Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Memories of Sully Hospital- mid 1970s

In response to last week’s article in the Barry Gem newspaper, Lisa Casson of Llantwit Major sent in the following memories of Sully during the mid 1970s.

"As a child I was often  brought to Sully hospital, as my Mother was a Radiographer, working full time in  the x-ray department.

Nets over the stairwell
My abiding memory on entering the hospital 
were the nets over the stairwells, at each level.
I was told this was to keep people safe.

Hospital smell
My next big memory was the smell, unique to this hospital and I assume, in part, due to this department and the associated things used within it.

The darkness too and overall quietness, which was not how I imagined a hospital should be.

Inside the radiography department
The staff room was straight ahead, with worker lockers just inside entrance. An extra room beyond this one had several x-ray illuminator (viewing) boxes, which I used to love to sneak in to and look at the pictures of bones all lit up.

At the end of the corridor was a row of chairs where the patients would wait, dressed in hospital gown, that I always thought was an odd choice of clothes at the time!

As a child inside the radiography department
Occasionally, if the patient agreed, I would be allowed to stand with Mum behind the screen while the x-ray was being done, listening to the clunk of the machinery used and recall everyone being still as the buttons were pressed.

 Sometimes too I would stand outside the room and wait, Mum talking about something called radiation.

Particularly evocative is the smell of the heavy rubber apron she would wear to protect herself.

Other members of staff
Grahame was a member of staff, unsure of his definite role, but I recall him as a porter, always friendly and happily connecting with the patients (mostly older folk who were always coughing) with whom he would keep company, or pushing them around in a wheel chair, but he also worked in the dark room, developing the films.

Then there was Mike, of similar position, and Menna, Mum’s boss, who was a super lady and dear friend to Mum. She has sadly died from cancer since, after the department was moved to Llandough hospital.

How the x-rays came to life
Within this small, dark room were the machines that made the x-rays come to life. This too is where the smells of this department were most prominent, I’m guessing down to the chemicals that were used in the processes of development.

 Although quite nervous going in, mainly because of the dark, I remember my eyes soon adapting and focusing in on the red lights that were in several places, this offering me points of reference.

The whirr and clanking of these machines in this small room was quite loud.

The reason why I liked to go into this room is because I would be allowed to press some buttons and I could then see the film displayed in the light boxes when done and would sometimes be charged with carrying the film down to the staff room if my Mother was there.

Stair netting
As for the stair netting I asked which people needed to be kept safe, and this was met with vagueness, which in turn made me want to find out.

Sneaking up to the psychiatric ward
The sign up to the next floor from x-ray said something like psychiatric ward.
I used to sneak up there when Mum was not looking, hugging the corridor wall, as I edged along towards the double doors at the end, which I could see were different, with obvious locking/added security in place.

I would always be nervous about seeing anyone, but most times didn’t, eerily quiet and devoid of people here, but I could sometimes here the noises - moans, shouting out, and once a crying scream.

 I would peep through the glass part of the doors, hoping to see something.
Occasionally I would see a shuffling figure move out of a room and into the corridor, what struck me was they all looked the same. At this point I would usually retreat hastily, heart thumping, running back down the stairwell, imagining someone was behind me, back to the safety and familiar smells of the x-ray department, never divulging where I’d been!

Family days in summer
In summer there would be family days, held out on the field with picnic food, games and general jollity. Whole families came so there were lots of children and we’d explore the amazing grounds, with boundaries imposed due to the terraced lawns that dropped down to meet the beach.

Visiting  friend who had been sectioned
My final memory comes much later as an 18-20 year old. I had a close school friend who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, who was sectioned there as a residential patient and I used to visit her. The ward felt light and modern, unlike my memories of before. The bedrooms were set around a communal area and I recall the staff being pleasant. We could use the gardens, often just sitting on the benches outside the rear entrance, looking down to the ocean, sprawling out seamlessly below from the grounds of the hospital. My friend enjoyed the company of a male resident who sadly took his life in these very waters sometime later.

Revisiting Sully 
So, to the last connection I have with Sully hospital. My Aunt used to work for The Design Commission for Wales and they were in tender for the development of the now redundant hospital site, which eventually became Hayes Point luxury apartments.

My Aunt was able to take my Mum back to visit the now derelict buildings, as she somehow had secured the keys. This wasn’t a wholly pleasant experience for my Mother, evoking lots of mixed memories.

Searching for Sully- Ann Shaw, paperback, £9.99 available from Amazon

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