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Useful And Fantastic: Bedrock - Part One

Val Yule begins a vividly engaging account of her stay in the Manchester Fever Hospital in 1953.

The yellow storms that had carried me to the hospital, and the yellow lights that boomed in my eyes and even my ears, had faded. A nurse had turned down ‘How Much is That Doggie in the Window’. The white light of a hospital ward was so bright I kept blinking. Another nurse was going around with needles and pills. I have a memory (true?) of being offered boiled potato on toast.

Two long lines of beds were set against the walls. Shapes in them stirred as if after a long winter underground. I saw chalk-white figures sitting up and being propped with pillows, and whispering to each other. Then the yellow storm bore me down again.

I have a memory of being taken down two flights of concrete stairs on a stretcher, head downward, crying out that I was going to fall off, as they tipped me sideways to get around the corners. Out into the rain, over a yard cobbled with small round pebbles, and bundled into an old-fashioned brougham covered with black. Inside it, in the dark, I could feel this ancient vehicle moving, bouncing, shaking over the cobbles; I rattled inside a cocoon of old blankets. At a stone X-ray building. “We’re going to X-ray your heart, dearie. It’s playing up.” Is that what they were doing? Is this what you do when a heart is playing up? But I could lose the baby!

No memory of the return journey. I did lose the baby. Perhaps the cobbled ride was intentional. A tiny thin boy, about nine inches long, blue-grey as a slippery dead fish and as cold. I cried. “It’s been dead for two weeks. It had to go,” said the nurse, taking IT out in a covered dish to the incinerator.

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