Transcriptions from: "A Most Impressive Place": Memories from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.



Image Three (Black and white photograph showing one of the surgical corridors of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh).


Interview with John Duncan, 24th February 2020.

John Duncan describes his impressions of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh as a medical student:


I think the first thing that has to be said about it, from the back of my memory, is this was a most impressive place. There were other hospitals in Edinburgh that I'd seen, other hospitals, but as a student the Royal Infirmary intimidated me. I walked into the front door, totally by mistake, and was greeted by a porter, the head porter in his peak cap and his frock coat and he sat at a large mahogany desk, greeting and questioning, directing the people who came up this flight of stairs to the front hallway, the reception hallway and this was a magnificent place with marble busts and statues and great noticeboards proclaiming the gifts of generations long past and the, this marble floored reception hall led directly along to a long corridor, left and right, down the surgical specialties or up a flight, a broad flight of stairs to the next surgical floor. So the student in entering knew that this was serious, this was a real, a real teaching hospital and it bore with it all the impressive gold braid of a, a rear admiral. [laughter].”



Image Four (Photograph of a medical ward in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, 1907).


Interview with Ena Ross, 19 September 2019.

Ena Ross describes her daily routine as a Ward Sister in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh:


Oh yes.  We had a routine – Ward Sister went on duty, she took a report to hear how the patients had been overnight, and then she served the breakfasts and then she went round the patients, asking them how they were and checking all things like fluid balance charts, intravenous infusions, any equipment that was being used by the patients. So Sister went round and checked all these things and also that their documentation for each patient was up to date. And fluid balance charts … so that’s what she did. A big round on her own just talking to each individual patient and checking them. And then after that we did the dressings which was a – maybe there was perhaps eight or nine dressings to do and the student nurse helps and we just – Sister did the dressings and scrubbed up between each dressing and the student nurse produced the sterile instruments for her and she did the dressings so. And then after that it would be the doctor’s Round, the surgeon’s round, then lunchtime. And then the patient maybe had a small rest in the afternoon and then the visitors came and then after that after the visitors went away – the visiting hour was three to four for many years, unless of course it was a seriously ill person whose relatives had to be called for-  but after the visitors went away then it was teatime and then going round making beds and seeing to pressure areas. Now patients’ pressure areas was a big worry for the Ward Sister, so care of massaging of pressure areas was important and was done at regular intervals during the day.”



Image Five (Photograph of nursing having their breakfast in the Florence Nightingale Nurses’ Home at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh).


Interview with Sheila Liggat, 24 July 2019

Sheila Liggat discusses living in the Nurses' Home as a student nurse at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh:


“We were very much looked after like in loco parentis, so it was a special place in Chalmers Street which no longer exists, which was a run of terraced houses and that was called PTS, Preliminary Training School, and you were there for about the first three months, most of us were straight from school, and most of us didn't have experience of living in a city. I mean I lived in a conurbation that was Tyneside but I was never a city, a goer-outer at night or anything like that. So they felt very much they had to look after us so it was, I would guess a bit like boarding school, though I'd never been to boarding school, and there were some very strict ex-ward sisters who looked after you in PTS and made sure that everybody was in by ten o'clock and locked the door but there were obviously ways of getting 'round that. I didn't personally but I remember having one narrow squeak, went out with friends, who were not from the hospital, and being driven through Edinburgh at a very fast rate [LN: laughs] to get squeal into Chalmers Street to be there by ten o'clock.”



Image Six (Photograph showing Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Residents eating on the roof of the Residency Mess).


Interview with Niall Finlayson, 10 February 2020

Niall Finlayson recalls his experience as a Resident in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh:


“NF: But anyway I lived in the residency in the Royal Infirmary and the residency was a very interesting place to live, because all the house officers, surgical and medical, all lived there and we had a butler, whose name escapes me...

AM, DT, ID: Morris.

NF: Morris. The butler, Morris, [DT: how could you forget?] who looked after us and every night...

AM: And it's all been very good up to now sir.

DT: That’s it yes. When you had only mince

NF: [laughs] Well, he once said to me when I had to leave early because something was going on in the ward and I hadn't finished my mince and tatties, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Dr Finlayson, if you don't eat your lunch you'll never grow." [laughter] So, but in the evening he used to leave a hot plate with porridge and hot milk so if you got up, you could go to the, you could, and you were hungry, you could eat something. But I think more or less, except for getting haircuts and things, I lived in the residency [AM: yes you lived in the mess] for the whole year, the whole year. 'Cause I was in the same hospital both times and you worked very long hours but actually I never regretted that because the experience in medicine was absolutely, you know you can't buy experience like that, and if you want experience like that, when you see hot medicine at one o'clock in the morning, that's what you have to do.”



Image Seven (Black and white photograph of a nurse using a 10 channel ward thermometer).


Interview with Pat Gordon, 5 November 2019

Pat Gordon discusses conducting electrocardiogram's (ECG) as a Junior Technician in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and describes the machine that was used in the 1950s and 1960s.


Well, certainly when I started I was purely going round the wards doing ECGs on the wards, that’s what Junior Technicians did in those days and that’s how you learnt what you were doing and then learnt very much how to read an ECG because we were developing the film, because we had to, we … I should have said, as a technician to begin with we had these ancient – well, they weren’t then – ancient ECG machines that were on a big, quite a big heavy trolley with a wooden box on top and at the back of it was a black curtain. And when I was doing the ECG I had to put by head under the curtain, press a lever and the film went round and recorded the ECG. And come back to the department and develop the film of the patients that we used. It was three films per patient. And they were developed and very soon began to recognise abnormalities on ECGs and we had to be able to report anything that we thought was important. But they all then went to one of the consultants who reported them all…”



Image Eight (A photograph of three nurses preparing for surgery in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh).


Interview with Richard Purvis, 24th February 2020

Richard Purvis recalls preparing Sir Norman Dott's patient for surgery as a medical student in Ward 20 of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, the Neurosurgical Ward:


“Ward twenty was the neurosurgical unit, and the person who ran it was a fantastic man called Professor Sir Norman Dott and he again wasn't all that big either and he had a, there was something, it was almost as if he had one leg shorter than the other. He sort of limped didn't he? And, but when I was eighteen again I was allocated to the theatre there and when he heard that I was a medical student he used to get me up beside him on the platform that he operated from and showed me all the various anatomy that he was revealing inside the skull you see. But my job was to prepare the patients for surgery and that involved cutting off all their hair [FM: shaving] and then shaving their head down to the skull using an open razor. [FM: yeah, cut throat] Sweeney Todd stuff you know [laughter] and I don't think I'd ever handled an open razor in my life but the, so I started scraping away [laughs] and I had to prepare the individual for surgery to have a craniotomy you see and so I think my hand was a bit shaking and there were a few nicks on the skin [laughter] and so when the poor patient got up into, on the table because they put them right on the table on ward twenty there wasn't much room, the Professor Norman Dott said, "I see that Mr Purvis has begun the surgery for us." [laughter]”


Image Nine (A member of staff serving a patient from a trolley containing items from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh’s shop).


Interview with Sally McMath, 15 November 2019

Sally McMath discusses the benefits and privileges of being a physiotherapist, including getting to build relationships with patients, and watch how they improve through treatment:


SM: Well I think to be in a profession and I think actually physio, I mean it's the same for any healthcare profession really that I could say this, but I think almost physio is a bit more of a privilege 'cause we get concentrated time with a patient. So even if you're a nurse on a ward, you're probably maybe you know doing a bed bath or you've given them an injection...

LA: You've probably got half a dozen patients to look after.

SM: You're in and out, you're maybe talking for a couple of minutes. You know if you're with somebody for quite a long time you've got time to build up relations, get to know what goes on in their life, that helps you when you're treating them. An absolute privilege to help people and get daily gratification for your job, not initially because they say to you, Oh thanks Sally for getting me better or moving my... It's because you can see it...

VT: But you can see them getting better.

SM: They come in you know holding their arm and, Oh I can't move it and by the time they're going out, Oh actually I can move it a little bit more and you can see it in their eyes, they don't need to say anything. That is a huge privilege and very very lucky.”


Image Ten (A photograph showing a group of staff from the Works Department of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh).


Interview with Gordon and James Hill, 7 August 2019        

Gordon and James discuss the sense of belonging and the teamwork that existed amongst staff within the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh:


“GH: I think for me it was the people that made it. ] You know I think that's where the kind of real warmth and feelings of sort of belonging were from and you know some people were warmer than others, some were a bit snooty and some were a bit kind of forceful in terms of their own careers and things like that but largely everyone, largely most people were really focused on providing the best care for people, for patients and their families and I think you know from, from when my dad was there, from the kind of maintenance and the kind of painters and carpenters and electricians, to the, you know the cleaners...


JH: Oh you all had camaraderie with all the trades. If they were stuck for someone, if you could help them, you'd help them and they'd vice versa.


GH: And there was a spirit of kind of just helping each other and I think the kind of collective effort of providing care for people was really at the heart of it.”