Like a Second Home
For some children, Great Ormond Street and the convalescent home at Highgate must have seemed like a second home. Some made repeated visits over several years, while others remained in the hospital for extended stays which could last over twelve months. Willie Catlin, whose story is given in another article, was reputedly so happy at the hospital that he said he preferred it to anywhere else.
Violet Young was probably one of the longest continuing-stay patients. She was admitted on 18 June 1910, age four, with a recurrence of a tubercular infection in her hip joint, and was not discharged until 8 February 1912, nearly two years later. She had even visited the Hospital on two previous occasions for treatment for the same condition. Her first admission was in June 1909, when she stayed for just 25 days, the second came in May 1910 and lasted just over a month. On 16 June 1910 she was discharged from Great Ormond Street and sent to Highgate, but returned almost immediately, to begin her marathon stay. When she was finally discharged, after all that time, her condition was described as ‘improved’.
Violet’s experience was by no means unique. Although she probably holds the record for the longest single stay recorded so far, many children made repeated visits to the hospital, and were also ferried back and forth between central London and Cromwell House, and other convalescent institutions.
Take John Bartlett for instance: he was hospitalised continuously between 17 August 1881 and 11 August 1882, moving six times between the main hospital and the convalescent home. John, who was just six years old when he was first admitted, was suffering from an unpleasant infection of the glands in his armpits, described as suppurating axillary glands. After a brief stay in the main hospital he was sent to Cromwell House to gain strength, but three months later he returned to Great Ormond Street, his condition having worsened, and his glands now ulcerated. After a few weeks (including Christmas) on the ward, he returned to Cromwell House on 2 February 1882, now diagnosed as suffering from lymphadenoma. John made one more trip back to Great Ormond Street in mid 1882, staying for two months, before his final removal to Cromwell House on 6 July 1882 and his ultimate discharge, pronounced ‘well’, on 11 August the same year.
During his second stay at Great Ormond Street, his young brother Joseph was also admitted, suffering from suspected typhoid. Joseph’s stay was only short, and he was discharged after only six weeks, pronounced ‘cured’. The register does not record whether the two brothers were housed in the same ward, but it must have been heart-breaking for John to see his little brother leaving after such a short time, having had no other contact with any of his siblings for the whole of his stay.
Arthur Holland was another repeat admission. Arthur was five when he was first admitted, with disease of the hip, on 3 June 1884. He was transferred to Highgate after only a month, but within sixteen weeks was sent back to Great Ormond Street for an operation to remove some of the diseased bone in his hip. He stayed in the main hospital until April 1885, when he was returned to Cromwell House, “condition improved”, to complete his recovery. Things did not go according to plan, and - once more - Arthur was shipped back to Great Ormond Street, his hip showing no sign of improvement. His final transfer back to Cromwell House, with the hip problem under control, took place on 1 October 1885, but it was to take a further nine and a half months, moving several times between the chronic and convalescent wards at Cromwell House, before he was fit enough to be discharged completely. In total, Arthur had spent just over two years in hospital. He must have been sorely missed by his family, who were scraping a living in the laundry business in North Kensington : his mother worked as an ironer and his fifteen year old sister was a washerwoman. By 1901, however, his long stay in hospital was well behind him and Arthur was building his own, independent life. Although described in the census as a ‘cripple’, he was married to a young woman called Ellen, and working as a gardener.
For many of these children the prolonged stay in hospital appeared to be of great benefit. Just an extended period of time away from the conditions which probably exacerbated, if not caused, their original complaint was hugely influential in their recovery. Added to which, they received a nutritious diet, education, and the best medical care then available.
One long term patient did not have such a happy outcome. Ernest Keevil had come all the way from Great Yarmouth in Norfolk for his treatment. Like Arthur and Violet, he was suffering from a tubercular infection, described as struma in the registers. He came to hospital first on 22 November 1870, aged six years. Again, like Arthur, he stayed only one month before being sent up to Highgate’s chronic ward; and after further improvement in his condition, he was moved to the convalescent ward on 23 March 1871. However, some unrecorded setback occurred, his condition worsened and he went back to Great Ormond Street for treatment on 11 May 1871. He stayed at the main hospital for eleven days, but was then discharged completely, showing no improvement in his condition. Either the doctors feared they could do no more for him, or his parents decided they wanted him back home: the reason for his discharge is not recorded. This was not the end of Ernest’s fight against disease, however, and in May 1874, three years after he had been discharged, Ernest reappeared at Cromwell House, still suffering from struma. He does not appear to have gone through the normal channels of being admitted to main hospital first, and perhaps came in, instead, through the Outpatients Department. His stay lasted until August 1874, punctuated by moves between the chronic and convalescent wards. Ernest died in 1887, aged 23. It is not known if his death was connected to his childhood illness, but it is quite likely that, on this occasion, Great Ormond Street’s magic ultimately failed.