Archive for the ‘Voices from the Past….’ Category

An update from the December 1st issue of the Queen’s Nurses’ Magazine…

‘I can only account for catching Typhus by being in a rather low condition.  I was up all night before at a midwifery case, in a very dirty house and without food.  The next day I went to attend a paralysis case.  The house is built on a slope, the manure pit was at the back of the house, on a higher level than the house itself.  You can imagine how the filth percolated through the earth, and the heat of the turf fire must have drawn it into the house.’

Luckily, the magazine reports, this nurse recovered.  Still, it’s food for thought.  These women were dealing with serious poverty and deprivation, where disease was rife.  You have to admire their bravery for volunteering to offer their services under such dangerous conditions.  Nowadays, nurses are better prepared and protected against catching infectious diseases.  District nurses of the past could almost expect to catch them, and suffer for a few weeks (if they were lucky!) with symtoms from abdominal pain, to fever, to nausea, vomiting, coughing, muscle pain, the list goes on….


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Taken from Doctor Margaret Hogarth’s ‘A survey of District Nursing in the Administrative County of London.’

‘One outstanding feature of this service is the educational value of each visit to the home.  Such a visit is not simply to give advice on general hygiene, it is the practical application of an immense amount of theoretical teaching.  A District Nurse’s visit to a tuberculosis patient is illuminating.  She sees to the crockery and the food.  Everything is made simple and easy and at every visit the education of the family proceeds.  A nurse’s influence permeates a whole neighbourhood and her opinion is respected in proportion to her immense practical value.

The altruistic attitude of the District Nurse who remains at the work for any length of time is strikingly apparent.  For her the work, distasteful and revolting in some of its aspects, becomes more a vocation than a profession.’

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Think you’ve seen bad home-made remedies?  They won’t have anything on this one, from Galway, Ireland, in 1907.

‘Nurse has a dreadful case on her hands at present.  A man here gashed his knee with a hatchet.  To stop the bleeding his mother applied pig’s manure.  The doctor took an hour to cleanse the wound, but even so the result has been blood poisoning and the man is still very ill indeed.’

Taken from the Queen’s Nurses’ Magazine, September 1907.  No word as to whether the unfortunate man survived, or ever recovered having manure rubbed into his leg.  I’m told he must have had septicaemia.

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In 1904, a group of district nurses attended the International Women’s Congress in Berlin.  One of them wrote to the Queen’s Nurses’ magazine.

‘How to begin telling you about the conference I don’t know.  We have been living in a perfect whirl and have hardly had time to breathe, let alone write…

We have visited Victoria House, a training home for nurses founded by the Empress Frederick….the home is a splendid building: great white corridors, distempered walls with murals painted here and there, with charming little bedrooms decorated with ferns and pictures, everything spotless.  The linen room was a sight to behold, all the towels and dusters etc, arranged crosswise one upon the other, and all the new linen tied with blue ribbon.

The children have a playroom and a schoolroom, for it appears the fatherly state will not allow the sick little German to spend his convalescence in idleness, but provides him with a teacher and lessons so no time may be wasted.’

Ten years later, the British and the Germans were facing each other across the trenches.

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A damning indictment in 1910 from a district nurse sent to work in the area:

‘As regards the physique of the natives themselves, they seem to be far from robust and strong.  This is probably due to the prevalence of inter-marriage.  In many families the husband and wife are first cousins.’

Think this kind of stuff doesn’t happen any more?  Think again.  Follow this link to a Dispatches documentary, recently aired on Channel 4, about how inter-marriage in certain communities across Britain is exerting a huge pressure on the NHS.

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‘Having obtained £12 by means of a little bazaar at my own house, my committee * very kindly gave me back £5 to spend on the poor as I liked, so I hired a very antiquated pony and a low chaise and every Saturday afternoon, took a detachment of old men or old women (if, of course, I was free from work) out and about.  Many of the gentlepeople round gave me permission to bring my ‘conducted party’ round their grounds, and very kindly gave us tea.  And didn’t they enjoy it!  When it was the ladies turn, the chattering was something wonderful.  One carriage of old women were each given a large bunch of flowers and on a return journey one of them calmly took off a garter to tie them with!’

* The charitable committee who would have funded the activities of a district nurse their local area.

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A district nurse on the west coast of Ireland wrote in despair to the Queen’s Nurses’ Magazine in December, 1904 about dealing with superstitions.  Do district nurses still come across superstitions today?

‘Patients are always inclined to postpone their ablutions till a later period, till they are “a bit better”.  I find it extremely difficult in some cases to overcome their prejudices as regards being wet.  It is an old superstition, particularly in some of the outlying villages in my district, that if the sick person is washed, their hair dressed and bed made neat, they will “do no good”, meaning they will not recover. 

On one occassion I was contemplating my patient and congratulating myself on having brought order out of choas when a relative remarked “God bless us, she looks like she was laid out!”

Though the patient may feel more comfortable and cheerful when I am there, when I am gone, the “knowledgeable” women talk it over and say such a thing was never done before, and they only hope it will be alright, but they don’t think it will….’

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