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Florence Nightingale by  Laura E. Richards


 

 

THE BARRACK HOSPITAL

[75]

T HE Barrack Hospital at Scutari was just what its name implies. It was built for soldiers to live in, and was big enough to take in whole regiments. Surrounding the four sides of a quadrangle, each one of its sides was nearly a quarter of a mile long, and it was believed that twelve thousand men could be exercised in the great central court. Three sides of the building were arranged in galleries and corridors, rising story upon story; we are told that these long narrow rooms, if placed end to end, would cover four miles of ground. At each corner rose a tower; the building was well situated, and looked out over the Bosporus toward the glittering mosques and minarets of Stamboul.

You would think that this vast building would hold all the sick and wounded men of one short war; but this was not so. Seven others were erected, [76] and all were filled to overflowing ; but the Barrack Hospital was Miss Nightingale's headquarters, and the chief scene of her labors, though she had authority over all; I shall therefore describe the situation and the work as she found it there.

If there had been mismanagement at home in England, there had been even worse at the seat of war. The battles, you remember, were all fought in the Crimea. They were cruel, terrible battles, too terrible to dwell upon here. Hundreds and thousands were killed; but other hundreds and thousands lay wounded and helpless on the field. In those days there was no Red Cross, no field practice, no first aid to the injured. The poor sufferers were taken, all bleeding and fainting as they were, to the water side, and there put in boats which carried them, tossing on the rough waters of the Black Sea, across to Scutari. Several days would pass before any were got from the battlefield to the ferry below the hospital, and most of them had not had their wounds dressed or their broken limbs set. Often they had had no food; they were tortured by fever and thirst; and now they must walk, if they could drag themselves, or be dragged or carried by [77] others up the hill to the hospital. We can fancy how they looked forward to rest; how they thought of comfort, aid, relief from pain. Alas! they found little of all these things.

The Barrack Hospital had been built by the Turks, and lent to the English by the Turkish Government; it had been meant for the hardy Turkish soldiery to sleep in, and there were no appliances to fit it for a hospital. We are told that in the early months of the war "there were no vessels for water or utensils of any kind; no soap, towels or cloths, no hospital clothes; the men lying in their uniforms, stiff with gore and covered with filth to a degree and of a kind no one could write about; their persons covered with vermin, which crawled about the floors and walls of the dreadful den of dirt, pestilence and death to which they were consigned."

Is this too dreadful to read about? But it was not too dreadful to happen. The poor fellows, laid down in the midst of all this horror, would wait with a soldier's patience, hoping for the doctor or surgeon who should bind up their wounds and relieve their terrible suffering. Alas! often and often death was more prompt than the doctor, and stilled [78] the pain forever, before any human aid had been given.

One of Miss Nightingale's assistants writes:

"How can I ever describe my first day in the hospital at Scutari? Vessels were arriving and orderlies carrying the poor fellows, who with their wounds and frost-bites had been tossing about on the Black Sea for two or three days and sometimes more. Where were they to go? Not an available bed. They were laid on the floor one after another, till the beds were emptied of those dying of cholera and every other disease. Many died immediately after being brought in—their moans would pierce the heart—and the look of agony on those poor dying faces will never leave my heart. They may well be called 'the martyrs of the Crimea.'"

Where were the doctors? They were there, doing their very best; working day and night, giving their strength and their lives freely; but there were not half, not a tenth part, enough of them; and there was no one to help them but the orderlies, who, as I have said, had had no training, and knew nothing of sickness or hospital work. The conditions grew so frightful that a kind of paralysis [79] seemed to fall upon the minds of the workers. They felt that the task was hopeless, and they went about their duties like people in a nightmare. The strangest thing of all, to us now, seems to be that they did not tell. Though Mr. Russell and others wrote to England of the horrors of the hospitals, the authorities themselves were silent, or if questioned, would only reply that everything was "all right." There was no inspection that was worthy of the name. The same officers who would front death on the battlefield with a song and a laugh, shrank from meeting it in the hospital wards, the air of which was heavy with the poison of cholera and fever.

"An orderly officer took the rounds of the wards every night, to see that all was in order. He was of course expected by the orderlies, and the moment he raised the latch he received the word: 'All right, your honor!' and passed on. This was hospital inspection!

In fact, these orderlies too often, I fear, bore some resemblance to the old class of nurses that [80] I described, and were in many cases rough, unfeeling, ignorant men. Sometimes it was for this reason that they drank the brandy which should have been given to their patients; but often, again, it was because they were ill themselves, or else because they were so overcome by the horrors around them that they drank just to bring forgetfulness for a time.

The strange paralysis of which I have spoken seemed to hang over everything connected with the unfortunate soldiers of the Crimea. Mr. Sidney Herbert assured Miss Nightingale that the hospitals were supplied with every necessary. He had reason to think so, for the things had been sent, had left England, had reached the shores of the Bosporus. "Medical stores had been sent out by the ton." But where were they? I have already told you; they were rotting on the wharves, locked up in the warehouses, buried in the holds of vessels; they were everywhere except in the hospitals. The doctors had nothing to work with, but they could not leave their work to find out why it was.

The other authorities said it was "all right!" [81] They knew the things had come, but they were not sure just who were the proper persons to open the cargoes, take out and distribute the stores; it must not be clone except by the proper persons. This is what is called red tape; it stands for authority without intelligence, and many books have been written about it. I remember, when I was a child, a cartoon in Punch showing the British soldier entangled in the coils of a frightful serpent, struggling for life; the serpent was labeled "Red Tape." (The monster is still alive in our day, but he is not nearly so powerful, and people are always on the lookout for him, and can generally drive him away.)

This was the state of things when Miss Nightingale and her band of nurses arrived at Scutari. Her first round of the hospitals was a terrible experience, which no later one ever effaced from her mind. The air of the wards was so polluted as to be perfectly stifling. "The sheets," she said, "were of canvas, and so coarse that the wounded men begged to be left in their blankets. It was indeed impossible to put men in such a state of emaciation into those sheets. There was no bedroom furniture of [82] any kind, and only empty beer or wine bottles for candlesticks."

The wards were full to overflowing, and the corridors crowded with sick and wounded, lying on the floor, with the rats running over them. She looked out of the windows; under them were lying dead animals in every state of decay, refuse and filth of every description. She sought the kitchens; there were no kitchens, and no cooks; at least nothing that would be recognized to-day as a hospital kitchen. In the barrack kitchen were thirteen huge coppers; in these the men cooked their own food, meat and vegetables together, the separate portions inclosed in nets, all plunged in together, and taken out when some one was ready to take them. Part of the food would be raw when it came out, another part boiled to rags. This was all the food there was, for sick and well, the wounded, the fever-stricken, the cholera patient. No doubt hundreds died from improper feeding alone.

She looked for the laundry; there was no laundry. There were washing contracts, but up to the [83] time of her arrival "only seven shirts had been washed." The clothes and bed linen of wounded men and of those sick with infectious diseases were thrown in together. Moreover, the contractors stole most of the clothes that came into their hands, so that the sick did not like to part with their few poor garments, for fear of never seeing them again, and were practically without clean linen, except when a soldier's wife would now and then take compassion on them, and wash out a few articles.

These were the conditions that Florence Nightingale had to meet. A delicate and sensitive woman, reared amid beauty and luxury, these were the scenes among which she was to live for nearly two years. But one thing more must be noted. Do you think everyone was glad to see her and her nurses? Not by any means! The overwrought doctors were dismayed and angered at the prospect of a "parcel of women " coming—as they fancied —to interfere with their work, and make it harder than it was already. The red-tape officials were even less pleased. What? A woman in petticoats, a "Lady-in-Chief," coming to inquire into their deeds [84] and their methods? Had they not said repeatedly that everything was all right? What was the meaning of this?

This was her coming; this is what she found; now we shall see what she did.


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