The Adelaide Hospital established a Consumptives’ Home in what had been the original 1840 era hospital building, located beyond the Botanical Gardens east of the existing hospital. Between 1856 and 1902 the original hospital building had been used as an annexe of the overcrowded North Terrace asylum. When the asylum was relocated in 1902, the buildings were renovated for the Consumptive Home and Cancer block. The building was demolished in 1938.
Nurses also spent several months of their training at the Consumptive and Cancer Home – known colloquially to the nurses as the ‘Cons Home’ – where patients with chronic tuberculosis (TB) and with terminal cancer were cared for. The wards for TB and cancer were placed in the unused building of the second Adelaide Hospital. These buildings were to the east of the main hospital buildings, nearer to Hackney Road. Nurses who were allocated for duty there live don site. (Eleven Thousand Nurses J. Durdin p62).
Nurses at the Adelaide Hospital never lacked experience in caring for patients with pulmonary TB, an illness which a small band of dedicated physicians sought to control. Between 1902 and 1931 patients in the chronic stage of this disease were nursed at the Consumptive and Cancer Home. In 1931 chronically ill TB patients were transferred to another new hospital at Northfield, the Morris Hospital. The newly built Frome Ward at the Adelaide Hospital received recently diagnosed patients for active treatment. In the medical wards undiagnosed cases of TB continued to be a source of danger to the younger nurses. From time to time the matter of the susceptibility to this disease was raised by the board, prompted by the concern of physicians who noted the prevalence of the infection. In most years of the 1920s and 1930s the board noted at least one nurse’s death from TB (Eleven Thousand Nurses J. Durdin p70).
This extract from an editorial of The Register, Adelaide, Saturday 18th February 1911, (pg 8)
A Haven for the Sick. Some Recent Developments
[By our Special Reporter.]
The North Terrace Consumptive Home and the cancer block are worked in connection with the Adelaide Hospital. The wards occupy one of the highest portions of the park lands around the city, and provide beds for 60 advanced tuberculosis patients, and for 14 sufferers from incurable cancer. The gardens and lawns here are trim and neat, and are a constant delight to the sick people. The dietary in the Consumptive Home is the most extensive and liberal in the whole institution. Some of the patients now housed there have been inmates ever since the home was started, five or six years ago, which is a good testimony to the care bestowed on them, seeing that only advanced cases are admitted in the first instance.
The Heritage Office Oral History collection includes this quote from the 1993 interview with Lynley Dohnt, who completed training in 1926. The interviewer, Joan Durdin, asks ‘What went on at the Cons’ Home while you there were in 1925 ?’
Well, there was plenty of the milk of human kindness! You know those little essence of lemon, and essence of vanilla bottles? Bulbous, not straight like they are now. Well, a lot of patients used to have heroin given them every night, in little bottles like that. You learnt by the grape vine if they didn’t use their heroin. Some of them would go out and sell it. These were the tubercular patients. The Cancer Block and the Consumptive Home were in two separate buildings. They were in what had been the old Adelaide Hospital. In the Consumptive Home there was a main corridor, and there was another structure. And some of the patients spent the day time in the huts – open air places. But the Cancer Block was a separate block, near to the Infectious Diseases Hospital. That was in the Botanical Gardens. I was there at Christmas. I thought it was terrible that no-one came with any Christmas Cheer. Everybody expects something at Christmas time, but there was just nothing. So I said to the nurses: We are going to have some flowers, somehow! So I scrambled through a small gap in the wall, and through the hedge into the Botanical Gardens, and I picked a bunch of flowers and put them where the patients could see them. That was about the only ‘cheer’ that I can remember. The Sisters down there were rather severe. I can’t remember their names now. It was a funny place. We used to sleep out on a balcony, down among the trees. I was wakened one night, and there was the nurse in the next bed whacking on the wooden balustrade that went along the verandah. I said, whatever are you doing? She said, there’s a possum here! On they were primitive days. They were really primitive. It was so sad for the poor patients down in the Cancer Block. It is good that nursing has moved on from that”.
The Heritage Office Oral History collection includes this quote from the 1993 interview with Edith Eadie, who completed training in 1931. The interviewer, Joan Durdin, asked ‘How did you get to the Cons Home?
“We could hop on the tram, in front of the Adelaide Hospital, and get off at the Botanic Gardens near Hackney Road. The Consumptive Home! It was a dreadful word. Nobody liked it. We called it ‘Cons Home’. I went down there on my first night duty for one week, to relieve, and it was a terrible experience, because I was the little ‘roustabout’. There was the bungalow, there was the corridor, there was the cottage, and wards 1 and 2 were all down there. The corridor had the kitchen at one end, and the matron’s office, and there were fifteen small on either side of the corridor. The patients all had single rooms. The bungalow was a big ward – a wooden type of ward. “The cottage” was a funny little room with nine or ten beds in it for women cancer patients. The male cancer patients were down at ‘The Block’ and it was the most terrible place. You had to walk through the Gardens to get there. You’d be walking through the Botanic Gardens at midnight, and a rabbit would jump out under your feet, and you’d be terrified. But I was only there for a week and I went down again in my last year of training. I worked at the Consumptives home at the end of my training.
The Matron really adored her patients. She lived for them! She used to go down to The Block on Sunday mornings, and the nurse on duty had to stand by her for hours while she examined each patient, and dressed their dreadful open wounds. The patients couldn’t help getting infected or flyblown. They were allowed to walk about in the Botanic Gardens and anywhere else. And the matron usually found out, but she was kindness itself to the patients”.
For the nurse the isolation was a trial but they considered that the liberal meals which the hospital provided compensated for other deficiencies. The nurses used kerosene to clean and disinfect the chamber pots.
From 1927 a temporary tuberculosis clinic was placed in the lodge at the entrance to the old Consumptive Home. Morris Hospital was opened in November 1931 as the Advanced Consumptive Home and Cancer Block, renamed The Morris Hospital, Northfield, in December 1936. Although its administration was originally independent of Royal Adelaide Hospital, it was built to take over the role of the Adelaide Hospital’s Consumptive Home and Cancer Block.
Frome Ward, erected during 1932 for ‘open’ tuberculosis cases requiring active medical treatment was officially opened, and the Infectious Diseases Block was closed in October 1932. In July 1935, a new tuberculosis clinic was opened.