Incidents and case studies ashore 10 - "Only case of syphilis" 1960s

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Peter Okey Chatham 1950sPeter Okey

Service: 1953 - 1979

Rate: Sick Berth Attendant

Peter joined the Royal Navy in 1953 having been an apprentice Dental Technician before joining as a Sick Berth Attendant (SBA) to complete National Service. He ended up serving for 26 years both in the United Kingdom and abroad. He served in Royal Naval Hospitals in Portsmouth, Chatham and Plymouth and spent two and a half years as the lone SBA onboard HMS Zest.

Peter recalls the devasting effects of syphilis on a patient

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Extract Text (Duration 3.07)

can remember one Chief Petty Officer being admitted to a medical ward I was on and this Chief Petty Officer was admitted for observation, and on the first day there was nothing unusual except that he did a handstand on his bed. Now this was in the days when you didn't get Petty Officers doing that sort of thing in a naval establishment. Hmmm, on the second day, he would go to get out of bed and put his slippers on, he would put his left slipper on and then instead of following up with the right, he'd take the left one off again. On the second day, he could go along to the NAAFI, which was about a quarter of a mile away, and get whatever he wanted and come back. On the third day he... if he got to the NAAFI, he couldn't find his way back. I never saw anybody who mentally deteriorated so fast. And I had to take him to the Royal Naval barracks in Chatham, because that's where the veneriologist was located. And I can remember the veneriologist saying to me, "You should take a good look at this man," who had a peculiar pigeon toed sort of gait and this was general paralysis of the insane, as it was referred to ‘GPI'. And this chap had syphilis and when he was... came back to the hospital I can remember a doctor saying to me, "Easy-peasy, we can cure this with one shot of, you know, two million units of Penicillin, but what we can't do is replace the brain cells that have been destroyed over the years." And of course, syphilis was known as the great imitator, that it either attacked the valves of the heart or it could go to the brain or whatever, and I'm sure a lot of people went to their grave with diagnosis other than syphilis. But that was the only case of syphilis that I ever saw in my naval career. And at one stage while I was in the Navy there were various stories in the media about the proliferation of syphilis; and yet I can remember that in Portsmouth in maybe 19... can't remember, but in the ‘60s anyway, there was only one case and so it wasn't as common as all that. And so one wonders where people get their figures from.

Only case of syphilis, 1960s

3.07 mins - mp3 File

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