Saturday, 19 April 2014

Connemara Mary.

I used to work as an administrator in the Health Service. A early, my second only my second job was at St Mary's Hospital, formerly Paddington General. Now defunct it was demolished about 1990 this was 1973. It was a 500 plus beds general teaching hospital with an A&E. Maternity unit and a psychiatric unit. 
 In those days we had a Saturday morning rota when there was always an administrator in the hospital. This was common practice. We also worked New Year's day in those days. Pay was about £1,000 per year, with about £120 London Weighting. The Saturday morning rota was to make sure the hospital was ticking over OK, information on bed occupancy was available to catering, which bulk-fed patients on the Nightingale style wards. Deal with any crises arising and deal with administration of hospital deaths and requests for autopsies on patients who had died on Friday or Saturday morning. Ah. 'Mary's' was in North Paddington, a very Irish part of London the. Hospital Secretary. Was second generation anglo-Irish, about half the nursing and midwifery staff were first generation Irish girls. Amongst other areas it served as the district general hospital for Kilburn. In Kilburn High Road, at the weekends, you stepped over the drunks lying outside pubs. I know, I once walked from Edgware Road to where I lived at the time in Colindale, about nine miles, on a Saturday night Sunday morning. I was Assistant Hospital Secretary.
So, this Saturday morning, 'bout summer 1973, I'm the duty administrator.  I get a call from the Maternity unit, to say they had an infant death where the medics wanted an autopsy, the mother was on the ward.
Procedure was that you got a consent form ready, picked up the hospital notes from their last known location, went to see the relative to offer condolences. Get their consent for an autopsy. So went to the ward which had rung; they gave me the notes, which, as with all maternity cases were the mother's notes. The mother's name was Mary; the notes comprised only a casualty card which said she'd arrived in A&E, with abdominal pain, collapsed on the floor and gave birth to a still-born infant. 'Did not know she was pregnant'. No address, no date of birth, no GP, 'no-nothing-else'.Met Mary in the ward interview room. She looked as if she had lived through heaven and hell; she might have been any age from 16 to 35. Went through the prescribed speech...need to find out why your baby died; gain information to help others etc. I don't think Mary understood any of it and I recall her saying. Very little and that in very poor English or mixed Irish and English. She gave an address in Connemara and duly signed the form with her 'X'. Today. Ireland is accepted as having one of the best education systems in Europe. In the late 60s it hadn't. I knew young Irish lads, portering at UCH, who read the pictures in the Beano and Dandy. I encountered Mary for about five minutes, yet can recall her face and have wondered, often, what became of her. Did she go home to Connemara? Did her family take her back? Had they thrown her out in the first place for bringing shame on the family? Did she end up on the streets in London? Did the pathologists write the obvious PM report - baby died from lack of ante natal care, mother's poor nutrition, mother's no-fault-of-her-own ignorance? Did it make any difference....to anybody?