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Tuesday, 14 December, 1999, 12:39 GMT
TB: The sandbag and fresh air cure
TB ward
The treatment lasted for at least 18 months
Back in the days before penicillin, TB was not just a killer, it was so deeply feared that sufferers were sent away to remote sanatoria for many months and years.

During the 30s and 40s, many thousands of sufferers were sent to the Joint Cheshire Sanatorium in Loggerheads, Staffordshire.

The sanatorium had 300 beds - and the regime, under the direction of Dr Peter Edwards, was one of "fresh air and rest". Patients would stay for a minimum of 18 months, sometimes a lot longer.

Lined up in rows

"On a good fresh day like today, we would wheel all the patient's beds outside into the fresh air, so that they could get the fresh air into their lungs," remembers former head porter, Ted Parton.

"We would line them up in neat rows."

It is worth mentioning that it is threatening to snow in north Staffordshire today, and the temperatures are, to say the least, nippy.

"Of course, you would also wheel them out when it was frosty, or in the snow, and the snow would pile up on their beds - but it was thought to be good for them," says Mr Parton.


You would wheel them out when it was frosty, or in the snow, and the snow would pile up on their beds

Ted Parton, former head porter at the Joint Cheshire Sanatorium
He adds: "We would also put sandbags on their chests while they were lying down."

Patients could be left out in the elements with sandbags strapped to their chests for hours. The object of the exercise was to give the lungs something to grapple with - to increase their strength and breathing power.

The vast site at Loggerheads was planted, at Dr Edwards' instruction, with pine trees, because he believed they purified the air.

If the sandbags failed to do the trick, and a patient's condition continued to fail, surgery was considered.
patient
Patients were encouraged to breathe fresh air in large lungfuls

Mr Parton said: "They might start by removing one of the lungs, or removing part of the lung that was diseased.

"Then they might remove ribs, or fill the diseased part of the lung so that the rest of the lung had to do the work."

Mr Parton says that he is still in contact with former patients, whose doctors wonder "why they've got big holes in their sides". The reason is that they "went for the treatment" - and are still alive to tell the tale.

When a patient did get better, he or she was encouraged to take one of a number of designated walks through the sanatoria's own pine forest.

"One walk would take half an hour, then you would build up to three quarters of an hour and then an hour," says Mr Parton.

A walking patient could join handicraft classes, or take up a job in the kitchens or the grounds.


They might remove ribs or fill the diseased part of the lung

Ted Parton, former head porter at the Joint Cheshire Sanatorium
Although the regime seems fairly primitive by modern standards, it was in its time medically revolutionary and exciting.

The catchment area for the sanatorium covered Liverpool and Cheshire, and many of the people who were sent there might never have seen the countryside before, and might not even have had the luxury of their own bed.

That said, the isolation which was deemed necessary, could be very harsh for the sanatorium's inhabitants.

Once diagnosed, patients were whistled away to sanatoria almost immediately. In the interests of public health, refusal to go was not an option.

If you were a mother, you could quite easily go for years without seeing your children.

And fraternising between patients of the opposite sex was strictly not allowed.

But this was a time when doctors were deities, and the rest of the country was involved in the collective war effort.

pine trees
Pine trees were planted to purify the air
The stigma attached to the disease itself meant that sanatorium staff were regarded with caution outside of the hospital gates.

But the institution was like a reasonably sized village in itself. There were sporting activities arranged, social evenings and walks. The place even had its own cinema.

And then penicillin made its arrival at the sanatorium in the form of streptomycin. It was integrated into the treatment, and although the fresh air route to recovery was not entirely abandoned, the drug proved the more effective weapon in the fight against the lung disease.

The sanatorium began to accept a wider range of diseases - cancer and heart patients - until it finally closed its doors in 1969.

"It was a marvellous place and its patients have very fond memories of it," says Mr Parton, adding: "In many ways it was like a golden age of looking after people."

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See also:

14 Dec 99 | Health
Sharp rise in TB cases
09 Nov 99 | Health
TB warning as jabs run out
14 Dec 99 | Medical notes
Tuberculosis
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