Army Field Hospital 1st Michigan Regiment
Manassas, VA (2nd Battle of Bull Run)
she studied the dreary, poorly ventilated tent convinced her surroundings wouldn’t entice a cockroach infestation much less a healing of the mind.
She scoffed, aware of the reasons why she’d been summoned before the Alienist, so called for their study of the mind’s ‘alienation from itself.’ Nevertheless, she had only followed through on treatments that, which her conscience and training, necessitated. Her husband’s death a year earlier taught her a painful truth. Doctors did not always have the correct solutions or a patient’s wishes in mind. Her dark musings were brought back to the present by the light squeak of the weathered door. Dr. Trenton’s dispassionate gaze swept over her before he gestured to the chair in front of his scarred table.
“Please sit. I won’t waste our time with pointless pleasantries.”
“Bien sur, pas vous degueulasse.”
Uncomfortable, he shifted in his seat. “Let us try and remember that you are in America now and should strive to speak English.”
Affronted, she treated him to a glacial stare. “Dr Trenton. I am an American, born and raised in this country and of French parentage. Fortunately, my parents raised me in a home where both languages are utilized and respected.”
Heat crawled up his face. “Uhm, well, yes, fine. Let us not veer from the subject at hand.” He cleared his throat. “It has been brought to my attention you have contradicted Dr. Brooke’s course of treatment on many occasions and in front of his patients.”
“Oui.” Her choice of language was deliberate.
Trenton pursed his lips, though refrained from correcting her language.
“Is that all?” She snapped.
“No, that is not all.” Confounded by her demeanor, he removed his glasses and exhaled through his rather large nose. “Is this all you have to say on the matter?”
She lifted her shoulders. “What else is there to say? Except that you are quite accurate in your statement concerning Dr. Brooke.”
Without doubt, she knew he expected her to throw herself prostate on the ground and beg his forgiveness, or something to that effect. His anticipation of her apology all too clear. When it wasn’t forthcoming, his frown deepened.
“Well, then what is your explanation for this impertinence?”
Un, deux, trois, quatre…
She struggled to inject a level of civility into her voice when all she really wanted was to reach across the desk and slap the arrogance out of the man. “My explanation is this—my patient needed me to plead his case since Dr. Brooke dismissed the man as unable to know his own mind. Captain Lougheed knew Dr. Brooke had no intentions of entertaining any other form of treatment except amputation.”
“That is the surgeon’s privilege. Who are you to gainsay your superiors?”
My superiors, indeed. “I have been here over one year and in that time, Dr. Brooke has amputated more limbs than the other four surgeons combined. If this is not reason enough to call his practices into question then pray tell, what is?”
“Nurse Devereaux, Dr. Brooke is a highly respected surgeon and you have no right to take issue with his judgment. Your only function is to aid the surgeon in their tasks and provide the best after-care for their patients. You do a great dis-service by contradicting your betters and allowing those men false hope.”
Unable to keep a rein on her temper she jumped up, slammed her hands on the desk top and leaned forward taking no small satisfaction when Dr. Trenton shrank back in his seat. “How dare you not give those men hope! This field hospital is nothing more than an abattoir. How can I give my best care when I have been thwarted at every turn? The head nurse herself is so enamored of Dr. Brooke she would commit murder on his word. More men than I counted have died from needless wound infection, poorly managed amputations and putrid fever caused by doctors who refuse to entertain Louis Pasteur’s germ theory research which, by the way, has been in practice in Europe for some time and produces spectacular results. It is a simple thing to wash one’s hands with soapy water and sterilize one’s instruments in boric acid—to keep the men clean and comfortable. It is within the nurses’ power to grant our patients dignity, yet we, and more importantly, our patients are denied.”
He tried to interrupt but she raised her voice and talked over him, determined to have her say.
“Dear God, some of the techniques used to remove limbs is questionable practice! I spoke on Captain Lougheed’s behalf since he has only me to voice his concerns. What is more, if that is what he, or anyone requires of me, then that is what I shall do. His leg can be saved Dr. Trenton, and Dr. Brooke will not even consider it. The man only does what is easiest for him. He is an incompetent fool and you are all conspirators in his thrall.
She took a deep breath, smoothed her hands over her pinafore and reclaimed her seat. “So, if my principles mark me as a candidate for your untried theories, then I tell you this—you are wasting my time, as well as yours.”
Irate, the doctor thrust his glasses up his nose, made a show of dipping his fountain pen into the inkwell and signed his name to a sheet of parchment with flourishment.
“Nurse Devereaux, I hereby discharge you from your nursing duties. Your expertise is no longer required. The United States Army thanks you for your service to country.”
“You useless… fils de pute,” she spat and then toppled his inkwell. Childish? Certainly. Nevertheless, a flood of satisfaction raised a smile while she watched the ink ruin her discharge papers.
He scooted back from the burgeoning stain. “Now see here—once my secretary writes another discharge order for your signature, you will be dismissed. In the meantime, you are not to go anywhere near the patients.”
She strode to the door, rammed it open before turning to him. “All you have accomplished today is weaken the ward by dismissing me. If just one man dies owing to your contempt of women, you will pay for your sins eventually. Maybe not in this life, but most certainly in the next.”
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