nurses

When we think of Prisoners of War during the world wars, we usually think of the prisoners as being men, but there were women too…nurses. At that time, women couldn’t be in combat positions, and if they wanted to serve their country, it had to be as nurses or medics. One group of United States Army Nurse Corps and United States Navy Nurse Corps nurses, were stationed in the Philippines at the outset of the Pacific War, were later dubbed the Angels of Bataan (also including the the nurses of the island of Corregidor), were also called the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor and the Battling Belles of Bataan. The 78 nurses served during the Battle of the Philippines (1941–42). When Bataan and Corregidor fell, 11 Navy nurses, 66 army nurses, and 1 nurse-anesthetist were captured and imprisoned in and around Manila. These loyal, patriotic women continued to serve as a nursing unit while prisoners of war, taking care of their fellow prisoners, even if it meant punishment for their actions.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese immediately went after the Philippines and the military personnel based there, including the nurses. In late December 1941, many of the nurses were assigned to a pair of battlefield hospitals on Bataan named Hospital #1 and Hospital #2. These hospitals included the first open-air wards since the Civil War. Tropical diseases, including malaria and dysentery, were widespread among both hospital patient and staff. Just prior to the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942, the nurses serving there were ordered to the island fortress of Corregidor by General Wainwright (commander of the forces in the Philippines after MacArthur was ordered to Australia). Wainwright tried to save as many people as he could by moving them to the safer island of Corregidor. In the end it made no difference, because Corregidor was captured too.

During their occupation of the Philippines, the Japanese commandeered the campus of the University of Santo Tomas and converted it to be the Santo Tomas Internment Camp. In addition to its civilian population, Santo Tomas became the initial internment camp for both the army and navy nurses, with the army nurses remaining there until their liberation, while the soldiers were taken on the Bataan Death March. While there, the nurses continued to take care of anyone they were allowed to. Under the supervision of Captain Maude C Davison, a 57 year old nurse, with 20 years of service experience, the nurses continued to do their jobs. Davison took command of the nurses, maintained a regular schedule of nursing duty, and insisted that all nurses wear their khaki blouses and skirts while on duty.

The number of internees at Santo Tomas Internment Center in February 1942 amounted to approximately 4,670 people, of whom 3,200 Americans. Of those 3,200 Americans, 78 were nurses. The Americans, anticipating the war, had sent many wives and children of American men employed in the Philippines to the states before December 8, 1941. A few people had been sent to the Philippines from China to escape the war in that country. Some had arrived only days before the Japanese attack. The prisoners were crowded 30 to 50 people per small classrooms in university buildings. The allotment of space for each individual was 16 to 22 square feet. Bathrooms were scarce. Twelve hundred men living in the main building had 13 toilets and 12 showers. Lines were normal for toilets and meals. Internees with money were able to buy food and built huts, “shanties,” of bamboo and palm fronds in open ground where they could take refuge during the day, although the Japanese insisted that all internees sleep in their assigned rooms at night. Soon there were several hundred shanties and their owners constituted a “camp aristocracy.” The Japanese attempted to enforce a ban on sex, marriage, and displays of affection among the internees. They often complained to the Executive Committee about “inappropriate” relations between men and women in the shanties.

The conditions at Santo Tomas were horrific. The biggest problem for the internees was sanitation, followed closely by starvation. The Sanitation and Health Committee had more than 600 internee men working for it. Their tasks included building more toilets and showers, laundry, dishwashing, and cooking facilities, disposal of garbage, and controlling the flies, mosquitoes, and rats that infested the compound. Then, in January 1944, control of the Santo Tomas Internment Camp changed from Japanese civil authorities to the Imperial Japanese Army, with whom it remained until the camp was liberated. Food, which had been scarce before, was reduced to only 960 calories per person per day by November 1944, and then to 700 calories per person per day by January 1945. At the time the nurses were finally released, it was found that they had lost, on average, 30% of their body weight during internment, and subsequently experienced a degree of service-connected disability “virtually the same as the male ex-POW’s of the Pacific Theater.” Davison’s body weight dropped from 156 pounds to 80 pounds.

Finally, General Douglas MacArthur, emboldened by the success of the Raid at Cabanatuan, ordered Major General Vernon D Mudge to make an aggressive raid on Santo Tomas in the Battle of Manila in 1945. The internees at Santo Tomas, including the nurses, were liberated on February 3, 1945, by a “flying column” of the 1st Cavalry.

Finding ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic has placed many Americans, and in fact, most Americans, as well as the people of other countries, in a world suddenly changed. Will it be forever changed? Well, that remains to be seen. What we do know is that life as we knew it…just days ago for some of us, is nothing like it was before. We find ourselves being told to “stay at home” unless we happen to be one of the essential workers…doctors, nurses, CNAs and other hospital workers, grocery store employees, restaurant workers (who can only handle pick-up or delivery orders, because the dining rooms are closed), first responders (police, fire, and ambulance), necessary city or town workers (including, of course, government officials), mail carriers, truck drivers and delivery people. The rest of us are supposed to stay home accept for getting food, groceries, medicine, gasoline, medical appointments, and outdoor exercise…all while practicing social distancing (staying 6 feet away from other people). That, of course, means no hugging, hand shaking, high fives, elbow bumps or even foot taps, which had prior become the new normal. Many people are wearing masks and of course, washing their hands and using hand sanitizer, and not touching their faces.

Many of these things are common sense, and some are things we have done for a while now, but other things are so new and very foreign to us. We are a mobile society, and staying home is very foreign to us. Schools and daycares are closed, making it difficult for the essential workers with children to get to work. Parents who never considered home-schooling, are forced to do so, as many schools will not open for the remainder of the school year. Non-essential workers find themselves working from home (if their jobs can feasibly allow that). The streets are almost deserted, and we find ourselves wondering if the few people we see out, have a legitimate reason to be out, or if they had simply gone rogue. Normally we care little for the goings on of other people on the street, and we are used to many people going many places. Most of us hardly notice the people around us going about their daily commutes or errands. We were too busy with our own lives to care about what others were doing. Now, however, we find ourselves looking at the people who are out and about, wondering if they really should be more responsible and stay at home.

As pandemics do, this one too shall pass, but what of our country. Will we start to be more caring for others? Will we work to get closer to our families, neighbors, and friends? Will we suddenly know that we can use a lot less of things that we may have been wasteful with before? Will we continue to pray over people and say things like “God Bless America,” or are these things just something we do because we have been caught up in the moment? Or will we, like so many times before, forget about all this a year from now? It is my hope that we will step up and make some permanent changes in our lives. The people of the earth have maybe been very selfish, thinking only of ourselves and those we care about, but maybe we shouldn’t be that way. Life as we knew it changed with COVID19’s entrance on the world stage. What we do next will determine how history views the generations of people alive today. Will we be viewed as reckless and unfeeling, or will we be viewed as the most amazing generation ever to deal with a global disaster? The outcome really depends on us.

You hear it a lot, especially on television shows. Doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, and paramedics are all told not to get personally involved. Those who instruct them not to get personally involved with their ill patients are, of course, trying to protect them from the inevitable grief of losing a patient, but being on the other side of that equation, I must say that when they do get personally involved, it is better for all.

For one thing, I think that most of the time, it is impossible for one human being, taking care of another human being, not to become personally involved. Because of their training, these professionals try not to get too close, but I don’t think many succeed, even when they only have a patient for a few days or even minutes. Sometimes it’s not so much the patient that tugs at there hearts, but rather the worried family members who are in need of comfort. For most family members there is nothing more helpful than an encouraging word, and yes, even a hug, when things seem to be falling apart.

In the years that I have taken care of my parents, my in-laws, my sister-in-law, and my husband, I have had more than my share of dealings with ambulance and fire department EMTs, as well as doctors, nurses, and CNAs. The ones I remember the most, were the ones who got personally involved. They knew when my worried spirit needed a hug…just so I could stay on my feet. There is nothing more important, than the moments when the ambulance crew has loaded up your loved one, and you are left in the house with the fire department EMTs in your living room picking up their gear. You suddenly realize that your loved on is in the hands of someone else. You can’t do anything more to help. You find yourself just standing there feeling very much alone, and suddenly very small. I guess I must have looked very fragile at those moments, because invariably, one of those wonderful firemen put their arms around me, and told me that everything was going to be ok. It doesn’t matter how big or small the firefighter was, him standing there in those bunkers made him feel very substantial. Those strong arms around me, allowing me to cry, made all the difference. I don’t know how that hug affected the firefighter, but I know that after one of those big hugs from that angel of a firefighter, I was able to wipe away my tears, pull myself up by the bootstraps, and head to the hospital, where I was needed to answer questions about my loved one’s health…questions that would make it easier for the doctors and nurses to give my loved ones better care, so they can save their lives. Sometimes, the first responders make the most difference…and that can make all the difference.

When we think of our nation’s early wars, and really, up until the Persian Gulf War, soldiers were officially men only. Prior to the Persian Gulf War, any women who were in combat were disguised as men, or they were in non-combat roles, such as support staff and nurses. Few women were recognized for their service, much less honored for it, but on March 12, 1776, in Baltimore, Maryland, someone decided to change the way we looked at the effort made by women in wars. And when I say effort know that I include much sacrifice.

That day, a public notice appeared in local papers recognizing the sacrifice of women to the cause of the revolution. The notice urged others to recognize women’s contributions as well, and announced, “The necessity of taking all imaginable care of those who may happen to be wounded in the country’s cause, urges us to address our humane ladies, to lend us their kind assistance in furnishing us with linen rags and old sheeting, for bandages.” On and off the battlefield, women were known to support the revolutionary cause by providing nursing assistance. But donating bandages and sometimes applying them was only one form of aid provided by the women of the new United States. From the earliest protests against British taxation, women’s assent and labor was critical to the success of the cause. The boycotts that united the colonies against British taxation required female participation far more than male participation, in fact, the men designing the non-importation agreements chose to boycott products used mostly by women…how thoughtful of them!!

Tea and cloth are perhaps the best examples of these boycotted products. While most schoolchildren have read of the men who dressed as Mohawk Indians and dumped large volumes of tea into Boston Harbor at the Boston Tea Party, as a form of opposition to the hated Tea Act, few realize that women…not men…drank most of the tea in colonial America. Samuel Adams and his friends may have dumped the tea in the harbor, but they were far more likely to drink rum than tea when they returned to their homes. Conveniently, their actions actually deprived their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, and not themselves. The colonists only resorted to an attempted boycott of rum in 1774, after Britain had closed the port of Boston. I guess it was time for drastic measures.

Similarly, when John Adams and other men in power thought it best to stop importing fine British fabrics with which to make their clothing during the protests of the late 1760s, it had little impact on their daily lives. Wearing homespun cloth may not have been as comfortable nor look as refined as their regular clothing, but it was Abigail and other colonial wives and homemakers, not John and his fellow men, who were forced to spend hours spinning clothes to create their families’ wardrobes. Thus, in 1776, when Abigail begged John to remember the ladies while drafting the U.S. Constitution, she was not begging a favor, but demanding payment of an enduring debt. And her husband, in good conscience could not deny her right, or her important request.

The metric system…in many ways, a source of contention between the American government, or whoever it is who keeps trying to push it on the American public, and the American public in general. Sure, it’s mixed in with our way of life, but somehow, it’s not something that most of us really understand very well. It’s like a strange foreign language, that no one wanted to learn in the first place…but somebody told us that it was important, better, more efficient…or some other such nonsense. It’s perfectly acceptable to use the metric system in the United States…in fact, Congress originally authorized its use in 1866 and has repeatedly tried to make it accepted in the years since, but the American public has continued to reject it.

Although the government now requires metric use in some public sectors and strongly encourages it in many private industries, but the American public never really took to the system and largely dismissed it, making the United States the only industrialized nation where that’s the case. These days the medical field exclusively uses it in their jobs, but when a nurse takes your temperature and tells you that it is 38° C, and you ask her how much that is in “English,” most of them have no idea that it is 101° F. Yes, they know that you are running a fever, but seriously, when you are running a fever, do you want to have to get out your nearest conversion table to figure out how high it is. Most of us know that normal is 98.6° F, but when you don’t feel good, the last thing you want to do is math. I don’t know who came up with inches and centimeters, or Celsius and Fahrenheit battle, but up until 1866, the United States knew what their measurements meant. We didn’t have to try to sit down and figure it all out. Why should we have to now? In American, it just doesn’t measure up.

So, in the next act of “pushiness,” Congress even passed a Metric Conversion Act of 1975 and set up a U.S. Metric Board to take care of all the planning for the desired transition, but they apparently didn’t empower the board with enough authority, and the American people essentially said, “no” to adopting metric system, and continued on with their miles, pounds, ounces and all the rest. Similarly lackluster efforts since then have done little to get Americans to change their minds. We are a stubborn people, and we don’t really like it when someone tells us that, what we have always known as white, is now black. That simply makes no sense, and just because Congress tells us that it does, doesn’t mean that it is so. I don’t suppose that the failed metric conversion will be the last thing that Congress tries to push on us, that will end up in the junk heap…do you?

Dad and meAs my father-in-law’s life was winding down, we spent a lot of time together. It wasn’t always the perfect moments of his life that we shared, because he was in the hospital off and on during that time. He hated going into the hospital…hated the equipment he had to be hooked up to, food they wanted him to eat, and the constant waiting to get up, because he had to have help, but he liked the nurses and aides, and that made it tolerable, I guess. Nevertheless, he hated to be there, because life just seemed to pass him by when he was in the hospital. Still, since I needed to be there to talk to the doctors, and since I worked nearby, I went up several times a day. I know it meant a lot to him.

When we would first go to the hospital emergency room, my father-in-law would always ask me to take care of his watch and pocket knife. They were so important to him. That almost Dad's Knifeseems strange, because he normally didn’t have to be anywhere at any certain time, and he very seldom ever used the pocket knife. Nevertheless, they were very important to him, and I was always entrusted with their care, and because it was so important to him, it became important to me. When he passed away, the watch and pocket knife were not claimed by any of his children, so once again, I have been entrusted with their care. They are a treasure to me, and each time I look at them, I can see his sweet face, a little worried about what this hospital visit was going to bring, and yet still so protective of those two prized possessions.

I don’t know if they were given to him, or if they were just something he liked and bought for himself, but in his last days, and probably even longer than that, I know that they meant a lot to him. The knife is an Old Timer Knife. Old Timer Knives were manufactured by the Imperial Schrade Corporation, who closed their doors July 30, 2004, after 100 years of business. They were something he looked on as being of great value. It Dad's Watchmight have been just a guy thing to have a pocket knife or something, because it does seem that a lot of guys have and keep good track of their pocket knives. I don’t know the story on his watch either, except to say that the only time he was without it was when he was in the hospital, in bed, or the shower. That says that it was something he treasured too. Neither of these were very expensive items. The watch may have come from Walmart, for all I know. It’s monetary value isn’t important to me. It’s real value is in what it meant to my father-in-law. Today would have been my father-in-law’s 85th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Dad. We love and miss you very much.

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