I Want To Go Home

I want to go home

It was one week before Christmas 1939. The Second World War had started but that meant nothing to me; I was facing my own painful battle. I was just turned seven years old, I had scarlet fever and had been sent all alone in an ambulance to an isolation hospital far from home.
I lay in the bed looking around me. It was a big room with lots of other beds but no other children. All the people in the beds were women and in a cot at the end of the room was a young baby. Everything was white – walls, ceiling, beds and bed covers. Nurses wearing big stiff white hats and white starched aprons came to take my temperature and ask me to wee in a funny shaped pan. I was wearing something the nurse had put on me – a white all-in-one with a flap at my bottom which had to be unbuttoned to go to the toilet. Like a baby, I had to stay in bed and be looked after.
A nurse woke me up early in the morning and asked me if my bowels had moved. I had nothing of my own there so whatever my bowels were, how could I know if they had moved? She laughed and explained what she wanted to know. I was brought some dark brown medicine to take.
“It isn’t very nice. Eat your banana with it,” she said, pointing to a plate on the cupboard at the side of my bed.
I soon found out that every morning the nurse came to ask me the same question with the same result. Every morning, a banana and a piece of bread and butter was placed on the cupboard for my breakfast. They were the last bananas I was to eat until the end of the war but I could not have known that then. The bread and butter had its own peculiar taste and even now, I can still recall the flavour.
When I needed a wee, I was told to call the nurse for a bedpan. I did so, to be met by howls of laughter from all those who heard me. I was mortified.
“What did you ask for?’”
“A bread pan,” I said, close to tears.
“Bedpan – not bread pan!” she laughed.
Well, it looked like a pan for frying bread in; it was nothing like the pot we kept under the bed at home.
I came to hate that pan, especially when I did my number two’s. It stank and had to be covered with a cloth. I felt so ashamed. I also wet my bed the first night I was there so I was already feeling a dirty little girl.
I felt incredibly lonely. I longed to go home but dare not say so. I had to be a good little girl and never cry or be naughty. We were not allowed visitors inside the ward. Twice a week, for half an hour, they were allowed to come and see us but they had to speak to us through the closed windows. It was bitterly cold outside but eventually my mother was allowed to speak to me through the nurses’ office window at the side of my bed. My mother had to travel on two buses to get to the hospital. There were seven at home to look after but she always came for that short visit and to leave me sixpence to spend. The money paid for pop we were allowed to buy each week.
I had been in just a week when it was Christmas Eve. My mother had been told that if she brought me some clothes to wear I would be allowed out of bed to go to a party in the other ward. She forgot. I was bitterly disappointed. No use explaining to me that she had been too busy to think about it; it just made me feel even more isolated from my family.
After they had gone, the nurse came and said that I would be allowed to go in the dressing gown she gave to me. I put it on and walked my lonely way to the other ward. Isolated from my parents and my big family and with no one to comfort me, I felt so incredibly alone and utterly miserable. I didn’t know much about parties – we never had them at home. But surely you wore pretty dresses not bedclothes? I would be an odd one out and everyone would laugh at me. I couldn’t stop the tears rolling down my cheeks. A nurse saw me and asked what was wrong. I didn’t know what to say.
“I’m cold,” I lied.
“You’re just a big baby,” she shouted and threw me a blanket. “Put that on and stop crying.”
Alone and humiliated, I walked into the other ward covered in the blanket. There was just one seat left and I sat on it. People started pulling crackers and I cheered up. I had a cracker. The lady next to me helped me to pull it. The cracker was empty.
“Gladys hasn’t anything in her cracker,” said the kindly lady next to me.
“She doesn’t deserve anything,” came the nurse’s reply.
I hung my head in shame and tried hard not to cry.

I found a pillowcase on my bed on Christmas morning. There were a few bits and bobs, sweets and an orange, but the real present was a brown baby doll. We had very few toys at home and I had never owned a doll before. I let the infant in the cot play with it because he was always crying. He pulled off the doll’s head and then did his number twos on it’s body. I didn’t fancy playing with it any more.
The other patients teased me badly. There were funny noises at night in the region of my bed. I was told I had crickets in my bed and that made me very frightened. I didn’t know what they looked like or if they would bite me. But at night, a single blue bulb shone in the centre of the ceiling. It was my fairy light and I would stare at it to find some sort of comfort until I dropped to sleep.
I hated the food. The banana breakfast was all right but we had mince for dinner nearly every day. There was a lot of gristle in it. We often had fruit for afters. Fruit brought in for the patients was chopped up and shared with everyone. My dad complained because I didn’t get the expensive grapes he brought in. I don’t think the nurses were very pleased. If our relatives brought us eggs, we had them with our bread and butter for tea. It made a change from jam.
I was in that hospital for six miserable weeks. No television in those days and we had no radio or books. Anything taken into the isolation hospital could not be brought out. My mother did bring me in a book to read but I found it very difficult. We only had comics at home and I was only on the early readers at school, so reading was a bit of a struggle. Although my mother came twice a week in rain or snow despite the long journey on the buses, it was difficult to talk through the glass and she couldn’t give me a cuddle. I was not a happy child.
Then one cold day, mother brought me my outdoor clothes and took me home. After another six weeks I was allowed back at school. I was one of the few children in the class who knew how to tell the time. My spell in hospital was not entirely wasted.

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