and he hit me on my shoulder, which pushed me forward into the side of the lorry, knocking me backwards, resulting in my foot going under the wheels of the trailer.
I clearly remember my elder sister trying to push the lorry off my foot followed by the lorry driver placing a white handkerchief over the injury and telling me not to look at it. As there were no ambulances the lorry driver took me to The Royal Hospital Portsmouth where I embarked on a two-year journey of recovery.
My right foot had been crushed and some of the bones had been shattered so were removed. Once my right foot was sown to my left leg for skin graft purposes both legs were encased in plaster of paris for a period of six months. When the plaster was removed I spent the next eighteen months recuperating and learning to walk again. The latter involved a bag of sixpences being held up at the far end of the ward and the nurses and patients voicing their encouragement by saying ‘Come on walk if you want to get the money’. I was unable to return home as my family lived in a second floor flat so on two separate occasions I was sent to a convalescent home.
When I finally returned home, there was a new addition to the family my sister. I received no further treatment until I was seventeen when I required an operation to drain a build-up of fluid on the scar tissue. I then went on to lead a normal live without any further issues. My parents were not in a financial position to have paid for the treatment that I received so; I can honestly say that if it had not been for the NHS I would not have enjoyed the quality of life that I have done for the past seventy years.