Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why Can't We All Get Along?

In my time portraying a matron in the mid-19th century military hospitals, I've often heard from both sides on why the Military Medicos disliked the women nurses. When we consider how the 19th century folks thought about things, it becomes more clear.

Remember that before the war, when a man became ill or injured, he was taken to his
own home. The females of his own household attended him first. Based on their own experiences
with similar issues, the experiences with similar issues of other women of their acquaintance, and
advice printed in domestic manuals, a decision was reached to call a doctor. This worthy gent
made his way to their home. He went in, examined the patient, and came out to address the
women of the household. "Here's what is wrong. Here's how he should be cared for. Here's
prescriptions to be filled and how they should be administered. I'll be back to check on him this
evening." The women then had the authority to take the doctor's advice or declare him a quack
and do what she felt was right.

Why would the women than waste their money consulting with a physician when his
advice is going to be ignored anyway? Because the doctor consulted gave advice so out of their
realm of knowledge that it must, of course, be suspect.

When a man became sick or wounded in the war, the situation looked very similar to the
women working there. The Assistant Surgeon examines the patient, then addresses the Steward
and Matron. "Here's what's wrong. Here's how you treat him. Here's what medicines to give him
and when. I'll be back on evening rounds." The difference here being, the Matron (nor Nurses)
do not have the power to declare him a quack and use her own advice. Nor is the Assistant Surgeon
obligated to explain why his orders are in the best interest of his patient.

To a Matron, the fruit and cider just delivered would be a welcome treat for the patient. What she
doesn't understand about why the Ass't Surgeon just ordered that man "no fruit" is that he's just
been given a medicine to constipate him and the fruit would work against it. Again, the medicos
were under no obligation to explain the "why?".

So take my example of giving a patient fruit. The doctor consulted may have prescribed
medicine to constipate the patient so he can do a surgery on an injury. He probably didn't bother to tell
the women why he requested they feed the patient "no fruits". So the women feed the patient
apple cider and bollocks the works. After all, cider is a beverage not a fruit, right?

To the women, the hospital wards were an extension of the home sickroom. They were Queen of
the home. To the Surgeons/Ass't./ Stewards the military hospital was a part of the military. They
were the Commanders-in-Chief of their own little section of the military. Thus the women were
forced to learn to offer their knowledge and experiences in ways that didn't undermine the
authority of the "Commander of the Hospital."

Add to that mix of posturing and politics, that many patients were detrimental to their
treatment because they out-ranked the Surgeon/Ass't. who were treating them. The women being
insubordinate was just one more prick to the already sensitive ego.

Most women did learn to pick their battles in offering their advice and learned to offer that advice in appropriate ways. Many Surgeons/Asst./Stewards came to value the contributions of the female staff and rely on their further participation. They did eventually learn to get along.