From the pages of The Canadian Nurse

April 2015   Comments

We are marking National Nursing Week 2015 with excerpts from two articles in the archives. As these stories so poignantly demonstrate, a nurse’s commitment to being with patients “every step of the way” sometimes meant having to go the extra mile just to reach them.

From War to Peace: Listening In

How often in these days of radio wonder are we privileged to “listen in” and enjoy with millions of others the best in music and art. It is the day of “international exchange” of thought expressed. […]

In the Northern Ontario Red Cross Outposts we too “listen in” for calls along the line and hold ourselves in readiness to answer when required. My subject was suggested to me as I recalled one of the many times these words were used in my work during the past winter. Answering an S.O.S. call from some distance, the section men volunteered to take me on the “speeder.” I need not explain this mode of travelling to my readers, except to say it is a thrilling experience to a novice, especially, as in this case, when a thoughtless lad placed some obstruction on the track to occasion an extra thrill or two!

It was bitterly cold; a strong north-west wind blew continuously against us and we were chilled to the bone, despite the heaviness of clothes. We finally arrived at our destination, however, and I proceeded towards the house, wending my way through unspeakable barnyard refuse and shivering cattle. […] I entered at the woodshed. In these exposed localities the front door is usually barricaded, along with all the other windows, at the first sign of winter and well fortified against the possible admission of fresh air. Such a picture met my eyes! One, two, three, four, five, six — no, seven — children and a baby, while the eldest, a boy of sixteen years of age was away with his father in the bush. None had sufficient clothes to cover their little bodies; stockings only in name; shoeless, and thirty degrees below outside! The question in these cases is just where to begin, so much is required. I examined the children, made notes of the most pressing needs and advised the mother. […] I returned on the “speeder,” after assuring the mother I would return with clothes and whatever assistance was available. […]

Again the call came to our little nursing station. […] This time it was from a woodsman’s hut “somewhere up the trail.” A speeder was of no avail, nor were there any cheery section men to help me carry my kit; the trip had to be made alone, on snowshoes, through unbroken woods. There was no time for hesitation; the word received said all were sick. Never shall I forget that trip! The darkness descended and the stillness of approaching storm was about me. The click of my snowshoes rent the air and I found myself turning round to see if someone was following, though it was not a human footstep I feared. After numerous spills — for the snow was soft and the road unbroken and a misstep had sent me tumbling headlong into the snow banks — I finally discerned the woodsman’s cabin in the distance and the sound of human voices. As I approached, two men halted in their work of piling wood; their faces depicted astonishment. I was shown into the cabin where a sick mother and five small children were being cared for by the father, who had not had his clothes off for six nights. […] There was much to be done and I was able to give a few instructions in home nursing, a little advice in public health, and make a list of the requirements of the children. As the storm had descended I gladly accepted the invitation of the woodsmen to ride back on the load of wood. Arrangements were made for my return.

– N/S Elsie F. Roper, Reg.N.
July 1925

In Rural Alberta

Pendryl District is heavily wooded and lies a hundred miles south-west of Edmonton. The only clearing in the timber is for trails, and the nearest doctor and hospital are some seventy miles away from the scene of the district nurse’s labours. Hundreds of families, driven from the dried-out areas by repeated crop failures, constantly stream past the nurse’s log cabin. Some have just enough of this world’s goods to keep body and soul together, but the treasured ten dollars filing fee is tucked away safely to ensure their getting the piece of land where they are planning to make their future home. Sometimes a long continued spell of hard times makes life a discouraging affair, and into this environment the Provincial Government sends a nurse equipped with elementary medical necessities. This woman needs more than professional ability to cope with such a situation: she must be a teacher if she is to fill the requirements of her post. It takes courage to face many of the problems that arise but the pioneer women are often such splendid examples that the nurse gains much from her contact with the settler. My readers may be interested in some of the following experiences; similar ones fall to the lot of any of our nurses working in outlying districts. […]

Thirty below zero, with a blizzard in progress and a frozen lake to be crossed, the trail left by the driver in coming for the nurse is obliterated. The call came at 11 p.m. and the twelve-mile drive seemed like fifty. In the little shack a seventh baby was expected and, on the nurse’s arrival, seemed due very soon, but by morning things had quieted down though the mother’s condition appeared serious. No telephone or telegraph within twelve miles so a good rider is sent to ask the Canadian Pacific Railway agent to send the speeder at once for the doctor. This by the way is one of the coldest rides anyone can take. For hours the fight for the two lives which were at stake went on, and a hard fight it was. […]

The people are essentially kind-hearted and in pain and trouble are possessed of courage and fortitude which are an inspiration. Obstetrical cases are and always will be the largest part of the work, and to these hard-working, patient mothers, fighting poverty under pioneer conditions, the district nurse is proud to be a comfort and to render them service. Pity and need make all flesh kin. One nurse says: “I have ridden in stone-boats and hay racks, in grain boxes and homemade sleighs, on seats with springs and more without, over bridges held together by thin planks and Providence (mainly the latter), down cut banks that made each individual hair stand on end, and now I have decided that for all-round safety I would prefer an aeroplane.”

– Amy L. Conroy, District Nurse, Pendryl, Alta.
May 1935
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