Memorial Hospital & the hell that is geriatrics

Halfway through my first year of training in London, I was sent to the Memorial Hospital, which was associated with the Brook, to do my geriatrics training.  I must have bussed it from my room at the Brook Nurses Home, as it was not very far from there, … in fact it was on the same road, Shooters Hill Road.  Interestingly enough, this small hospital only had 3 wards (I think).  Male geriatrics, female geriatrics, and  a gynaecology ward where (among other common ailments were investigated and treated??)  therapeutic abortions were performed!!  Strange, I know…

Geriatrics must be one of the most difficult disciplines in a nurses training.  You get senile, or physically infirm or both, end up on an open ward with 40 beds and exist there until you die!  Listen, it could happen to anyone of us!  Working in the female geriatric ward in the Memorial, had me acknowledging a constant song in my head which back then when I was 20, stirred up the same sentiment………..“hope I die before I get old”! by the good ole Who.  Of course, now that I am 61, I sometimes think: how old is old?  I guess as long as you can keep going by yourself ‘old’ happens when you cant!.Hospital-wards-A-nurse-sw-010


Anyway, I did my best, but one of the worst part of geriatric nursing is that the patient load is very heavy and the staffing is woefully inadequate!  I didn’t mind the patients.  It was not their fault that they became frail or senile, just like it is not the fault of a patient suffering from kidney disease on a medical ward.  Unfortunately and understandably, many of the patients had given up in body mind and spirit, and no longer took much responsibility for their remaining time on earth.  There was a lot of heavy lifting, feeding, cleaning, adult diapers, changing soiled clothes and beds, but the worst single incident I came across concerned a lovely old lady, Ivy who suffered from senile dementia.  She would have her lucid moments, but these were few and far between.  I don’t remember if she had any visitors, in fact all those years ago, the presence of any family visitors on that ward are are a blank in my mind.  Ivy must have been a beauty, because she still had her delicate features and very few wrinkles.  Her episodes of dementia were not loud or vicious, like so many other of those who suffered this awful part of the aging process.  One morning I was starting the morning routine, of giving the patients, most all of whom were still in their beds, a quick wash to the hands and face, and getting them sitting up with the bed-table ready for the breakfast trolley.  When I got to poor Ivy, my heart dropped, she was lying there in her bed, awake, and she was eating her excrament!  Yes, I was disgusted, but I knew it was not her fault.  It was quite the task getting her cleaned up…. her hair, her hands, under her nails and all over her face.  I could not help but wretch as I tried to figure out where to begin…images

There was the Sunday morning, when the 2nd year pupil nurse I was working with, told me with dismay, the two nursing aides scheduled to work with us, had both called in sick, and that the matron was trying to find us another aide, but did not know if and when this would happen, at least for the morning.  So there we were, 2 of us, to care & feed forty mostly bedridden souls.  The breakfast trolley had arrived and we had barely begun setting the ladies up to eat, or feed!  Yes, I would say that at least half of our patients could not feed themselves!  Needless to say, it was a hellish morning, where we barely finished handing out the breakfast trays, let alone cleaning up the ladies!  We did of course change up a few urgent adult diapers, and don’t even think about taking your morning break.  Later that morning a relief aide showed up, but our whole day shift remained hours behind.images (1)

It was easier and yet more heartrending when some visiting family members would place a framed photo or else a photo stuck to the bedside table with sticky tape, of the women in their younger years. … To see past pictures of them, a lot of whom were now forgotten and left in a home, when they were young and vibrant, with their babies and everyday life really makes you realize these a lot of these women most likely lived a full life, just as ‘us younger women are now’.  They are not nameless old people who did nothing in their lives, and ended up in the geriatric unit… although it can be hard to remember that they were once just like us… walking into a ward of elderly people, unresponsive, or staring into space, unable to care for themselves lost in their thoughts or their minds…  Oh human frailty!

I must say  a couple of times I was mortified at the behavior of some of the aides… a lot of these women were decent and caring and good, then there were some real bad eggs… earning a minimum wage I believe, you get all sorts.  Some would have been better working in a laundromat, for all the compassion they showed..  One morning I witnessed on awful incident !  There were 2 nurses aides showering Ivy, who was sitting on a commode, basically unable to do much for herself.   They actually lifted up her aged floppy breasts and then let them fall back down, saying ‘what are these things Ivy, do you need these Ivy”?  When they saw I was there, they went back to talking to each other, and started to dry Ivy.  What indecent disrespect.!. I should have said something, but I was too timid.  I still had half my rotation to go, and thought it would not be a prudent move.  I was not close with any of the ward staff, so I couldn’t even discuss the situation, let alone report it to the Sister, who I don’t even remember to this day!  Not that it is any excuse, but I don’t believe Ivy noticed what was going on, thankfully for her.  These 2 aides were permanent workers on the geriatric ward, so I tried to keep out of their way, whilst getting my work done.  What I did notice about the terrible two, is that they both seemed to have enormous ‘chips’ on their shoulders, and became somewhat surly when I would ask them where something was, or had Mrs Smith had her lunch…

Oh I was so glad to get back to the Brooke and away from that big understaffed ward of sad lost souls. and those cruel caregivers!


I found this on GooGle…. on all about LOST HOSPITALS OF LONDON.  Actually it states that the Memorial Hospital is still up and running as it has been designated as a historical site, due to it’s services to soldiers. I just cut and pasted the more recent history..  Even though it doesn’t mention the gynae unit, I swear there was one... perhaps it was temporary,  maybe it was a short stay unit for T.A.’s !!!?

It sure looks nice in photographs… hell, I wish I could remember it!!!

Although originally dealing with general cases, by 1965 the Hospital began to specialise in surgery.   It had a Casualty Department, but it was felt that its facilities were too limited to deal with the increasing number of road traffic accidents in the area.  In 1969 the Department closed when the new Accident Centre opened at the nearby Brook General Hospital.  The acute wards were transferred to the Brook General Hospital and St Nicholas’ Hospital in Plumstead.In the 1970s  the Memorial Hospital became a geriatric hospital, with 128 long-stay beds.  A Day Hospital was built in 1975.St Nicholas chapel opened in 1986 following the closure of St Nicholas Hospital; fittings from that Hospital were installed in the chapel and a window in the chapel – the Golden Window – was transferred from Goldie Leigh Hospital. The tondo from the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies, which closed in 1984, is also displayed here.
Present status (July 2009)Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust now owns the site.Although this huge Hospital appears closed, the buildings are still partly used for a day care centre and out-patient facilities for pschiatric patients.  The main building is currently undergoing renovation and will eventually house a new day centre for the elderly. Originally scheduled to finish in autumn 2007, the building works are still going on.The ward blocks at the rear of the site were demolished in 2006 and replaced by two modern wards.
Entrance gatewayHospital buildingThe entrance gateway and the Hospital building on Shooters Hill.Hospital buildingfront elevation from the eastThe Hospital building from the grounds (left) and the front elevation from the east (right).

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