At the tender age of six, I was terrified.
I am now sixty-eight years young and I still recall what happened. I only have vague memories of my life before I turned six.
Indeed, I recall nothing before I was six.
Possibly, if something or someone prompted me then I may summon up recall. I do recall my mother leaving me one day when I was six. I was so upset at the time. I did not understand that she was pregnant with my sister. The ambulance took her away and I didn’t know what was going on. I was bewildered.
It was tonight I got to think about the “soft” side of my father. I could ask what happens to men that makes them cynical but I know the answer to that from my own life experience. In fact, it was mentioned in an earlier article I wrote today. Part of it struck a chord with me and I reproduce the excerpt here:
Throughout his career, John McGahern wrote only six novels, and they’re said to document his own life as proven in his autobiography entitled All Will Be Well: a Memoir. McGahern was at first a primary schoolteacher, but was fired due to the controversy over his novel The Dark. The book was banned in Ireland due to the implication of incest and overall pornographic content. His first novel, The Barracks, took place in the same place where McGahern grew up and The Dark is said to document the author’s relationship with his own father. His best known novel, Amongst Women, tells the story of an IRA veteran and the influence that his changed, now hardened personality has on his family, as is said to be a good example of the changes in personality of any veteran. McGahern also was a writer of short stories, in addition to finishing his career as a processor at various universities across the world.
For “hardened IRA veteran” read veteran of policing in a tough post-WW2 Liverpool. My father was hardened by the rough side of life. You would never have guessed that when I was six.
Bathing me one evening before my bed time, he noticed a large swelling on my left buttock.
Concerned, he took me to the family doctor the next day. Within a few hours, I was in a hospital.
It was no ordinary hospital. It was an isolation hospital in Liverpool. It was rightly suspected that I had contracted tuberculosis , it later to be confirmed.
I can vividly recall six years of age.
A glass screen stood between me and my hospital bed and the outside world. My mother and father were not allowed into my room which antiseptically stunk of hospital.
Not understanding what was happening, I grew more panicky when I looked at my parents. My mother was in shock. I could see it etched in her face. She was close to tears.
My father was ashen faced and quiet.
My memory of that isolation period is still present. I was wrapped in a bubble, a cocoon.
None of that was helped by doctors prodding me and pushing me whilst wearing masks. The nurses too wore masks and they were scary!
The food was disgusting and I still retch at the thought of the cold fish smothered in a cold white sauce with green bits in it. It looked and tasted like snot!
My transfer to an open ward soon came. I spent six months in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.Two surgical procedures removed affected gland tissue from my throat and bone scrapings were taken from my left buttock. The scars are still visible in both places.
Streptomycin was injected into my buttock every day, three times a day, I was a pin cushion. Forced to lay on my stomach for three months, I had only the support of an inflated rubber ring to avoid bed sores.
I didn’t complain. Simon (funny that I remember his name) was in the bed next to me and I recall that he was worse off than me. Simon didn’t have TB. He was brain damaged. Thomas (again, strange that I remember that name too) was a Welsh male nurse and made me laugh.
He wheeled me to my many X-Ray appointments on the gurney. He would build up speed and let go shouting, “Wheeee!” or something like that. It made me happy.
There were other happy moments. I was “parked” on an outdoor verandah during dry, warm weather. From there. I would watch all the traffic on the main road from Liverpool to Huyton.
That is when I must have developed a love of trucks or lorries as we called them in Liverpool. I wanted to be a lorry driver when I grew up and many years later my dream was fulfilled, at least for a few years.
My grandmother and other relatives would visit. Oh! How I loved my Grandma visiting. She never had much money but a Dinky Toy truck she would bring for me. She knew what made me happy!
[Pause here. I can’t see the keyboard for tears]
Okay, I’m back.
The numerous visits to X-Ray probably left its mark. My buttock area was scrutinized regularly. There was no rubberized shield of lead around my genitals. In later life, I was informed that I had a low sperm count. That came as no surprise!
My discharge from hospital left me immobile. I had laid on my stomach in bed for so long that I had lost muscle power in my legs. I was unable to walk. With the aid of a chair in front of me, I was able to shuffle a few yards to the corner of Coppice Crescent. Eddie Keen, one of the neighbours’ kids assisted me. Thank you, Eddie.
For years after my parents forced a thick dark brown malt concoction down my throat. I hated it!
I paid regular annual visits to the TB Clinic and was fully discharged when I was twelve. Even fully discharged with a clean bill of health, I vividly recall people freezing when I told them I had TB as a child.
My sister also had cause to complain. She had the vaccine injection for TB while at school and complained that it left a mark on her arm and it hurt!
That was me at six. I have reason to remember it.
Do you recall anything traumatic during your early years?
Were you affected by TB in your youth?
Share it with me, please.
TB in my lifetime had been thought to be eradicated; not so it is alive and ‘unwell’ today,