Secondary genre: medical, modern history
Format read: audiobook
We all know the show. But does the book match the drama and intensity of television?
Following WWII, the UK made an effort to equalize things between the classes, instituting a large network of social services and welfare oportunities to increase health, sanitation, and access to services throughout the country.
Eastern London was poverty stricken, reeling from bombings during the war. The slums that had housed so many for centuries were in the process of being shut down, but with a housing shortage across the country and in London in particular, there were few other places for people to go. Residents of the now-famous Poplar neighborhood found themselves crammed 10-20 deep in 1-3 rooms, with no running water, except maybe a tap in the hall. Toilets were shared and located outdoors. Families scraped by on minimal food and income, wearing clothes until they became little more than rags.
The midwives of St. Nautilus house were a major part of the welfare initiative, proving free pre-natal screenings, delivery, post-natal care, and in home health services. At a time when one couldn’t simply go to the pharmacy to pick up a month’s supply of insulin–for starters most of their patients didn’t even have refrigerators–they administered medication, tended wounds, and checked in on the elderly or injured.
Jenny Worth was one such midwife and district nurse, working in the early 1950s. By bicycle she traveled all over London, mixing with the lowest members of society. Even on streets where policemen feared to walk, a midwife could go alone and be unmolested because of her uniform.
This book looks at several specific cases, some of which are interwoven as patients come back again and again. The last story in particular–which I won’t spoil here–was absolutely amazing to hear, and I have a hard time believing it’s even true.
Is it identical to the television show? Or rather, is the show identical to the book? Absolutely not. But I do think the show has done a great job of maintaining the heart of Mrs. Worth’s memoir, so if you enjoyed that, you should certainly pick up the book.