THE LOSING GAME
I saw a typhoid hospital in charge of two women doctors. It was undermanned. There were not enough nurses, not enough orderlies.
One of the women physicians had served through the Balkan war.
“There was typhoid there,” she said, “but nothing to compare with this in malignancy. Nearly all the cases have come from one part of Belgium.”
Some of the men were wounded, in addition to the fever. She told me that it was impossible to keep things in proper order with the help they had.
“And food!” she said. “We cannot have eggs. They are prohibitive at twenty-five centimes—five cents—each; nor many broths. Meat is dear and scarce, and there are no chickens. We give them stewed macaroni and farinaceous things. It’s a terrible problem.”
The charts bore out what she had said about the type of the disease. They showed incredible temperatures, with the sudden drop that is perforation or hemorrhage.
The odour was heavy. Men lay there, far from home, babbling in delirium or, with fixed eyes, picking at the bed clothes. One was going to die that day. Others would last hardly longer.
“They are all Belgians here,” she said. “The British and French troops have been inoculated against typhoid.”
So here again the Belgians were playing a losing game. Perhaps they are being inoculated now. I do not know. To inoculate an army means much money, and where is the Belgian Government to get it? ft seems the tragic irony of fate that that heroic little army should have been stationed in the infested territory. Are there any blows left to rain on Belgium?
In a letter from the Belgian lines the writer says:
“This is just a race for life. The point is, which will get there first, disease and sickness caused by drinking water unspeakably contaminated, or sterilising plants to avoid such a disaster.”
Another letter from a different writer, also in Belgium at the front, says:
“A friend of mine has just been invalided home with enteritis. He had been drinking from a well with a dead Frenchman in it!”
The Belgian Soldiers’ Fund in the spring of 1915 sent out an appeal, which said:
“The full heat of summer will soon be upon the army, and the dust of the battlefield will cause the men to suffer from an intolerable thirst.”
This is a part of the appeal:
“It is said that out of the 27,000 men who gave their lives in the South African war 7000 only were killed, whilst 20,000 died of enteritis, contracted by drinking impure water.
“In order to save their army from the fatal effects of contaminated water, the Belgian Army medical authorities have, after careful tests, selected the following means of sterilisation—boiling, ozone and violet rays—as the most reliable methods for obtaining large supplies of pure water rapidly.