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Posts by Sandra Trudgen Dawson

Thalidomide—The Good and The Bad

By Sandra Trudgen Dawson

I was listening to the BBC world news the other day and a story caught my attention. The story was about an epidemic of birth defects in Brazil, particularly in the slums of Rio de Janeiro.[1] Pregnant women had apparently been taking Thalidomide—a drug I thought had been taken off the market decades ago. Apparently it has not.
Thalidomide was a part of my childhood. I remember when I went to Primary School and noticed a girl in my year with a different arm. Like all children, I was curious about it. Her arm was short with three fingers at the end of it. The fingers worked, and she could use her arm really well. She was also very fast at running. Nevertheless, this student was “different.” When I told my mother about her, she explained that a drug called Thalidomide had caused this. In fact, my mother explained that she herself had been offered the drug during her pregnancy with me, but fortunately had refused or I might have been born with a short arm too.

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I am a Real Mother

Sandra Trudgen Dawson
A few weeks ago I heard an interview between Terri Gross and Jennifer Gilmore on NPR discussing Gilmore’s new novel, The Mothers.[1] The novel is based on Gilmore’s experience as she and her husband navigated an open, domestic adoption. After a series of incredibly cruel and emotionally abusive relationships with potential birth parents, Gilmore and her husband eventually adopted a son earlier this year. The interview was grueling. At one point, the interviewer asked Gilmore if she would recommend “open adoption” to anyone listening. While Gilmore answered yes, it was not the unequivocal “yes” that I would give.

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Psychiatric Nursing at St. James Hospital

By Sandra Trudgen Dawson
I’ve been a little hesitant to write a blog about some of my experiences in a psychiatric hospital in 1980s Britain for a number of reasons. I am aware that those who suffer mental illnesses are some of the most vulnerable members of society. This was definitely true in the mid-1980s in Britain. I write this with the utmost respect for the patients I came into contact with and the nursing staff charged with their care.

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When I Remember Margaret Thatcher, I Remember…

By Sandra Trudgen Dawson
When Margaret Thatcher died on Monday, her policies, leadership, and legacy evoked strong reactions. Margaret Thatcher has been hailed Britain’s finest postwar leader; the person who single-mindedly transformed Britain’s society; the leader who “did the necessary” to remake Britain’s ailing economy. She fought an Imperialist war and she won. Thatcher was the first woman to become Prime Minister of Britain and, considering the current pool of candidates, she might continue to be the only woman to achieve that position for the next decade. Educated at the elite Somerville College, Oxford in the late 1940s, Thatcher believed she could reverse the postwar consensus that laid the foundation of the welfare state and the idea that all Britons should have the right to a certain standard of living. She was a committed capitalist and believed that Britain had strayed from capitalism--or at least her form of capitalism. Thatcher claimed only those who worked hard and pulled themselves up by the bootstraps should expect a good standard of living, that it was a reward, not an entitlement.

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Institutions, Mental Health and Morality

I grew up on Hayling, a small Island off the coast of Hampshire, between the mainland cities of Portsmouth and Chichester. We moved there in 1968. It was a very rural island with several dairy and fruit farms as well as holiday camp physical and mental disabilities-- differently abled children.

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Downton Abbey, Maternal Death and the Crisis of Childbirth in Britain

By Sandra Trudgen Dawson
Those of us who watch Downton Abbey regularly should not have been surprised that Sybil died. After all, series one began with the death of the Crawley heir on the Titanic as well as the untimely death of the Turkish gentleman during sex with Lady Mary; series two saw the death of the footman from war wounds and the sudden death of Lady Lavinia from the 1919 influenza epidemic as well as references to the deaths of thousands more during WWI.
So why was Sybil’s death so shocking? Was it because Sybil’s character was one of the most likeable in the series? Or was it that we don’t associate childbirth with maternal death anymore? Or was it the class-ridden patriarchal arguing amongst three men—middle-class Dr. Clarkson, knighted Sir Philip and hereditary Earl, Sir Robert—as Sybil exhibited what today are considered clear signs of pre-Eclampsia. The headache, swollen legs, proteinuria, epigastric pain and confusion were clinical signs that worried Dr. Clarkson and the other female members of the family, but not, apparently, Sir Philip. As the three men argued over whether or not the signs and symptoms were normal or pathological, the rest of the family, including Sybil’s mother and husband, stood helplessly by.

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Night Nurse Nursing

By Sandra Trudgen Dawson
My first job as a State Registered Nurse in mid-1980s Britain was night shift on an Acute Geriatric ward in Portsmouth. The shifts were long—eleven and a half hours—and it was hard, physical work. All sorts of strange things happen at night. At times it felt as though the ward was bewitched—sometime around midnight. Hospital patients who were perfectly sane during daylight hours became confused, frenzied and belligerent after darkness fell. Nakedness, for some reason and for some patients, became an urgent necessity as did climbing over bed rails or side tables. Zimmer frames (walking frames) and walking aids so benign on dayshift, transformed into fencing weapons at night as patients who had bottled up a lifetime of frustration finally let go. Keeping sparing patients apart can occupy nurses for hours at night. Hiding potential weapons does not always help as water jugs and cups can become flying missiles at night. Patients in Britain, unlike the United States, cannot be physically restrained in any way and so “sitting” with an agitated patient is the only action to prevent falls or the accidental maiming of another patient.

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Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times Britain in the 1950s

By Sandra Trudgen Dawson
As I watched Call the Midwife, I recalled my own personal memories and relationship with the National Health System (NHS). I trained as a midwife in the late 1980s in one of the busiest (if not the busiest) inner city maternity hospitals in Britain. We delivered 8,000 babies a year. Midwifery training was highly competitive. The school admitted twelve students who had a minimum of one year experience as a registered nurse, three times a year. We trained in the school, the maternity hospital and the community. By the 1980s, all midwives in Britain went through similar eighteen month training and took national exams that included an oral examination in London in front of a Board of Examiners.

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Meeting Death–Notes from a Living Historical Artifact

I have recently experienced a good deal of (mostly good) healthcare services here in Northern Illinois. For the last three and a half years I have been a patient in and out of various hospitals, undergoing small and large “procedures,” experiencing rehabilitation and a large number of outpatient services. It wasn’t always this way. I am/was a nurse. I was the one giving the care, staying calm in emergencies, answering those difficult questions and doling out reassurance like sandwiches at a picnic. My recent experiences as a patient have brought back a lot of memories and the sudden realization that I am a living, historical artifact. The apprentice-style nurse training I received in Britain in the early 1980s is now defunct and has been replaced by a University degree, higher wages and a level of professionalism even Florence Nightingale could only dream of in 1860 when she established her training school for nurses in London.[1]Britain, the whole world now knows, reveres the National Health Service as a national icon (remember the opening ceremony at the 2012 Olympics in London--dancing nurses in archaic-looking uniforms and nimble-footed doctors prancing around the stadium with their bedded patients?). I think it was watching the NHS tableau that triggered the memory of the time I first met death.

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