Hospital staff humbled by happy Jimmy Diver

MATTHEW GRAY
Last updated 05:00 18/12/2012

Twelve-year-old Jimmy Diver had little to smile about.

War, family bereavements and genetics combined to rob him of a conventional sort of childhood and eventually put him in an early grave.

Jimmy lived over half of his life as a fulltime patient in Auckland's Princess Mary children's hospital.

He was born with crippling deformities and was an invalid in need of constant care and attention.

But his mother Dorothy died aged 34 in 1915 and his father Frank enlisted in the army a few months later - spending the rest of World War I fighting overseas before being shipped home in 1918 as a wounded version of his former self.

A 13-year-old brother, Eric, succumbed to a prolonged bout of illness in hospital while there dad was gone and that left Jimmy with just two slightly older siblings - no more than children themselves and without the means to offer him any alternative to the situation he found himself in.

Meanwhile the physical ailments he endured got to the point where he had to have both legs amputated.

Yet Jimmy seemed strangely content with his lot and hospital workers were frequently humbled by his happy demeanour and positive attitude.

He was something of a celebrity around the wards where he'd lived for a total of seven years by the time of his death on August 25, 1925.

No-one else had ever stayed in the hospital as long and Jimmy's demise marked the end of an era.

Staff mourned the loss of a "lovable and wonderfully courageous little boy" who many regarded as a child of the hospital. James Theodore Diver, a newspaper report said, was the soul of pluck and cheerfulness - "the bright little figure in a wheeled chair with a starched white shirt, coloured ties and proudly-parted hair."

Nurses loved him and he adored them right back - springing to their defence by way of letter when, on one occasion, a correspondent to the New Zealand Herald dared criticise the standard of care they provided.

The hospital and its people were as much as part of Jimmy as he was of it and them.

It was bronchitis that killed him in the end - a final blow in a tragically hampered life that touched so many people in so short a time.

"A more beautiful or affectionate nature would be hard to find," one reporter wrote.

Jimmy was buried on his 13th birthday in the unmarked grave already occupied by his mum at Waikumete cemetery.

Frank, who died in 1949, lies among other veterans in the nearby soldiers' section.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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