Sunday, 11 March 2012

He who is about to die salutes you

Volume 2 –  chapter 1 - part 1 – Loggerheads sanatorium, akin to purgatory

Leaving the police depot I travelled into London, I got on the underground to Euston Station, where I caught one of the trains to the North. It was a late afternoon train which was absolutely packed, I cannot remember now whether it was a North bound train heading for Scotland via Manchester, or one of the Hollyhead mail trains that ran regularly via Crewe to the isle of Anglesey where it boarded the ferry to Ireland. Being only a few days to Christmas the holiday rush had begun, which was why I found some difficulty boarding the train; even the corridors were full of standing people. Walking up the platform I noticed a luggage van which was usually occupied by one of the guards, so I decided to try my luck with the guard in the hope that he would be impressed with my smart new uniform, and the insignia I wore indicating that I was a lance corporal in the Royal Military Police. Climbing in I found the van empty, or so I thought until I examined two large and comfortable seats provided I assume for the guards. Sitting in them were two little Japanese men dressed in smart business suits, they looked very comfortable but then somewhat disconcerted at my arrival.

These oriental gentlemen did not speak to me, but must have thought I did not approve of them being in the luggage van; maybe I frowned at the thought that I was going to have to stand all the way to the Midlands. Whatever the reason, after a moment or two they both jumped to their feet and bowed to me, after which they indicated that I should take one of the seats. I nodded to them and took a seat whereupon they both sat together in the one opposite me. Being so small and the seat large, there was plenty of room for both of them, and so the train moved out with both the Japanese and I sitting a few feet away from each other, with nothing to look at but each other. Being English I considered it rude to stare at people, so I spent most of the next few hours trying to look at anything but the two people sitting opposite me. They on the other hand had no such inhibitions and stared at me with an unblinking gaze, which I found most disconcerting.

Arriving home I felt more than a little pleased with the way things were going, it was only a question of time and all being well I would achieve my ambition of becoming a civilian policeman. What is more I had a good chance of becoming a plain clothes detective, maybe even New Scotland Yard, and that would have a very good future, or so I had concluded. It was also the sort of work I was sure I would be good at, one thing I knew about myself and that was that I was good at analysing things. In the meantime I had a couple of weeks leave, and then the exciting prospect of seeing some action in Egypt. At long last I had some prospects, now I had a path to follow and it felt very good indeed.

There is little I can remember of this leave because something was to happen which drove everything from my memory. I do recall that in the first day or so I went to the main shopping area at Hanley, though why I went I cannot say now. What sticks in my mind is the recollection that being in uniform I was approached by a soldier who was in some sort of trouble and needed my help. I have no recollection what his problem was now, but I was able to help him, signing some document for him and sending him on his way much relieved. What I recall even more clearly is the feeling it gave me, the sense of achievement at such an early age. For the first time in my life I felt some accomplishment, I knew at long last that I had a goal, an objective that was going to make life seem worthwhile.

It may have been the next day that I decided to give myself a treat; I decided to have the biggest hottest bath I could have. In the front room we had a great coal fire roaring up the chimney, it was after all winter, so it was no surprise that we had this fire, which was not only warming the room, but it was providing lots of hot water; what better time could there be to indulge myself. Up the stairs I went and into a very large bath filled with very not water. After I had adjusted to the heat I opened the faucet and let the bath water get even fuller and hotter; no exotic hot spring could have felt better. I lay for quite a while soaking up the heat, then reluctantly left the water looking like a well boiled lobster, red and pink all over. Down stairs the cheery fire was waiting for me, plus my youngest brother Douglas who was about 5½ years old. He wanted to play so we began to wrestle on the settee having great fun enjoying our energetic combat, then up into my throat came bubbling a liquid which began to impede my breathing. Looking round to make sure my mother was not watching, I bent towards the fire and spit what I imagined would be some watery phlegm. My aim was not good and some of the liquid landed on the enamelled front of the grate, which was an oatmeal or creamy colour. It was quite a shock when I looked at it because it was a splash of bright red blood.

More bubbled up into my throat, so I went into the kitchen and expectorated into the sink and saw to my dismay that the white porcelain was covered in more bright red blood. Eventually it ceased but not before I had badly stained a handkerchief, and thoroughly alarmed my mother. This unexpected incident was annoying but not worrying to me, I thought there would be a simple answer to it; not however my mother who was older and wiser. She told me in no uncertain manner that I must go to the doctor, though I thought this course of action somewhat over dramatic, but you obey your mother don’t you, so off I went to see Dr Jones who was an elderly retired army doctor. Explaining the course of events to the doctor, he was inclined to agree with me and make light of the whole affair, but then I produced the stained handkerchief, which made him decide that when I returned from leave I should report sick. After the painful treatment I had received at Aldershot I was not very enthusiastic at this suggestion, but would probably have obeyed orders, but my mother who had insisted on accompanying me, was not having it.

She insisted that I must have an examination without delay and though it was not often that my mother took a stand, when she did she would brook no argument. Lazy and reluctant the doctor may have been but this time he had little option but to galvanize him-self, picked up the phone and rang the chest clinic for advice. I should mention that respiratory diseases were the most prevalent cause of illness, in the industrial Midlands at this time, which is why the city had a special clinic. When I left the surgery arrangements had been made for me to attend the clinic the next day, though I believed it was an overreaction, and would prove to be a storm in a teacup. The chest clinic was at Shelton near to Hanley Park, so the next day I caught one of the big red PMT buses that provided an excellent service and presented myself to the clinic. I was given a physical examination, various tests including a sputum test, and a number of x-rays. Return in the New Year they told me, so off I went feeling fit and well, and pleased that it had all been so painless. The festive season was great, with plenty to eat and drink, and not a care in the world; the little health scare was in the past, with the results just a formality as far as I was concerned. There was one small worry however, and that was my mother’s reaction to it all. She was firmly convinced that the worst was going to happen, and she knew about these things. She had well developed intuitive instincts this I knew; what you would describe as the gift of second sight. Now she revealed that she had experienced one of her prophetical dreams, a few days before I had arrived home on leave. She described how she had seen me standing at the foot of her bed in the early hours of the morning, and when she had spoken to me, I had replied: “I don’t feel very well Mum.” With this dream to drive her she insisted that I was ill, though I felt fine and could see no reason to believe my mother’s story.

Fate was once again controlling events as it usually does, while we go along fondly imagining that we are in control of our own destiny. Early in the New Year I returned to the Chest Clinic knowing that I only had a few days of my leave remaining; what I expected was to be out in Egypt by the end of January 1952, and facing an action packed year. What I got was something totally different, the end of my life as I had known it, and the end of my dreams and aspirations. The person that revealed my fate was a middle aged lady named Dr Johns, she spoke to me quietly and gently which was a good way of going about it I suppose. She did not want to upset me too much, but the effect she was aiming for was to minimise the seriousness of my situation; I walked away on my way home completely bewildered, confused, and dazed. I was in a state of shock and felt that life had taken on a dream like quality, which is the way nature protects us from the worst effects of great disasters.

In a few days time I was to enter one of the country’s foremost sanatoria, a place called Loggerheads which was the name of a village that stood at its gates. The village stood on a junction between three counties, which gave it a rather unique situation. This prestigious establishment was run and administered by the county of Staffordshire, but with the nearest post office being at Market Drayton which was in Shropshire its postal address was of that county. Its actual physical location it was in fact in Cheshire, which made it something of a novelty but this was unimportant when you considered that only the most serious cases were accepted for admission here regardless of place of origin, and I was now one of them. By the time I reported to Loggerheads my leave would have ended, but the Chest Clinic assured me that they would advise the army of my change of circumstances.

Dr Johns had explained to me that their examination had revealed I had a serious and rapidly developing case of Pulmonary Tuberculosis, the sputum test showed that I was highly positive and therefore a dangerous source of infection. There were several hundred strains of TB she said, some were mild and others fast acting, the one I had was one of the latter variety which was why x-rays had showed that I already had a considerable cavity at the top of my left lung. She went on to say that I had been very lucky because it had been discovered early enough for something to be done, otherwise it might have resulted in my death in a matter of weeks. Like most people I knew little about this disease, which was considered to be a killer, greatly feared by all because there was no cure. Treatment could slow down the effects of it, and in some cases people were known to live for many years with it, but in the main it was considered to be a death sentence. Military Consumption sometimes described as Galloping Consumption would kill you quite quickly, that was the general opinion, which was why the community feared it like the plague or leprosy. It was also known to be highly contagious, another reason why everyone avoided you as they might a leper if it was known that you had it. Where did I contract this terrible disease? I never did find out, though I have thought about many times. It was a nightmare which nothing could change, I have thought of it with great bitterness many times over the years. I had tried so hard to make some sort of future for myself, but now I had nothing to look forward to only the prospect of an early grave. My words sound very melodramatic as I write them, and I would be the last person in the world to dramatise what after all had happened to many others, but it really did seem like the end of the world to me at the time. The finger of fate had written and there was no going back. The words of Omar Khayyam express it so well:

The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

One thing I had not expected was that Aunt Nin and Uncle Bill would take me to meet the fate that awaited me. They came for one of their famous, (or maybe I should call them infamous,) visits, and generously offered to drive me the 10 or 12 miles to the future that awaited me. The sanatorium could not be seen from the road being set in the midst of a considerable estate which included a large area of pine trees. There was a large and impressive main gate which reminded me of Trentham Gardens and the grandeur of the gates that had once been the entrance to the Duke of Cumberland’s estates. There was a lodge from which the gateman came to allow us inside, and we drove in appropriate style in Uncle’s metallic green SS Jaguar to the parking area adjacent to the reception office. This was as far as my escort was allowed to go, so I parted from my Aunt and Uncle who departed in what seemed to be a rather undignified haste. Once again I was on my own, but it didn’t worry me, I had done most things on my own and this would be no different.

I describe what I thought and what I knew of my situation at the time though now I realise my understanding was incorrect. When I saw the impressive gates to the sanatorium I recall the feeling that they represented another world which held no future for me. I was leaving the real world and I believed I would never see it again.

It was a strange feeling, to be entering the unknown completely and utterly, unaware of what awaited me. I realised that I did not know what was going to happen, all I could do was accept my fate. Passing what I later discovered was a surgery block of the sanatorium with a number of operating theatres I eventually observed the main layout of the sanatorium which consisted of four hospital blocks with their own facilities. They were double storied and each was shielded from the other by a screen of trees. With plenty of space the blocks were placed about 200 yards apart, with two of them being accommodation for men only, and the other two being for female patients. Only staff was allowed to move between the different wards, with patients strictly segregated. The only time that male and female patients came together was when they attended church services which were held in a very attractive little church which stood in solitary splendour in the middle of the intervening space that separated the four blocks. At the point which was the most distant from the main gates and the road, stood another block at right angles to the others, and this was called ‘The Peter Edwards Facility’ It was named after the world famous doctor and surgeon who ran the sanatorium, a man who had developed the latest techniques and procedures and was the acknowledged leader in the field of the treatment of tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases. For weeks on end we would not see the famous Peter Edwards then he would appear and work furiously carrying out surgical procedures and generally running this rather large and impressive establishment. The reason for his absences it was said was his need to run another equally impressive sanatorium in Switzerland, where he was just as famous, and where he did much of his research and development work.

From this moment began a process of adjustment for me which was so very hard, I was young and did not feel ill, which made it difficult for me to accept that I was. The treatment I received soon helped me to accept my true situation, but for the next three years I continued to make things difficult for myself by giving in to the temptations of a youthful disposition. When life as you knew it ends it is not easy to adjust to the change, especially when the new life you are to adopt is so radically different from the one you had. On arriving at the accommodation block I was put to bed with the instruction that I would remain there until further notice. The rule by which I was now to live was: ‘Don’t stand up if you can sit down, don’t sit down if you can lie down.’ The main aim was to avoid working the lungs, use your arms as little as possible I was told, and a couple of times a day I had a bag of sand placed on my chest to prevent movement. The weight of this bag was gradually increased until my ability to breathe was quite limited; this treatment only lasted until a more permanent means was found to prevent movement of my damaged lung, but in the meantime this seemed bad enough.

For the first few weeks I was housed in a two bed unit which was one of a long row of such units that ran between larger facilities at each end of the hospital block. At the foot of the beds the rooms were open onto a narrow corridor which ran the length of the block. The whole of the wall on the other side of the corridor was designed as a folding screen, and most of the time it was open exposing the occupants to the outside environment.


Out of bed for the first time I am seen here standing outside my open two bed unit. Not a happy chappie with a feeling of being condemned.

It was winter when I arrived and when it snowed the snow would blow into the room, which was why the bottom of the bed was protected with a heavy rubber sheet. It was not unusual to wake up in the morning to find a layer of snow on the foot of your bed. With plenty of bedding and the regular use of a hot water bottle it was possible to keep warm, but in freezing temperatures any part of you that was exposed turned blue with cold. It was not funny at the time, but I can remember one young man who was so addicted to his hot water bottle, he caused himself a medical problem as a result of its over use. Apparently he developed the habit of tucking his extremely hot bottle between his upper thighs, and he had done this so often that one day when he examined himself, he found that the heat had drawn the blood in his veins and arteries, causing what appeared to be a bad attack of varicose veins in that part of his anatomy.


With the approach of spring and better weather our beds were wheeled outside, so that we could benefit from even more of the wonderful fresh country air.

What I have described thus far is the traditional treatment for TB, though as I have already mentioned such treatment only slowed down the effects of this dreadful disease, it was not a cure. Life in a sanatorium was not much fun, but it saved my life when combined with the medical treatment I received. I never gave much thought at the time to what it must have cost, but later I realised that it would have been a considerable sum of money. I have always been grateful to the National Health System that saved me as it undoubtedly did; from this time onwards I had a feeling of loyalty towards such a system. There can be no better reason for supporting the socialistic principles that made this possible, and this support continues to this day.

The life we were leading was an isolated one for obvious reasons though visitors were allowed at the weekends. I had visitors occasionally my father came to see me a couple of times, though we always found it difficult to find conversation. On the many occasions when I had no visitors it was a little disappointing to see other talking to their friends and relatives, but in the main I was glad when my visitors did not come, it was such hard work talking to them. I have to confess that I would have liked to have seen my mother, but she never came, and when my father explained why I knew and accepted the reason. It would upset her too much to see you here my father explained, something I knew would be true, which is why I was never too upset when she did not come.

Like all public institutions, especially hospitals, the food was not very exciting, and for someone as finicky as I was this resulted in some difficulty trying to eat enough. This had always been a problem for me ever since I had left home and joined the army, and now it was more important than ever. I had always thought I was thin because I was not eating enough, but now I knew there could have been another reason. The best way to monitor our progress was by weighing us and the staff was absolutely fanatical about weighing everyone; they would weigh us at least once a week, and sometimes more often than that. When I arrived they found me to be 67 kilograms (10 stone – 8 pounds) and in their opinion that was at least a stone too light. They ordered me to put on weight but that was easier said than done, for some months I was unable to make any gains, but by the time I left the sanatorium six months later I had managed an increase of 12 or 13 pounds to 73 kilos (11 stone – 7lbs) I have to add that this gain was not due to the hospital food, it was due to my efforts to supplement my diet.

Something that became a favourite of mine at this time was brown bread and butter with a liberal helping of potato crisps; it is still a favourite to this day. Another thing I used to do in the evenings when the kitchen staff had gone off duty was sneak along to the kitchen to make myself a pot of strong tea. With plenty of sugar, accompanied by a good helping of toast loaded with butter I thought of this as doing my duty in trying to increase my weight. My actions sound very bold I know, but they were nothing when compared with what some of the other patients used to get up to. One chap even got himself a small paraffin stove and used to lock himself in a bathroom, where he would place one of the wooden draining boards across the bath and proceed to have a big fry up. How the staff failed to notice the savoury smell of eggs and bacon wafting through the whole block I shall never know. Perhaps they didn’t miss it, but turned a blind eye, sympathising with his need for a good tuck in.

All too soon came the day when my real treatment began, and once it had I was never to feel a fit and healthy man again. This treatment saved my life of that there can be no doubt, but in doing so it turned me into an invalid, making me disabled for the rest of my days. It all began with the introduction of an AP (Artificial Pneumothorax) to my left lung, this was a procedure whereby they inserted a hollow tube between the ribs under my left arm and used it to pump air into the cavity between the lung and the plural wall. With a gradual oxidising of the air the pressure would drop, which meant refills twice a week, which was eventually reduced to once a week. This procedure flattened the lung and prevented it moving which allowed the cavity in it to heal. This treatment was of course slow taking three years, a very cheerful prospect, and that was not all. To ensure that it would be effective the entire lung would have to be completely inoperative, which required adhesions that prevented any such collapse from occurring to be severed.

It must have been a couple of weeks after I received my AP that I was scheduled for the Cauterization Operation which was to be carried out by the great Peter Edwards himself. The procedure was that an incision would be cut in my chest to the left of my left nipple, and at a similar distance to the rear would be cut another similar incision. Because the lungs were involved it was too risky to carry out this operation on an unconscious person, so it had to be done under local anaesthetic. Into the front incision was inserted a scope through which the surgeon could observe his own actions, and into the rear incision was placed a cauterizing tool of some sort. The procedure then called for the surgeon to burn through any adhesions so that a total collapse could be achieved.


We were not dressed to impress, but I doubt that we cared very much. At this point in our lives we could visualise very little future.

Some people have few adhesions, but others have what they call a forest, usually they are those who have been involved in much physical activity which had involved excessive use of the lungs. I was one of those it seems, which meant that my operation took quite a considerable time, and it was a far from pain free process. The thicker adhesions called for stronger electric current and it really hurt, what did not help matters was the smell of burning flesh that permeated the operation theatre. There were times when I squirmed I have to confess, and there was no sympathy from the great doctor either. Of course he was anxious not to make a mistake, and any movement on my part was bound to make a tricky operation even more difficult, but he need not have shouted ranted and raved like he did. I thought the operation would never come to an end, but of course it did eventually. One thing I discovered that day was that Peter Edwards liked music, and to pass the time whilst working he sang. It would not have been so bad if had possessed a good voice, but he was terrible, croaking away and singing completely out of tune. I have heard it said that genius is sometimes close to insanity, and I would have to say that this was the case with our great doctor. His behaviour was extremely eccentric and totally unpredictable, as I shall describe as I tell my story.

When I describe what was befalling me it would be reasonable to say that I had every reason to complain about my fate. This I shall not do because around me were others who were so much worse off than myself. The treatment I was getting was run of the mill stuff compared with some of the others. One or two had thorax operations which meant being opened from the shoulder to the hip so that the ribs could be cut in a ‘V’ shape, then ends then being pushed together so that the lung was held in a permanently immoveable position. This sort of operation was required when the conventional treatment had failed for some reason. (What I call conventional treatment was the AP and cauterisation operation which I had, which was provided for damage to the upper lung. For cavities in the lower part of a lung the treatment was usually a PP (Pneuma Peritonea) plus a phrenic operation. The PP inserted the same air pressure under the diaphragm raising it to support and rest the lung, but the natural reaction was for the diaphragm to return to its natural position, so to keep it in the raised position the phrenic nerve was crushed to paralyse the diaphragm. This treatment sounds all very straight forward, but I remember one young chap who had it and ended up in a very embarrassing position indeed. The nerve to be crushed was one of a number that came together close to the skin at a point in the lower neck, and because it was difficult to identify which one was the phrenic nerve, the wrong one was crushed. The result was that his eyes turned inwards which made the poor lad very strange to look at, he was totally crossed eyed. Fortunately the effects would wear off in time, but it would take many months to do so.) Another of the more extreme operations I heard about was the lobotomy, which was the removal of a lobe of the lung. This was necessary when the part of the lung needing treatment was so badly damaged that natural healing would not result in a recovery. The most radical treatment is preferred to death, but it is not a pleasant prospect, and when I thought about these alternatives I quickly realised that I had very little reason to complain.

Some patients who were in a more advanced condition never left Loggerheads, though we never knew about it. When these unfortunate people were identified they were quietly removed from the general wards and isolated. Some might have spent some time in the Peter Edwards Block, where difficult cases were treated, though there may have been another facility which we never knew about. I got to know about the Peter Edwards facility because I visited it towards the end of my time at Loggerheads. When I was much better and more mobile I was sometimes given the job of delivering books to the different wards; not the women’s wards of course. Pushing a trolley from the library I would make my way to the different wards including Peter Edwards, and offer books to the patients who had nothing to do but rest and try and amuse themselves. This was how I got to know about some of the more serious cases, which included tuberculosis of other parts of the anatomy other than the lungs. A memory that will stay with me forever is the sounds I heard during one of my visits cries of agony and pain that made my blood run cold. Such an experience cannot be ignored and I had to find out what was happening, which I did when I came across a nurse, who told me that there was a teenage boy who had his own room because of the serious nature of his illness. He was suffering from tubercular meningitis, which required injections of medication into his spine, a process called a lumbar punch. A special syringe was used which was spring loaded, pressure would be applied which would result in the needle springing forward between the vertebrae, so that the medication could be injected. This was a painful procedure the nurse told me, which was exacerbated by the inflamed condition of the poor lads spine. I have never forgotten that moment and my heart still cries out for the unfortunate sufferer, today we would hope such unfortunate patients would not have had to suffer such agony. Life may have been unfair to me, but what I had to endure was nothing in comparison to the sufferings of others.

Most of the inmates of this hidden world so near to yet so far from the normal world, it was hoped that they would eventually be returned to their former lives, but they did not know it at the time. When released from this captivity they were described as cured, and certainly they had been saved from death, but hardly returned to normal health. Even so, a return to the outside world was what we all wanted more than anything, something that we would achieve only when the signs were right. The signs we looked for and hoped for were to be found in the sputum from our chests, a sample of which we provided at intervals, depending on the individual circumstances and the treatment we were receiving. No sentence of a court or decision from any sort of test was awaited with such anxiety, as were the results we received from our sputum samples. The outcome was literally a matter of life or death, which made the wait seem endless. The sample was stained with dye which revealed the presence of the deadly bacteria, a test that took only a few days, but that was not the end of it. If the sample was free of any infection, it then had to be put in an incubator for several weeks to see whether undeveloped bacteria would appear. The tubercular germ was a hard one to kill; it even had a type of waxy coat which protected it from attack, no wonder it was such a virulent infection.

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