Simon’s schooling was interrupted. He was not keen on going but anything was better than going to the hospital to have an eye operation.
In those days, there were no special children’s wards in Bath eye hospital. It was just an old Georgian house near the centre of Bath. Simon had to go there to have his eye straightened out. He was put in a room on his own. He was admitted one afternoon not long after his fifth birthday. The nurse took him to a single room with just an adult metal frame bed and bedside cabinet and put him to bed. It was the middle of the afternoon and she just trotted off a left him there.
The nurse did not come back, and Simon was bursting for a wee. Eventually, he plucked up courage to go and find a loo. He did not want to venture too far down the corridor in case he got into trouble. He found a door leading off the corridor which had hammered glass at the top. It looked like it could be a loo but he suddenly had a thought that it could be an operating theatre. He had visions of opening the door to a surgeon cutting into someone’s eye! It was a toss up between taking that chance or trying to hold on until someone came back to see him.
He went back to bed and inevitably wet himself. He was horrified. He was in a strange bed in a scary big house in the middle of Bath. He may as well be on an alien planet. He couldn’t let anyone know he had wet the bed. His solution was to take the clothes that he had worn in, out of the bedside cupboard and pack them around him in bed to soak all the moisture up. As the afternoon drew on, the nurses must have changed shift and a very nice lady nurse came into Simon’s room. She said, ‘what is all this then?’ Simon felt like crying because he was so embarrassed. The nurse started pulling all the soggy clothes out of the bed and tutting as she did it. She said ‘why didn’t you go to the toilet?’ Simon said, ‘I didn’t want to stop the man do his operation.’ The nurse gently explained that he had found the toilet and it was not an operating theatre. Simon felt he could never face that lady again.
The next day he was taken for a bath before he had his operation on his right eye. A very big black lady nurse took him to the bathroom. Simon had never seen a black person before and it added to his feeling of being so far away from his home comforts and his Mum. The nurse put him in the bath but did not want to come near him and bathe him. She tried giving him instructions from just inside the door. She had such a strong accent; Simon couldn’t make out a word she was saying. He knew it was about washing himself and it was to do with ‘washing his middle’. Simon twigged what she meant in the end, and he washed his willy and bottom, which she quite sensibly refused to touch. It all probably smelled of wee! Simon was fascinated by her but never saw her again.
Simon does not remember much about the eye operation apart from lots of people standing around him. He was on a bed with wheels ready to go into the operating theatre. One young man, who he guessed would be chopping him around in a few minutes; was talking to the other staff, but Simon could tell the banter was meant for him. The man was trying to make Simon sleepy and relaxed. Simon already had the sleeping potion injection and they were waiting for Simon to go to sleep. The surgeon was talking about his holidays and flying away on a great big aeroplane. This was very calming. Simon was fascinated by this chit chat as he had only seen aeroplanes on a black and white TV. He loved building air fix kits of war planes with his brothers when they let him! He soon went under the anaesthetic and was wheeled into theatre.
Whilst Simon was recovering, his day times were spent in a large sitting room for the lady patients. All the Ladies were very old, and most of them could not see or hear very well. They all looked okay, but Simon was too young to understand that they were partially blind and-or deaf. None of these possible afflictions had ever been explained to him properly. Simon’s Mum brought him in some drawing pencils and pad so he could while away some time making pictures.
Simon found a nice chatty old Lady whom he asked to play noughts and crosses with. She said OK and Simon drew out the grid and asked her to have first go. The poor old lady squinted very hard at the paper but could see no grid. Simon said he would draw a new larger grid. She couldn’t see that either. This went on for a while with Simon drawing larger and larger grids. In frustration, he filled the whole new page of his drawing pad with a giant grid. When he finally gave up trying; he felt guilty that he was starting to get cross with the poor old lady who had much greater problems with her eyes than he did!
Hospitals in those days were nothing like they are now. Although Bath Eye Hospital was a very big Georgian house it could not cater for small children like they do now. It had no space for separate wards. That’s why Simon was with the Old Ladies.
Simon remembers that his Mum and Dad could only see him during visiting hours, which was for a short set time each day. He would look out and wait at the window of the day room, to see them walk up the road and past the railings outside the hospital and come into the building.
The worst feeling was seeing them leave and walk out past those black railings which seemed to be a mental and physical barrier. When his Mum and Dad came through it to visit; his heart would lift. When they went out past the railings; they were gone. It was a big strain for a little boy to feel perfectly healthy but be holed up in a hospital on his own, and not understand quite what was happening.
The sadder part of it was the operation did not work. Simon still had a dodgy eye and he still had his pink specs.