Half a Century eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 352 pages of information about Half a Century.

I left Campbell next day, but on my first visit found him convalescing, and on the second visit he ran down the ward holding his sides and laughing, and I saw or heard of him no more.



About ten days after I went to Campbell, I was called at midnight to a death-bed.  It was a case of flesh-wound in the thigh, and the whole limb was swollen almost to bursting, so cold as to startle by the touch, and almost as transparent as glass.  I knew this was piemia and that for it medical science had no cure; but I wanted to warm that cold limb, to call circulation back to that inert mass.  The first thought was warm, wet compresses, hot bricks, hot flannel; but the kitchen was locked, and it was little I could do without fire, except to receive and write down his dying messages to parents, and the girl who was waiting to be his wife.

When the surgeon’s morning hour came he still lived; and at my suggestion the warm compresses were applied.  He said, “they feel so good,” and was quite comforted by them, but died about ten o’clock.  I was greatly grieved to think he had suffered from cold the last night of life, but how avoid any number of similar occurrences?  There was no artificial heat in any of the wards.  A basin of warm water was only to be obtained by special favor of the cooks; but they had been very courteous.  The third day of my appearance among them, one looked up over the edge of the tub over which he bent, washing potatoes, and said, as I stood waiting for hot water,

“Do you know what you look like going around here among us fellows?”

“No! but nothing dreadful I hope.”

“You just look like an angel, and that’s what we all think; we’re ever so much better since you came.”

The memory of this speech gave me courage to go and lay my trouble before the cooks, who gathered to hear me tell the story of that death, the messages left for the friends who should see him no more, and of my sorrow that I could not drive away the cold on that last, sad night.

They all wiped their eyes on their aprons; head cook went to a cupboard, brought a key and handed it to me, saying: 

“There, mother, is a key of this kitchen; come in here whenever you please.  We will always find room on the ranges for your bricks, and I’ll have something nice in the cupboard every night for you and the nurses.”

This proved to be the key to the situation, and after I received that bit of metal from cook, there was not one death from piemia in any ward where I was free to work, although I have had as many, I think, as sixty men struck with the premonitary chill, in one night.  I concluded that “piemia” was French for neglect, and that the antidote was warmth, nourishing food, stimulants, friction, fresh air and cheerfulness, and did not hesitate to say that if death wanted to get a man out of my hands, he must send some other agent than piemia.  I do not believe in the medical theory concerning it; do not believe pus ever gets into the veins, or that there is any poison about it, except that of ignorance and indifference on the part of doctors and nurses.

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Half a Century from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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