Kitty Hudson was born in the village of Arnold in 1765, the granddaughter of Mr White, sexton of St Mary’s Church Nottingham. She went to live with her grandfather when she was six, and to earn her keep, she was put to the task of sweeping the pews and aisles of the church.
While working, every time she found a pin or needle, Kitty would put it into her mouth for safekeeping. This in itself is not an uncommon practise, and perhaps the young Kitty had seen her mother do this while carrying out needle work. However, Kitty began to enjoy the sensation of sharp objects in her mouth; a habit that was further encouraged by a resident servant girl who, for amusement, would offer Kitty a “stick of tuffy” in return for a mouth full of pins.
For Kitty, what began as a habit soon became an addiction, and in her own words she “could neither eat, drink, nor sleep, without pins or needles in her mouth.” Such was the damage caused by this practice that by the time her friends and family were aware, she had worn away her teeth almost to her gums.
Kitty began to suffer a constant numbness in her arms and legs which the doctors could not explain. She was finally admitted to hospital when her right arm became inflamed and infected, and the doctors discovered two needles under the skin that were quickly extracted using forceps. Further examination revealed more needles higher up the arm, which were also extracted.
With the exception of two or three short breaks, Kitty spent nearly two years in hospital. As an inpatient, Kitty’s pains continued in various parts of her body, and the hospital record book states that “a very large darning needle was this day extracted from her right breast, seemingly buried within a part of that gland; thinks she feels another needle very deep seated under the gland in the middle of the breast; complained of great pain in the breast after the removal of the needle, which in about an hour afterwards became so excessive as to throw her into convulsions.”
Later, Kitty’s right breast became extremely inflamed, and she was soon complaining of a deep-seated pain which prevented her from resting. The doctors suspected the pain to be caused by yet another needle and were planning to operate in order to remove it.
During the operation, the needle was discovered to have passed into Kitty’s thorax and could not be reached. Her breast tissue was so infected that part of it was removed. The records state: “For several days [the patient] has complained of great pain in her breast and describes it to be as if several pins were lodged in the mamma and pectoral muscle, and lying between the two ribs.”
Kitty was once again operated on, and the whole of her right breast was removed. A needle was found in the middle of the tissue. In the evening, Kitty suffered a haemorrhage, the dressings were removed and a pin was found in the dressing. Still complaining of pain, Kitty’s dressings were again partially removed, and a pin was found sticking to them, with four more pins lodged in the wound. A few days later, the same thing happened, and four more pins and a plum stone – which she’d swallowed two days before – were found stuck to the dressing.
By coincidence, a young man by the name of Goddard attended the hospital as an outpatient, with what is described in the records simply as a “complaint in the head”, through which he lost an eye. This young man was also from Arnold and was a childhood friend of Kitty. The two became romantically attached, and Goddard swore that he would marry Kitty even if she lost all her limbs, providing her life was spared.
They were married six months after Kitty’s discharge from hospital and lived in Arnold. Here, Kitty bore nineteen children. Kitty’s husband died in 1814 and a short time after, she went to stay with friends in Derbyshire where she lived out the remainder of her life.
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