of the local girls ...
thing everyone likes is giving advice to others, When it became known that I would
be going to live in North Brasil, friends, relations and even almost complete
strangers vied with each other to warn me of all the terrible tropical diseases
I was sure to encounter unless I took the greatest precautions "Always boil
the water", "Never eat native food", "Always wipe your knife
and fork before using them". They also advised " Never go out without
a hat," " Only take a drink after sundown", " Beware of the
local girlsl" etc.
1943 I was in Parnahyba. One evening during dinner, I broke out into a cold sweat
and all interest in food deserted me. I knew that I had finally succumbed to the
perils of the tropics. 1n bed I pored over the pages of my Home Doctor
coming finally to the conclusion that the mosquitoes had got me at last and that
1 had a serious bout of malaria. It hardly seemed worthwhile calling a doctor
that night for such a clear cut illness so instead I sent the house boy to the
chemist for some malaria pills. He returned with four large blue pills and instructions
that I should take two immediately and two first thing in the morning.Next day,
feeling anything but bright, I decided the time had come to call a doctor.
He was a youngish man
confided in me that be had just graduated and that I was his first patient and
even more thrilling, a foreign patient. He was certainly most business like. First
he peered into my eyes, then he tapped my knees with a little hammer, thumped
my chest and back and took my temperature.
that it was 40 something, he rubbed his hands with enthusiasm and said "Aha!
You are really sick." Then he ordered me to open my mouth and he peered long
and earnestly inside it. Then be gave his opinion that I needed to have my tonsils
out. I told him that they had been removed when I was about 10 years old. This
rather shook him but he quickly rallied and shone a torch down my throat. He advised
me that there were a lot of ragged ends which would be better trimmed. Patiently
I reminded him that I had no pain in my throat but that I felt sick. In that case,
be said, there was nothing for it but to go into hospital for observation.
he dead ? ...
there were few paved roads in Parmahyba and only three or four private cars. As
I didn't feel up to walking the 1/2 mile to the local hospital two strong men
were hurriedly pressed into service. Putting me in a hammock slung from a pole
carried on the shoulders of the two men, we set off. The journey could have been
smoother. The man in front was very tall whilst the man behind was very small.
As a result I was jerked backwards and forwards as they walked. Naturally our
procession through the town gave rise to much comment. Every now and then, somebody
more curious than the rest, would lift the cover which shaded me from the hot
sun and exclaim "Is he dead?" If I groaned, which was fairly often,
he would leap back as though stung and exclaim to all and sundry that I was obviously
the entrance to the Hospital I was dumped unceremoniously on to the floor whilst
a hurried discussion went on amongst two Sisters of Mercy as to whether there
was room for me. Finally another sister came down the stairs, lifted up the cover
over my face, then exclaimed "Oh you are lucky! A man has just died upstairs.
You can have his bed."
was allotted a male nurse to look after me. He was a mestiço who
not only wore a filthy uniform but was addicted to smoking foul smelling cigars
and spitting out of the window. I took a violent dislike to him and promptly demanded
a female nurse. The Mother Superior appeared very shocked and added that this
was not only highly irregular but also immoral! I replied that I could not possibly
be expected to get better without a female nurse to cool my fevered brow with
her soft hand. As this didn't convince her, I groaned, rolled my eyes, hung out
my tongue and panted for breath.
Mother Superior rushed off and shortly afterwards returned with a young novice
of about 18 years old with long black hair and signs of possessing a most interesting
figure beneath the covering of her Mother Hubbard uniform. Meanwhile the doctor,
all excited at having a foreigner for a patient, was busy taking blood samples,
asking numerous personal questions and listening to my interior on his stethoscope.
He prescribed four different types of injection and enough pills to make me rattle
inside! The only result of all this was that I became violently sick. By this
time the doctor had given up the idea of trimming jagged edges in my throat having
decided that must have a stomach infection and suggested opening me up for a look,
a suggestion which I refused to agree to.
now stopped the very greasy soup and fried eggs which I was given for lunch and
had reluctantly eaten and ordered a diet of fruit juices. There was an almost
immediate improvement in my condition and I started to take an interest in my
nurse. She told me she had been abandoned by her husband and was working in the
Hospital in order to provide for her baby. I taught her English. She taught me
Portuguese and then I explained what the Braille System was. I was not
mistaken.......... She had a wonderful figure and full of vitality.
I now felt much better, my temperature remained at 40 C. The doctor now decided
that a more drastic treatment was called for. An old iron bath was wheeled into
the room and filled with water to a temperature of 40C. I was then put into the
bath and, after a short while, the plug was pulled and the water flowed by means
of a hose out of the window and into the street. The idea was that my temperature
would flow out with the water. My temperature remained at 40C!
doctor now decided to freeze my temperature down. I was stripped and huge blocks
of ice were placed all around me and then I was wrapped in blankets. Within seconds,
I turned a pale shade of blue and my teeth set up an uncontrolable chattering.
Frantically the doctor tore away the blankets, hurled the blocks of ice out of
the window and started slapping and rubbing me all over, My temperature remained
evening the black male night nurse confided to me that I had been bewitched and
in order to get well, the devils in me would have to be exorcised. He told me
that he knew how to do it . Without more ado, he rushed out of the room returning
a few minutes later with some green leaves in his hand. He then proceeded to bum
them over a candle. Afterwards he smeared the ashes on my face and arms and on
the soles of my feet. After saying some prayers, he placed his thumb into my navel,
leapt on to the bed doing a sort of cartwheel over me. He had pressed his thumb
with such force into my tummy that I let out a shriek of pain. He clapped his
hands with delight saying that the devils had now departed. My temperature remained
was obvious that I had the medical profession in the shape of the doctor pretty
well baffled. However, the doctor was not yet beaten. He announced that I was
one of those special people whose normal temperature was 40C and therefore I was
cured. It only remained for me to get back my strength and go home. Next day he
ordered me to get dressed and go for a walk around the square in front of the
hospital. The sun was blazing down as I staggered dutifully outside. I had not
gone more than some 100 yards when my legs crumpled beneath me and I sank down
on the hot sand. Willing hands carried me back to the hospital and on to my bed.
The doctor was urgently called but before he arrived I had fallen into unconsciousness.
hours later I awoke. A lighted candle stood at the end of the bed."Why is
the candle alight?", I asked the night nurse. "We always put a lighted
candle at the head of a bed of a dying person. Now go back to sleep." The
answer worried me for I didn't feel like dying just then. I waited until the night
nurse had dozed off. Then I silently got out of bed and holding an ice bag on
my head, I crept downstairs. The sister on night duty was young and this was the
first time she had been on the night shift. Her head was bent over as she counted
It was not until I had reached the front door that she looked up. I gave her a
wan smile, lifted the ice-bag as though raising my hat and mumbled "I'm going
home to England." Her jaw dropped open and for some seconds no sound came
forth. Then she let out a wild shriek and promptly lost all interest in the proceedings
as she slumped to the floor. Sisters, nurses and even the night watchman came
rushing towards her. The place became full of people milling around, fetching
glasses of water, telephoning for the doctor, saying prayers and generally getting
in everyone's way. In the confusion I was not noticed so I sat in a corner watching
in a detached sort of way. Then I, too, became the centre of attraction but all
I could say was "I'm not going to die here. I prefer to die in England."
doctor now had to admit defeat. Next morning, the Booth Manager was sent for and
told that I could no longer remain in hospital as they didn't want a foreigner
dying in their place. I was duly flown to Belém do Pará where I
was diagnosed as having paratyphoid. Expert treatment followed, my temperature
went down to 36.5 C and I was greatly relieved to discover that I was not a rare
bird with a 'normal' temperature of 40C!
the doctor in Parnahyba decided that I must not die in his hospital, the Booth
Manager decided that he too was not going to allow me to die in his Agency. Accordingly,
I was put on a Panair do Brasil plane for Belém do Pará. How I was
taken to the airport and put on the plane I do not know. All I remember was a
doctor giving me an injection before I left Parnahyba and another doctor coming
off to the plane when we made a stop at Sao Luiz to give me yet another injection.
Upon arrival at Val de Caes airport in Belém, I was helped to a seat in
the airport and I remained there until after all the passengers had gone.
bright young thing'
crew of the plane were about to leave when one of the hostesses [cabin crew]saw
me and asked if anyone was coming to collect me. I mumbled that I didn't expect
so and that I wanted to go home to Liverpool She was a bright young thing and
connecting Liverpool with the Booth Line, suggested that I go with all the crew
in their station wagon to the city. In front of the Booth office, but on the far
side of the road, I got off and started to cross the road. What I didn't see was
a tram coming. Fortunately the driver saw me in time and slammed on the brakes.
Some instinct caused me to stop inches away from the side of the tram and I fell
down. There was little traffic in those days. Some kind person picked me up and
took me to the office.
had long straggly hair, a beard and I was painfully thin. I was not recognized
and the staff thought I was a ship wrecked sailor. When I made my identity known,
I was taken to see the General Manager, Atahualpa Purcell. He asked me what was
the matter. I answered that I didn't feel very well . The firm's doctor arrived
within minutes, took one look at me and said "Hospital". The firm's
car was in front of the office, I was bundled inside and with Atahualpa and the
doctor we set off for the Beneficencia Portuguesa. There a bed on the ground
floor was quickly prepared for me. Then came a number of tests after which the
doctor told Atahualpa that I was suffering from paratyphoid, that it was far advanced
and as I had not had proper treatment, I only had a little time left before dying
since nothing further could be done for me.
cable was sent to my parents giving them the sad news and advising that they would
be duly informed of my death! Now my 'guiding angel' in the shape of Dona Naih,
the wife of Julian Clissold, the Booth manager in Sao Luis when I first arrived
from England and who looked after me like a mother, heard about my illness and
came to the hospital. She was determined that I should not die. At the time Booths
were attending to United States troop transport ships which called at Belém
on route to Africa as the Americans had the use of a large air base in the city.
Dona Naih told Atahualpa, in no uncertain tones, that he must obtain the services
of one of the American doctors at the base.
doctor came, examined me and agreed with the firm's doctor that there was little
hope. However, he said that there were a number of new drugs called ."sulfa"
and "penicillin". He suggested that they could not make things any worse
and might, just might, prove effective.
this point on I lapsed into a coma. For how long I do not know. I was told later
that Dona Naih came daily to see me. However, my family were not given any more
news and my father, fearing the worst, went to the Booth Line Office in Liverpool
to speak to the Manager who said he had no news but promised to cable Pará
to know when I had died! One Sunday morning, I had the sensation that I was lying
on a beach with my feet in the warm sea. With every wave the water covered more
of my body, my legs, my thighs, then my stomach. Angels began singing and I felt
my body was floating,. Then one of the angels took my hand, I opened my eyes.
A nun was standing at my bedside.
"Am I in Heaven?"
asked. She seemed very surprised and told me I was In bed In hospital. So I said
"I heard the angels singing." She hesitated a little, then in a soft
voice said "The singing which you heard was the nuns singing at the choral
mass." The Hospital Chapel was next to my room. From that moment I began
to get better.
was terribly thin and weak. My last meal was the greasy soup in Parnahyba many
weeks, I don't know how many, ago. I drank Guarana and after a few days
I was allowed a chicken soup known as canga. I was determined to get better
quickly so I began getting out of bed and walking, first one step, then two. After
a while I could walk to the end of the bed and back.
food was all right but I wanted milk. I have always drunk pints and pints of milk.
I told the doctor I needed milk. He was emphatic. Milk was the last thing I could
drink. I persisted and finally he agreed I might have with breakfast a tiny amount
of milk, about the quantity to turn black coffee slightly brownish. Next morning
there was the tiny jar of milk, I wanted MORE. Placing the jug inside the wardrobe,
I rang the bell. A nun came. I told her the doctor had prescribed milk but it
had not come with my breakfast. She darted out and returned with another jug of
milk. This too, I placed inside the wardrobe. Then I rang the bell again. Another
nun came. "Where is my milk?", I demanded. "Sorry. I'll bring jug.for
you." That made 3 jugs.
not well ring the bell again so I waited until I saw a servant passing. "Please
bring me a jug of milk." She obediently brought me another jug. But I was
still not satisfied. Another servant passed. Again I requested a jug of milk.
Now I had 5 jugs of milk. Then, by good fortune, I noticed that the breakfast
trolley was parked in front of the door of my room. Carefully I got out of bed,
crept to the door and looked out both ways. No one was about and on the trolley
were 3 more jugs of milk. Quickly I raised each one to my lips and drank the contents.
I heard footsteps. Rapidly back to bed. Then I drank the milk from the jugs in
the wardrobe. I was satisfied. The doctor came in the afternoon. I had no pain
nor fever so he allowed me to have a small glass of milk from then on. My problem,
however, was how to get rid of the five jugs. The servant who came to remove my
tray was young and not very intelligent. I told her that I
took a long time
to drink my milk so when my tray was removed, I still had a jug in my hand. Would
she please take them all away. She made nocomment nor showed any surprise.
was now getting very hungry. When visitors asked me what I would like to read,
I always asked for cookery books and magazines. Dona Naih brought me a large writing
book and into this I wrote down all those recipes which appealed to me as well
as tearing out others from magazines. I still possess the book. Lunch consisted
of chicken soup, then a boiled chicken drumstick with local vegetables followed
by fruit: pineapple, papaya or custard apples, known locally as Beribar.
To drink: I had Guarana. There was little meat on the drumsticks and I
craved more but there was no more. One lunch-time I happened to look across the
corridor. Tbe man in the opposite room had just been given his lunch. I went to
the door of my room and looked out. No one was to be seen. I darted across the
corridor and into the room opposite. Without saying anything, I snatched the drumstick
off the man's plate and ran back to my room. The man let out a piercing scream
which brought nuns, servants and even the watchman running to the man's room.
madman with long hair and a beard came and stole my chicken." Everyone reckoned
that the patient had suddenly had a fit and a doctor was hurriedly called. But
the Mother Superior put two and two together. "Which patient has long hair
and a beard?" It could only be me. She came into my room. I was lying in
bed a cherubic look upon my face "Did you go into the opposite room and take
a piece of chicken off that patient's plate. " Me! Why I cannot even walk
more than a few steps and then only with help"
looked at me closely "Are you sure it wasn't you?" I didn't want to
lie but how to convince the Mother Superior. "Why think it was me? What would
I want with more chicken. I have had mine and that was quite sufficient."
She looked on my plate. There was a fleshless bone. She went to the wardrobe and
opened the door. She found nothing. Eventually she went out. Then I removed the
chicken drumstick from under my pillow, ate the meat and threw the bone out of
nun who held my hand
I came out of my coma, was young and quite pretty, She was very taken by my conviction
that I had been snatched from Heaven by the angels and often came to my room,
sat on the bed and talked with me, mostly on religious themes. Later we got to
talk on more mundane things and I told her that when she held my hand, I felt
better. We got along very well until, one day, the Mother Superior came in to
my room and ticked the nun off. [ed:was angry]
was now much better so I asked my nun friend if she could arrange for a barber
to cut my hair and beard. This was a great improvement. I was anxious to leave
hospital but needed more exercise. On Sundays, the doctor made his rounds at 9
am. At 9.30 the nuns celebrated their choral mass which lasted till almost 11I
am. No visitors were allowed in the morning. Thus I was alone and not likely to
be disturbed for at least an hour.
Sunday, as soon as the doctor had gone, I got dressed. The windows of my room
were like large double doors reaching from the floor to the ceiling. These were
kept open for the fresh air. A low railing prevented one from falling out. Outside
was the hospital vegetable garden which provided vegetables for the whole hospital.
I had noticed that at the far end of the garden there was a simple wooden gate.
It was not locked for in those days things were very safe. I left the pillow in
such a position that a cursory glance would appear that I was asleep. I climbed
out of the window, walked across the garden, opened the gate and I was free outside.
No one, so far as I could guess, had seen me.
caught the first tram to the Ver-o-Peso Dock where the fishing boats tied
up and sold their wares. A man was selling empanadas de camarao, a kind
of pastry filled with cooked shrimps. The fact that no one with any sense would
eat anything off the street, let alone shrimp pasties, did not worry me. I bought
one, ate it and caught a tram back to the hospital. It took but a few minutes
to cross the garden, climb back through the window, undress and get into bed before
any nuns should come around. I had my lunch but then became violently sick. For
two days I suffered and the doctor couldn't understand why! Finally came the day
when I was discharged. The doctor told me that from now on "You will eat
to live and not live to eat. You have a new stomach lining. Look after it."
at the office
resumed normal routine. Then a week later arrived the Norwegian ship on which
I had travelled from New York to Belém earlier in the year. The Captain
told me he was throwing a cocktail party on board and I was invited. I warned
him that I had only recently come out of hospital and would be unable to drink
any alcohol. "Don't worry. I'll get the steward to make up up a drink of
Guaraná which will look just like the rum cocktails we will be drinking.
number of very attractive nurses from the US base were present. Drinks flowed
and we all had a good time. I was drinking my Guarana. Then one of the
nurses took my empty glass and was going to fill it with Rum Punch. I told her
I wasn't allowed to drink alcohol but, as everyone seemed to be having such a
happy time, I decided that a glass of Guaraná with a dash of Rum
Punch would not affect me. It was delicious so next time round, I decided to have
1/2 Guaraná and 1/2 Rum Punch. This tasted better still. It ended
up by my having several pure undiluted Rum Punches. The result was inevitable.
Back to hospital.
The sin, the blush and a kiss
same pretty nurse came to see. The first thing she said was "Last time you
were here, I saw you from an upstairs window crossing the garden, opening the
gate and going outside. I waited to see if and when you would return. I decided
not to say anything as I knew that if I told the Mother Superior you would be
in great trouble as well as with your firm so I kept quiet. But this time, none
of your tricks." I kissed her. She blushed and said "You shouldn't have
done that. That is a sin." I replied "Sister. You are so sweet and without
you I would never have recovered. It was the power that flowed from your hand
into my veins that cured me." She blushed, blessed me and wished me well.