Jane Grey Cannon Swisshelm.

Half a Century online

. (page 16 of 23)
Online LibraryJane Grey Cannon SwisshelmHalf a Century → online text (page 16 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


brought light quicker than there came to me the memory of all he had
said about the proper arrangement of the muscles over the end of the
bone; and added to this, came a perfect knowledge of the relations of
those mangled muscles to the general form of the body. I saw that the
nurse who held the stump tortured the man by disregarding natural law,
and setting down pitcher and glass on the floor, I stepped up, knelt,
slipped my hands under the remains of that strong thigh, and said to the
man who held it:

"Now, slip out your hands! easy! easy! there!" The instant it rested on
my hands the groans ceased, and I said:

"Is that better?"

"Oh, my God! yes!"

"Well, then, I will always hold it when it is dressed!"

"But you will not be here!"

"I will come!"

"That would be too much trouble!"

"I have nothing else to do, and will think it no trouble!"

The nurse, who did the dressing, was very gentle, and there was no more
pain; but I saw that the other leg was amputated below the knee, and
this was a double reason why he should be tenderly cared for. So I took
the nurse aside, and asked when the wounds were to be dressed again. He
said in the morning, and promised to wait until I came to help. Next
morning I was so much afraid of being late that I would not wait for the
street cars to begin running, but walked. The guard objected to
admitting me, as it was not time for visitors, but I explained and he
let me pass. I must not go through the wards at that hour, so went
around and came in by the door near which he lay. What was my surprise
to find that not only were his wounds dressed, but that all his clothing
and bed had been changed, and everything about him made as white and
neat and square as if he were a corpse, which he more resembled than a
living man. Oh, what a tribute of agony he had paid to the demon of
appearance! We all pay heavy taxes to other people's eyes; but on none
is the levy quite so onerous as on the patients of a model hospital! I
saw that he breathed and slept, and knew his time was short; but sought
the head nurse, and asked why he had not waited for me; he hesitated,
stammered, blushed and said:

"Why, the fact is, sister, he has another wound that it would not be
pleasant for you to see."

"Do you mean that that man has a groin wound in addition to all else?"

"Yes, sister! yes! and I thought - "

"No matter what you thought, you have tortured him to save your
mock-modesty and mine. You could have dressed that other wound, covered
him, and let me hold the stump. You saw what relief it gave him
yesterday. How could you - how dare you torture him?"

"Well, sister, I have been in hospitals with sisters a great deal, and
they never help to dress wounds. I thought you would not get leave to
come. Would not like to."

"I am not a sister, I am a mother; and that man had suffered enough. Oh,
how dared you? how dared you to do such a thing?" I wrung my hands, and
he trembled like a leaf, and said.

"It was wrong, but I did not know. I never saw a sister before - "

"I tell you I am no sister, and I cannot think whatever your sisters are
good for."

He promised to let me help him whenever it would save pain, and I
returned to the dying man. The sun shone and birds sang. He stirred,
opened his eyes, smiled to see me, and said.

"It is a lovely morning, and I will soon be gone."

I said, "Yes; the winter of your life is past; for you the reign of
sorrow is over and gone; the spring time appears on the earth, and the
time for the singing of birds has come; your immortal summer is close at
hand; Christ, who loveth us, and has suffered for us, has prepared
mansions of rest, for those who love him, and you are going soon."

"Oh, yes; I know he will take me home, and provide for my wife and
children when I am gone."

"Then all is well with you!" He told me his name and residence, in
Pittsburg, and I remembered that his parents lived our near neighbors
when I was a child. So, more than ever, I regretted that I could not
have made his passage through the dark valley one of less pain; but it
was a comfort to his wife to know I had been with him.

When he slept again, I got a slightly wounded man to sit by him and keep
away the flies, while I went to distribute some delicacies brought to
him by visitors, and which he would never need.

At the door of Ward Three, a large man stood, and seemed to be an
officer. I asked him if there were any patients in that ward who would
need wine penado. He looked down at me, pleasantly, and said:

"I think it very likely, madam, for it is a very bad ward."

It was indeed a very bad ward, for a settled gloom lay upon the faces of
the occupants, who suffered because the ward-master and entire set of
nurses had recently been discharged, and new, incompetent men appointed
in their places.

As I passed down, turning from right to left, to give to such men as
needed it the mild stimulant I had brought, I saw how sad and hopeless
they were; only one man seemed inclined to talk, and he sat near the
centre of the ward, while some one dressed his shoulder from which the
arm had been carried away by a cannon ball. A group of men stood around
him, talking of that strange amputation, and he was full of chat and
cheerfulness.

They called him Charlie; but my attention was quickly drawn to a young
man, on a cot, close by, who was suffering torture from the awkwardness
of a nurse who was dressing a large, flesh-wound on the outside of his
right thigh.

I set my bowl on the floor, caught the nurse's wrist, lifted his hand
away, and said:

"Oh, stop! you are hurting that man! Let me do that!"

He replied, pleasantly,

"I'll be very glad to, for I'm a green hand!"

I took his place; saw the wounded flesh creep at the touch of cold
water, and said: "Cold water hurts you!"

"Yes ma'am; a little!"

"Then we must have some warm!" But nurse said there was none.

"No warm water?" I exclaimed, as I drew back and looked at him, in blank
astonishment.

"No, ma'am! there's no warm water!"

"How many wounded men have you in this hospital?"

"Well, about seven hundred, I believe."

"About seven hundred wounded men, and no warm water! So none of them get
anything to eat!"

"Oh, yes! they get plenty to eat."

"And how do you cook without warm water?"

"Why, there's plenty of hot water in the kitchen, but we're not allowed
to go there, and we have none in the wards."

"Where is the kitchen?"

He directed me. I covered the wound - told the patient to wait and I
would get warm water. In the kitchen a dozen cooks stopped to stare at
me, but one gave me what I came for, and on returning to the ward I said
to Charlie:

"Now you can have some warm water, if you want it."

"But I do not want it! I like cold water best!"

"Then it is best for you, but it is not best for this man!"

I had never before seen any such wound as the one I was dressing, but I
could think of but one way - clean it thoroughly, put on clean lint and
rags and bandages, without hurting the patient, and this was very easy
to do; but while I did this, I wanted to do something more, viz.: dispel
the gloom which hung over that ward. I knew that sick folks should have
their minds occupied by pleasant thoughts, and never addressed an
audience with more care than I talked to that one man, in appearance,
while really talking to all those who lay before me and some to whom my
back was turned.

I could modulate my voice so as to be heard at quite a distance, and yet
cause no jar to very sensitive nerves close at hand; and when I told my
patient that I proposed to punish him now, while he was in my power, all
heard and wondered; then every one was stimulated to learn that it was
to keep him humble, because, having received such a wound in the charge
on Marie's Hill, he would be so proud by and by that common folks would
be afraid to speak to him. I should be quite thrown into the shade by
his laurels, and should probably take my revenge in advance by sticking
pins in him now, when he could not help himself.

This idea proved to be quite amusing, and before I had secured that
bandage, the men seemed to have forgotten their wounds, except as a
source of future pride, and were firing jokes at each other as rapidly
as they had done bullets at the enemy. When, therefore, I proposed
sticking pins into any one else who desired such punishment, there was
quite a demand for my services, and with my basin of tepid water I
started to wet the hard, dry dressings, and leave them to soften before
being removed. Before night I discovered that lint is an instrument of
incalculable torture, and should never be used, as either blood or pus
quickly converts some portion of it into splints, as irritating as a
pine shaving.



CHAPTER LIII.


HOSPITAL GANGRENE.

About nine o'clock I returned to the man I had come to help, and found
that he still slept. I hoped he might rouse and have some further
message for his wife, before death had finished his work, and so
remained with him, although I was much needed in the "very bad ward."

I had sat by him but a few moments when I noticed a green shade on his
face. It darkened, and his breathing grew labored - then ceased. I think
it was not more than twenty minutes from the time I observed the green
tinge until he was gone. I called the nurse, who brought the large man I
had seen at the door of the bad ward, and now I knew he was a surgeon,
knew also, by the sudden shadow on his face when he saw the corpse, that
he was alarmed; and when he had given minute directions for the removal
of the bed and its contents, the washing of the floor and sprinkling
with chloride of lime, I went close to his side, and said in a low
voice:

"Doctor, is not this hospital gangrene?"

He looked down at me, seemed to take my measure, and answered:

"I am very sorry to say, madam, that it is."

"Then you want lemons!"

"We would be glad to have them!" "Glad to have them?" I repeated, in
profound astonishment, "why, you _must_ have them!"

He seemed surprised at my earnestness, and set about explaining:

"We sent to the Sanitary Commission last week, and got half a box."

"Sanitary Commission, and half a box of lemons? How many wounded have
you?"

"Seven hundred and fifty."

"Seven hundred and fifty wounded men! Hospital gangrene, and half a box
of lemons!"

"Well, that was all we could get; Government provides none; but our
Chaplain is from Boston - his wife has written to friends there and
expects a box next week!"

"To Boston for a box of lemons!"

I went to the head nurse whom I had scolded in the morning, who now gave
me writing materials, and I wrote a short note to the _New York
Tribune_:

"Hospital gangrene has broken out in Washington, and we want lemons!
_lemons!_ LEMONS! ~LEMONS!~ No man or woman in health, has a right to a
glass of lemonade until these men have all they need; send us lemons!"

I signed my name and mailed it immediately, and it appeared next
morning. That day Schuyler Colfax sent a box to my lodgings, and five
dollars in a note, bidding me send to him if more were wanting; but that
day lemons began to pour into Washington, and soon, I think, into every
hospital in the land. Gov. Andrews sent two hundred boxes to the Surgeon
General. I received so many, that at one time there were twenty ladies,
several of them with ambulances, distributing those which came to my
address, and if there was any more hospital gangrene that season I
neither saw nor heard of it.

The officers in Campbell knew of the letter, and were glad of the
supplies it brought, but some time passed before they identified the
writer as the little sister in the bad ward, who had won the reputation
of being the "best wound-dresser in Washington."



CHAPTER LIV.


GET PERMISSION TO WORK.

Rules required me to leave Campbell at five o'clock, but the sun was
going down, and I lay on a cot, in the bad ward, feeling that going
home, or anywhere else, was impossible, when that large doctor came,
felt my pulse, laid his hand on my brow, and said:

"You must not work so hard or we will lose you! I have been hunting for
you to ask if you would like to remain with us?"

"Like to remain with you? Well, you will have to send a file of soldiers
with fixed bayonets to drive me away."

He laughed quite heartily, and said:

"We do not want you to go away. I am executive officer; Surgeon Kelley
and Dr. Baxter, surgeon in charge, has commissioned me to say that if
you wish to stay, he will have a room prepared for you. He hunted for
you to say so in person, but is gone; now I await your decision. Shall I
order you a room?"

"Surgeon Baxter! Why - what does he know about me?"

"Oh, Surgeon Baxter, two medical inspectors, and the surgeon of this
ward were present this morning when you came in and took possession."

His black eyes twinkled, and he shook with laughter when I sat up,
clasped my hands, and said:

"Oh, dear? Were they the men who were standing around Charlie? Why I
had not dreamed of them being surgeons!"

"Did you not know by their shoulders traps?"

"Shoulderstraps? Do surgeons have shoulderstraps? I thought only
officers wore them!"

"Well, surgeons are officers, and you can know by my shoulderstraps that
I am a surgeon."

"Oh, I do not mind you; but Dr. Baxter! How I did behave before him!
What must he have thought? And he does not allow women to come here!"

"Well. You passed inspection; and as you propose to stay with us, I will
have a room prepared for you."

He then went on to state that the reason Doctor Baxter would not have
female nurses, was that he would not submit to Miss Dix's interference,
did not like the women she chose, and army regulations did not permit
him to employ any other.

"But," he continued, "no one can object to his entertaining a guest, and
as his guest you can employ your time as you wish."

Ah! what a glorious boon it was, this privilege of work, and my little
barrack-room, just twice the width of my iron cot. I would not have
exchanged for any suite in Windsor palace.



CHAPTER LV.


FIND A NAME.

Nothing was more needed in the bad ward, than an antidote for
homesickness, and, to furnish this, I used my talking talent to the
utmost, but no subject was so interesting as myself. I was the mystery
of the hour. Charlie was commissioned to make discoveries, and the
second day came, with a long face, and said:

"Do you know what they say about you?"

"No indeed! and suspect I should never guess."

"Well, they say you're an old maid!"

I stopped work, rose from my knees, confronted him and exclaimed, with
an injured air:

"An old maid! Why Charlie! is it possible you let them talk in that
manner about me, after the nice pickles I gave you?"

The pickles had made him sick, and now there was a general laugh at his
expense, but he stuck to his purpose and said:

"Well, ain't you on old maid?"

"An old maid, Charlie? Did any one ever see such a saucy boy?"

"Oh, but tell us, good earnest, ain't you an old maid?"

"Well then, good earnest, Charlie, I expect I shall be one, if I live to
be old enough."

"Live to be old enough! How old do you call yourself?"

I set down my basin, counted on my fingers, thought it over and
replied:

"Well, if I live two months and five days longer, I shall be sixteen."

Then there was a shout at Charlie's expense, and I resumed my work,
grave as an owl. That furnished amusement until it grew stale, when
Charlie came to ask me my name, and I told him it was Mrs. Snooks.

"Mrs. Snooks?" repeated a dozen men, who looked sadly disappointed, and
Charlie most of all, as I added:

"Yes; Mrs. Timothy Snooks, of Snooksville, Minnesota."

This was worse and worse. It was evident no one liked the name, but all,
save one, were too polite to say so, and he roared out:

"I don't believe a word of it!"

I sat at some distance with my back to him, dressing a wound; and,
without turning, said,

"Why? What is the matter with you?"

"I don't believe that such a looking woman as you are ever married a
fellow by the name of Snooks:"

"That is because you are not acquainted with the Snooks' family: brother
Peter's wife is a much better looking woman than I am!"

"Good lookin'!" he sneered; "call yourself good lookin', do you?"

"Well, I think you intimated as much, did he not boys?"

They all said he had, and the laugh was turned on him; but he exclaimed
doggedly,

"I don't care! I'm not goin' to call you Snooks!"

"And what do you propose to call me?"

"I'll call you Mary."

"But Mary is not my name."

"I don't care! It's the name of all the nice girls I know!"

"Very good! I too shall probably be a nice girl if I live to grow up,
but just now it seems as if I should die in infancy - am too good to
live."

"You're the greatest torment ever any man saw."

The last pin was in that bandage; I arose, turned, and the thought
flashed through my brain, "a tiger." His eyes literally blazed, and I
went to him, looking straight into them, just as I had done into Tom's
more than once. A minnie rifle ball had passed through his right ankle,
and when I saw him first the flesh around the wound was purple and the
entire limb swollen almost to bursting. The ward master told me he had
been given up three days before, and was only waiting his turn to be
carried to the dead house. Next morning the surgeon confirmed the
account, said he had been on the amputation table and sent away in hope
the foot might be saved, adding:

"I think we were influenced by the splendor of the man's form. It seemed
sacrilege to mangle such a leg then, before we knew it was too late."

I thought the inflammation might be removed. He said if that were done
they could amputate and save him, and the conversation ended in the
surgeon giving the man to me to experiment on my theory. This seemed to
be generally known, and the case was watched with great interest. No one
interfered with my treatment of him, and nurses designated him to me as
"your man."

He was a cross between a Hercules and Apollo - grey-eyed, brown-haired,
the finest specimen of physical manhood I have ever seen, and now his
frail hold on life was endangered by the rage into which I had
unwittingly thrown him. So I sat bathing and soothing him, looking ever
and anon steadily into his eyes, and said:

"You had better call me mother."

"Mother!" he snarled, "You my mother!"

"Why not?"

"Why, you're not old enough!"

"I am twice as old as you are!

"No, you 're not; and another thing, you're not big enough!" He raised
his head, surveyed me leisurely and contemptuously, his dark silky
moustache went up against his handsome nose as he sank back and said
slowly:

"Why, you-'re-not-much-bigger-'an-a-bean!"

"Still, I am large enough to take care of you and send you back to your
regiment if you are reasonable: but no one can do anything for you if
you fly into a rage in this way!"

"Yes! and you know that, and you put me in a rage going after them other
fellows. You know I've got the best right to you. I claimed you soon as
you come in the door, and called you afore you got half down the ward.
You said you'd take care of me and now you don't do it. The surgeon give
me to you too. You know I can't live if you don't save me, and you don't
care if I die!"

I was penitent and conciliatory, and promised to be good, when he said
doggedly:

"Yes! and I'll call you Mary!"

"Very well, Mary is a good name - it was my mother's, and I shall no
doubt come to like it."

"I guess it is a good name! It was my mother's name too, and any woman
might be glad to be called Mary. But I never did see a woman 'at had any
sense!"

He soon growled himself to sleep, and from that time I called him "Ursa
Major;" but he only slept about half an hour, when a nurse in great
fright summoned me. They had lifted him and he had fainted.

I helped to put him back into bed, and bathed him until consciousness
returned, when he grasped my wrist with a vice-like hold and groaned.

"Oh God! Oh mother! Is this death?"

I heard no more of Miss Mary, or nice girls; but God and mother and
death were often on his lips.

To the great surprise of every one I quelled the inflammation and fever,
banished the swelling, and got him into good condition, when the foot
was amputated and shown to me. The ankle joint was ground into small
pieces, and these were mingled with bits of leather and woolen sock. No
wonder the inflammation had been frightful; but it was some time after
that before I knew the foot might have been saved by making a sufficient
opening from the outside, withdrawing the loose irritating matter, and
keeping an opening through which nature could have disposed of her
waste. I do not know if surgery have yet discovered this plain,
common-sense rule, but tens of thousands of men have died, and tens of
thousands of others have lost limbs because it was not known and acted
upon. All those men who died of gun-shot flesh wounds were victims to
surgical stupidity.

I nursed the cross man until he went about on crutches, and his faith in
me was equal in perfection to his form, for he always held that I could
"stop this pain" if I would, and rated me soundly if I was "off in ward
Ten" when he wanted me. One day he scolded worse than usual, and soon
after an Irishman said, in an aside:

"Schure mum, an' ye mustn't be afther blamin' de rist av us fur that
fellow's impidence. Schure, an' there's some av us that 'ud kick him out
av the ward, if we could, for the way he talks to ye afther all that you
have done for 'im an' fur all av us."

"Why! why! How can you feel so? What difference is it to me how he
talks? It does him good to scold, and what is the use of a man having a
mother if he cannot scold her when he is in pain? I wish you would all
scold me! It would do you ever so much good. You quite break my heart
with your patience. Do, please be as cross as bears, all of you,
whenever you feel like it, and I will get you well in half the time."

"Schure mum, an' nobody iver saw the likes of ye!"

A man was brought from a field hospital, and laid in our ward, and one
evening his stump was giving him great pain, when the cross man advised
him to send for me, and exclaimed:

"There's mother, now; send for her."

"Oh!" groaned the sufferer, "what can she do?"

"I don't know what she can do; an' she don't know what she can do; but
just you send for her! She'll come, and go to fussin' an' hummin' about
just like an old bumble-bee, an' furst thing you know you won't know
nothin', for the pain'll be gone an' you'll be asleep."



CHAPTER LVI.


DROP MY ALIAS.

The second or third day of my hospital work, Mrs. Gaylord, the
Chaplain's wife, came and inquired to what order I belonged, saying that
the officers of the hospital were anxious to know. I laughed, and told
her I belonged exclusively to myself, and did not know of any order
which would care to own me. Then she very politely inquired my name, and
I told her it was Mrs. Jeremiah Snooks, when she went away, apparently
doubting my statement. I had been in Campbell almost a week, when Dr.
Kelly came and said:

"Madam, I have been commissioned by the officers of this hospital to
ascertain your name. None of us know how to address you, and it is very
awkward either in speaking to you, or of you, not to be able to name
you."

"Doctor, will not Mrs. Snooks do for a name, for all the time I shall be
here?"

"No, madam, it will not do."

I was very unwilling to give my name, which was prominently before the
public, on account of my Indian lecture and _Tribune_ letters, but I
seemed to have at least a month's work to do in Campbell. Hospital
stores were pouring in to my city address, and being sent to me at a
rate which created much wonder, and the men who had given me their
confidence had a right to know who I was.

So I gave my name, and must repeat it before the Doctor could realize
the astounding fact; even then he took off his cap and said:

"It is not possible you are _the_ Mrs. - - , the lady who lectured in
Doctor Sunderland's church!"

So I was proclaimed, with a great flourish of trumpets. For two hours my
patients seemed afraid of me, and it did seem too bad to merge that
giantess of the bean-pole and the press and the tall woman of the
platform both in poor little insignificant me! It was like blotting out
the big bear and the middle-sized bear from the old bear story, and
leaving only the one poor little bear to growl over his pot of porridge.

In Ward Five was one man who had been laid on his left side, and never


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryJane Grey Cannon SwisshelmHalf a Century → online text (page 16 of 23)