Friday, 24 June 2011

On Becoming a Successful Orderly

November 1916

When we orderlettes came here, we were, taking us on the whole, a beautiful verdant green. Surely nothing so soft and green had ever been thrust ruthlessly through the gates of a military hospital before - not even the patient who enquired whether the sisters' capes might be used as pen-wipers! But we soon started to get knocked into shape - literally in some cases - by our kind R.A.M.C. sergeants and their willing helpers; we don't bear them any ill-will - on the contrary, we wish to congratulate them on the thorough and energetic manner in which they carried out this painful duty.

Now, after a twelve months' struggle, the green is beginning to wear off in patches, and the black underneath is showing through; some day we hope to be quite black all over like the men orderlies. To be successful, we found that we must imitate our colleagues the men orderlies, and we gradually discovered that the reason for their being able to live such happy butterfly existences was because they were all past-masters in the art of the misrepresentation of facts - they often take enormous risks, certainly, but the means justify the end as a rule. Of course, we had to set ourselves to acquire this art as soon as possible, and very difficult we found it at first. We realised that the little white lies that had served us so well in the past, such as "I didn't know where it was," or "I thought so-an-so was doing it," etc., were of no use to us here - what is more, they did us harm, for they exhausted the patience of the sisters (and the sisters' patiences are like clinical thermometers - there is a very limited supply in stock and none in reserve). It is often better to be silent and take the blame for someone else's crimes than to offer a common or garden excuse.

There are many different kinds of excuses, for after all 'excuse' is a nicer term, isn't it? There is the thoughtless excuse, given on the spur of the moment (which is usually sheer waste of breath); for instance, when the sister fixes you with her eagle eye and enquires as to the whereabouts of two missing teacloths (not being a conjuror by profession and having no idea where they are), in the excitement of the moment you may say, "They must have blown out of the bundle on the way down," or "I expect B2 borrowed them in the night." This kind of excuse is worse than useless, and usually brings its own reward, but if you quietly think for a moment or two and concoct something which needs thrashing out, it very often has the desired effect. For instance, if you put on an expression of thoughtful concern, and say, "Well sister, the day before yesterday I know there were four teacloths in the bundle, and when the man orderly brought the linen back I was over at the Dispensary, and I have only seen two since," and while the hue and cry is being raised for the elusive man orderly you can go off quietly and have a good look for the missing articles yourself.

Nothing succeeds like success in hospital life, and the more worldly-wise and keen-witted a person is, the more woolly and lamblike he becomes in appearance; always beware of a member of the staff who gazes up into your face with pure, clear eyes - fly from them as you would fly from the Stewards' Stores with an unsterile milk can! And always remember this, that 'a lie that is half the truth is a harder matter to fight'; therefore, when you think you see a patient smoking in bed during the prohibited hours and you hurry up and ask him what he is doing, and with an innocent smile he informs you, "Just lying in bed, nurse," you will know that he is telling a perfectly true lie!


Thursday, 16 June 2011

A Picturesque Department

The Massage Department

The Massage Department


Throughout Wandsworth Hospital, during the morning, the busiest portion of the day, there is no place busier or more animated than the massage rooms. Here, good-natured banter, laughter, cheerfulness, and strenuous activity intermingle to form an atmosphere exclusively its own; and from here one emerges with both a mental and physical tonic - feeling that a most pleasant break has been made in the more or less monotony of routine hospital life, as viewed from the aspect of a patient.
Your first impression is rather apt to be a staggering one, and you certainly feel inclined to retire precipitately when your eye meets all the boxes of tricks around, the apparent instruments of torture and weird contrivances. But escape is impossible when a most businesslike person in an undraped surplice, whom you afterwards learn to be called a masseuse, comes up and says, "Yes, over on this bed, please!"
Safely ensconced, one begins to individualise and to realise what is being done. Here an arm is massaged, there a leg being moved like a pump handle (a delightful treatment, this, dignified by the name of 'passive movement'), while other patients are indulging in a radiant heat bath (really appreciated by the writer, this weather especially), or submitting unkindly to the tender mercies of the electric buzzer ('nuff said).
In one corner the latest theatre is an absorbing topic; in another, 'How we should win the war' - while someone emphatically remarks that he wishes the Cabinet could have what he is getting. Then a female voice is heard demanding emancipation and votes for women, at which the conversation becomes general, ending in absurd suggestions and laughter. Through it all the work never ceases; patients come and go continually, and then the masseuses disappear to various wards to give treatment to those physically unable to visit the massage room.
Even a layman can see that there is nothing haphazard, nothing indefinite, for each patient has his own special course of treatment, calculated to produce the best effect for his particular ailment or disability. And of the many hundreds who have passed through, rarely, if ever, has one been heard to say he has not benefited.  The department is recognised as indispensable to the hospital - so much so that it is understood that the authorities shortly intend to provide increased space, and install even larger and more complete apparatus.


Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Medical Board

November 1916

The War Office 'Forms' are a wonder to see,
The questions are many and wide as can be;
And the full information which they must afford
Just puzzles the heads of the Medical Board.
Were you wounded in France, the place you must name.

"Don't know it?" Well, France - it will work out the same.
Was it shrapnel or shell, or bayonet or sword?
They are all represented by some cunning word.
Then 'Shell Shock's' a wound, or at least so will rank;
'Neurasthenia' you call it - that is, if you're frank.
Some sixty odd numbers for wounds they have got,
And you must use the right one or else you'll be shot.

P'raps Fibula Fracture will be on the way -
Compound, comminuted, or simple, pray say;
Is the wound incised, lacerated, or flap?
Infected by poison, organic, or what?
Dislocation perhaps is complete or compound,
Still, simple or partial, it ranks as a wound;
Inorganic, perhaps, or septic infected -
Incomplete, indirect, or perhaps it's impacted.

Were you poisoned by Gas, then a wound you have got,
Although you perhaps were not hit by a shot.
Still, by War Office orders, six papers you get
Which the Board in its wisdom must classify yet.
So the three on the Board hold a long consultation,
Because Army Forms they fill up for the nation;
And to send in the wrong one would rank as a crime -
So they have to consider it many a time.

A Pensioner, p'raps, must be Boarded one day,
So the three take a taxi the whole of the way;
But they're told at the house, when they knock at the door,
That the man whom they seek 'died a twelve-month before.'
We may be at war, but it matters no jot -
Army forms must be filled up, according to rote;
So the three that are chosen agree in accord
That they have a hard time on the Medical Board.


Saturday, 4 June 2011


November 1916
By a Girl Orderly

To the outsider and the uninitiated, the 3rd L.G.H. is all that its title implies, but to some at least of the dwellers within its gates it is nothing more nor less than a home for cats of every persuasion – cats with four legs, cats with two, striped cats, plain cats, the domestic cat, and the undomesticated cat – but it is of the first mentioned we would write; the second class is apt to be viewed with a jaundiced eye (we have suffered at their hands!), and so on to the third and fourth generation as it were.

Now if any cat of the feline tribe requires a home, it simply leaps the railings, and rejoices in fruitful searchings in pig-buckets by day and in mouse hunts by night, varied by slumbers long and deep in sequestrated spots, preferably under a hut, thus being immune from the activities of the playful R.A.M.C. Should any cat be wearied of this world, but wishful to enter its Nirvana minus the sin of self-destruction, it merely has to get under the feet of any dispenser on any dark night when he is roused from his slumbers to work, and, by the light of the electric torch that he invariably carries (for dispensers are men of infinite resource and sagacity), it is thenceforward a marked cat, and may be safely posted “Missing, believed killed,” on the day following.

Naturally, there are one or two outstanding characters in this happy fellowship, the most noted being the Guard Cat – a tabby of slightly sandy hue, who mounts guard at the main gate. Of course, there is an R.A.M.C. guard as ornament and to open the gate. Tabby does all the rest, meeting one well outside the precincts with tail erect and martial bearing, and woe betide the prospective visitor who has no satisfactory answer to its challenging “Per-er-ow-w.?” On leaving, the same watchful query detains one – “Miow-ou?” “All serene; pass, friend.”

Dogs, of course, are barred by this most active sentry, which is another point on which it scores off the R.A.M.C., who have been known to encourage visitors of this description. The Brown Residential Dog is tolerated, but allowed no liberties in the shape of visitors, leave, etc. With our own eyes we beheld a canine friend utterly routed with one well-directed blow between the eyes from Tabby (“a fair knock aht,” in the vernacular), and the B.R.D. was hustled home, possibly to the guard room, and all in the twinkling of an eye. An R.P. band and red cap are surely the lowest reward of such vigilance?

Who does not know the Mad Cat of the Corridors? Which of the Girl Orderlies has not been scared stiff in the long black corridors on night duty by the sound of the heavy padded feet and a stealthy Presence that springs from nowhere to just beyond the lonely traveller, and lies in wait, with gleaming eyes and twitching tail, to follow one in a zigzag fashion and with a low growlish noise that raises the hair and lends wings to one’s feet, till one reaches the Wardmaster’s room in an hysterical, semi-petrified state, to burble incoherently of the tiger that has escaped from heaven knows where, and is waiting round the corner to devour the unfortunate girl, and on turning has beheld the Mad Cat, a lean, dark creature, with the evil eye and tiger stripes and tail of stupendous length!

There are others of equal note, but the Editor looms in the distance, and, fortunately perhaps, “space does not permit – “ etc., etc!

The Saturday Cinema-goers