Christmas in a Hospital Ward – January 1925

Christmas decorations are a great feature in all hospitals at this season (those in England at any rate). Discussion and preparations begin weeks in advance and there is rivalry between the different wards as to which should achieve the most novel and striking effects.

The expense is covered by donations from friends with raffles of a number of gifts useful or ornamental such as a Christmas cake, a dressing jacket, tea cloths etc. The patients are not asked to purchase tickets.

It is their visitors who are fleeced for the good objects and all seem to hand over their threepenny and sixpenny pieces with smiling faces and unreluctant fingers. Who would refuse sixpence towards a Christmas tree for the kiddies suffering from superfluous appendices, burns, ruptures, hairlips and other painful defects of their small frames.

The Christmas tree is erected in the children’s ward but the ceremony of lighting it up and distributing the gifts with which it is hung does not take place until half way between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The children are not impatient of this however as they have their stockings, or it may be a pillow slip, well stuffed on Christmas Eve.

All patients who can be discharged with safety are sent home and all but emergency cases are refused so that numbers may be reduced and one room at least in each ward or suite of wards be cleared for the entertainment and dance to which the main subscribers and all connected with the infirmary are invited.

Days in advance I was told I would be moved into the larger ward so that the patients might be all together for the Christmas dinner and when the series of entertainments was over I should be wheeled back to my old place.

Accordingly, from a quiet corner in the big ward I watched the long tables being decorated with flowers, crackers, coloured serviettes, the electric lights covered with shades of crepe paper in red with big black bows. It was all interesting enough but very tiring to a weakly person and I was glad when the lights were lowered and we might, if we could, compose ourselves to sleep.

It seems as if we had hardly fallen into a dose when we were wakened at 3.30 am to get washed. In reply to a sleepy protest or two we were told that there was so much to be done that morning that the patients and their beds had to be straightened and disposed of as it were before day light.

I had dreaded very much this Christmas dinner but found to my pleasant surprise that I could eat a slice of tender beef with a spoonful of Brussels Sprouts and there was no need for me to do more than look from a distance at the smoking portions of plum pudding served out to the others. It is amazing to note what hearty meals most bed ridden patients can take — especially the appendix cases —- once they are convalescent.

It isn’t often that one hopes and prays, as Christmas Day draws near, that the post may bring no more parcels, cards or letters but that was my state of mind for a few days. The pleasure of being remembered by numerous friends was turned over almost into distress by the difficulty of knowing what to do with them not to speak of the preliminary difficulty of opening them — one lying flat on a narrow bed with no table but the tiniest of “ lockers” (wholly full to over flowing) on which to place paper, string, envelopes and the miscellaneous articles unfolded.

One’s friends naturally have no idea what very limited storing space is allotted to each patient They do not exactly think about it but at the back of their minds they picture a chest of drawers, a wardrobe and a table. Hence my apprehension when several parcels — however small — and a bundle of letters would be laid on my bed.

A friend called one afternoon and found myself and my coverlet half hidden by my share of the postman’s pack.

“ Oh,” she cried, with characteristic candour, “I didn’t know you were so much loved. Because you know you are charming to people only when you are in the mood. You are not always nice.” (From which you are to infer that she and I on occasion have had words.)

“But,” I replied, “it isn’t a question of being loving at all.  It is the generous goodness of our hearts which is moved by my lonely situation stricken like this hundreds of miles from my nearest kin.”

While I was pondering this, the post brought me more. To-day one more parcel which contained a knitted shoulder bed wrap. It was exactly what I needed.

The hospital jackets are red but I have, of course, bed jackets of my own. A friend sent me one of ample dimensions which she had made herself in soft woollen material of a deep shade of rosy pink. I was to wear it on Christmas Day and at 9.30 am — she would never dream that I was to breakfast before five am that morning.

I decided to wear it over my plainer jacket of mauve and black striped Jaeger as one can do with several garments on the upper part of the body if the bedding is folded down. Red ribbon was distributed wherewith to tie up our two pig tails that we might have a festive look in keeping with the red electric shades.

I was loath to sleep in this bed jacket or even to wear it every day when it was certain to get quickly soiled. It must be kept for visiting days. Next day I was pondering on what I should have in its place to keep my shoulders and arms sufficiently warm while they are exposed to the wintry atmosphere when I am writing for an hour or more at a stretch.

While I was pondering this, the post brought me on Boxing Day one more parcel — a knitted shoulder bed wrap. These were popular for a while and are useful for slipping over the shoulder but apt to leave the chest exposed.

However it was exactly what I needed: covered my shoulders and my arms to the elbows and —- best of all — not too large for me to take off and on without assistance. Curious that it should supply evidence of that most impressive generosity of which I had spoken to my candid friend, for the donor is a lady whom I have not met half a dozen times.

Meanwhile a violent gale is blowing which surely will end in blowing down a chimney stack at least. Draughts come in from every door and window and the nurses say how cold it was through the night. Their fingers are like ice when they touch us.

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