Victorian London - Childhood - Children - children in hospital

    LITTLE ONES IN HOSPITAL.—Perhaps next in importance to the institutions of which we have just spoken, and whose influence is a lifelong benefit, are the Hospitals of London. In most of our hospitals there are wards for children. The little pale faces and wasted limbs of the poor tiny ones of London seem never to be wanting in these rooms. The beds are almost always occupied by the children of parents having no time or no means to nurse them in their own homes. Poor helpless little creatures, suffering in consequence of want, smitten with the diseases that lurk in their squalid dens, or racked with the pains of deformity, they are glad to get to this haven of rest. It must be bad enough to be compelled to live, sound of limb and well in health, in the atmosphere of their crowded homes; but to be ill there, having to breathe the foul air and suffer from want of proper attention and food, must be pitiable indeed. To these, the hospital, with its clean wards, comfortable beds, and cheerful, kind nurses, becomes a sort of Paradise.
    In the waiting-room we have brought together quite a variety of little sufferers; while outside in the courtyard there are perambulators by the dozen ranged in rows. They are of all sorts, shapes, and sizes. They are the burden-bearers of poor frail little ones who have been brought to the hospital for treat­ment. Whilst waiting, the doors open, and a police officer enters, bearing a little girl. She groans in agony, and he kisses her forehead to soothe her pain. A little while before, she had been darting to and fro in the streets, as happy and as gay as any little girl at play. But, excited with her play and forgetful to be cautious, she had hurried into the road. There was a shrill scream, a hurried shout, a sharp pulling of the reins, a sudden stoppage of an obedient horse, hut all too late, for the cab-wheels had run over the child. The police­man had hastened forward, ascertained the injury, picked her up tenderly, lifted her with care, and then cabby had galloped them off to the hospital. Skilful doctors will set and bandage the broken bones, and then the little maid will be soothed to rest by the kind, motherly nurses. Leave her with them. Their hearts ache very often to witness the sufferings of their little charges, and their sympathy is large.
    The yard is the picture of neatness and cleanliness. The air is fresh and sweet with the scent of flowers, which friends on visiting days have brought to cheer the little sufferers. The children lying there, so clean in their cots, wear, in spite of their sufferings, a happy look. Even the baby-folk look contented, just as though they too knew how much better off they are in their little cots in the hospital than they would be at home. Everything that can be done is done to make them forget their sufferings, and not only to make them well in health but as happy as children should be. And so, as we pass from cot to cot, we see the inmates at play with their toys. One little lady, too ill to sit up, lies with her arms around her doll, nursing it as proudly as any of you. A little lad uses the sliding board that stretches from side to side of the bed as his playground, and there sets up his skittles and marches his toy soldiers. A third hunts up the pictures of a book; and the time passes happily away to most of them. Then for those who are getting well there is the balcony, with a roof, where they may run about, or stand watching the many sights of the streets below.
    So happy are the children here, and so different are their surroundings, that many little ones, when they are well and have to heave the hospital, cling to the kind nurses, crying piteously not to be sent back to the squalor and dirt and perhaps cruelty of home.
    When Christmas comes, these little ones are not forgotten. A monster Christmas tree is loaded with toys of all sorts, and is a pleasant sight to those who are well enough to come down to the distribution of the gifts. The little ones upstairs who are too ill to get up, have their share of the toys brought round to them by the kind ladies and their children who have helped with the Christmas tree.
   Would you like to help? Any toys or picture-books are always gladly received at these hospitals. Have you any stored away, which you are too old to play with, or even some which it would cost a little self-denial to part with? Then send them, and some pence as well if you can, to cheer the little suffer­ers. And remember that our Lord has said: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me.’

Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and Around London, 1895 (3 ed.)