Labrador History - 5.4 MEDICAL WORK GOES ON

Working in lonely places, a nurse gets to do and to see all sorts of things not normally within her sphere. That was the way it was the Labrador.
As spring gave way to summer, patients continued to come, including some for delivery. The variety was endless. Early in May 1959, when the snow was still on the ground, I went to L’Anse-au-Loup by snowmobile to attend a nasty case. A woman had had baby and, although Dorothy, a girl who had worked at the nursstation when Leslie Diack was here, had done an excellent job i’ the delivery itself, the young mother had torn very badly. I decided it would best to deal with the whole thing in the nursing station, so mother, baby and I travelled back to Forteau in the snowmobile. The tear proved a difficult one to suture but the patient was soon tucked up in bed beside her baby and the area healed quite nicely after all.
Sometimes the weather mixed things up so that a patient would end up being treated at another nursing station away from home. This happened that summer when a young woman in labour started bleeding. I called St. Anthony on the radiotelephone and Dr. Thonas himself flew over. He examined the patient and decided she should have the baby in St. Anthony, but the weather was not good. The plane had to land in Mary’s Harbour, another fishing community about a hundred miles further north, where there was a nursstation, and Dr. Thomas delivered the baby there! The mother stayed in Mary’s Harbour until she was able to travel on the coastal boat back to Forteau, which is where she wanted to be in the first place.
That summer I came across a few nasty burns too. Bertha and husband Sam, from English Point, about three miles from Forteau, had been painting their house, when stray cigarette ash ignited a can of gasoline they were using to clean paint brushes.
By itself that wasn’t too bad, but as Sam rushed to the door with the can it exploded in his hands, and went all over the place. The real problem came when his wife slipped and fell in the burning gasoline.
It was fortunate that the house was near the water, for Sam carried her to sea-water and put out the flames and probably saved her life, but she was badly burned. Their baby, a little girl about two years of age, was still upstairs and in the process of getting her out on to a ladder after breaking an upstairs window, Sam cut his hands. The girl was just beginning to cry and the house was full of smoke. A few more minutes and it could have been a double tragedy. Bertha had severe burns of her legs, arms and other parts of her body, and needed numerous skin grafts over the next two years.
I was familiar with Bertha and Sam, for they had a large family and I had delivered some of her children. Once, when she had a miscarriage, I took her to St. Anthony on a fishing schooner. Space was limited, obviously, but the captain allowed her to use his berth in his cabin, while I caught forty winks lying on his desk! I was very happy to get to St. Anthony next morning! Dr. Thomas caught on pretty quickly.
“Have you had any sleep?” he said in his usual brisk manner.
“Not much,” I replied.
“Go on up to the house and get some rest. My wife will look after you.”
I stayed with Dr Thomas and his wife for a few days until I got transportation back to Forteau. There were always interesting people to meet in St. Anthony, and this time I met Dr. Tony Paddon’s wife from North West River, who was awaiting the arrival of her baby.
Accidents often seem to happen in threes. I was reminded of this a few weeks later when I admitted Clifford, a man with bad burns to his face and hands. His was a boat accident, the fire breaking out when he was putting, gasoline in the tank. Fortunately his brother was in another boat nearby and saw what happened, so came to his rescue. They got the fire out, but Clifford was burned.
I gave the patient an injection to relieve his pain, and applied saline compresses to his face and hands and instilled drops in his eyes to sooth the burning. A lot of his hair had been burnt too, even his eyebrows. The burns were not really deep and healed quite well, so he did not require skin grafts.
Clifford’s trip home to Pinware a couple of weeks later reflected the transportation of the times. He went by car to L’Anse-au-Loup and walked over “the Battery”, a steep hill east of L’Anse-au-Loup, to L’Anse-au-Diable, the next fishing village about five miles away. From L’Anse-au-Diable a boat took him home! The accident spoiled the fishing season for him, as he could not risk the danger of the sun burning his newly healed face and hands.
There was a fishing lodge on the Forteau River, and sportsmen came there from many parts of Canada and the United States during the summer to fish for salmon. One of the guides there, Randall, got such a severe reaction to fly bites that he needed treatment. Black flies are a menace in summertime. At times I had to treat the fishermen too.
I removed a hook from a surgeon’s hand once! I was rather nervous when I found he was a surgeon, but he was most reassuring.
“Oh dear,” I said, “Maybe I’ll not do it right!”
“You’ll do fine!” he reassured me. “Just get on with it.” I guess he was in my hands anyway!
Guides were not immune to this type of injury either. One summer one got a salmon hook in his eye - painful! I sedated him before cutting away the hairy part of the hook and taping the whole thing to his face. A few eye drops helped keep the pupil dilated. By that time there was a small ferry running across the straits between Blanc Sablon and St. Barbe on the Northern Peninsula, so I transferred him to St. Anthony that way. He was fortunate not to lose his eye, but suffered only a little blurring of vision in that eye after an otherwise complete recovery.
Local fishermen, needless to say, got caught with fishhooks, both large and small, and came to us for help. Jigging hooks were the worst, as they were quite thick and had to be filed. One man got a hook in his nose. It was so spectacular that we took a photograph of him, and he smiled cheerfully! Actually, the hook was so tough he himself had to help me file it so that I could remove it!
We enjoyed some of the stories generated by these sports fishermen. Once some of them inadvertently fed the bears! A fisherman and his guide were fishing on the river in a boat, having left their lunch on the bank, when they learned the hard way there are better ways to store food. A black bear and her two cubs got to their lunch before they did and set about enjoying it, taking threatening action every time they tried to land! At times bears are quite destructive and once one got enraged enough to tear a hole in a cabin wall on the bank of the same river.
In September I also had several deliveries - four in as many days at one point - but they didn’t all go well. I lost one because the placenta separated before the baby was born. The mother was thirty-five and had high blood pressure, always a concern in pregnancy. I was alerted to a problem during labour, when the baby’s heart rate dropped and, after delivery, the baby did not respond to my attempts to resuscitate her. When the placenta was delivered, I saw a large blood clot on the surface, indicating it had separated too early. It was very sad.
I had three normal deliveries after this one and then lost another. It was a first baby, and labour progressed normally until the mother started to push, and found she could not deliver. The baby’s head was quite low and I applied forceps to help. It was sad that, although breathing when born, the baby died shortly afterwards. Another tragedy. I felt so sad about it all that I felt like giving up all together. I asked the Lord, “Why?” but there was no answer except a verse from Isaiah, which read, “For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you.” [Isaiah 52: 12]
I guess at this point I was feeling discouraged. People tend to blame you when things go wrong and this is what I had heard. I felt better after I told the Lord all about it as so often happened over the years.
In November I was encouraged by a couple of normal deliveries, especially because the mothers were a couple of my “girls”. Early in the month I had the joy of delivering Audrey (she came to us when Olive left) of a boy, and three weeks later Gladys (James’s wife) had a girl. These deliveries came at a good time!
Winter wood chopping supplied us with a few customers too. Just before Christmas (‘59) a middle-aged man got a nasty gash on his right foot when chopping down small trees and cutting them for firewood. His axe slipped. Had he not hid heavy boots the cut could have been worse, but it was deep enough as it was. While suturing the foot, I noticed a small chip fracture of one of the bones, so gave him daily injections of penicillin, to prevent infection. Poor man! I kept his foot immobilised, and he was able to be home for Christmas.
Sometimes God warns us of future happenings in dreams, although this is an unusual occurrence. One night I had a vivid dream. In the dream I was going down a steep hill on a dog team heading for L’Anse-au-Clair alone, and at the bottom of the hill was a bridge. I was afraid, but remember thinking, “Well, there is a stretch of gravel before I reach the bridge, and that should slow me down.” I guess it did, because I went on to see a little boy with swollen glands of his neck - I remember thinking he probably had mumps.
The following day I thought of my dream when a man came from L’Anse-au-Clair by dog team to ask me to go and see his little boy, who was sick. Normally I would have thought nothing of it but I thought it might be a warning of possible danger. We got to the man’s home safely and I found that his three year old boy had a fever and swollen glands, but he did not appear to have mumps. I decided to take him down to Forteau for a few days anyway, so I could keep an eye on him.
Before we left L’Anse-au-Clair I impressed on the father, Allen, not to leave the dog team. Another young fellow came with us because the child and I were in the coachbox and, as we were crossing the long pond, Allen left his team in the charge of the younger man and joined another man. This worried me. All went well until we reached the hill behind Forteau and joined the road, which was snow covered gravel. Part way down the hill a truck was coming up. Fortunately the young lad was able to steer the komatik to the side of the truck, and avoided an accident. Someone must have been praying for us.
Sometimes, in remote places, nurses had to operate on themselves! One nurse told me one time she had to open one of her  infected fingers and drain it. My turn came when a dog team went off a bridge, and I had to stitch my own lip! Not the nicest thing mind you, but it had to be done.
The incident happened while I was on my way to see a woman at the far end of the village (Forteau.) She was a diabetic, with a bad heart condition, and was noteworthy for having a big family - sixteen children, I believe. It was a very cold winter’s day when I got the call so Stewart, the station handyman, got out his dog team and off we went.
Along the way was a small bridge, normally not a problem, but this team had a dog that did not like bridges, so he jumped over the edge as we were crossing! In the process the animal caught his traces on the edge. This brought the rest of the dogs after him, tipping the sled and me with it. Fortunately, although painfully, my right arm went through a hole in the bridge, bringing me to a stop and banging my head on the wood. The result of this, however, was a veritable blood bath, for in banging my head I cut my lip. The wound itself was relatively minor, but it bled profusely.
By the time I got back to the nursing station I decided the easiest way to control the bleeding was to put in a couple of sutures. So I injected a little local anaesthetic into my lip and set to work. At the time it was just “one of those things” because there was no other way, but I had a very swollen lip for awhile and could only drink through a straw. Looking back, however, it was a miracle that I did not break my arm, an angel must have been watching over me.
There was another occasion I had a narrow escape on a dog team. Mary’s husband, Wilfred (from L’Anse-au-Loup) had taken me “down along”, to the settlements further east to do iminunisations, and we had returned to L’Anse-au-Loup just before supper. Wilfred fed the dogs and then settled down for the night. I was to stay with him and Mary until the next morning but, suddenly, I had a strong impression that all was not well back in Forteau. Somehow I knew that I should return to Forteau that night.
It was a beautiful night, so that posed no problem, but Wilfred was reluctant to take his dogs out after they had been fed. Nevertheless, he agreed to do so, and all went well, until we reached the hill going down to English Point, about three miles from Forteau. As we began the descent we saw lights coming round the curve, so Wilfred jumped off the komatik, pulling the dogs to the side, and I jumped to the side, feeling as if Someone was lifting me off. The dogs and komatik escaped injury, although the dogs had their traces cut. Seconds later a large snowmobile appeared in sight - the driver was coming to get me as there had been an accident.
An older woman had caught her arm in a washing machine wringer. It was a gas wringer, and had done a bit of damage. At the station I treated the wound and did some suturing and she recovered none the worse for her injury.