I posted yesterday on the different attitude between France and the UK to families being present in a hospital and helping nurse their relatives. I hadn’t appreciated until the comments started coming in – and a couple of e-mails overnight from the continent, that the UK attitude seems to be exclusive to – the UK!
I have done a little Googling and cannot find any other European country that keeps the family so firmly at the outer door of the hospital. It set me thinking, and about 3am I was hit by a thunderbolt…as you are.
Crikey, but I’m slow on the uptake I thought. As I do frequently.
I have said before that what you get by way of a post each morning is whatever is on my mind when I wake up – so it is today; forgive the personal nature of this post – there is a sound reason for it.
Half a century ago, said Methuselah, for it is I, I had a very useful attribute. If I arranged myself so that my head was lower than my body, my cheek swelled up in a perfect imitation of a gumboil – a fashionable affliction in those days and mighty useful for getting out of PE on a freezing morning. Eventually I was rumbled, and packed off to the Doctor by my Father. I had a tumour in my saliva gland and it was removed – in rather rudimentary fashion. It left me with a hideous scar on the side of my face.
I had never had a ‘relationship’ with my Mother. No one knows why, those who did are long since dead; I suspect post natal depression myself, being some 13lb at birth I don’t suppose it was happy experience for her in those post war days, and she took to her bed and refused to have anything to do with me.
I had gone off to boarding school at 3, the Frobelian residential kindergarten run by the Sisters of the Sacre Coeur in St Peters Port. It solved my Father’s problem of caring for me and maintaining his job, but did nothing for my non-existent relationship with my Mother.
‘Disfigured’ five years later, was the last straw for her, and I was packed off to the John Radcliffe hospital for plastic surgery. (Yes, that photograph of me on the contacts page is post plastic surgery, so let’s get the jokes over and done with!)
I was all of eight years old, and had already spent a month in hospital away from my family – the notion that children might want their parents around when they were sick was light years in the future. Now I was looking forward to months in another hospital – plastic surgery was a long and tortuous process in those days, many months as grafts healed. 50 years later I still remember being tied to the bed to prevent me pulling out the various tubes. Give me a modicum of stress and I can have a decent nightmare about it to this day.
My Mother was only too happy to comply with the restricted visiting, she had no wish to be distressed by witnessing my appearance, and I, too young to have knowledge of the fact that the hospital discouraged visiting, was only too happy to accept that I was just not fit to be seen. Besides, she was busy getting pregnant again, yet another excuse to languish in bed.
By the time I was pronounced ‘cured’ and due for release, it was to the news that she was about to give birth and I was to go to my grand-mother’s house in Liverpool. From there I went back and forth to boarding school, interspersed with stays with various friends of my Father’s in the school holidays. Visits ‘home’ were the occasion to have beds made up specially for my appearance, never again was there to be a room known as ‘mine’. I didn’t belong there; I was a ‘visitor’.
It was, you can see, a mightily fractured relationship. One that I firmly accounted for by my physical ‘appearance’.
When I was 12, another phone call from my Father to my boarding school alerted me to the fact that I had just acquired another brother, and I despaired of ever returning home. So much so, that I am ashamed now to admit, I swallowed a bottle of aspirin to be done with the whole ghastly business. I could see no future for myself.
It is hard to speak of these things, even now, but this was before the Suicide Act, a time when you were either ‘mad’ or ‘bad’ for such actions. I guess no one had the heart to decide that at 12 I was actually ‘bad’, so ‘mad’ was the only other option. I was packed off to the Long Grove Mental Hospital in Epsom.
There was no such thing as a children’s ward, they didn’t exist. It is hard to put into words how grim it actually was. One day I may get round to writing about it; today is not the day.
It didn’t last long, about two months I think – one day a chink in their security appeared and I legged it – in the company of another patient who was to be my only friend for some years. I did get caught once, and sent off to a children’s home, but that didn’t last long either – a first floor drainpipe held no terrors for me after the experiences I had had so far.
The point of all this is not to detail ‘what a terrible childhood’ I had, but that I realised last night what a huge impact the NHS system of not allowing, not wanting, not encouraging, families to be part and parcel of life in hospital can have on a person. My parents are long since dead, but to this day I have no relationship with my two younger brothers, nor did I ever have again with my parents. It certainly left its mark on me – and turned me into a Libertarian long before I ever knew such a word existed.
Wild horses wouldn’t persuade me to rely on the State to care for me, or support me – and as I thought that, came the blinding flash of insight.
Of course, who brought in the NHS? The Fabians, the Socialists. The exclusion of families from hospitals is nothing more than an early example of the Fabian ideology that wishes to see families torn apart and everyone turning to the State as chief carer, I had never connected ‘visiting times’ with politics before.
Probably because I had never realised before that other countries did it differently.
*No, the picture isn’t me – it was the only one I could find of a similar vintage hospital bed!