During my SRN training in the 1950s I spent three months at the Infectious Disease Hospital for fever experience. There, very strict barrier nursing was essential, and we wore white cotton face masks and gowns over our uniform to prevent cross-infection.

My first ward consisted of a central kitchen with Sister’s office and a linen cupboard. Four wings of glass cubicles leading off enabled all patients to be seen. All linen except terry towelling nappies was washed in the hospital laundry. Baby clothes varied and were always in short supply, so after the morning ward report (sometimes before) we’d rush to collect the best available for our patients each day.

All but one of my babies suffered from gastro-enteritis, and the remaining toddler, with pertussis, had terrible bouts of coughing and choking. I’d lay her across my lap with her head as low as possible to aid expectoration, sometimes using my little finger to clear her mouth of sputum to maintain a clear airway. The gastroenteritis babies were being treated with IV drips, or sub-cuts where fluid is absorbed into the abdominal muscles through a small hypodermic needle. This was to prevent or counteract dehydration.

Before entering or leaving each cubicle

My great uncle, George C. Crabb (my paternal grandmother’s brother) set himself up in business 101 years ago in the fashion shown below. He wrote several copies out in his spidery writing and handed them around. How times have changed!

we’d scrub our hands and arms to the elbow in the washbasin on the open veranda. The towel was usually wet, and for me frozen because of the snow, so our hands and arms became very sore and chapped (no paper towels or rubber gloves then).

Each cot had fresh sheets daily, and after the nappy round, dirty ones were put into a bucket which we sluiced thoroughly on the ward. Next, we took the nappies across the lawn to the nappy house. This was an antiquated building with a corrugated iron roof, one corner of which flapped noisily in the wind, making it difficult to hear each other speak. It housed an old boiler which washed our nappies and an equally old wringer for use before taking them back to dry on the ward radiators. We’d keep the door closed to keep out the cold, so had very litde light to work in.

We moved next to an open ward for older children with scarlet fever, whose main treatment was four-hourly gargles for their streptococcal throats. Some tried to outdo the rest with their noise! I never saw a rash, but saw a strawberry tongue. In the floor was a drain for the mobile bath, and we secured the bath over this ready to pull out the plug when each bath had been completed. Visitors’ ‘goodies’ were given
to Sister, who would share them around the ward after lunch each day.

On, then, to female tuberculosis, with three nights on male TB. Bed rest, Streptomycin, P.A.S. and I.N.A.H. drugs were their main treatment, with measured exercise once they were allowed up. As patients were discharged to go home, wards and cubicles were fumigated, as were the ambulances after transporting any infected patient. All books and papers were burned.

I remember a litde rhyme which originated when diphtheria was rife, and was heard when an ambulance passed:

Touch your collar,

Never swallow Till you see a dog.

We worked a 48-hour week and always spoke of going on and off duty, never going to work. Most nurses at that time lived in Nurses’ Homes within the hospital grounds. We had all our meals in the dining room, so did not have to store utensils, shop for food or cook after long hours on duty, as they do now. I personally think we were better off, although in our hospital no nurse was allowed to marry until qualified.

Barbara Gore, SRN, BTA