“You may have twenty, forty years of useful life, if I can save you; I shall certainly die one year sooner for the labor I expend on you, but there will be a large gain in the average of life and usefulness; and when you risked all of your life for the country as much mine as yours, it is but just that I should give a small part of mine to save you.”
Every man lived whom I elected to life, and Dr. Kelly, who knew more than any one else about my plans, and on whom I most counted for aid, has said that I saved enough to the government in bounty money, by returning men to duty who would otherwise have died, to warrant it in supporting me the balance of my life; but his statements could not always be relied upon, for he insisted that I never slept, had not been asleep during the seven weeks spent in Campbell, was a witch and would float like a cork, if thrown from the Long Bridge into the Potomac.
In selecting a man in desperate case to be saved, I always took his temperament and previous life into consideration. A man of pure life and sanguine temperament was hard to kill. Give him the excuse of good nursing and he would live through injuries which must be fatal to a bilious, suspicious man, or one who had been guilty of any excess. A tobacco chewer or smoker died on small provocation. A drunkard or debauchee was killed by a scratch.
There were two ward surgeons who disapproved of the innovation of a woman in Campbell, and especially of one held amenable to no rules. They were both in favor of heroic treatment, which I did not care to witness, and I spent little time in their wards. One of them kept a man, with two bricks tied to his foot and hanging over the foot of the bed, until he died, after ten days of a sleepless agony such as could not well have been excelled in an Inquisition; while his wife tried to comfort him under a torture she begged in vain to have remitted. The night after she started home with his body, I was passing through the ward, when I came upon a young Philadelphia Zouave in a perfect paroxysm of anguish. Three nurses stood around him, and to my inquiry “What is the matter?” replied by dumb show that coming death was the matter, and that soon all would be over; while in words they told me he had not slept for forty-eight hours.
I had one place a chair for me, sat down, and with my long, thin hands grasped the thigh stump, which was making all the trouble, drew and pressed the muscle into a natural, easy position, cooed and talked and comforted the sufferer, as I should have done a sick baby, and in ten minutes he was asleep.
Then I whispered the nurses to bring cotton and oakum, and little cushions; made them put the cotton and oakum, in small tufts, to my index fingers; and while I crooned my directions in a sing-song lullaby air, I worked in this support, gradually and imperceptibly withdrawing my hands, until I could substitute the little cushions for the force by which they held the muscle in proper position. This done, my boy-soldier slept as sweetly as ever he had done in his crib.