Jean’s story continues abouther experiencs as a Voluntary Aide at the Walker Hospital in 1919
Mummy, if you really ever wanted to see me, you could come for a three-hour picnic with me, if you liked. Not the other two. Seems so much more risky for men. There would be practically no risk, so if you want to, say so and I’ll explain how it can be worked. But it’s an awful long way for you so don’t unless you particularly want to see me. I look just the same – only plain a faire peur. I was wrong – it’s not the quinine – it’s the masks that give us such bad colours and lifeless hair. But it will all wash off in a couple of days at home.
How is influenza – I haven’t seen a paper for four days, but the ambulances came in fairly fast last night. To be serious again for a minute – supposing any of you get it badly, remember it’s “the will to live” that counts more than any other thing.
Here Doctors and Sisters alike confess it’s worth more than any pituitrin or heroin or any other drug they use. There is a man here tonight and a woman literally keeping themselves alive by willpower. And I think they are going to win after all.
Eh bien je suis dans les wards – women’s side maintenance and I like it thirty times better than orderly-ing. Of course, all precautions are a thousand fold intensified once one comes in contact and I honestly think it would be impossible for a member of the staff who took proper precautions to get it. And I do – on my first evening the senior Aide took me through the long, long drill and when she had finished, she said, “And if you faithfully do all these things, and then get it – well it’s Kismet and you would certainly have got it at that same moment if you had been a thousand miles away from a call.” And I am convinced from the bottom of my heart she is right. But, of course, we won’t get it up here.
For God’s sake be careful, all three of you. I had to put it as seriously as that, because down there you don’t really believe in influenza, you know, or at the most, only as the sort of attack Daddy had. It’s not. Daddy, you know you sometimes come in and speak to the family before you wash – so do all of you. Don’t – oh don’t, don’t, don’t – no precaution is too absurd. I have now quite finished being serious, but don’t forget.
It’s Sunday today but, as my brother would say, “not so’s you’d notice it.”
But anyway, I’ve got three hours all my own now, and am lying in luxury on the riverbank in the sun and out of the wind, with a box of chocolates, a powder puff, no goggles or gloves, and only one mask, and no need to wash till teatime.
(My idea of heaven is fast becoming a place where one never washes, and only does one’s teeth seven times a day, instead of eight.)
I must have thirteen picture books immediately. I’m too sleepy to explain about the kids now but I must have them, whatever else you don’t send. And a tin of biscuits would be handy. And, of instantly I want six or seven small bandage masks, just such as you all wear, to wear under my big one, which sometimes works loose. It’s quite an absurd precaution, but a good many of the Aides do it, because we are all in a very necessary and healthy state and Doctor and Matron do all they can to keep us there.
And a pair of rubber gloves and goggles, just like the last. I have cracked mine. Apparently you did not send the overhead masks. Understand that I must have anything I ask for in that line, at once. It is frequently a matter of importance. I don’t mean chocolates or picture books, of course. You may think I am exacting, but it’s imperative. However, I am quite well stocked at present, so don’t worry – just send.
You will see a rather long death list for Walker tomorrow I fear – don’t worry, but deaths are nearly all new admissions who came in too late.
Now the hospital is practically empty but it really is as hard to carry on with 30 patients as with 70, more or less of course. We may have a rush in a day or two.
We are all feeling anxious as there is a chance that our wonderful head Sister will be moved to another hospital. My first impression of her was – six feet tall, calm, confident, capable, always kind and thoughtful for the newest Aides, accompanying her orders always with a laugh, and built like a good officer in the army – ready to do the most infra dig things if there was need to – i.e. if a probationer had six beds to make, and she had nothing to do, she would make three of them – because it’s an emergency hospital – or sweep a floor, or scrub a saucepan. Not many Sisters would, if there was a probationer on the horizon; emergency hospital or not.
Of course, all this is a description of a conventional “ideal Sister” but the surprise about our tall Sister comes when you see her without her mask, which I didn’t for days. She’s a Gypsy – stepped straight out of the Romany Rye. Big brown eyes, half lazy, half mischievous, hair like a crow’s wing and a merry mouth. Something about her that reminds you of long roads and caravans all at once. Smooth dimpled brown arms and feet, when they are bare – I went into her room one night and found her sprawling on the bed in a pink linen gown and couldn’t take my eyes off her. She’s about thirty, I think
To be continued