Sunday 27 October 2013

Substance with a great deal of Style

The Art and Wartime Surgery of Gillies, Pickerill, McIndoe and Mowlem
Murray C. Meikle
Otago University Press, 2013

I was very fortunate to be sent a copy of this book recently, and it's a real joy in every respect. The first thing you notice is that it's beautiful, which seems an increasingly rare blessing in books these days. Printed on heavy semi-gloss paper it has the feel, in some ways, of a coffee-table volume which, though lovely to look at is a bit lightweight inside. On the contrary, in this case the inside couldn't be better.

Researched to a pitch that leaves the reader breathless, it traces the lives and work of four men, Harold Gillies, Archibald McIndoe, Henry Pickerill and Arthur Mowlem, all four with roots in New Zealand, and in particlar the town of Dunedin and the University of Otago. It outlines the work of surgeons in the Great War on the Western Front and at Aldershot, Wandsworth and Queen's Hospital, Sidcup. It continues with the development of Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead during the inter-war years, the 'Guinea Pig Club' of the Second World War, the work at Hill End House, St. Albans and post-war at Rooksdown House, Basingstoke. Throughout it's crammed with images of people and places, both colour and black and white - a combination of historical photos and portraits, fine art and facial reconstruction, which illustrate the text in an instructional and dramatic manner. The numerous appendices cover not only the usual references but also biographies of the book's lesser players, a list of all 642 members of the Guinea Pig Club and the names of all medical staff who held appointments at Queen's Hospital, Sidcup up to 1929.

In addition, the end cover also contains a DVD which has a series of films of plastic surgery produced in 1945 and converted from 16mm film. It adds up to a meticulously researched and beautifully produced book which will become a definitive account of facial reconstruction through two world wars and more than five decades.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Sick Sisters' Hospital, Alexandria

In view of my previous post about 'The Daughters of Mars,' I thought I'd add an item here about one of the many Sick Sisters' Hospitals overseas, showing the level of care and comfort afforded to nurses on active service.

The Nursing Times, 29 July 1916

     A nightmare haunts the footsteps of Army nurses working abroad, the nightmare of being taken seriously ill. They see personal friends invalided home suffering from the effects of enteric, dysentery, nephritis, and other diseases which attack one with fiercer intensity when the system is already lowered by the effects of strenuous war nursing in a trying climate.  It may interest Army nurses to know that there is a very comfortable and well-equipped hospital in Alexandria for nursing sisters and military probationers. Visitors are at once struck by the air of coolness, restfulness, and daintiness which is characteristic of this hospital. Before the war it was a nursing home for paying patients; and the distempered walls, the marble floors, the many windows, and general structure of the building show how the comfort of the patients has been thought of in every detail. The wards give an impression of cool whiteness. The beds and lockers are white. The only note of colour is the deep saxe-blue linen covering the white screens. Flowers are arranged in highly polished brass jars and pots. The enterick, dysentery, and general wards, each containing seven beds, are on the ground floor.  There is also a small ward with three beds for observation cases. On the next floor there is a large ward with twenty beds, and one small ward with five beds. There is also on this floor a charmingly restful sitting-room, which can be turned into a ward should the need arise. The large, cool corridor on the ground floor is also used as a sitting-room. Patients are often wheeled there as a little change from the monotony of the ward, or they are carried into the garden when advisable. The hospital is provided with light, comfortable beds, which can be wheeled or carried outside, so that patients who are still very ill or very weak can have the benefit of the outside air with the minimum of discomfort in being moved.

     The sister-in-charge has a Red Cross fund, which pays for drives ordered for patients after exhausting illnesses. The hospital ship sisters have found this arrangement a great boon, as they are debarred from the allowances granted to the more fortunate sisters working in Egypt. From November 1915 to April 1916, 113 sick sisters have been admitted suffering from enteric, dysentery, paratyphoid, nephritis and jaundice. Only one death occurred, although the majority of the cases were serious.

     The hospital owes a great deal to the untiring efforts of Miss Dorothy Bates, who was sister-in-charge for some months. Miss Bates was trained at the Sussex County Hospital, and before going to Egypt did war work in the Sheffield and Woolwich military hospitals. Her staff at Alexandria consisted of two staff nurses and three probationers for day duty and one staff nurse and one probationer for night work. The kitchens, in a detached building, were in charge of an Arab chef. One house-boy and one Greek maid comprised the domestic staff. When the top floor was full another maid was allowed. It needs good management to nurse patients efficiently and keep a hospital in immaculate condition, but everything was done punctually, and the building was kept spotless. A recent patient writes that she never had to wait for the answering of the electric bell provided for each bed, and apparently small matter which affects a patient's peace of mind enormously.

     The sick nurses were very much attached to Miss Orr, late matron of the Orwa el Waska Medical Hospital, and also matron of the sick sisters' hospital which adjoined. Although matron of nearly, if not quite, a thousand beds she always found time for a daily visit to the sick sisters. Many times her comforting handclasp and sympathetic 'Poor child, I am sorry,' has cheered miserable sisters and probationers fighting for their lives in a strange land and far away from their dearly-loved 'ain folk.'