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.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Some Reminiscences by the Matron

December 1916

Our Editor said to me the other day, "Matron, I remember when I was a ward orderly, one day you came through the ward. It seemed to me that you flashed through. Very soon afterwards Sister got a message from you to send the two bed-tables with the broken legs that were being used up to the office to be mended." He then asked me how I apparently went through a ward, not taking much notice, but in reality taking everything in practically at a glance.

This takes me back to my first probationer days in hospital. I started on a Sunday morning in a large ward for women. All were so busy they had no time for the new probationer, so I took shelter in the kitchen with a very superior ward-maid, who gave me to understand that I was only a pro., and had better not make a mess in her kitchen. She was busy washing up dishes, and suggested to me that if I had nothing to do I might help her. So I began. I wasn't left in peace very long, though. Sister came out and wanted to know "What I was doing in the kitchen when there was an emergency operation just going down to theatre." I inwardly wondered what that was, but was too frightened to ask, so meekly went into the ward again and waited till a staff nurse (whom I got to love very dearly afterwards) saw me, and said, "Well, is there anything you can do? Can you wash the baby?" I said I could try (with my heart in my mouth). Wash a baby indeed - when I had never even seen one, close to, before! However, I tried, and, after undoing numerous garments - it seemed to me - I managed to get that infant into a bath. I never was so frightened in my life, and I almost prayed its head would not roll off before I got it out. It was a dreadful experience, but I lived through it, and afterwards, when I had charge of that same ward, and walked about during the best part of the night with a roaring infant under my arm, I often thought of that first baby I bathed and did not kill.

I don't remember much else about that first day in hospital, but I gradually found my way round, and soon got into the work of the ward. I often think what a hopeless idiot I was and of the many stupid things I did, and wonder how my staff nurse had the patience to go on teaching me. She used to talk to me while we were rushing round in the morning making beds (and only those who have trained know what that means). It was the only time we had for talking to each other. One day she said to me, "Never go out of the ward empty-handed, there is always something to take out with you. Tidy up your ward as you go along." I never forgot that, and I think this was the beginning of my taking an interest in my work and cultivating my powers of observation. Often during those dreadful first days in hospital I should have gone back home - I was so utterly tired out and crushed by everything - if it had not been for my pride. I wanted to do something, like so many other girls, and I worried my family to such an extent that at last my father said, "Very well, let her go, she will be back in a week." It it hadn't been for that remark I certainly should have been back in less than a week. But I made up my mind to stay over the week, so that my father could not say, "I told you so." And at the end of that time I didn't want to go back. The work was far too interesting, and, in spite of aching feet and tired body, the work never lost its interest.

Today when I open a ward door I see at a glance which of the nursing Sisters 'tidy up as they go along.' The work in a large military hospital like this is enormous, where we bet sometimes as many as twenty new patients, mostly stretcher cases, into a ward at one convoy. We never even dreamed of it before the war. If we got two or three new patients into a ward in one day we were very busy indeed. But now we take in by hundreds, and still we work on, and, in spite of being tired out sometimes, we love it, and cannot do enough for the men who are doing such a lot for us.

The other night I was watching the men go out of the concert - a happy, cheerful crowd. Nearly at the end of the procession I could see the D corridor men lining up, the blind ones carefully being put in between those who had one eye left, single file, with their hands on each other's shoulders. At a given order from the front they began to march, and when they got opposite to me they all roared, "Good night, Matron." Evidently the blind ones had been told where I was, and had agreed all to say "Good night" to me together. When things like that happen it makes one feel one can't bear it, but when I heard them marching out of the room singing and keeping in step with the music, one thanks God that we are able to do something for them, and whatever private grievances we may have, and however badly we consider we are treated at times, we all know our patients are happy.