about the author

Judith (Judy) Newton [nee Lambert] was a Scientific Officer at The Womens Hospital Crown Street from 1960-1962.


Remeniscences of a Scientific Officer

© Judy Newton

The Women's Hospital, Crown Street Sydney, was a focal point for some 90 years, until the Government of 1983 decided the land was worth more and it was closed despite vociferous protests.

I worked for two years in the Pathology Department which was on the ground floor of Founders Block, under pathologist Dr J. Murray Moyes. He was assisted by Dr V. Wouters [female doctor from Netherlands who was foremost in Herpes research], with Miss Clarke in histopathology and a senior male technician whose name escapes me. Miss E. Canders kept us organised from the office. Much support came from Senior Resident Doctors and Honoraries such as Dr Janet Cross, Dr Macbeth, Dr Macdonald, Dr Grant (Fertility Clinic), Dr Stening, Dr Reg Bowman Senior and Junior, and Dr Struan Robertson.  Most of this time there were at least eight staff, all female, being two Scientific Officers [BSc with major in Haematology and Biochemistry, ex Sydney University] of which I was one [Judy Lambert 1938-] and six Technicians, with technical qualifications, some of which related to histopathology.

Duties included taking blood from newborn babes for bilirubin tests (jaundice), cross-matching blood for transfusion, ordering and accepting blood [bottles, in those days] from the Red Cross drivers, sometimes "under siren" to reach us,  Rh neg blood for those whose mother’s blood was different group etc.   Testing blood groups, on a special glass slide, had to be checked by two others & signed off.  Biochemistry included electrolytes [long before the days of autoanalysers] and blood urea, especially for those who had illegal abortions [very common then].  I recall one Russian lady, married with four children and not wanting a fifth, had tried abortion and was in a bad way. Her husband wanted to give her some vodka, so the Junior Resident [whose name shall remain anonymous, though I can still see his earnest face] asked me to perform electrolytes on a sample!  I don’t recall Dr Moyes reaction to that.   But I had to go to her bed to get a venous sample,  the smell .. , and I came away in tears, for it would be her death bed.

Another patient in Founders Block was the wife of Rock Singer Warren Williams, popular on Bandstand and Six O’clock Rock, before The Beatles' time. We’d take turns when she needed a haemoglobin test , in case we encountered Warren!

The babies I remember all had to be moved from a verandah ward during a heatwave of several days … there was of course no air conditioning.  There were some very upset nursing sisters I remember when a Jewish Rabbi came in [looked none too clean] to perform circumcision on a babe,  apparently permitted. Boy, did we have some lively discussions over that!

I recall several patients who had taken the adage "a cup of tea, a BEX and a good lay down!" to its extreme … they came in with a strange skin colour and dark blue blood,  the oxygen-carrying capacity of their blood having been seriously diminished by the BEX headache powders.  We would be checking their Haemoglobin values for quite some time.

Another innovation was the huge increase in checks for cervical cancer (pap smears),  so that the young Medical Technologists in our Pathology Department were trained as a screening team (having histopathology background, which we Scientific Officers did not).  Thet would study the slides of cervical smears, passing anything suspect or doubtful to the Pathology Doctor, Dr Murray Moyes or Dr Wouters. This aided the time processing for such testing. I recall it started in second half of 1961.

One high point was a visit from actress Vivian Leigh. I don’t know why, but she was to open something. It so happened I got an urgent call for a baby’s bilirubin, so was proceeding up the ramp from Founders Block to the main nurseries when Matron led Miss Leigh past me, so I stood aside and she smiled and nodded. Brush with fame ! 

Dr William McBride was the golden boy of the Research Department, I think not then called Foundation 41. We thought he was marvellous,  though a bit high handed. We jumped when he needed anything. His research into the birth defects caused by pregnancy drug Thalidomoide was world wide groundbreaking. [When I was pregnant with my first child in 1968, I was offered Debendox , for morning sickness. Thank goodness, I decided I didn't need it.] It was sad he "bent" results on Debendox, causing him to be disbarred for many years.

In Haematology, we did full blood counts, going cross-eyed over the grids of microscopes while pushing our counters.  We collected blood [tricky, I think we had to swirl glass beads in a small flask as the blood was collected] and prepared slides for Dr Moyes to look for Lupus Erythrematosis. Also we did BSRs, white cell counts. Glucose Tolerance Tests were part of Biochemistry, so there was a certain amount of out patient work, as well as wards.

The position of Crown Street meant that walking from Central Railway, I went up Foveaux Street and round back streets, occasionally seeing through a half-open window, the smoky atmosphere of illegal gambling places, heads bent over tables. One day Miss Clarke quietly called us into her histopathology room to look through the window. "There’s a Cockatoo!" she said, meaning of course the Lookout for the nearby gambling place, and we saw the nervous fellow on duty. 

I left for my overseas adventure by ship, in January 1962. I was quite horrified hearing that the place would be closed in 1983.

- compiled 25 July 2011