I applied to work at Cane hill in 1980 and got the job in November that year, I was 19 years old. I’d just come back from 10 months in Israel on a kibbutz, and couldn’t face living with my parents again, (after such a wild time away!) So I looked for a job where I could live in.
On my first day I was taken to a geriatric, psychiatric ward. I wanted to turn and run away! I was confronted with lots of old people, some in wheel chairs, some sitting quietly in a catatonic state, and some just making strange noises. It stunk of Urine (some of them were sitting in their urine) Most of the ward was vinyl flooring with a small piece of square carpet in the middle. There was an old frail lady tied to a commode in the toilets. They explained that she was constipated and would pick out her faeces. It was very new to me! I didn’t ask questions I just accepted…. (Something I wouldn’t do now).
I think there were only three of us on in the ward per shift. You were lucky if you had four! It would be a staff nurse and two care assistants. It was extremely hard work looking after 30 patients, all of them extremely ill, most forgotten about by relatives. It was an EMI ward…elderly mentally ill where the door had to be locked. That was not the ward I was based on, I floated around and worked on all the wards. I did realize later, that this was a ward I wouldn’t work on much! Thank god!
The hospital itself was very busy. You walked down the long corridors, where patients and staff (some doctors) were going about their business. It was its own little community and for the majority of patients, it was a carefree life, where the outside world could not judge them. Many had relationships. It had a shop, dentist, bank, (for patients to collect there money) and cafeteria. There was a big activities hall, occupational therapists, and hairdresser. All kept very busy!
I don’t know how many wards there were. You started with the A -Andrewes. I think they were all named after poets or writers: Keller, Blake, Browning, and Keats etc.
Everything was beginning to change by the 80s, but some of the old world was still there. I remember the big activities hall being used to demonstrate how they used to treat mentally ill patients100 years ago…they exhibited…leather straps, baths, torture looking chairs etc. I also witnessed ECT. That was awful, watching a woman shaking like she was possessed!
There is so much more to remember. Patients did attack nurses as well. There was a near fatal incident where a nurse was nearly murdered. There was a rape where a guy got in and would allegedly rape some of the old women who would roam the grounds…I think he used to buy favours as well, because there was some toilets far out in one of the gardens. There was also a hanging; a severely disturbed guy had hung himself from one of the trees…At Coulsdon station, there was an alley we used to use to get to the station. A patient jumped off the bridge when he saw an ongoing train.