Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Kneeling in Blood: Who is Kate Cumming? Part 13

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.
Excerpts from Kate's journal:

May 24th:  We have a number of the sick and wounded from the Twenty-ninth Alabama Regiment.  One lad, in his sixteenth year, is very ill; he requested me to write to his father, and let him know where he is.  I said, why not write to your mother.  After hesitating awhile, tears filled his eyes, and with a quivering lip he told me she was deranged on account of her sons all leaving her for the army; he had run away two years ago.
We are kept very busy.  Miss Womack takes charge of all the groceries, as I call them – whiskey, butter, etc. – and keeps a daily account of everything that is received and issued, which is measured or weighed.  The liquor of all kinds is given out on an order from the druggist, for each ward separately.  I make a daily report to the steward of every article used in our kitchen, besides keeping a weekly and monthly account, not only of the articles consumed, but of all the cooking utensils, dishes, etc., which are used in the kitchen.
June 10th:  There is not a day passes but we hear of the death of some of the men we have had here as nurses or patients.  I bid good-by to many a man, and the next thing we hear he is dead and gone.
A day or two ago we received a lot of badly wounded; some of them are shot near the spine, which paralyzes them so that they can neither use hands or feet.  Mr. Pullet, a Georgian, is wounded through the lungs; the least movement causes the blood to run in streams from his wound.  Mr. Thomas is wounded through the head; his brain is oozing out and at time he is delirious.
July 31st:  Yesterday morning, while I was in the yard of the court-house, attending to the patients, I saw a man ride in haste to town and a crowd collect around him.  We were informed he was a courier, and had brought news that the enemy were within six miles of the place.
He was not through talking when the locomotive gave a most unearthly whistle, and immediately we heard the firing of musketry.
The crowd who had been around the courier dispersed in double-quick time.  I hurried across the street to secure some money and little trinkets that the men had given me to take care of, thinking they would be more secure with me than themselves.  On crossing, two or three shots whizzed past me, so I have been under fire for once.
August 6th:  The prisoners still continue to come in.  A few days ago I saw about sixty in a crowd, and a more deplorable sight I never beheld; they were barefooted and bareheaded.  Mr. Holt, who has charge of the linen-room, gave them all the hats and shoes he could collect.
We sent them about two galloons of nice soup and what bread we could procure.  Many of the men told me they would do without and give their share to the prisoners.  It would be some time before they could get food cooked at prison.  The prisoners, one and all, told us that they could not be better treated.
August 19th:  We started from Newnan on the 15th and arrived at West Point about sundown the same day.  We arrived at Americus today the 19th.  We cannot tell how we shall like the place.  It is quite a large village, and from all appearances we are going to have a very nice hospital, but none of us liked being compelled to come to it.
September 1st:  Last night our hospital was burned to the ground, and with it much valuable property belonging to the town.  We saved very little.
November 26th:  We are ready to make another move.  Our hospital s are ordered to Gainesville, Alabama.  The base of our army is changed.  This will be a long, tedious trip, as we have to change cars very often.  Well, there is no use in grumbling.
January 5, 1865:  Our hospitals have all been ordered to Tennessee. I am highly delighted at this new move, as it shows that our army is still triumphant.
February 4 (while visiting home in Mobile): While getting ready to go back to the hospital, my father came in overjoyed, and told me that my work was over and that we are to have peace at last.  Lincoln has agreed to receive peace commissioners and three of our ablest men have gone on the mission.
February 8th:  More woe and sorrow in store for us!  Our commissioners have returned unsuccessful!  No peace for us without going back to the Union!
February 27th:  Our hospitals have taken another exodus and gone back to Georgia.  I intend leaving to-morrow and it is with a sad heart, as God alone knows what may be the fate of Mobile ere many days have elapsed; for it is no feint this time.  The enemy means something now; of that all are confident.

March 9th:  I arrived at Griffin, Georgia, yesterday, having left Mobile on the steamer Southern Republic.  I think I never saw rain until today; it is actually pouring in torrents.  Yesterday, when I arrived at the depot, it was raining very hard, and when I looked out of the car at the crowd of men, and saw no familiar face, I felt a little homesick.  I have no good, kind Mrs. Williamson to say, in her quiet manner, “Have patience the Lord will bring all right.”  Left wholly to myself, I felt that all my boasted determination to remain in the hospital till the war was over, or as long as I could be of service to the suffering, would now be put to the test.

These excerpts from Kate’s journal touch on two aspects of nursing – which may not be considered as a part of nursing – but have often been in the back of my mind. 

The first is a hospital fire.  Only once have I thought I was in the midst of a hospital fire.  Two units were evacuated, and it wasn’t for almost two hours and after the searching by the firefighters we discovered the thick blanket of smoke was not the result of flame, but of a faulty wire in a light fixture.
The other aspect is that of “enemy” fire.  Increasing are reports of hostile visitors entering a hospital and taking aim upon nurses and staff members.  Dealing with this situation – protecting patients and staff – is something I have thought of often.
To all those nurses who must deal with unexpected emergencies while caring for their patients, you have my admiration and appreciation. 

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