In hospital for 16 years, the first 7 in an iron lung, then in 1971 John married Maggie and for the next 35 years and until he passed away in 2006, his home was Breeze Cottage.
Article published in ‘NURSING STANDARD’ magazine – October 2004
Having been totally paralysed below my chin and entirely dependent on a
ventilator to keep me alive since contracting bulbar polio the week of my 17th
birthday in 1955, I have experienced the care of many thousands of nurses. For
the first 16 years I was permanently in hospital – the first 7 in an iron lung.
Unable to do anything for myself I was totally dependent on medical and nursing
staff for all my needs. Over the years the nursing care I have received has been
second to none.
I was in Texas, USA when I contracted polio – there was a big epidemic at the
time (this was before the introduction of the vaccine) and I was just one
amongst over a hundred patients in the hospital all being nursed in iron lungs.
After 16 weeks I was flown home (still in an iron lung) by the American Airforce
and admitted to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. For the first 2 years I
was very ill and as well as being nursed in an iron lung, I also had a
tracheostomy. However, the expert skills and total dedication of the nurses
undoubtedly saved my life. Seven years later, due to the rebuilding of the Royal
Free Hospital I had to be transferred to another hospital, but by this time I
was in a much better state of health although, of course, still paralysed and
requiring a ventilator 24 hours of the day. This other hospital was not a
teaching hospital so although the nursing care I received was adequate, it
hadn’t got that special ‘touch’.
I was finally able to leave hospital in 1971 when I married Maggie (my OT!) and
we came to live in our own home. Requiring 24 hour a day care, Maggie provides
over 90% of that care, the rest is provided by carers and District Nurses. When
I’ve had surgery or when I get a chest infection (I cannot cough to clear my
lungs) I am admitted to the Lane Fox Respiratory Unit at St. Thomas’s Hospital,
London and treated and nursed in an iron lung. The standard and quality of care
I receive from the qualified nursing staff on this specialised unit cannot be
I’ll end this brief synopsis by citing an incident which shows that ‘true’
nursing is not just pills, potions and high tech equipment. At the Royal Free
Hospital a doctor was giving me a very painful and traumatic procedure to my
trachea. A nurse was with me and without any prompting from anyone, she saw my
distress, leaned over, opened a porthole in the iron lung, slipped her arm
through and took hold of my hand and held it throughout the remainder of the
procedure. No big drama but simply the human touch from a caring nurse. That was
all of 47 years ago and I still haven’t forgotten that nurse and never will.