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15 October 2014
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I was a Penicillin Guinea-Pigicon for Recommended story

by Harold Pollins

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Harold Pollins
People in story: 
Harold Pollins
Location of story: 
Kent and Sussex
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Contributed on: 
26 May 2004

Unpaid Lance-Corporal Harold Pollins and his brother Sgt Robert Pollins on leave in Spring 1945 in the back garden of their home in Leytonstone

While training at the Infantry Training Centre near Maidstone I found myself coming out in boils. I went sick and was told it might be septicaemia and to report sick again in a few days' time.

When I did I lined up with the others on the sick parade to find ourselves being inspected by the RSM. He inquired disdainfully into the reasons for our reporting sick and clearly did not believe the answers he got - the usual ones about flat feet, stomach ache and the rest. His tone suggested that he thought we were all malingerers.

When it was my turn I said loud and clear, 'Septicaemia, sir.' This must have impressed him, or perhaps he didn't understand, as he passed on without comment.

In due course I found myself at a military hospital in Penshurst. The boils and blotches on my legs appeared to the medical staff to be suitable specimens for a research project so my medication consisted of one leg being treated in the traditional way with cloths made wet by being immersed in, I think, gentian violet (at least it made everything they touched that colour). The other leg was treated with penicillin and left uncovered.

Penicillin was very new and I think I must have been a very early user of it, hence the research project. For a few days after the treatment started, nothing seemed to happen, in fact the boils etc got worse. I recall looking at my toes and noticing a sort of blister full of puss, so I cut it open with a razor blade to let out the yellow mess. There was no question, even if I'd thought of it, of sterilising the blade and I suppose I may have made the condition worse.

The research project was I'm sure a failure. I was not a very good subject. I could not help scratching the leg which had been treated with penicillin and the medical officer was greatly annoyed with me for ruining the research. In a camp sort of way he flapped his hand at me and said, 'Naughty, naughty boy' or something to that effect. When I was discharged I was issued with long johns to wear (they were made of cotton and were quite thin). I included them with my other washing for the weekly laundry but as they were unusual items they did not come back. Fortunately by that time the problem had disappeared.

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Message 1 - Penicillan Guinea Pig

Posted on: 28 September 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Harold -
sorry to hear about your misfortune with boils 'way back then and I can well understand the RSM being nonplussed with your "septicema" routine - I had a similar carry on with an RSM when after some leave, I reported that on returning to camp I FOUND that my kit was MISSING - to use those two words in the same sentence was too much for him and it tooks awhile to sort it out !
But back to the subject - my younger brother - back around 1937/38 went down with Celebro Meningitis and all was lost for three weeks until a young doctor returned from a lecture in London. He then advocated this new drug which they had been discussing and on obtaining a supply - at great cost I might add - my brother was cured - which was exceptional in those days as that disease usually spelt fine to anybody who contracted it.
Three years later at the age of 15 he then signed professional forms to play for Aston Villa and with service commitments in Malta - he played for the "villa" for the next fifteen years ! He plays a mean game of golf and has recently had both hips replaced and is back on the golf course - daily !
best regards


Message 2 - Penicillan Guinea Pig

Posted on: 01 October 2005 by Harold Pollins


I'm not sure I had septicaemia - I'm told it is life-threatening. But whatever it was, it was unpleasant. This was an army hospital but I don't recall being instructed to 'lie to attention' or anything like that. perhaps the beds were all lined up straight though. But I do remember the very camp officer who flapped his hands at me.

To recover from meninigitis before the war was I think pretty unusual. I recall that my daughter, born in 1963, when a year old went to hospital with a very high temperature and we had a very worrying evening while they gave her tests for meningitis. Fortunately she proved not to have it. But there is a postscript to that. Our doctor told us that if she had a high temperature we should call the doctor immediately. About a year later, when we had moved to Oxford (actually to a village about a mile from the car factory), and my daughter had a high temperature one morning my wife called the doctor. But a little while later, before the doctor had come, the temperature went down so she cancelled the doctor. But then the temperature rose again and she rang the doctor. The doctor's wife who took the calls said that the doctor couldn't come. My wife phoned me at work so I phoned the doctor and got the wife. She said that appointments had to be made for home visits first thing in the morning. I said that we couldn't guarantee to be ill at that time. When we nexr saw our doctor (one of a partnership)he told us that because I had been rude to the wife of one of his partners we would have to leave the practice. Never been drummed out of things before or since!



Message 3 - Penicillan Guinea Pig

Posted on: 01 October 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Harold -
I had a Doctor like that before i returned to Canada -
went to see him about some penicillan for my annual Bronchitis - he then asked if I still smoked - well of course I replied - he then volunteered that if he had to come out at 3.a.m. to tend to me he wouldn't bother as he only received 10GBP for such visits.
My hackles went upright at that point and I suggested that if he was looking for 20GBP - then he was talking to a Scotsman ! futhermore HE hadn't done a thing to help me quit smoking; he then threw a prescription across his desk at me for "nicorettes"
which I bought and some two weeks later they were gone, and I had a decision to make - buy some more nicorettes or cigarettes - I said to hell with it and haven't had a smoke since that day !
Not that I feel any better as I still get the annual Bronchitis !


Message 4 - Penicillan Guinea Pig

Posted on: 02 October 2005 by Harold Pollins


I used to smoke, both cigarettes and pipe. When I was employed by the National Coal Board, 1960-2, I recall a lunch-time seminar organised by the Medical department. It was to hear a talk by Dr Doll who had just brought out the results of his researches into the relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. It was a packed meeting and I noticed that as he spoke everybody stopped smoking. The first person to start smoking was the Coal Board's Chief Medical Officer. I eventually gave up smoking on Friday March 1st 1985 at 10pm.
Bit of good news this week. I had written an article on a Jewish academic who was in Oxford in the 1920s. I had some help from his son, aged 86, who got the MC in WWII in the Armoured Corps (I don't know which regiment). I phoned the editor of an academic journal I know (I'm actually on its editorial advisory panel), she said she was interested but would have to send it out to be 'peer reviewed' for an opinion as to its suitability. I sent it to her on Friday, and on Saturday she phoned me to say she was going to publish it and wouldn't bother to have it peer reviewed.



Message 5 - Penicillan Guinea Pig

Posted on: 02 October 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Well done Harold -
she obviously thought it worthwhile without bringing in the nay and yea sayers - I gave up smoking at around the same time after 40 years - so I have to pay for it somehow !

Message 1 - penicillin

Posted on: 06 October 2005 by ted callister

I was in the RAMC working on an ambulance train running from the front to France, i developed a throat condition with a very high temp; not being able to drop me off anywhere en route the train chemist suggested try this new penicillin, no one knew the "mixture" but the Major said "spray it on three water one penicillin" it was about 9pm. and i was given a good dose and off to sleep i went, my first sleep for 48hrs.anyway i woke in the morning no sign of infection just one big hole where the growth had been, all amasement around and back on duty straight away!! it was well used from then on-----------ted callister.


Message 2 - penicillin

Posted on: 20 October 2005 by Harold Pollins

I remember seeing a TV programme about medicine, by Jonathan Miller I think. Whoever the presenter was he said something to the effect that before WWI and the invention of penicillin and also antibiotic drugs doctors more or less worked in the dark and hoped for the best.

Harold Pollins

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