Time in Hospital

Ronald Leedham: ‘Mummy coming’

Ronald Leedham was born in 1929 in India. His family moved back to England in 1931after Ronald contracted Polio. Ronald spent some years in Hospital as a young child after contracting Diptheria. When he was six he returned home to Catford for a short while to live with his father, eventually ending up living in ‘homes for crippled children’ run by the Shaftesbury Society, until he was sixteen.

Here Ron describes traumatic visiting times in hospital as a young child.

Transcript

We had a woman came round, she was a school teacher I actually learned to read when I was in Carshalton Hospital But anyway...quite on impulse, one day I asked the doctor if I could go home. I actually didn’t know what home was. I’d been in institutes all the time up to then and the only time I’d been at home I was too young to know what home was anyway, it didn’t mean a thing. I asked the doctor if I could go home and he said, 'Oh, we’ll think about that.' I always remember that. 'I’ll think about that,' he said. And all of a sudden I found myself at home. and the old man had married again and we lived at Downham in South London, near Catford. I was at home for seven months and I only had home for seven months in all my childhood. I didn’t know anything else at all.
It was two years, that as far as I know, I didn’t develop anything at all except I learned to read. It was just a hospital environment, in those days, your parents came and saw you, reluctantly, about once every two months or something like that. They didn’t like parents coming in cos it upset the children. And I can remember the kids when they knew that it was visiting day, we all used to sit up in bed and sway back and forth, 'Mummy coming.' I can hear it now, all these kids, rows and rows of them, sitting up in bed, swaying back and fore like animals. 'Mummy coming.' Whether it was mummy or daddy, it made no difference. It was, 'Mummy coming.' I can remember it just as if it was yesterday.
What happened when children’s parents left? Oh it was chaos. Tears, screams, this, that and the other. Nowadays parents can visit at any time. It’s recommended that they can come and see them at any time. In those days parents were a flaming nuisance. 'What the hell do you want to get all these grown ups in here for? It upsets the children.' Terrible, absolutely appalling. The damage, terrible. They wouldn’t do it to an ordinary child but if you were disabled, it didn’t seem to matter. You were somewhere not quite... made up, like Richard III, scarce made up. You’re not aware of the world in these places. You go into hospital for a week and you’re in a different world altogether. You think what it’s like, year after year after year and it’s the same in a home because you’re still incarcerated and.. you’re not aware of the outside world in almost any way. And it’s only after you come out, you realise what a different set up you’ve been in.