Friday, May 6, 2011

Kneeling In Blood: Who Is Kate Cumming? Part 8

This series on Kate Cumming is dedicated to all those nurses who give of themselves to heal others. Your kindness, your touch, your wisdom and your unselfish dedication can never be appreciated enough.

To all my sister and brother nurses,
Thank You.

Today is May 6th, National Nurses Day.

National Nurses Day always opens National Nurses Week which ends on May 12th, the birthday of Florence Nightingale. It is very fitting that we have an entry for Kate on this day, who had such an admiration of Florence Nightingale and her work during the Crimean War.

Here are some excerpts from Kate's journal:

February 10th: A hospital is the most cheerless place in the world, and the last place I would remain in from choice. If it were not for the sake of the wounded and sick men, I do not think I could possibly stand it.

February 21st:
Our room is a front one, and a hall some ten feet wide divides quite a large ward from us, which is filled with typhoid and pneumonia cases. I counted seven men in the ward, blistered severely. Though the room is so near ours, we have no time to spend in it. Many a time through the night we hear the men cough and groan, but we can not even allow our minds to dwell on these things, as it would unfit us for our duties.

April 12th: War is a great leveler, and makes philosophers of us, when nothing else will. It astonishes me to see how the men adapt themselves to circumstances.

April 13th:
There are numbers dying in our hospital every day, and scarcely any note is taken of them. At home, when a member of the family is about to go to his last resting-place, loving friends are around the couch of the sufferer, and by kind words and acts rob King Death of half his terrors and smooth the pathway to the valley and shadow of death. But here a man near dissolution is usually in a ward with perhaps twenty more. It is sad to see so many dying with no kindred near them to sooth their last moments and close their eyes.

April 16th:
Miss Groom's health has been so feeble that she has been compelled to leave for home; she left yesterday; I went as far as Atlanta with her. Dr. O'Neal, an assistant surgeon of the Gilmer Hospital, accompanied us.

The cars, on my way back, were loaded with troops from Mobile, going to reinforce Bragg; among them were some Georgia regiments. I was informed that the Thirty-sixth and Thirty-eighth Alabama Regiments were on the train; as I had some friends in them, I tried to see them, but failed.

April 23rd:
There is a report that there is fighting at the front.
We have numbers of the Thirty-sixth and Thirty-eighth Alabama Regiments very sick.

We are still very busy. We have almost every thing to buy ourselves. We pay two dollars per gallon for sweet milk; one dollar for buttermilk; eggs, one dollar per dozen; butter, one fifty per pound; coffee, five dollars.

May 9th:
We are in daily expectation of a battle; and we are completely out of rags -- a very necessary article at this time. We have just received two boxes, both from Mobile. The good people of that place could not have sent us any thing more acceptable.

I also received a letter from a relative, informing me that the military aid society had some medicines they would send us, if we needed them. I asked Dr. Patterson, and he replied that nothing would be more acceptable, as many of our men have died for want of them.

Strange to say that although the government does not provide near enough of medicines it will not permit us to spend our hospital fund for them, and we find it impossible to spend what we have on edibles, as they are not to be bought.



Reading Kate's journal, I am often amazed at how the nurses had to be inventive in the procurement of goods and supplies for the men. Often she speaks of going to towns to barter or deal with citizens over edibles. Her listing of prices in this journal entry surprised me with their closeness to some of our own prices today.

Needing rags and medicines and having them sent "from home" was another interesting entry. How many times have we as nurses had to be inventive or creative in how we treat our patients? Sometimes the tools or supplies simply haven't been invented. . .yet.

I remember once when I first worked in NICU. Those were the early days of Neonatology and supplies for tiny premature infants just didn't exist as they do today.

We were expecting a tiny baby in by transport, smaller than we had breathing tubes to use for resuscitation. We were scrambling around the nursery, pulling out all sorts of other supplies, trying to make what we did not have. We pushed this tube into that connector, trying for a fit, over and over again until finally we had something that would work, something that would be small enough to fit into the tiny baby's trachea.

I can't remember the outcome of that little baby, but I remember the attitude, the persistence of the nurses in our unit. We were not going to fail. I can just imagine Kate being the same way. She was not going to let her boys down.

So on this Nurses Day,
150 years after Kate's pinafore trailed down bloody halls,
I wish all of my fellow nurses a Happy Nurses Day,
thanking you for your own attitudes of persistence and perseverance.

I recognize those times you refused to accept failure,
on your part or on the part of your patient,
knowing that there was a better way,
knowing that there could be life and health and healing.

May you each have the Nurses Week I know you deserve.

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