Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tuberculosis Scare

I was six years old when my mother picked me up during first-grade at the local Catholic school. Since I was an obedient child, I didn't question her motives. I'm sure she told me because I was sickly I needed special care. But I didn't realize a separation from my parents and my new baby sister was imminent.

I recall a long drive past fields and thick woods from Jackson, MS, to a town called Magee, MS. There I was led to a large dormitory, shown a bed(not unlike double bunks of metal frames) and a locker, had only a few minutes to say goodby to my parents, and I was left to assimilate into a new way of life. A lady handed me a pair of white panties and a tee shirt. My good clothes went into the locker, a four-some at the end of two sets of bunks. I wore those clothes home six months later.

Within a short time I was regimented into sleep, play, sit and listen, weekly examinations by doctors, eating three full meals a day, and school. Visitors were allowed twice monthly. I always had someone visiting me on Visitors Sunday. The idea that isolation and protection from the germs that could be brought in from outside would be minimized. The medical team there thought sickly children could more easily take TB and needed special care not otherwise. At six years of age I weighed 20-25 pounds. I had chronic illnesses that gave me a slow start in life. I've often told my own children I resembled a war orphan then. My parents blamed my skinniness on their inability to provide milk and proper food during the years after the Depression.

The Missisisippi State Sanitorium opened its Preventorium in 1929, so my presence years later gave the staff plenty of time to be organized. Actually the system of taking care of sickly children lasted into the mid-70's. The lifestyle of nutritious food, the outdoors, and rest was an experiment. Since the weather is so wretched this time of the year, the Preventorium would have had a difficulty time running in the summers today.

Services provided a swimming pool, a play village, and a golf course with a duck pond. The course was for the adults, but I remember the pond. My sixty-odd years of memory have almost dissolved like sugar in hot water. I recall as the cooler weather came, we still wore our white bloomers with a sweater. Fresh air was most important, yet, no one thought that that air being circulated from the Sanitorium past the Preventorium and in and around the nearby town of Magee could be tainted. The Sanitorium, I recall, had TB paitents in their beds on porches and in the yards, enjoying the same air.

Our schedule allowed us schooling in the mornings, play, fat-rich meals, an hour's rest, and medical examinations. We were introduced to music. I recall hearing Kate Smith sing "God Bless America" for the first time when all children were gathered in a general meeting room. I remember having to shut our eyes while lying on our backs at the beginning of our naps so the head mistress could glance from her perch to check on us. That simple activity has lasted my entire life. I love naps. Christmas came and we celebrated opening our gifts from home. We made simple cards for our family to send home. In February the doctors declared they had done enough for me, I was TB free. I assume that meant I had gained enough pounds to be considered average in weight.

I never felt unloved, ignored by the family, or put in the Preventorium for any reason but a good one. The experience has always been in my memory and I appreciate my parents for having the good sense to follow the doctor's orders to send me there. The only regret is that I don't remember any of the other children who were present. Although I'm on a Yahoo message board for children of the Preventorium, no one has remembered me. But that is because those who belong to the group are younger and have better memories from the 1950's to 1970's. The reunion today in Magee MS will gather many former youth, but I will skip that. I doubt anyone from 1938 will be there.


20th Century Woman said...

Sad that you don't remember any of the other children. I think you should keep trying. But what an interesting experience. I am so glad you wrote about it.

CabinWriter-- said...

For years I remembered one little guy's name and tried to find him as a teen, but no luck. I have found one woman who was there about the same time but I don't remember her. After all, some names just don't stay with me after 70 years!

Anonymous said...

My brother went to the Magee Preventorium in 1950 when he was 8 years old. I was just 5 years old at the time. He had been sickly - mumps, measles, and chicken pox. I managed to miss those childhood diseases, which at my age, now at 70+, are a concern. I have a few pictures of the Preventorium buildings (inside and out) as well as some with my brother along with other children there. These were taken there by my father or mother, which are now deceased. My brother is in an assisted living center and has dementia. I am the only one left in my family that remembers that part of his life. Thank you for your story. It helps to fill in some of the blanks that I am having to fill in by myself.

JennyWinters said...

My grandfather was here in 1940. I believe he spent 2 years living here and eventually went to the mountains of East TN to die at home. He died young at the age of 42. I have photos of his life at MS Sanitorium in Simpson county. I never met him, he died 19 years before I was born. I just feel so sad when I think of him. I myself am an RN and contracted a positive TB from a patient, fortunately I was given the modern medicine to treat the TB from becoming active. I pray it stays inactive. Bless you for having to live apart from your family. That had to have been very difficult.

Vivian Newkirk said...

Thanks to all of you for commenting about this subject. I have made friends with those who participate in the reunions and comment on the website. Jenny, what was your grandfather's name? I was there in 1940 and I have found the census of the campus including all help and residents. Jenny, go to the website Magee MS. Preventorium and see how to contribute the photos to the site. Sad to say there are few of us from that year. But all photos are very welcome.

Teresa Wells said...

My grandmother, Bessie Freeman, was in
the Miss. TB Sanatorium from 1945-1950.
Any information from anyone concerning
that time period would be appreciated.
I have her five-year diary she kept
during her stay there, and I will be
writing a book based on the information.

Vivian Newkirk said...

Teresa, I posted your information on FaceBook "Magee Mississippi Preventorium". However, I don't have your email address so members can respond. I know there are some who were there during the same time. Send me your address at vwnewirk and I'll post it. It is an open site so you can review the info yourself. There are lots of photos and our next reunion is 2018.