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The Fourth Statistical Account of East Lothian

Nursing reminiscence

Maggie J McDonald

I came to Roodlands Hospital in May 1947 as a ward sister. There were two wooden wards, which were demolished, and the wood was burned for infection. Three new wards built earlier, were unused and they had to be re-furbished. For years there were no screen fixtures round the beds, and we had to pull the screens from bed to bed. Fire doors and escapes had to be put in, x-ray rooms had to be installed and offices. The Physiotherapy Department, and the Out Patients' Department, were built at the back of the Cubicle Dept with extensions to the back for the visiting consultants. Recently a million pounds has been spent to extend that department. A small canteen was opened and run by Red Cross voluntary workers; all profits were poured back into the Hospital - buying fruit bowls for the lockers and cushions for the sitting rooms, also TVs and pictures. And since East Fortune Hospital finished, an extension was added to the building (which was the nurses' home), and is now known as East Fortune House that accommodates elderly patients. A telephone system was installed and manned all the time.

Six houses, of a cottage type, were built at the roadside, in the grounds, to accommodate three boiler men and two ambulance drivers. A house was built for the House Doctors. They had full-time domestic help, but went to the dining room for their dinner. The Gardener's cottage was within the grounds, and is now used as a changing room for the nursing staff. The laundry employed 30 people and laundered for the Group Hospitals. A huge kitchen was fully equipped with stainless steel white tiled throughout, the dining room adjoining. We had very good food, waitress service, and jugs of milk and bowls of fruit in abundance on the side table. All credit to the Matron who was responsible for the menus. Meals were always served hot to the wards, and were much appreciated. When Matron retired, a catering officer arrived, meals were then charged for, help yourself, no waitresses, money in the machines for teas and coffees. And suddenly the kitchens were closed and meals were transported from Herdmanflat Hospital; the kitchens were demolished and made into offices, and now I hear Herdmanflat is finished. I wonder where the food will come from now?

I was a State Registered General nurse and fever registered nurse, routine nursing care. I did night duty, we did three weeks twelve-hour shifts, and got four days off, that equalled 84 hours per week. Salary, £3 a week. At the end of 1947 the Fever Hospital was finished. In 1948 the general practitioners took over and looked after their own patients for a year.

In 1949 it was named Roodlands Hospital, I believe the name was found in an old map.

I chose the medical ward, 22 patients male and female, then there was the surgical ward, 22 beds each male and female.

In 1948 began the National Health Service. The consultant Physician, J. Alaister Bruce and one consultant surgeon, Mr Paterson Brown, followed by Mr McLean Ross, were appointed immediately. A large theatre suite had to be built; in the meantime operations were done in the outpatients, and the gardener helped the porter and a nurse who would be carrying the drip through the grounds, back to the ward (imagine that 50 years ago!)

The Vert Hospital was built with beautiful red sandstone taken from Amisfield Mansion House. The hospital was situated at the east end of the by-pass. I understand it was gifted by Mr Vert who gave £10,000, and the remainder of the money was gathered by the community. In 1948-49, Vert Hospital was the General Hospital for the town, and when Roodlands Hospital opened it was a busy maternity Hospital. Until around the mid-1960s, the overflow from Hermandflat Hospital were sent to the Vert Hospital but since then, it has been sold and turned into luxury flats.

A considerable sum of money was spent on a ward at Roodlands for maternity use; only two babies were born, then it closed. Being a fever hospital, it was built up the hill out of the town. My memories whilst on night duty was standing at the door looking out and seeing approximately 20 women down on their knees planting cabbages. Walking up from the town was in total darkness.

I started nursing September 1937, aged 171/2. What changes I have seen, pre-penicillin. I remember M&B 693 tablets being used. In 1940, Mr Churchill was very ill with pneumonia, he made a wonderful recovery. Then came Prontosil (like red ink) by injection, followed by penicillin and all the other antibiotics. T.B. patients were very ill and only started to make recovery after the use of streptomycin and P.A.S. late 1940s and, I think, other Sulphonamides.

If only they had been immunised, it was very sad to see weeping relatives over the cots looking at dying children with Diphtheria, many with tracheotomy tubes, because they were too poor to afford the Doctors. With measles, scarlet fever and whooping cough, little children could be very poorly'.

Although things had improved by the time Sister McDonald came to Haddington in 1947, there had been:

'… unbelievable poverty in the late 1920s and early 1930s, unemployment in the coalmines, foundries and the shipyards due to private ownership, and no unions to speak for them, no dole and no social security like today. Were it not for the public soup kitchens many, many families would have died. Scurvy and rickets were often seen. Older mid-wives have told me they would go into tenement houses, there to find a woman in labour, lying on a mattress on the floor covered with coats, nothing ready for the new baby, little furniture to be seen. On the mantle-piece there was a jar with farthings, halfpennies and pennies, saved from one baby to the next to help pay the midwife and Doctor. They lived in fear of pregnancy, and I guess had no knowledge of contraception. A loaf and a jar of marmalade, tin of syrup on the table was all the food to be seen in the house.

I remember the first blood transfusion I saw, the donor was lying on a stretcher by the bed of the recipient. Changed days now, from the blood transfusions. Penicillin has been a great saving of lives, those with venereal diseases had painful treatment, with poor results.

It's wonderful to see the progress made with hip and knee replacements. I, myself, have an artificial left shoulder, the head of the humerus was smashed when I tripped and fell on the pavement 12 years ago. I have full use of my arm and free of pain, thankfully.

I marvel at the present day surgery I see on TV - replacement heart, lung, liver and kidney and the wonderful eye operations performed.

During the War, I was nursing at Ramsgate Hospital and saw the first Dunkirk wounded soldiers coming in, and witnessed the bandages being removed, and saw the maggots which had cleaned the wounds. My lasting memories are, of the noise of groaning and screaming from the youngest to the oldest, crying out for their mums. We were a casualty station, quickly the men were washed, changed, operations performed, and labelled, then sent by train to hospitals nearer their homes. Some were very badly burned jumping from sinking ships into the burning sea. We as trainee nurses were evacuated to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, when the army took over Ramsgate.

I feel so much has happened in my lifetime, and hope this will give you some idea of the changes I have seen.

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