was in effect. I violated that rule when I once asked for a bed pan during "rest time". The nurse ignored me and I couldn't hold it in. I don't think the nurse knew that "the yarn ball lady" was nearby because this nurse started yelling and threatening me with punishment and I cried from fear. It was then that "the yarn ball lady" confronted the nurse for yelling at me and said to her that I had asked for a bed pan. This time I wasn't punished. My sheets were changed and my tee binder was changed and all was well with the world.
The worst memory I have in regard to toilet training was when a girl, who was three beds away from me, had soiled herself and as punishment, defecation was put on her face. She wasn't allowed to hide her face and was violently crying. Seeing this caused something inside of me to hurt and I had to look away.
Every now and then a doll was put on all our beds. That must have meant that some very special visitors were coming to visit.
Another rule was:
"PARENTS ARE ONLY ALLOWED TO VISIT ONE DAY
(An article in the Boston Globe on 04/28/2005 reported that the reason for this rule was "because doctors thought more visits would make the children upset and would take longer for them to heal".)
If you are only allowed to see parents twelve days a year, how much nuturing can there possibly be? A year in a child's life is the same as "forever". I had entered at such a young age that I had no memories of my mother. I didn't know I belonged to a family. Although I learned what parents were from an older girl, I didn't know if I had any. This one day a month was considered to be "Visiting Day" for those who knew they had parents. For me, "Visiting Day", was "Chicken, Peas and Mashed Potatos Day". It was the one day a month I got to eat something that I really liked. After I learned about parents then "Visiting Day" also meant that maybe some one might come and "visit" me too.
Lo and behold this happened during my fifth year. One "Visiting Day", a blonde haired lady stood by my bed and said, "I am your mother". Then I knew I had one. When my mother did visit, she always brought ice cream and some balloons. I asked this blonde haired lady to tie a balloon on the head railing of the girl with no arms. No one in my specified area ever had a parent visit. I also always had to have my ice cream stirred until it was soupy. What my mother didn't know is everything I had been given to eat at the hospital was basically "mushy" and that was the only kind of food I knew how to hold on a spoon. There was no way I could hold that one big lump of ice cream on a spoon! When I ate I had always had a wooden tray with legs which was put right under my chin so I could scoop the food into my mouth. I must have previously been considered to be "abandoned" at this hospital because I learned later in life that when I was put in the hospital, my mother had moved to Norfolk, VA for several years. On another "Visiting Day" another lady came to my bed and said, "I am your grandmother". I noticed that her head was "different". Later I would find out why. I really had no understanding as to what was the significance of having a mother and a grandmother. They were not in my world where I was growing up.
When it was cold then hospital gowns were put on us and heavy socks were placed on the feet of our body casts. Also during the cold weather a wooden board would be put under each of our chins. On the board there was a tin cup with lukewarm cocoa. It took awhile to get to the cocoa because a thick skin had formed on top of it. You had to be careful getting through the skin of the cocoa because if you spilled it, you did not get another cup.
Most of the time we just wore what were called, "tee binders" (as seen on the girl below).
My 6th year on earth also included dramatic changes. I was put in braces which kept my legs apart and I was strapped down on my bed to prevent me from moving any part of my body below my waist.
At Peaboody there was the rule of:
"EAT ALL THE FOOD THAT IS GIVEN TO YOU"
I grew up on "institutional food" and was often hungry so this rule didn't bother me. Those who had lived at home for several years, before entering Peabody, had learned to make independent choices. As with most normal kids, they had learned that the foods they especially disliked somehow were pushed to the edge of their plates.
One of these girls, who had come into Peabody as a youngster, assumed that she would be allowed to have some independence as to what she chose to eat. Before being admitted, she had been a happy, spirited person living a normal life with her family. (I think for these kids adjusting to Peabody was more difficult because they knew there was a better world somewhere else.) One day this independent youngster refused to eat one of the foods that she didn't like. That night she was physically beaten by a particular nurse who scoffed at the girl and said, "So you think you don't have to eat everything you are served." This girl was in a body cast and still that nurse, whom we all knew as being especially mean, physically beat her. Not too long ago, I talked with this ex-patient from Peabody and she shared that ever since that beating she lost confidence in herself and to this day recognizes that that "spirit" she once had never returned. (Fear is a destructive force especially when it remains hidden inside.) Several times we each had been told another rule which was to:
anyone about our experiences at the hospital and we never did. Being hospitalized for six to twelve years was the norm. When we were released, we each went our separate ways and no one asked, "What was life like at Peabody Home?" It was odd to learn that we each had kept that world separated within. When the exhibition was held in 2005, those who attended, who were once patients, began talking with each other about their experiences.
Maybe we were told to "never tell" because some of the punishments were unthinkable. One of the girls was put in the same totally dark closet where I was sometimes put. This girl, being totally petrified, was put on a shelf in this closet and then the light was shut off. Much later a nurse came in and flicked on the light, cockroaches were then seen scattering on the walls, the ceiling and on the girl herself.
I learned that some of the ambulatory kids caught cockroaches for pets. Others rendered the cockroaches unconscious with nail polish and then pulled off their legs. This was considered to be a FUN activity!!!!
As punishment, some of the boys were dressed as girls and moved to the girl's area. For some of the boys, this had no consequence. For other boys this was traumatic. One of the ex-patients remembered that he was put in a straight jacket when he would not be quiet during "rest time".
An older girl was wheeled through the boy's area wearing nothing but a "tee-binder". She was horrified, mortified, embarrassed that this was done to her. She was in traction and was scheduled to see a doctor. This girl never overcame that incident because she was at that fragile, modest age when this happened to her. The surgeons were on the other side of the boy's area. The nurse PURPOSELY did NOT put a sheet over her when wheeling her bed through the boy's side. There was no need for that nurse to even use the boy's area as an access way to the surgeon's office because there was a hallway that could be used directly from the girl's side to the medical side.
In my "grouped accordingly" area we ate from metal bowls and cups. (I once saw a movie about men in prison who were clanging their metal cups against the metal bars and I immediately thought of Peabody Home because we had metal cups and stayed for years in beds with metal bars on all four sides.)
I hated it whenever my body cast was going to be cut off because that meant that there would be another surgery or some other kind of pain inflicted. Some man with big metal clippers would start cutting and I would start crying. The nurses would hold me down and their faces were filled with anger. The sound of the cast cracking and breaking into pieces and the metal clippers touching my skin was just too painful for me. I did notice that the part of me that had been in the body cast was discolored with big, shiney, brown scales. When my skin went back to normal, another surgery would be done. It was the sickening smell of ether that caused me to fight, scream, and squirm the most. The nurses did their best to control me and of course they won! When I healed, my stitches would me taken out. I had been sewn with heavy black cord and when the doctor removed the stitches, some blood would come out with each pull. Once again, I had to be restrained by the nurses. Eventually, another body cast would be put on me. I could handle that because there was no pain getting plastered!!
I received a letter from another ex-patient, who stayed a Peabody Home for twelve years. He wrote as to how much he related to my cast cutting experiences and "that he could remember his own as clearly as if it was yesterday".
"Hi Janice: Your cast cutting experience was similar to mine. My cast covered the entire left leg and was to be removed after an operation which had been done a year earlier. I was eleven years old at the time of the surgery on my knee. I recall the maintenance man approching my bed with these huge chromed cutters. One nurse came to my bedside to observe the cast cutting procedure. The cutting went OK on the outside part of the leg, however, the inside part close to the knee was something else. As the clippers approached closer to the protruding knee, the pain was unbearable. That's when another nurse came over to hold me down while I was screaming, yet the maintenance man kept pushing the clippers over the knee. I have NEVER experienced so much pain. When the cast was finally cut off, all the skin on that side of the knee was torn off making it a bloody sight. I still have the scars.... To this day, I can not understand how any hospital would allow such a painful procedure on the kids."
It was on my 6th birthday that I had the longest, saddest, most heart-breaking day. The morning nurse told me it was my birthday. Somehow, on this day, I thought I was told that I would be visited. Maybe my mother told me she would come and see me on my 6th birthday and maybe since it was not "Visiting Day", she was not allowed to see me. I don't know what went wrong. From my bed, I could see the tops of cars on the road below the hill. All day long I looked at each car and thought, "Maybe this will be my mother". When I heard any noise behind me, I would look to see if my mother was in the hallway. I did this all day until it got dark and I could no longer see the tops of cars. A day in a child's life is very long especially, when waiting for something good to happen. I was so sad when this day was over because I knew there was no hope for anyone coming to visit me on my 6th birthday....
(To tell you the truth, I don't even think I understood what a birthday was. I did somehow pick up that birthdays were important.)
Very few people remember when they took their first steps. I remember that day vividly. I was carried into one of the bigger girl's area because there was some space there for those who were learning to walk. I was placed inside a metal square with wheels and rails on the bottom and rails for my hands to grab on the top. The nurse pulled me and I learned that my feet had to move in order to keep up otherwise, I'd be flat down on the floor. When I caught on as to what was expected, soon I was off and running inside the metal square. Twice a day, I was able to walk in my metal contraption but was still considered to be non-ambulatory.
One day when I was "walking", the nurse left my side. I asked some of the older girls to put me in the laundry container and give me a ride. The container was big and on wheels. From my area I used to see them give each other rides until a nurse yelled at them. When the nurse was gone, they began the rides again until the container was taken away by the laundry lady. At last I got a ride when several of the older girls lifted me up and put me in the container. They put laundry on top of me to keep me hidden. It was fantastic being given a ride! Suddenly I heard, "Where's Janice?" All that was left was the "metal square" where I once had been. That was the end of that fun!!
In my 6th year, I was given an eye test as were all the other girls in my area. Our beds were wheeled into a big room. The railing on my bed was put down so I could see the big board up front. I was told to "point my three fingers" in the direction of the letter "m". A person with a long wooden pointer would point to these "m's". I was told to use my three fingers to show the direction of this letter "m". I had not learned the alphabet yet so I had no idea what an "m" was. I just pointed my three fingers in any direction.
Maybe it really was for the best that we, "basically abandoned children", be separated in our own area. It would have been too cruel to be within an area where there were kids with toys, clothes, books, crayons, radios, and capable of leaving their hospital beds. My daily life was spent looking out the window to see if there were any blimps in the sky. Someone had to protect our country from the falling bombs and that was my job! All I knew was that there had been a war (WW II) and bombs were dropped from blimps. When the bombs landed they hurt you. So we children in the hospital were ever vigelent to look for blimps in the sky. The older kids remembered blackouts, and being doubled-up in beds while being wheeled to the inner parts of the hospital. One of my biggest accomplishments, as I lay in my bed, was I learned to whistle which took me a very long time to learn. Another part of my daily routine was to throw my yarn ball up in the air and catch it. Some times my bed was wheeled outside to get some sun on me.
The ambulatory patients were allowed outside in the sun to play.
In the game of Baseball at Peabody Home, you were considered to be "SAFE" as long as your crutch touched the base.
I learned as an adult that Boston Bruins players and Red Sox players (such as Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky) came to visit many of the children at Peabody Home. (Just as with Santa, they did not visit the "grouped accordingly" area. Once or twice a year, the ambulatory children were brought to Fenway Park and sat in the box seats to see a game. This girl below actually wrote to Johnny Pesky and even received a reply.
This girl and I became friends after the, "We Lived at Peabody Home for Crippled Children" exhibition. She had bone tuberculosis in her right foot which required her to be hospitalized for seven years.
In reality, for most of us, it didn't matter if we were ambulatory or non-ambulatory because we all felt the same lonliness of being separated from what we knew or didn't know.
I was about one month past my 6th birthday and this was the first day I had been taken out into the world.
I was still non-ambulatory but was temporarily out of a body cast so I
could be transported. A benefit concert, at the Totem Pole in Normbega Park, was being
done for the hospital where I lived. Even when brought out into the public, those
of us who were "destitute" were not fully clothed. At least they found
shorts for us and shoes for me. The other two girls in this newspaper
photo had their own specialized shoes which allowed them to walk with crutches. They were not in my ward because they were not confined to
staying in a hospital bed.
(Boston Daily Record)
Since I still could not
walk independently, I had to be carried from place to place. We "crippled children"
were brought to the front row for all to see. We were suppose to
sit on "camper stools" but I didn't know how to sit. The nurse put
me on the stool and I immediately went backwards onto the floor. Then they
tried to hold me up until I understood what was expected of me. As soon as
they let go, down on the floor I went again! Then someone stood behind me to try to teach me how to keep my balance but I kept on falling backwards. It had to have been a funny sight!
I was no better than a "rag doll". Finally someone realized I had
never sat before so I was put in a folding chair with a back to it. Now I could sit because I could lean back.
After all my falling, however, I held on to the seat.
Then a clown and a puppet
sat next to me and I didn't know who they were and didn't know why they were talking to me. I realize that at the time, I thought the puppet was just another person. I think they were trying to get me to smile but I didn't know how to smile just as I didn't know how to sit. All I could do
was look back at them because I had nothing to say and I was scared of all the "new" things coming into my life on this day. I had never seen so many people walking and this scared me. Even the dog walking on its front paws scared me. (In another Boston newspaper a picture of we three girls was taken of us watching this dog. The caption read something like: " 'Chuckles' Causes Crippled Kiddies to Laugh". The news reporter covering the same Totem Pole event was not very astute because when you look at the picture, all three of us were pulling away and we were not smiling.) I did not know I was looking at a dog. I figured it out later in life that that is what I saw!
After the show, I was carried to one of the picnic tables and I was secured so I wouldn't fall off the bench. The other kids from Peabody were playing and I was sitting alone watching all the activity around me. Suddenly a woman sat beside me and put her arm around me. She asked, "Do you miss being home?" and "Do you miss your mother?" At the time, I didn't know what a home was and I didn't know what a mother really was. This woman was a gentle, kind person and I began sobbing. This woman tried so hard to console me and she had such a confused expression on her face at my reaction to her questions. I could not be consoled and the tears would not stop. Several people tried to get me to stop crying but I couldn't stop. Once these tears started there was no way of putting them back inside of me. Eventually a nurse came and got me and carried me to one of the cars going back to Peabody Home. I stayed inside the car crying until it was time to go back to Peabody. I don't remember when I stopped crying on this day because when I was put in my bed, I was still crying. On some level, I must have known something is terribly wrong but I had no idea what.
Whenever I thought back on that day I felt so sorry for that woman who tried to console me because she had no idea why I sobbed. Here she was trying to be nice to "the cute little cripple girl" and I burst out in tears and there was no way to comfort me.