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Bed Pans to Bedlam – A Day in the Life of a 19th Century Nurse
Between sore feet, long shifts, and fussy patients,
you could be feeling like you’re on the edge of a major meltdown at work. To
ease your pain just a tad, let us showcase a typical day on the job for a 19th
Lucky you – the nurse who arrives before you didn’t
bring in the coals to combat the morning chill. Before you can start attending
to your patients, you’ve got to lug in a hefty bag of rocks and load them into
the central heating system so that you, the patients, and the rest of the staff
don’t freeze to death.
Today, the 150-bed hospital will be staffed with 30
nurses, all nursing students. You ladies are in charge of running the wards,
private rooms, operating rooms, the general dispensary, and the eye and ear
clinic. When you’re a senior, you can look forward to being sent out on private
duty. But, unfortunately, the hospital will get paid for your work, not you.
The rooms are filled with the typical cases of
delirious typhoid, dysentery, and abscesses. Your first patient of the day is a
drug case, specifically narcotic. You have to keep him awake, and, as soon as
possible, get him on his feet and walked around. One method is to use knotted
towels, dipped in ice water, which you continuously whack them with to rouse
them. This patient you walk up and down the corridor. Staggering, he goes to
sleep on his feet. More ice water, more walking.
Four hours into your shift, you’re still making your
rounds (42 more to go!) when you hear a loud commotion from ward D. You rush
down the hall to see what the fuss is about and realize a delirious patient had
escaped. Dressed in only a night shirt and with long roller towels that had
been used to confine him to his bed now trailing from his wrists and ankles
like streamers, he bolts by you. Leaping down the main staircase, he escapes
out the front entrance before the orderly can catch him.
Before you can return to your daily obligations, the
doctor on duty requests your help. Being that he is the local surgeon,
pediatrician, physician, dentist, and gynecologist, you’re not really sure what
the procedure will entail.
The saw is your first clue.
After administering anesthesia, the doctor begins
the surgery. The procedure is a success, and the patient is wheeled away to
await their wooden prosthetic, that will probably be only a few inches too
You’re still way behind on your shift, thanks to the
Adjusting your large white hat and apron, you precede
with the five o’clock temperatures.
After this, you greatly appreciate the rule of two hours of quiet.
Placing screens around an empty bed, you take an hour nap.
After the day is finally over, you return to your
quaint house to rest before another long shift.