THE WESTERN INFIRMARY

The Friday night I met with my accident remains clear in my mind in every detail.  I was taken in a local (Balloch) ambulance, which was actually a large car modified by the addition of a door in the back panel to allow a stretcher to be placed at one side.  This left a seat behind the driver for a policeman, Constable McGregor, who accompanied me on the journey, during which we chatted back and forth about different things.  As we passed through Clydebank and Dalmuir, I pointed out where I lived and other local places.  It could have been a pleasure drive and I bet McGregor was glad I was able to converse with him rather than moan and groan.       

Before I was placed on the stretcher to go into the ambulance, a local doctor wrapped my damaged limb in towels and truthfully, I didn't feel any real pain, only numbness.  It seems strange today that I would be accompanied by a policeman and not a paramedic, as they have today.  However, eventually, we arrived at the Western Infirmary and I was handed over to infirmary people.  It must have been around 8 or 8:30 p.m. by this time, but still daylight, and the procedure at the infirmary was that incoming casualties were handled by whatever Casualty Ward was receiving that day.  This was determined on an eight-day rotation schedule, which meant receiving day was a different day each week.  There was no emergency department, but the receiving ward took in what came and were prepared for incoming patients.  If necessary, surgeons were on call for cases like mine. 

While this was going on, my parents were traced to a cinema -- the Bank Cinema -- and were called out by an announcement flashed on the screen.  They were directed to the infirmary by the local police and were able to see me in the examination room while the surgeons were determining what to do.  I do not remember much more of that night other than the red-haired nurse who wasso gentle and sweet while she was cutting off my clothes and getting me into hospital garb.  I forget her name, but I've never forgotten her.    

That weekend was something of a blur in my recollection, but I remember hearing hymn-singing by a visiting choir on Sunday morning, which was a common thing then.   After a week or so, I was into a routine of bedmaking -- the nurses came to change bed linens twice a day and admonished us to keep our beds tidy.  I was one of 12 patients in a ward which had large windows along both sides, and at the far end a very large, wide oriel window.  On a sunny day, the effect was very bright and airy. 

About the second week of my sojourn there, two nurses were making my bed one morning and the top sheet fell off my legs.  For the first time, I suddenly became aware that one leg was only half the length of the other.  This had never happened before and I had assumed that they had saved my leg when they operated.  This assumption was easy to make, because I could still feel my foot, toes, and, apart from a numb feeling, I felt as if the leg was intact.    

Seeing this bandaged member ending halfway down was a dreadful blow, as no one had told me about the amputation.  Suddenly, I became very ill with a high temperature.  Another problem became manifest when all the hair on one side of my head fell out.  It was a condition called it alopecia, and the doctors said that the sudden shock of seeing the amputation had set it off.  To cut a long story short, they treated it with some kind of greasy goop, and my hair came back in a few weeks.  I got used to the idea then, and my general health and spirits improved to the point that I almost enjoyed being in hospital and, to some extent, being a "star patient." 

The nurses were all real angels and I couldn't say enough in appreciation for the kindness and care I received from all of them.  I got used to identifying their status by the uniform they wore.  Probationers wore a pale blue, chequered wrapper with a snow-white starched cap, apron, cuffs and belt.  Seniors wore a blue and white, fine-striped wrapper and the same cap, apron, belt and cuffs.  When doing ward work, changing dressings or making beds, the cuffs were removed and the sleeves were rolled up.  Sister was the title of the charge nurse who was in command of the nurses on the three wards and O.R., in this particular unit.  Sisters wore a darker blue wrapper with the belt and cuffs, but with a different cap, which had a ribbon under the chin and a little bow at each side.  When a Senior was promoted to Sister, she would say, "She got her bows."  Further up the chain, there were Assistant Matrons and Matrons who wore dark navy blue and no apron.    

So I learned how nurses were trained and how dedicated these ladies were.  The doctors' team was led by a Chief Surgeon, Archibald Young, who was assisted by two others, named Hutton and McGregor Robertson.  Reporting to them were two residents, Fleming and Buchanan.  This team would parade around the ward every morning after 9 a.m. and gather round each bed, with two nurses and sister in attendance to remove dressings for inspection, if required.  After each patient, they had a confab.  There was often quite a bit of mutual congratulations when they saw that a patient was making good progress.  Nurses and doctors were very particular about hand-washing between patients, and there were two wash basins and a large sterilizer continuously in use, right there in the ward.  In those days, disposable needles and instruments were unheard of, but the sterilizer took care of that.  It is interesting to note that the surgical team was not referred to as Doctor So & So, but always as Mr., unless he was also a University or Medical College teacher, and then he was addressed as Professor.  Physicians and GPs were Doctor So & So, but surgeons were not.  Incidentally, the "O.R." was referred to as the "theatre" and the one in our unit had the name above the entrance -- Bellahouston Theatre.

I spent August, September, October, and part of November in the hospital.  One of the reasons I was kept so long was that the Chief -- Professor Young -- went on a boat trip to the United States, and they wouldn't let me go till he said so!  After the first two or three weeks, I was allowed out of bed.  I had a light- weight chaise with high wheels at the back which could be propelled like a wheelchair by pushing on the back wheels.  This gave me freedom to roam around the other wards in the unit: a woman's ward and a ward for internal troubles for men, such as hernias, appendectomies, and the like.  My ward was strictly for casualties and accidents like leg and arm fractures.  The worse case I remember was a Rugby player who had a head and spinal injury and never walked again.    

Although the main meal at mid-day always came up from the kitchens, breakfast and evening meal was partly prepared in the ward kitchen and patients who were mobile were pressed into service boiling eggs and making toast!  I burnt my share of toast for quite a long time.  We used a pan below a gas grill to do the toast and it was a matter of judgment as to when it was ready.

It is interesting to know how health care was financed back then.  In 1911, the Liberal Government under Lloyd George started a health system which covered workers only, whether paid hourly or salaried.  All men and women workers had a small, weekly premium deducted from their pay, which was matched by the same amount from employers.  Spouses and children were not covered then.  Wives and children usually paid by the visit, whether it was a house call or an office visit.  Universal coverage did not start till 1948, when Lord Beveridge -- Liberal Health Minister -- introduced what is now the National Health Service.  This service does not cover every facet of health requirements, because some Optical and Dental services are paid partially by patients.  Children up to age eighteen receive Dental and Optical services through the N.H.S.    

Hospitals were financed entirely by voluntary contributions from workers who voluntarily had as little as two or three pence a week deducted from their pay.  It also received bequests from wealthy patrons and Charity drives, such as the annual Students Charities day, which was given by Students from every college and learning institution in the city.  Students dressed up in all kinds of weird and wonderful costumes, and after a grand parade on Saturday morning, split up into ones and twos and travelled all over the city, riding free on trams and buses, collecting donations in slotted cans from citizens.  They raised tremendous amounts of money, and with that and other fund-raising schemes, including bequests from wealthy people, the Glasgow hospitals were maintained and staffed by the finest professional care-givers anywhere.  Patients were admitted without discrimination, no bills were rendered and the staff were on salary.  Hospital doctors were paid salaries, probably augmented by teaching and consulting in the private nursing homes, which wealthy people often used.  So even back in those far off days, health care was not something which was denied to anyone.

To continue with my story, I came out of hospital in mid-November, and went home to find Mary now toddling around under her own steam.  The week before going back to school, Mary and I spent a lot of time getting re-acquainted, and I believe that was the beginning of a great rapport we have had since then.  She was always fond of me, and as a toddler, would cling to me.  We communicated easily.  It did not occur to me then that the future was going to be a struggle or that I would have some difficulty finding my niche in life.  In fact, contrary to what a lot of doomsayers might have thought, I did a lot of things I wasn't supposed to be able to do, such as long-distance cycling and time trials, in which I never was fast enough to compete with some of my buddies.  But I tried, anyway.  Later, I got into a line of work in heavy machine shops that no one would have ever expected.

When I came out of hospital in 1928, I was an amputee.  My father's earnings were minimal at best and money was very tight.  The bus company went out of business and there was no compensation for my disability.  I went back to school on crutches with very poor prospects.  I used to frequent the local YMCA and served on the youth committee.  I played billiards with many other local kids, who were of various ages, from 14 to 20.  One of these lads, Smiley, asked me why I didn't have an artificial limb and when I told him we just couldn't afford it, he said, "My dad is an Army pensioner who has a leg -- the right leg like you -- amputated, and he has a new leg, a spare leg, and one he hasn't worn for years below his bed."  He went on to say he was sure his dad would give me the old one, if it was anything like a fit.  Sure enough, he talked his dad into giving me that old willow leg.  Actually, it was in very good condition and when I tried it on, it fit almost as if it had been made for me!  It was unbelievable, but that set me on a path I didn't expect to reach quite so soon.