I seem to have had no time for blogging recently – so here’s one I prepared earlier. In my July Gallivanting post I said:
Over the last few months, I’ve been taking part in a project at Glasgow Women’s Library to research the women associated with the Belvidere Fever Hospital in the East End of Glasgow around the time of the First World War. There isn’t much detail in the records, so the idea was to use our imaginations to create a series of dramatic monologues around our chosen women. On the 4th of July, this came to fruition with a performance and a book, both called Voices from the Belvidere, bringing to life fascinating stories of laundry maids who ran away, nurses who caught fever after fever, and the rare women doctors who followed their calling against all odds. My contribution was called The Zombie Ward: some day, with more time, I might tell you its story.
Now is the time! Here’s my introduction and monologue as it appears in the book.
At the first meeting of the Belvidere group, my eye was drawn to a picture from the Alice Bauchop collection showing a group of nurses and a young male doctor on a set of ward steps. In particular, I liked the woman in the middle with her arms crossed nonchalantly and a friendly smile on her face, so I was really lucky to find her again in a photograph in the Mitchell Library. Even better: her name, the name of the ward, which disease it treated and the year were all identified. After that it was just a case of using a little imagination – and Wikipedia! I was worried that the term zombie might be an anachronism, but it was first recorded in 1819 and films featuring zombies have been a part of cinema since the 1930s. The former Nurse Watt is talking to her grandson sometime in the 1960s.
The Zombie Ward
Och, Jimmy! You’re not watching zombie films again, are you? I hate that kind of film. Why? They remind me too much of my worst days at the Belvidere. Look, this is me here – your Granny was Nurse Watt in those days. I was an innocent young lassie, just up from Kilcreggan. I’d never even been to Glasgow before, so it was a big shock – so busy! But I loved my work, most of the time. I’d always wanted to be a nurse.
We look happy here, don’t we? That must have been, oh, 1923 I think. Sour-faced Dr Smith left in 1922 and we had the new young doctor. We all liked him. He was much more easy-going. And handsome! Look at his lovely hair. And if it had been 1924, I don’t think we’d have looked so cheerful. If I remember right, that was our worst year ever on Ward 14W.
Encephalitis Lethargica – that was the fancy name for what we treated. Sleepy sickness for short. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Sleepy; lethargic. But it attacks the brain and some of the patients were left like statues. Couldn’t speak. Couldn’t move. It was an epidemic for about 10 years – they say 5 million people round the world got it, and a third of them died. In one year we had more than 150 patients. Men. Women. Bairns. 15 died – one of them a little baby, not even a year old. That one nearly finished me.
Mind you, maybe the dead were lucky. Some of the ones that lived were never really alive afterwards. Conscious maybe, but not awake. Like ghosts. Or zombies. No, Jimmy, I can never watch films with zombies.