Some years ago I had to spend a few weeks in a major Sydney hospital. I didn’t actually feel sick, and since I was editing a book at the time I took along my notebooks and computer. There was no restriction at all on visitors. In fact, my husband Rob would arrive in the morning and stay until late evening.
I was amazed to discover how different things were in the past, especially during the Great Depression, when one imagines the sick needed all the support they could get. There was no wandering into a ward any old time, and the number of visitors was strictly controlled, even when a patient was on the road to recovery. Fees were introduced at many hospitals.
Sydney Hospital had introduced visitor’s tickets by the 1880s. In theory it was to avoid congestion, but there appears to have been a degree of snobbery involved. The Macquarie Street entrance was considered a bit too select for the great unwashed. They were pushed around to the Domain entry behind the hospital, where the tickets were issued.
In October 1889 a member of parliament, Mr Carroll, was outraged when he was stopped at the front gate by a nurse and told to go around the back and get a ticket. As the Daily Telegraph commented gleefully;
‘This was too much for the dignity of a member of parliament, and Mr Carroll promptly refused to have anything to do with a back door entrance.’
He was even more upset when another member noted that some people were given special dispensation and ushered in from Macquarie Street.
The tickets below are not dated, but probably date from the 1930s.
Adelaide Hospital’s ticketing system also caused dissention. In 1929 a gentleman from Goodwood Park fired off a letter to the editor of his local paper;
I went on Sunday afternoon to an unfortunate inmate of the Hospital – on a visiting day. At the gate I was asked for a ticket, and, not having one and not knowing of the necessity for one, I was refused admittance……I was told to apply to the ward nurse for one, but I could only do that by telephoning from the outside!
Has anyone ever heard of such an insane and inhuman regulation? Nobody goes to a hospital for amusement or pleasure. Most people abhor seeing all the sickness and suffering. They go to while away a weary hour for the sufferer. But authority says you must not. Why don’t they charge an amusement tax? It might swell the dwindling revenue.
Of course, people did manage to get around the rules, much to the writer’s pleasure. On their way out, visitors passed their tickets through the railings to other waiting in the rain to visit sick friends and relatives. Mr Elkan signed off with a witty barb for the authorities;
Those who made this regulation will not require an admission card to enter the place at which I wished them on that Sunday afternoon.
In June 1939 there was an attempt to reduce the visitors fee at the Royal Hobart Hospital from 6d to 3d. Nearly a thousand pounds had been collected in one month and board member Mr J. Hughes thought a reduction was in order. However, he met with opposition from the chairman, Dr Carruthers.
Dr Carruthers was loathe to encourage more visitors. Two people per patient were already admitted free and he felt that was quite enough. He added;
‘Are you going to satisfy the morbid curiosity of persons who want to see what a hospital is like?’
Mr Hughes replied, quite reasonably;
‘It is not morbid curiosity, they come to see sick friends.’
To my amusement, Dr Carruthers said that patients often told him that their visitors were people they didn’t even want to see. Yes, well…..there might be something in that.
A BIT SICK OF VISITORS
Of course these days there are often too many patients. Those people by your bedside may not be bearing fruit and flowers, but merely wanting to take your place.
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