Sunday, 11 September 2011

My One Eye and I - by a Patient in D2

December 1916
This title sounds rather egotistical, with so much of the first person singular contained in it, doesn’t it, dear reader? Well, as a matter of fact, it is dualistic, as it concerns my eye as much as myself; and if he did not exist I should not be able to write this at all.

I must inform you that I am the possessor of a lonely eye. It isn’t my fault entirely. You see, I am blessed with a slight dint upon my countenance, and before the dint was graciously bestowed upon me a twinkling (not wicked) eye adorned the spot where the aforesaid dint now is. Ergo, I have one eye left, all on his own; but he is nevertheless a good and faithful optic. He is deeply attached to me (I don’t mean physiologically only); and I to him. We often have little talks together, though we have to call in a mirror to help us so that we can see each other. Sometimes he betrays that my temper is out of joint by blazing truculently. Now and again he shows that my emotions are affected, by allowing a few drops of salt moisture to make their way past him. Very often, however, I catch him indulging in this sloppy practice himself, and on enquiring the reason he says that he is grieving for his lost brother, and he has a horrible feeling that his poor brother has been captured as a souvenir, and that he is at present bumping up and down in a German’s haversack. My lonely eye teaches me many things.

Last night, about eight o’clock (I was not in an amiable mood, as the doctor had seen me that afternoon, and this particular doctor possesses some extra long forceps), I remembered that I had a message to give to a chum in the main building. So, reinforcing my trousers with an extra safety-pin, and girding my eyeshade about my noble napper, I ventured bravely forth. As a start I nearly fell down the balcony steps. That did not improve my temper. Then I nearly broke my leg on a confounded dustbin. That did less to soothe my irascible frame of mind. I went on a little further. One of my slippers disengaged itself from my foot, and I only noticed it when I trod upon something which possessed the disagreeable quality of being sharp.* I am afraid I muttered something that sounded German, but is nevertheless an expression in plain English. Suddenly I crashed into a tree with tremendous force – and learnt that it isn’t only love that makes the world go round. I felt like breaking out with a torrent of forcible solecisms, but then my lonely eye asserted himself.

“Now,” he said, “what’s the use of showing your temper? Keep that vile temper of yours under better control, or you’ll be losing me also. You nearly ran me into a branch, and you make me blaze so that it is a wonder I am not burnt up.”

My lonely eye and myself once had a talk on the wonderful things that surgical skill has done. Then I mentioned to him that it would be very advantageous to me if he were removed from his present quarters and affixed into the centre of my forehead. “Or,” I went on, “if you were placed at the end of one of my fingers it would be extremely profitable. I should be able to stick my finger over the fence and see the football match for nothing.” My lonely eye shed a tear or two, and begged not to be moved from his old home; he preferred to remain in the old rut alongside the one that his brother used to occupy.

I could tell you much more about my lonely eye and myself, but there is not room. I might tell you that my lonely eye and I have seen a lot in our time, and have been in some tight corners, but when we leave the hospital we intend to settle down in a nice little home with another pair of eyes to look after us – a pair of hazel eyes. If you suspect that this pair of eyes does not belong to such a strong sex as my lonely eye and myself, you are not far wrong.
*Note by the Censor: Why were you out without your boots on?

PTE. LABAN COWLING
(Lincolnshire Regiment)

All My Eye

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A Shakespeare Play



The Uniform Habit

December 1916
It strikes one forcibly at times how many little privileges are attached to uniform - markedly so when travelling. In V.A.D. uniform a girl may quite comfortably sleep off the effects of a heavy day or late night in train, tram, or 'bus, and draw forth only compassionate glances and sympathetic murmurs from her fellow-travellers. It once drew forth eau de Cologne and milk chocolate, but that is another story.
Imagine her, with dark-rimmed eyes and pathetically drooping mouth, under the ugly regulation hat, and her fellow-travellers say "Poor thing, nursing is such trying work," and they give her the corner seat and generally fuss around. But should the same girl, after the same heavy day or late night, travel in mufti, the atmosphere is inclined to be hostile, and the glances savour of the virtuous serves-you-right-if-you-will-stay-out-late spirit, which is particularly irksome, especially if it was a late night - the moral for which is, of course, always travel in uniform on the morning after the night before!
One does things in uniform that at times rather horrify one's pre-war self, as when on a Sunday night one comes in suffering from that 'Art thou weary, ditto languid' feeling, and the sight of one's laundry bag draws forth an emphatic "No, I think not." It follows, of course, that one takes it down oneself - blatantly and obviously washing - either in the busiest part of Monday morning or at calling time on Monday afternoon, quite unblushingly and oblivious to the curiosity of the passers-by, serene in the shelter of one's uniform.

In the days before the mess room, if an orderlette did happen to awake peevish and 'Mondayish' at 6 a.m., she smothered the alarm and slept till 6.30, when she rose and dressed, feeling much better for the extra thirty minutes, seized a piece of toast and a sausage (it has been done with an egg), and went on her way rejoicing, to arrive in the ward at 6.55, refreshed and strengthened by an al fresco street breakfast. This was done by V.A.D.'s - not once, but often - who would have been horrified at the mere suggestion of such a thing a short eighteen months before! And the query is, will those rather stodgy days ever come back - the days when one elevated one's nose and passed by on the other side, as it were, if a stranger dared to speak, thereby missing many a pathetic confidence that is now imparted to V.A.D.'s - chiefly, perhaps, because of the uniform - by these queer folk, who must 'tell somebody.' Let us hope that we always keep the wider sympathy of our discarded uniform, and be able to answer the troubled S.O.S. of these lonely ships that pass in the night, and perhaps, well, Mrs. Grundy may never survive the shocks of these days - apr├Ęs la guerre.

A GIRL ORDERLY

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Dental Room

December 1916

If no convoy of wounded is coming in, and you pass through the big Receiving Hall, by the rows of grey-blanketed beds waiting for their burdens, and then to the right-hand corner, to a door in the wainscot - the left one, please - and then walk on two or three steps, you may see on the left hand a little wooden stairway putting its feet on to the passage. It is better to wait and listen here: there may be a patient or someone with a pail coming down, and the way is dark and difficult and narrow; and waiting, you may wonder if all back staircases in Franco-Scottish halls (in which style this building is said to be) were really like this, or whether 'tis another example of the days of sham Gothic architecture, of dimly lit stone stairways, with cold iron railings, for little girls on chill dark November days; the days of the invention of the word utilitarian, perambulator, lati__ . But the person has come down with some clatter, and you pass up to the landing, where patients, men in blue, sit and lie on the floor in the little space awaiting their turns. (There are having a comfortable waiting-room now). At last we have arrived.

It is Sunday morning - a busy day. Sunlight comes through the iron-sashed window, lighting up the dental surgeons and a lean elderly corporal, their henchman.
"No. 5," last of the simple extractions, is called: he jibbed last week. "I can stand it all right today, sir." The gums are chilled, and three teeth are out in eight seconds. Never a murmur. He gets a pat on the back, and passing out whispers, "I'm only ten days out of the trench, Corp."
Next are cases for gas. The anaesthetist arrives just in time; the first man is in the chair, the gag between his teeth, hands clasped, neckcloth loosened, a rubber apron over the chest. He takes it quietly. "Hope I didn't swear, sir."
The next is for four big stumps, and, taking the gas, is a kicker. The corporal sits on his knees. The forty-five seconds are up and the work done. The patient comes round with a wild look, shouting, "Who are you? What are you? Who the hell are you?" The eyes calm quickly, and he adds quietly, "I thought I was in heaven."
No. 8 roars like a bull, and thought he was at the concert.
No. 9 had cleared; the roaring was a bit too much.

An hour finished this part. Then comes the most interesting work of the dental surgeons; the building up of fractured jaws, work asking for the nicest skill and knowledge of possibilities. The consulting dental surgeon will show you in a moment the great difference between civilian and war practice. The simple fractures, bound and held together at once with the Hammond wire splint, will probably join and heal.
In No. 14, the front part of the lower jaw, shot right through, left the two sides working independently. A splint now holds the whole jaw firmly together; the chin is built up and looks almost normal.
No. 20. A large part of the lower jaw was shot away. The surgeons have made up the external wound, which was the size of a hen egg. The remains of the jaw fell away to the man's right; the dental surgeons coaxed and brought it into position, and have built up and preserved the bite, spite of the loss of bone.

A case now being treated had the whole upper jaw and left eye carried away, leaving only one thing human-looking, on a strange front to a man's head, an eye - an eye that, through the pain, the operations, stayed bright. Now a palate has been introduced, a nose made up, the cheek built by plastic operation by the surgeon in charge, and there will be a presentable face. The clear eye - the very expression of patience and cheeriness - twinkles, as the dental surgeon says, he will be made a good-looking chap yet, and a queer voice comes out:
"It'll be all right. I never was a Don Juan."

Thursday, 14 July 2011

How to be Loved

Some further words of advice from Cpl. G. H. Varley.
At the Admission and Discharge Office ('Sergeant-Major's Office', so called because the Sergeant-Major is in the Staff Clerks' Office).

1. When going about a Case Sheet, never know any particulars. Just ask for Jones's or Smiths's Case Sheet. Sherlock Holmes, the Staff Sergeant, loves unravelling mysteries, and it helps to fill up his time.

2. Always take old Diet Sheets to this office, and always ask, when you enter, if it is the Board Room. The old Diet Sheets really go to the Matron's Kitchen, but the Discharge Office men like to see you - they are very lonely there.

3. Smoking is not allowed in the corridors, so drop in to the Discharge Office. Cigarettes and lounges are specially provided.

4. If you want a window mended, call and ask to see the Quartermaster. He isn't there, but Barker will sympathise with you. (N.B. - If possible, leave the window there - and the door open - you can then call back later and have some more sympathy.)

5. Always buy your stamps here instead of at the Post Office. (The men get 1d. in 1s. on all they sell.) If you don't want any yourself, buy some for your friends.

6. If you want to know the time (of a train) call in when the staff are extra busy. They revel in looking up trains for other people to go away in. Tell them all about the lovely holiday you are going to have.

7. If some men in your ward have to report here at, say, ten o'clock, don't let them go till later. L/Cpl. Christian will run down and fetch them; he is in training for the next Marathon Race, and wants practice.

8. All letters of patients who have left should be taken to this office. The staff here will send them to the Post Office for you with pleasure the next time a motor lorry is going that way. (Any self-respecting, properly managed hospital would have a post office conveniently situated, not miles away.)

9. "Have you got our list?" - the war-cry of the Stores. Go in and chant this as often as possible. They are all musical in this office, and the more you chant it the more they'll love you.

10. But if you want to be really adored, 'phone up and ask them if they are the switchboard or have they a taxi.

In short, if you want to be loved at this office, treat it as a railway station, a lost property office, a tram terminus, a post office, a lounge, an information bureau; treat the staff as guides, philosophers, and friends, but never mention admissions or discharges.