Tuesday, March 18, 2014

On the balcony of Craig-y-nos castle


Ann (left) with Margaret and Joan

I wonder if you saw the shocking documentary last night TB: Return of the Plague? ( BBC4 )

Probably not unless you had a particular interest in medicine or Africa.

But it brought back memories of my own childhood in Wales where I spent four years in Craig-y-nos Castle, a children’s sanatorium in the Swansea Valley. ( I later wrote a book about it co-authored with medical historian Dr Carole Reeves “The Children of Craig-y-nos”).

I lived out on an open balcony (left in photo) summer and winter and it was not unusual to wake up in the morning to find our beds covered in snow. We were provided with sheets of green tarpaulins to protect us.

So much of the African story from Swaziland,  apart from the weather, resonated with my own experience – the dreadful food, the physical isolation from home, family and friends, the boredom, the daily tough treatment of injections medicine and drugs which went on for months, even years.

And the tragedy of those who did not respond to treatment and were sent home to die.

But what for me is a distant memory still goes on for thousands in Africa everyday only worse because of the strain of superbugs resistant to drugs.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Graham Canning - 1948-1953


Graham Canning, age 67, tells his story of the years he spent as a child in Craig-y-nos:


"I recently saw the BBC  "One Show" about Craig-y-Nos . I too am a past patient spending nearly five years there.

(3rd June 1948 to about 8th March 1953.

I contracted TB in the left knee, which then spread, to my right hip. “ 

Photos show Graham not only in a plaster cast but with his hands tied to the bed too because he had worked out how to undo some of the shoulder straps tying him down.

However, after sorting out my left knee my Mother brought clothes to bring me home and was told that I had collapsed when walking and investigations discovered that the TB had spread to my right hip.  After 2 years of my parents were devastated.  The right hip was now a different matter to the left knee however.  By the time it was detected the TB had all but destroyed the hip and the doctors had to fuse/lock it.  This meant that I have very limited movement of the hip.

Also I was also left with a shorter right leg.


Many of the comments on the One Show I recognized.  My parents also could only visit once a month.  There were quite a few visitors from the Cardiff area and I recall my Father telling me that the Cardiff bus used to miss the Swansea connection to Craig-y-Nos by 5 minutes.  So my Father spoke to the Swansea bus company and they agreed to change their timetable to meet the connection.

It is perhaps worth recording the tremendous power that the doctors held then.  My parents were told that when I eventually came home I would need a lot of care and attention.  In fact so much that they should not have any more children so that they could devote all their time on me!  So I became an only child.  I don't know the name of the doctor, my Father thought her to be foreign. (This would be Dr Hubbard the Austrian-Jewish refugee).


I was tied with straps to the side of the bed but because I used to strain to reach and then undo the knots they moved the straps to the rear of the bed over my shoulders and through the springs of the bed well out of my reach - and that was that! I remember the straps coming from a corset type jacket around my body.
I remember during the early stages of learning to walk clambering to the end of my bed in anticipation when I smelled the polish on the leather of the boots forming part of the calipers and hoping they were coming to me.  


My Parents
My Mother never really got over my illness and the length of time I was away.  Her everlasting memory of when I first went to Craig-y-Nos was of me being carried away in a nurse's arms with me looking back over her shoulders crying with arms outstretched reaching for her.  All her life she informed others that I was in hospital for 5 years.  It left a mental scar, which remained with her all her life.  


Me
With regard to contracting TB I have always considered myself lucky.  TB at that time was a killer and many died because of it.  Those that died in the main had the disease in their breathing system, in particular their lungs.  Even if they survived it was likely that breathing problems could occur later in life.  My problem was physical and was simply a case of adapting and getting on with it with little risk of problems in later life. To date that has been the case.  I've led a very active life, playing sport at a high level, in particular badminton and can do all the things, like swimming, riding a bike etc. that doctors thought not possible.  Although I was playing badminton at a high level my hip frustrated me and I sought advice from a top consultant to ask if there was any way I could change my situation eg. lengthen my right leg and replace my hip with a new one.
But he said there were no realistic options and it was a miracle that I could play sport at the level I was playing without any discomfort that I should send the surgeon who did the operation on me as a teenager a magnum of champagne.

When I first came out of hospital my parents/family suggested I should have a wheel chair but I was having none of that. They say we are all products of our environment and upbringing and that was certainly the case for me.

 All my friends were keen on sport, one a good footballer, another a good runner, another a good wrestler, etc. and children being what they are you either compete with them or you are left behind.  It was great character building and with my positive outlook on life and total disregard to my disability (eg. on school sports days I was always on the starting line for races knowing I was going to finish last!) has stood me in good stead all my life.

At 14 years of age I had a further operation in a Cardiff hospital to take a bone from my shin which was placed in my hip thus increasing the length of my leg.  But for that operation my right leg would now be two and a half inches shorter instead of the one and half it became and still is. So what has been the effect on the family?  Nevertheless I played all sports, as I grew older, playing badminton at a high league level, coaching and managing the Welsh U14, U16 & U18 Welsh national junior squads.

Finally, my coming home was a strange event.  My parents rang up one day and asked if they could look after me at home.

The Sister said she would speak to the doctor and for Mum to ring back later.  So Mum did and the hospital agreed and told Mum to come and get me, just like that!!!

Graham remembers the huge party at his house to welcome him home and people coming in and throwing money on to the bed for good luck. “The whole street was there. In those days there was a strong community spirit.”
Coming home had its problems. He wasn’t used to doors and he used to run in and out of peoples houses.” If my mother smacked me for being naughty I would say:” I am going to tell sister in you.”



The family lived in Grangemouth, Cardiff where his father worked on the docks as a tugboat skipper
He says his father used to buy cheap unpasteurized milk from the docks.
 (Graham is unaware until I tell him that unpasteurized milk is the main source of TB of the bone).

As a ten-month-old baby he had Pinks disease (caused by mercury poisoning) and he is lucky to have survived it only to go down with TB of the bone 18months later.
At 9 years of age he was hospitalized again after falling off his bike where the handlebars ruptured his stomach and led to the removal of his spleen.

But despite all these early setbacks Graham was determined to make something of his life.
“ I was lucky. I was born with the right attitude to life,” and so it has proved.

Today  67 year old Graham is a retired Civil Servant and he continues to lead a very active life: he plays badminton twice a week and goes dancing (rock ‘n roll and jiving) with his wife every week in Cardiff. They have two daughters.

"The Children of Craig-y-nos" by Ann Shaw and Carole Reeves, published by the Wellcome Trust for the History of Medicine, price £9.99 is available from Amazon online.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Michael Jones- father worked at Craig-y-nos


 Launch of book"The Children of Craig-y-nos" in the Glass Conservatory, Craig-y-nos Castle

Michael Jones, son of the boilerman at Craig-y-nos, grew up under the shadow of the castle.


He contacted me recently:

“Hello Ann

I've been re-reading your book and find it even more moving and stirring of the emotions than ever.  Perhaps I was too young to know what Craigynos was all about, other than it was an 


acutely infectious place, from which you kept away.













Girls on the balcony- early 1950s
The medical treatment seemed very harsh, almost cruel, but it was considered the right thing at the time.  I never knew that the children were out in the open all night with snow on the beds - it seems horrendous!   Fortunately there were a number of success stories.  . What I cannot understand is the regime at the hospital, where most of your correspondents recall deprivation, over-zealous punishment, mental and physical abuse, insufficient education, and strict curbs on visitors, akin to being institutionalized.  Yet when the lucky ones returned home they were lost, out
of step, and missed their fellow patients greatly.

The bonfire nights were very, very good.  The local children were allowed in, under strict supervision, probably on the strength of Dad, Glynne Jones, being the hospital engineer. The display was spectacular and you will probably remember the girls on the balconies calling down to us and dropping sweets.  Once a firework ignited the whole box and all the fireworks went off together!  I think Edgar Davies was quite badly hurt by this. After the show we would run down the terraces to see if we could retrieve any unexploded fireworks.

I was occasionally allowed in to the boiler room end of the hospital to see all the gleaming machinery, which Dad looked after.  Once I accidentally turned a large switch and practically all the hospital went black!

On some of my bad bouts of bronchitis, I remember Dr Williams arranging for a new treatment - injections in the bum!  Whether this was streptomycin, I don't know.”

Michael sent me another email with some more of his memories:


"My wife bought me your book after seeing The One Show.  I've started reading it and have been fascinated and, I suppose, shocked.

My father, Glynne Jones, was the Hospital Engineer from 1947 until 1960.  My mother, Margaret, worked as a nurse in Ward 4 over about the same period.  As far as I can remember (only a youngster then) they never said much about hospital life.  I certainly was never aware of the regime there, as related by your correspondents.  We lived in a hospital house, called "The Villa" from which the hospital could be clearly seen and we could just hear the sounds of children on the balconies and the chiming of that wonderful clock.

I knew of the risk of infection and to keep well away from hospital premises but, as was to be expected, the local boys would sneak into the grounds to see now near we could get without being seen, just for the excitement.  We were allowed in, officially, to see the annual Guy Fawkes bonfire and fireworks display.  This was very good but we were warned to keep well away from the wards and not to touch any of the sweets and notes dropped down to us by the young girls on the balconies above.  Other occasions when I was allowed in was to attend Sunday Mass being said for the staff who were Catholic - the nearest Catholic Church was in Ystradgynlais, 7 miles away.

I suffered from bouts of bronchitis then and I remember being taken in to be examined by Dr Williams.  There was always the worry that it might have been TB but, luckily, I was alright.  The stigma attached to TB did come home to me when, after a routine mass chest X-ray at the grammar school in Ystradgynlais in the early 1950s, a shadow was detected and I was given a letter for my parents to bring me back for a second examination.  The reaction from my classmates was immediate and no-one would sit next to me on the school bus!  I was cold-shouldered but it turned out that the X-ray had discovered for the first time that I was dextro-cardiac, something which proved of interest to doctors ever since.

I moved away to the north of England and have only just returned (2010) to live near Monmouth.  Congratulations on what you have achieved, I wish I'd known about the project before. "


Thank you Michael for your contribution.

"The Children of Craig-y-nos" by Ann Shaw and Carole Reeves available from Amazon online, price £9.99p.