MEM­ORY LANE

The Oldie - - I ONCE PHOTOGRAPHED -

As a par­ish pri­est for 47 years, I’ve done my share of hos­pi­tal vis­it­ing. But my liveli­est mem­o­ries of life on the wards are from weeks at St James’s Hos­pi­tal, Leeds, in the late 1940s, when I was eight.

When I was one, I fell out of my high chair on to an open fire. I had nu­mer­ous skin grafts to my face, per­formed by bril­liant young sur­geons trained by the leg­endary

Archie Mcin­doe, who treated burned wartime pi­lots at East Grin­stead – a group known as the Guinea Pig Club.

Ev­ery day in hos­pi­tal be­gan at 5.30. Once, an old man died in the early hours and I was wo­ken by the ker­fuf­fle of ex­tra staff with torches, called in to help. I saw only one more death – a lad about my age. He was for­ever out of the cov­ers, jump­ing up and down on his bed and singing ‘Oh my dar­ling, Cle­men­tine!’ One night, there were torches again and, next morn­ing, a screen around his bed.

Af­ter break­fast, I would go to the day room and have a game of chess. Then it was ev­ery­one back in bed for ‘rounds’. Around 10.30, sis­ter, lead­ing the con­sul­tants, made their rounds.

The af­ter­noons were for nap­ping and co­pi­ous snor­ing. I was al­lowed out. At 3.30pm, by the porter’s lodge, the bookie’s run­ner would present him­self and I handed him the bet­ting slips of my fel­low pa­tients. It was all exquisitely cloak and dag­ger.

Over my time, treat­ment – es­pe­cially anaes­thet­ics – im­proved won­der­fully. When I first went for surgery, the ter­ri­fy­ing chlo­ro­form pad was held over my nose and mouth. You went dizzy, your head span and when you woke up you were sick. Then they changed to sodium pen­tothal to put you un­der: an in­jec­tion into a vein in your arm.

St James’s was renowned as the largest teach­ing hos­pi­tal in Europe. There were flower gar­dens and veg­etable plots, even a church called the hos­pi­tal chapel – lovely Vic­to­rian Gothic. I re­mem­ber one spring af­ter­noon, when I was well enough to go out­side, Staff Nurse Parker, in her elab­o­rate head­dress, took me for a stroll among the blos­som. She held my hand.

By the Rev Dr Peter Mullen, who re­ceives £50. Read­ers are in­vited to send in their own 400-word sub­mis­sions about the past. For more Mem­ory Lanes, please down­load the new Oldie app, avail­able now for just £2.99 an is­sue

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