Saturday, December 19, 2015

Merril's Treasure - the underwater world of the gamma scanner

Thanks to the wonderful voice of Anna Hepburn and professional recording skills of Craig Milton, children will be able to listen to 'Merril's Treasure', a poem inspired by the underwater world created by Cate James for the gamma room, as they get scanned in the yellow submarine!

listen here

Anna Hepburn recording Merril's Treasure

Cate James creating the underwater world in the gamma scanning room at RHSC starring Merril the Mermaid.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fifty years as a guiding star at the Sick Kids

The very first time I went in to the 'Sick Kids', not long before starting my residency in 2012, it was Cathy I met. From the reception desk she orientated me and calmed slightly jittery nerves as I waited for my interview.

In 2015, not only did she reach her 80th birthday, but 50 years in service at the hospital. Starting out on the telephone switchboard, she's been in that little room dealing with enquiries, post, and confused visitors ever since.

Within my first month as a writer in the hospital, National Poetry Day was inviting everyone to celebrate 'stars'. As well as getting patients to write a poem for their personal 'star', I wrote a poem for my own: Cathy. I updated it slightly this year, Cate illustrated it, and I presented a framed copy to her last week. One of the great privileges of being a writer in residence is the opportunity to respond to important people and events such as this. 

Her delight at being celebrated was very evident, as she immediately pointed to Cate's drawing of the woman on the switchboard, and said: 'That was me!' 

And here's the poem:


Like our own North Star
you help us find the way,
brightening the day
of every visitor
with smiles and wise advice
from your fixed point
at Reception.

In your early days at work,
they sent you down a teapot in a dumb-waiter,
and a bucket of coal arrived
to feed the Reception hearth.
Switchboard girls twinkled in your orbit.                                     
The car park outside your window
once bloomed as a rose garden;
and you teased the children of doctors,
now doctors themselves.       

After fifty years
you know each stone of the hospital,
caring for its memories
as jewels in a starry casket.
And you watch over us as this big red ship
prepares to set sail
across the seas of South Edinburgh
for Little France.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A lofty neighbour for the new hospital

 During the late summer, as building work has been getting going on the site of the new hospital at Little France, Cate and I went to visit its elderly neighbour, Craigmillar Castle, with two families we met at the Hospital. Peering down at the building site from its hilltop, this mediaeval castle knows a thing or two about surviving for several centuries.

We had a fascinating time exploring the Castle and talking about the similarities between the buildings -- both adorned with unicorns. But the differences were greater. The Castle's defensive location and its tiny, hidden away doorway, are designed to keep its enemies out. When it opened in 1895 at Sciennes, the Sick Kids Hospital boasted an 'ever open door'. And the new design has a wide, accessible doorway.

Staci and Grace reckon that these two buildings can be friends, despite their differences. The roofless Castle will keep a watchful eye on its young neighbour and send it occasional envoys of birds with messages.

The girls also noted the dark dungeon of the castle where prisoners were given the waste water to drink and where they would have been tantalised by the scent of bread baking in the kitchen next door. We agreed there would be no dungeons at the new hospital!

Monday, July 27, 2015

How to move a Hospital part 3

In the story we're creating about the move of the hospital between Sciennes and Little France (more here), we've got the old and ailing sandstone building as far as Cameron Toll. All the shops at the Mall try to give her a hand on her way towards the new site. Children in the hospital created some shops and told us how they and their contents could help. Cate put them together in a lovely picture and I wrote a poem with the children's ideas. Here they are:

The Hospital Parade

At Cameron Toll
the shops lend a hand:
a music shop provides
a jangly, loud band
to lead the Hospital parade
in a long caterpillar
with a precisely-penned map
towards Craigmillar.
The hospital gets repaired
with lego and loom-bands
the get well gift shop gives her
flowers and perfumed bags.
Out come the cupcakes
and curious cats
the bike shop sends a Giant
the pet shop, mice and rats
who with high-speed hamsters
on their exercise wheels
burrow under the hospital
and begin to spin a reel.
Powered by panting rodents              
the hospital and patrol
pull away from the shopping centre
now known as Cameron Roll.

If you're in the hospital you can now see all three parts of the journey so far on the wall between the main entrance and Ward Four. Here's Cate having a look at them.

Our next stop on the journey to Little France is Craigmillar Castle from where the new hospital site can be seen. And building has already started!

We'll be going to the Castle next week with some families from the hospital to Imagine how an ancient castle might advise a hospital who is about to transform into something very new. But we've already had a few ideas from seven-year-old Eva in Ward 3. We told her about all the unicorns on the crests in the castle, and then we showed her our own unicorn above the Hospital main entrance. She did us a lovely drawing of both and then got them talking to each other.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How to give an elephant an X-ray

What do you think an elephant's skeleton looks like? As the X-ray machines at the Sick Kids aren't quite big enough to fit an elephant in, we settled for some drawing activities in the radiology waiting room, with some interesting and varied results! A piece of acetate over Cate's outline drawing was all we needed.

Here's some of them, two-by-two. Which do you think is most accurate?

Some elephants were given names and ailments, such as Ellie who finds that after her sore jaw has been x-rayed and treated..

Now her poor sore jaw
is as good as new
and the grass and leaves
she can chew, chew, chew.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Valentine's day at the Sick Kids

It's become customary for Cate and me to offer some activities for Valentine's Day. This year, we had a card-making stall outside the radiology department. Some lovely things were made by children, parents and junior doctors (for the weekend shift taking over from them!) who were enticed in on their way past.

We also produced a ready-made card, available in the Hospital shop.
Some of the postcards in our postcard book - available from the Hospital shop in return for a donation - feature past Valentine's projects. Remember the story of our favourite match-maker amongst the Whatsits, Stephanie the Stethoscope?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Creaky boilers and pink thread

Cate and I have been enjoying some forays into the Sick Kids' past via the Lothian Health Services Archive held in the University of Edinburgh library. If you go back 100 years or so, the documents themselves are fascinating, penned in beautiful copperplate handwriting on crisp cream paper. Even the simplest messages are committed to paper and put in the mail: 'May I call on you tomorrow afternoon?' Today we would just send a text.

On our last visit we chose to look at documents from 1895, being the year that the hospital moved into the current site at Rillbank. There were piles of detailed specifications handwritten by the architects George Washington Browne, and stitched together in thick documents with pink thread. Then in reply came tenders from ironmongers, glaziers, plumbers and builders, and suppliers of equipment -- cots, mattresses, fire grates, lift doors, heating apparatus, the furnishing of the board room. Some of the items mentioned are still there, and I particularly enjoyed the £43 estimate for the carving of the Royal Arms over the entrance hall from messrs Beattie and Hay.

The minute books of committee meetings give witness to complex plans for the moving the hospital. There were complaints about delays in the delivery of an ironing machine, and a very prolonged exchange of letters with the boiler fitters from London. In the initial months after the hospital's opening in late November, there were complaints about both certain wards being far too cold and yet the stoking of the boilers creating such heat locally that it cracked plaster and fuelled concern about the danger to the building by fire. Finally in June 1896, the company agreed: 'we are most anxious to settle the matter in a friendly spirit', agreeing to put in a new boiler of greater capacity and coat the basement pipes with plaster. The correspondence was still going on in August 96. During the current cold snap, we're all aware of the vulnerability of our boilers and think of this going on on the scale of a hospital must've been a great worry.

Finally the minutes deal with plans for the opening ceremony with Princess Beatrice attending. Invites were issued to 400 guests and because the hospital wasn't properly occupied until late November, a party of convalescent children were brought in for the ceremony on 31st October. Reducing the number of patients prior to removal to Rillbank was also discussed. 

As plans begin to be realised for the next move of the hospital to Little France, it's interesting to reflect on the similarities and differences that 120 years make to such a process. I'm pretty sure there won't be many hand written bundles of paper stitched together with pink thread!

More from the archives here