Home About TB TB History Human Impact Timeline People Profiles Sanatorium Age Preventing TB Finding TB Treating TB International TB Today Index

  The Sanatorium Age

 Sanatorium Life

During the long, trying period—sometimes as long as 8-10 years—which many spent in sanatoria without signs of improvement, feelings of discouragement and despair were not uncommon. It was no easy task for the medical and nursing staff to keep alive the spirit and the will to persist in a sanatorium routine that could, and usually did, become tedious and hard to bear. Sanatorium publications, such as the Valley Echo, were full of articles about "keeping your mind healthy" by doctors, funny stories and cartoons, and even the creative writing of patients. This poem was written by a sanatorium patient in order to encourage his fellow inmates:

- Introduction
- First
- Types
- Life
- End

Start the day with laughter
Face it with a song,
Scatter happy petals
As you go along;
Spare not time for sadness,
Paint your lips with joy,
Wear a constant courage
Nothing can destroy.
Never blind your vision
To another’s need,
Have a cheery answer
For the world to read.
Smile upon your fellows,
Maybe you will find
Such a way of living
Yields a happy mind.
– Jock Houston, (Patient at Fort Sanatorium).

Santa Claus pays a visit to San patients.

Fortunate, indeed, were those institutions that provided moral support and made good use of all their facilities for entertainment, as well as diversionary and educational means of passing the time, in order to help make sanatorium life bearable if not even pleasant. It is hard now to realize the months and years that patients spent in these institutions. The marvel is that so many of them stayed the course until success was achieved.

Tuberculous patients learn a useful trade while staying at the Fort San in 1919.
"Izaak Waltons around Galt, Ontario, frequently include in their fishing equipment flies made by the patients at Freeport Sanatorium. This hobby of tying flies was introduced to the sanatorium two years ago by an ardent fisherman who had been unfortunate enough to contract tuberculosis. He taught a number of other patients the intricacies of the art and now the group has an order for 1,000 flies and they spend their leisure time making them. -- C.T.A. Bulletin " -- news quote from the 1948 Valley Echo [vol. 29(7), page 15]

The goal of every patient in the sanatorium was to go home as soon as possible. "Chasing cure" meant taking sufficient time in bed, as well as other treatments, and biding your time until the doctor would approve of your health condition. The following poem, written by a sanatorium patient, highlights the one phrase that was on the mind of every patient at every moment.

Sanatorium patients are impressed with a live Pow-wow when several local bands group together to put on a show at the PA San in Saskatchewan.
We don’t ask for riches and wealth,
All we ask for is health.
It is funny how things seem,
I used to dream and dream,
Of a million dollars, a fur coat, a brand new car,
A yacht or two, and maybe a taste of caviar.
Now how my dreams have changed --
I dream of eating at a table
And to hear Dr. Wood say:
"Go home, you are able!"
Ruth Baker Woodard, (Patient at W.N.C. Sanatorium), reprinted in the 1945 Valley Echo [vol. 26(11), page 4]

Finally, for each patient the day came when he or she could return to home and family. From this point on, the ex-"cure chaser" would try to re-adjust to regular life, sometimes with a fear of the disease returning, sometimes in a much lower physical condition than before the disease occurred, and sometimes missing a few ribs or a partial lung. However, most patients were just happy to be out of the sanatorium and back on their feet, literally. This patient wrote back, after leaving the sanatorium to encourage other patients about life after the San:

Contrary to custom I usually tell my neighbors I had tuberculosis for years. Those, I figure, who tend to avoid me because of ’my case history’ are not worthy of my friendship. You would be surprised how FEW people treat me with less regard on account of this. Frankly, I believe people must be educated to this acceptance of their fellow creatures who unfortunately had tuberculosis at one time.
An ex-cure chaser, as you know, is generally not equal to all the demands made upon him by society. I live a quiet life and I let people know in a nice way that thus I wish to live. On the other hand I put so much into my work – time, money, devotion – that I command the respect of all who know me. When people tell me I am too conscientious and generous, I frankly tell them that the people of Saskatchewan spent over $2,000 to bring about my recovery from tuberculosis and, therefore I feel, if I live twenty years longer, it isn’t long enough to pay back in devoted, unselfish service, what I owe the ratepayers for all they did for me when I was ill and helpless.
The above little story I hope will help you to help some other ex-patients to see how satisfying one’s life can be, even after having had tuberculosis, if one adjusts oneself to circumstances without hiding one’s past. Old age, for an ex-tuberculosis patient, holds no terrors if one believes in the brotherhood of man, loves whole-heartedly and works happily, because it makes everybody anxious to be all that they can be to the one whose past life was halted and maimed for a while by tuberculosis. This I have proved in my case.
An excerpt from a letter written by an ex-patient of a Saskatchewan Sanatorium, taken from the 1950 Valley Echo [vol. 31(12), page 6].
A group of male patients at the Fort San display their new dressing gowns. Left to right, kneeling: George O'dell, Bill Glenn, Harwood (Phil)Phillips; seated, Pete (Baldy) Boschman, John Materi, Ken Park, Elmer Axelson, Johnny Armstrong, Jim Williams, Red Cowan, Steve Burkowski, and Johnny Johnston.