The surgeons of Campbell did really want its patients to be happy and get well; but it was a model institution, with a reputation to sustain; was part of a system under general laws, which might not be broken with impunity. There was no law against a man dying for want of sleep from pain caused by misplaced muscle; but the statutes against litter were inexorable as those of the Medes and Persians. The Campbell surgeons winked at my litter, until one regular inspection day, when my cushions and rags, clean and unclean, those marked John Smith, and those labeled Tom Brown, were all huddled up and stuffed en masse into the pantry closet.
I used to wonder if the Creator had invented a new variety of idiot, and made a lot in order to supply the army with medical inspectors, or, if by some cunning military device, the Surgeon-General had been able to select all those conglomerations of official dignity and asinine stupidity, from the open donkey-market of the world. Inspecting a hospital was just like investigating an Indian fraud. The man whose work was to be inspected or investigated, met the inspector or investigator at the door, showed him all he wished him to see and examine witnesses wholly in his power—when the inspected and inspector, the investigated and investigator exchanged compliments, and the public were gratified to learn that all was in a most gratifying condition of perfect order.
One day we had a particularly searching inspection, and next day nurse told me of some four new cases which had been brought in a week before, one of whom the inspectors said was past hope. I found his feet and legs with, a crust on them like the shell of a snail; had a piece of rubber cloth laid under them, and with tepid water, a good crash towel, and plenty of rubbing, got down to the skin, which I rubbed well with lard. Then with fresh towels and water at hand, I drew away the sheet in which the patient had rolled his head, and while I washed his head and arms and breast, I talked, and he tried to answer; but it was some time before he could steady his tongue and lips so as to articulate, and when he did, his first words were:
“Are you the woman that’s been a-washin’ my feet?”
“That is exactly what I have been doing, and much need they had of it. Do you not think you are a pretty fellow to have me come all the way from Minnesota to wash your feet?”
It was with much effort he could fix his dazed eyes on my face, and he made several pitiful attempts before he succeeded in saying:
“I think ye’r the best woman that ever I saw!”
“Ah, that is because you never saw much, away out there in Venango county, Pennsylvania, where you live. There are thousands of better women than I, running around hunting work, in this part of the country.”
“Yes, indeed; and nothing for them to do!”
“I never saw none uv ’em!”