I have recently posted a short non fiction story ‘ The Villas – Part One’ which is about me working at a Psychopaedic Hospital when I was 17, it mentioned about the terrible fright I got one night.
Several people had read the story and have asked me for more information about working at the hospital.
I was born in New Zealand. There were four us kids, a sister who was three years older than me and two younger brothers.
I left school the day I turned 15 because my father said I had to get out and work. My father was an abusive man, we all suffered physically and emotionally and were terrified of him. I don’t think he hit mum but he definitely mentally abused her.
A few months after starting work in retail my father physically abused me badly one day. I left home and found a bed-sitter close to the city where I worked.
Mum wanted me to come back home which I did only to get another bashing. I was not a bad girl and did not provoke my father. This pattern of leave and then come home happened several times. I then found a live-in job working at a residential children’s home. The children stayed there short-term for several different reasons such as family breakdowns and physical illness with one or both parents. The matron and her deputy both recommended that I go and do my nursing training. The problem was I had left school without completing the necessary training required to enrol in nursing.
I always had an interest in psychiatry. I applied at the one and only psychiatric hospital in Christchurch. I was not accepted because my sister had been a regular recurring patient there.
I then applied at Templeton Pyschopaedic Hospital and Training School. They knew I hadn’t completed my schooling but were willing to take on because I seemed genuine about what I wanted to do. I should say that the Matron was on leave the day I was interviewed and accepted.
Just to remind you Pysch = mind and Paedic = child.
Back in those days most children who were born with abnormalities and were deemed not suitable to fit into the norm of society were placed in psychopaedic hospitals. There were thirteen of these hospitals in New Zealand.
In 1930 – 1940’s and even later than that parents were discouraged by doctors never to see their disabled baby, let them be put in care and forget about them. Institutionalised for life. If parents did take their baby home there was no support until that late 1960’s . parents who did have their child at home could apply for respite care and there child would spent a few days at the hospital where I worked. I should mention that some families did forget about there child, it was very sad.
Children born with Down syndrome , physical or intellectual disabilities were put into care. If a child was taken home and was later deemed mentally defective they also were also placed in care.
These institutions were like factories. Even though some of the staff were kind clothing, housing and routines were communal and individual identities denied.
In the villas where I mainly worked the bedrooms were cold crowded dorms with about eight to ten beds in each one. During the day the majority of residents would sit in a Day Room. Some of the less physically or mentally disabled would be taken to the training school or workshop. Meal times was like a production line, taken into a dining room in their villa, restrained in chairs and force-fed.
The residents that were less disabled would sometimes go on a bus trip. Every year the hospital would put on a musical, residents that were capable would sing and dance – they loved music.
When it was my turn to care for residents in the day room I would take my portable record player to work with me. I would be there with about 30 residents and one other nurse. The music was a God send, they loved it.
One day while in the Day Room with the music going I was approached by the Matron. I had never met her and didn’t know who she was. She said ‘turn off that racket off’ and then said ‘you have an apology to make to me’. Apparently I had to apologize to applying for the job at the Psychiatric Hospital and how dare I do that.
I didn’t manage the academic class training but passed my practical work with flying colours at the end of my first year. I could stay on and work as an assistance, get myself educated and then start training again. During my 12 months while I worked there I had been receiving english tuition on my days off from an elderly retired english teacher, sadly he died.
There were lots of incidences that I saw happening at the hospital that I didn’t like so I decided to give in my notice. In my mid 30’s I did train and qualify as a Registered Nurse which entitled me to work in General, Psychiatry and Pyschopaedic’s .
That hospital was a toxic horrible place. There were reports of physical, emotional, sexual, medical, spiritual, cultural abuse and neglect. I personally saw some shocking abuse especially physical and mental happening, I reported it and nothing was done about it.
In the late 1960’s there was a national enquiry about these hospitals. I am happy to say by 1973 residents were being placed in foster homes or into houses in the community. Some of the adult residents were transferred into the local Psychiatric Hospitals. Many of the patients in those hospitals were also later housed out in the community.
I am not sorry that I worked out for there for 12 months. I was able to escape from my abusive father and learn to cope with life.
I will post Part Three tomorrow.