My failure to get a bed for the man in the fort by applying to those in authority, made me feel that it would be useless to try that plan about the vermin; and, in my perplexity, I turned to my old friend and confidant, the public. To reach it, I wrote to the New York Tribune, giving a very mild statement of the case.
Two days after Surgeon Baxter came, with a copy of that letter, and told me he had been ordered to discharge me on account of it. I spoke of the men who must die if I left, and he was sorry but had no option. Then he bethought him that maybe I might get the Surgeon-General to permit me to remain, at least until the cases of my special patients were settled; otherwise I must leave the hospital that day. He was sorry I had dated the letter from Campbell, had it not been for this, he could use his influence to sustain me; but professional etiquette forbade him to harbor or countenance one who spoke unfavorably of a brother-surgeon. In other words, by living in a hospital I became one of a ring, bound to keep hospital secrets, and use only words of commendation in speaking or writing of anything I saw.
I took a street car and proceeded to the office of the Surgeon-General—saw the man who held the lives of my patients in his hands, ate the only piece of humble pie that over crossed my lips, by apologizing for telling the truth, and got permission to go back to the men who looked to me for life.
I have felt that I made a great mistake—felt that if I had then and there made war to the knife, and the knife to the hilt, against the whole system of fraud and cruelty embodied in the hospital service, I should have saved many more lives in the end. Even while I talked to the head of that nest of corruption, and listened to his inane platitudes about my duty as an inmate of a hospital to report abuses to him, and “the regular way of proceeding,” I did want to hurl the gauntlet of an irregular defiance into his plausible face, but the pleading eyes in Campbell held me; I could not let those men die, and die they must if I must leave them.
Nobody denied the truth of my statements about Douglas Hospital, and I never learned that any one objected to the facts or their continuance. It was only their exposure which gave offense.
This letter made me an object of dread. Folks never knew what I might see or say next; and there soon arose another trouble about my living in Campbell; for Miss Dix objected, claimed that it was an infringement on her authority. Then again, there were others who could not see why there should be but one female nurse in Campbell. Dr. Baxter, by admitting me, had abandoned his ground, acknowledged that men alone could not manage a first-class hospital; and having discovered his mistake, was bound to rectify it by admitting a corps of lady nurses. He was bombarded by Miss Dix’s official power, pestered by the persistant appeals of volunteers; sneered and scoffed at and worried, until he fell back on his old position, and promptly dismissed me so soon as my patients were out of danger. He was always courteous to me as a visiter, and has my lasting gratitude and respect for breaking his rules and bearing the persecution he did, that I might do the work I did, and could not have done without his effective and generous co-operation.