Ronald Basil Girdler
I found the work fascinating. I was trained in all the branches of Pathology Lab work, which included Bacteriology, Histology, Biochemistry and Haematology and there were laboratory animals which had to be looked after on a rota system. I learnt how to make agar plates for growing bacteria from swabs, sputum and other samples, and how to spread the samples on the plates, In Histology I was shown how to treat tissues from the operating theatres and post-
The N.H.S. was instituted in 1948 and I joined the lab soon after its inception. Antibiotics had only Just begun to be used in civilian hospitals and the results were quite dramatic, as were the effects of immunisation of babies against diphtheria. We kept records of the incidence of this disease and found that numbers were decreasing tremendously. In fact I never saw a single case during my time there. Abortion was at this time still illegal, and we had a ward that was always full of septic abortion patients, indicating that they were self-
abortionists in unhygienic conditions. As technicians we were exposed to all manner of infections but I never caught anything, unlike two of my colleagues who both succumbed to tuberculosis. Fortunately for them a new treatments had recently become available, known as streptomycin and P.A.S., which although treatment had to be continued for over a year during which bed rest was essential, did produce a cure.
Not only were we involved in the testing of samples, but at that time we had to produce many of the items in constant use, such as agar media, isotonic saline solutions and other nutrient solutions. We were responsible for sterilising syringes and needles, producing sterile glass pipettes by drawing out tubes of molten glass, capping and sterilising hundreds of sample bottles and sterilising by autoclave all the used sample bottles and plates. We even had to sharpen by hand all the used syringe needles. Nowadays of course all these things are supplied to hospitals and labs by outside suppliers, already wrapped and sterilised for one use only, and most of the testing is done by automation. "Blood Ladies" still tour the wards collecting blood samples, but they take blood from the veins by syringes which are all disposable. In my day we had to take blood from a finger , ear-
I met lots of people there, both men and women, doctors and patients, technicians of all ages and I absolutely loved it. The lab was attached to the Royal Free Hospital in Lawn Road, Belsize Park but as it was the Group Hospital all the other local smaller hospitals sent their lab work there too. It was always very busy and everyone was very friendly.
One day, one of the women doctors (there weren't many, in fact I can't remember any others) asked me to accompany her to the Post-
Whilst I was working in the Haematology lab I was called to the wards to do an emergency blood test on an elderly patient who had pneumonia and was lying in an oxygen tent, a piece of equipment which has since given way to the much easier to manage oxygen cylinder and mask. The man was very ill and was surrounded by the consultant and his entourage. I hesitated to go to his bedside but was beckoned behind the screens by the consultant to carry on. I had never before been in this situation and was very nervous but had to continue. I had to turn back the flap of the transparent tent, and with all eyes watching attempt to obtain a few drops of blood from the patient's ear lobe by pricking it with a large needle, having previously swabbed the area with a swab soaked in ether. Usually this was sufficient to produce an amount of blood which often dripped uncontrollably down the patient's neck. However, owing to the man's poor state of health or my own inexperience I was unable to squeeze out a single drop. The consultant suggested that I try the area at the base of the thumb nail. I had never done this before and tentatively had a go. "Jab harder!" he said, and out oozed a drop of dark red blood, It was with great relief that I found a sufficient amount for my requirements and I hurriedly retreated from the bedside shaking like a leaf, I felt I had passed the test and was never worried about approaching a patient again. I hope the patient benefited from my efforts, but I doubt it.
A member of staff always had to be on duty, including lunch breaks, to receive and enter into the records any specimen which arrived in the lab from the wards. I was alone one day on duty when a specimen was brought in. I was not absolutely sure what the specimen was or what test was required, but studying the form which accompanied it, I decided that it was a bacteriological request so I accordingly plated it on an agar plate. Imagine my chagrin when I later discovered that the specimen was semen and that I had carried out the wrong test! The poor patient had to produce another specimen.
As well as working hard we technicians had a lot of fun too. There was on regular test we had to do in the Bacteriology lab on a sample of faeces which was placed in a liquid nutrient medium in a small gold-
The Path. Lab was subsequently demolished, together with the antiquated Royal Free Hospital and a brand new very large hospital was built in their place in Pond Road.
I was asked to tea one Sunday afternoon to meet Ron's family, which was an ordeal to me. I had always found it difficult when meeting new people, and I always became tongue-
The first time Ron came to my house there was quite a houseful. Mum and Dad of course, Barbara and Leslie, John and Shirley were there, and maybe Het and Jack and Linda too. We all sat down to tea (was it something with chips?) and Ron was offered a bottle of tomato sauce. He shook the bottle but unfortunately the top had not been screwed on properly and the sauce flew out of the bottle all over the wall behind him. He was more than a little embarrassed but he certainly made an impression!
When Ron had finished his degree course in June 1950 we decided to go away for the weekend and chose to go to Arundel in Sussex. I remember asking Mum if she would allow me to go -