Cresson TB Sanatorium Remembered
The following story was sent to me on November 4, 2009 by Audrey Sweeney.

Audrey Sweeney
I was 12 years old in 1950 just being a small girl with the same problems every other little girl had,  then I contracted Tuberculosis. I did not know what was wrong with me or even what this disease was, but I soon found out that it was going to make me think that I was in a horror movie.

I was sent to a hospital to help me get better. That hospital was called the Cresson Sanatorium. It was built to help children and others with this dreaded disease or at least that is what we were all led to believe. I soon found out the truth.  Soon after my parents dropped me off I found out that they were more afraid of the disease than I was because they did not visit me during visitations.

On my first day at the Sanatorium my clothes were taken, I was put in pajamas and I was placed in solitary confinement. I was alone and I could not get out because the door was locked. I stayed in there for a week.

I did meet some other patients there and we became real good friends. One friend in particular was in the bed beside mine, her name was Sandy and she was only seven years old at the time. I was only 12.
I remember how scared she was when I first met her and how I wanted to make her feel better. I tried to talk to her and make her feel better but I was just as afraid as she was and I knew that I could not hide it from her.

There were two really nice Mexican ladies in there that were taking care of us. There were two nurses, one was nice and the other was mean.  The mean nurse would wake us up in the middle of the night and throw the window wide open, no matter how cold it was and she would also make sure that our covers were also moved away from us. Sandy and I would huddle together for warmth through the night.

I remember on more than one occasion where the mean one would shine flashlights in our eyes and wake us up and then make us stay in the boys ward till morning. We wondered why no one would stop her because she seemed to be able to do anything she wanted to with us.  There were two young boys as I recall that were about 18 or 19 years old and they took care of us and protected us through the night (Roger and Gordon), I believe Gordon was the older of the two and despite the care the two boys showed us, Sandy and I were still very frightened and would stay once again huddled up with each other through the night. We were constantly coughing, crying and scared but the mean nurse did not care. During our school periods we had to literally crawl to school because we could barely breathe. There was very little compassion in that place when we were there.

For our ‘health’, they forced some type of liquid down our throats on a daily basis and would make us swallow something that was the size of a caramel with a plastic tube attached on the other end. We were not given any anesthesia to dull the pain so when we would swallow it felt like it literally tore up our throats as it went down. It hurt us a lot but we were told to just ‘behave’ and the pain would eventually go away. Between those incidences and the shots that we had to endure we were in constant pain from both the disease and the treatment.

When I found out that I weighed only 35 lbs. I wondered why no one noticed that I was slowly melting away.I felt as though my life in that place was not worth very much and I tried to run away twice and both times I got caught and paid for my mistake. The first time that I ran away I crawled out of my window that the nurse left open and they caught me and placed me in solitary confinement for two weeks. The next time I ran away I made it to the top of the hill where I saw some construction workers. One of them asked me what I was doing and I told him that I was running away from the sanatorium because of how they were treating me. He took me back and they threw me solitary confinement for another two weeks. I also hid in a broom closet and they searched everywhere for me and did not find me. I came out of the closet that night and one of the night nurses saw me. She was very nice and let me stay on a cot next to the ward that I normally slept. I know that they never even called the police after I went missing and later that night they all went home. There was definitely no love in that place and I hated my time there with a passion.

I also remember another patient there that was a very mean girl and she was especially mean to me. Her name was Mildred.

Since my parents would never come and see me there were two people that felt something for me enough to want to adopt me. One was the nurse downstairs and her husband. He was in the service at the time. They used to bring me nice things and showed me a lot of love and compassion.

Another incident that I remember is when I was made to go down to the laundry room; they had sick children down there in beds as well. That is where I met another young girl named Vicky and she was about 6 years old. I found out that no one would ever come to see her and when they found out that I was seeing her they would no longer allowed me to see my new sick friend. I did finally sneak back down to see her once more and found out that she had died. That place was disgusting. They put a very very sick child in the basement and just let her die because they couldn’t do anything for her. She was the forgotten and the dead.I remember another time when I was told that I had to eat all of the fat on the meat or I would not be allowed to leave. I told them that I did not like the fat and that I was not going eat it no matter what they said or did. They told me that I would have to stay there until I ate it all. I stayed there all night and when I would fall asleep the ‘nurse’ would wake me up and tell me to eat the fat. I also remember one time when she made one of the boys put a diaper on and walk all over the dining room in just the diaper. She said she did that because she was going to punish him for what I did (not eat the fat off the meat). I really felt sorry for him and to this day I cannot even think about eating any fat without getting sick to my stomach.

That place was like living in Hell on a daily basis. I never knew what kind of ‘treatment’ I was going to get to make me feel ‘better’, nor what new thing I would have to endure because of the whims of a nurse or the thefts and attacks of the other patients.

When I started to feel better they asked me if I wanted to stay. Can you imagine them asking me that? I said no way, get me out of here.

I am convinced that I survived because I am a survivor. I had polio when I was 9 years old, Tuberculosis when I was 12 (and that hellhole), I had Tuberculosis again when I was 43 (The treatment was to take pills for a year- what a difference) and I had breast cancer at 59. I feel that even with everything I went through, I am a blessed survivor but with the grace of God. I really thought that I was going to die like my friend Vicky did in that place.

I did try to tell my parents what was going on in that place but they did not believe me.

I remember on more than one occasion that I would wake up and someone would be missing. So when I read your article in the paper I was surprised and cried. It was the right time after all the time that passed for me to tell my story.

Thank you for writing the story and letting me tell mine.