In those days, back in the sixties, hospitals wouldn’t let you wear your own clothes, and everything I was given to wear was ugly, old-fashioned and smelt funny. They even threw out my own pink toothbrush and gave me a regulation green one – I hated the colour green at the time. If anyone sent in sweets or biscuits they were confiscated, put into a big communal tin, and after lunch every day, if they felt you had been good, they would let you have just one. They never felt I’d been good so I would be shown all the lovely sweets in the tin and then it would be taken away before I could have one and the staff just laughed. I simply don’t remember any small act of kindness towards me from the staff at all, only cruelty, intimidation, bullying and fear.
Although it seems unthinkable now, back in the 1960's corporal punishment was seen very differently, and smacking a child was not only an acceptable response to a naughty child, it was considered the responsible and correct thing to do. This was happening four or five times a day. Some of them seemed to actually be enjoying themselves, as if it were a bit of a sport to wind me up and make me worse.
As they laid across me to hold me still, they would sometimes laugh and mock me. They would whisper nasty things quietly into my ear. The things they told me have stayed with me ever since, and even though I know it’s irrational, when I’m in that needle panic moment, I still actually believe them. If I don’t stay still, my whole blood system will burst and I will die a slow and painful death. If I don’t behave, they will put poison in my veins. Some of the other things I can’t even bring myself to write down. Some days even my teddies and dolls would be taken away because I had been so “naughty”.
I had a strong sense that she had once been part of this organisation, and must have known how horrible it was. How could she leave me in such a terrible place if she really loved me? I would scream this over and over again when she had to leave at the end of visiting. It must have broken her heart. My Dad came as often as he could, but working in Central London meant that getting there before 6pm when visiting time finished was impossible most days. He too, was a total star, and he promised to buy me a present for every time they had to stick a needle in me. We lost count at around 300, but he kept his word and I probably cost him a fortune.
The staff there were kindness personified, visiting hours were whenever anyone could make it, and my brother and sister were encouraged to visit too. I could choose what to wear, either my own clothes or some of the most beautiful dresses I had ever seen that they kept specially for their “little princesses”. They cooked my favourite food to tempt me back into eating, I had to keep my fluids up, drinking a glass of something every two hours day and night, and everything tasted funny and I couldn’t drink. So they introduced me to all sorts of exotic drinks, and I discovered pineapple juice, which I came to love. So they ordered crates of the stuff directly from Schweppes, and the nurses would wheel me out to watch the delivery van bring it all in to the ward kitchen.
Needles were still an ordeal, but I would be cuddled and hugged and sung to and given treats afterwards, and it was explained why they needed to do it. When I was first transferred I was very seriously ill with no certainty that I would survive. Over several weeks, they went way beyond that extra mile and made me feel safe, happy and nurtured as they coaxed me back to wellness. I think my time there gave me my life-long belief that healing isn't just about medication, treatment and science, but about heart and souI healing too. I loved that place, and still have very fond memories of it.
A few months ago, we celebrated his eighteenth birthday, against all the odds he has survived into adulthood. Still with the cognitive ability of a mainstream two year old, he is non-verbal with lots of medical issues and physical challenges, but he loves life. He is delightfully funny and engaging, with a hilarious sense of slapstick humour and he knows how to milk every moment for the most amount of joy he can squeeze out of it.
He was already so ill and his resources so compromised that it took nearly a year for the wound to begin to heal, and along the way it got infected countless times. When people see the scar for the first time today they are often visibly shaken, it measures over 3 square inches and I’m sure many of his carers must think that I was in some way a neglectful and terrible mother, not realising that it was caused by a neglectful and terrible hospital incident.