Labrador History - 3.5 STIRRINGS

Mary Taylor3.5 STIRRINGS
As one year gave way to another I continued to pray that God would work in a mighty way and, meanwhile, learned more about the people and shared their burdens. One particular hardship of those days that we saw quite often was the economic and social difficulties of prolonged separations from family and from work. There were two particular cases, that winter of early 1955, of patients who remained in the nursing station for a prolonged period of time.
The first was a thirty-six-year-old woman who was acutely ill with pericarditis, a heart condition necessitating rest. She was in the nursing station for approximately three months, because she had a large family at home and it was almost impossible for her to rest there. Her oldest girl, who was in her early teens, had to leave school for that period, to do housekeeping and take care of the younger children. This made it difficult to catch up with her school studies in later years. Unfortunately this type of thing happened all too frequently.
In large families the children all have to help. Girls would be mixing bread by the time they were ten or eleven, and helping with washing, ironing and housework. During the summer months they also helped their mothers “at the fish”, which involved splitting, washing. etc. Boys helped too, going fishing with their fathers at an early age. This girl’s name was Harriet, and she was a great help to her mother, taking much of the burden from her shoulders when she did go home. She was able to bake bread and became a very good cook, later becoming our cook at the nursing station.
The second patient confined for a long period was Baxter, a man in his twenties with rheumatic fever, who also was in the nursing station for several months. This was especially hard for a young, active man, who normally would have been away “in the woods,” hunting or cutting wood, during the winter months. Many of the men went down to the Pinware River at that time of year to cut timber for construction, as trees were larger there. Local wood was small and twisted. They travelled by dog team, of course, and hauled out the logs before the ice thawed in spring.
As Baxter was not long married this mast have been a trying time for him and his wife, especially as he was anxious to start building a house. He was a good patient, however and his patience was rewarded when he recovered without any heart problems. He went fishing for a while but later joined the Department of Highways and was, for many years, one of their trusted workers.

Hanging out the washing at the Forteau Nursing Station.

Hanging out the washing at the Forteau Nursing Station. 

The people were cheerful, despite the hardships, and showed an excitable streak from time to time. One day, when I was visiting at Buckle’s Point, there was an urgent knock on the door, and John, Bertha’s husband, came in to tell me he had taken his wife to the nursing station, as she had started into labour. He had come for me on his dog team, and obviously was in a hurry. I hastily put on my coat and boots, got on the box behind him, and we sped along. Even the dogs seemed to have picked up on the situation! We got going so fast that we hit a small stump and I fell off, and went rolling in the snow, while the determined John ploughed ahead, urging the faithful dogs to even greater things. It was some time before he realized that I was not behind him! When he DID he waited for me to catch up with him, and we continued. This was Bertha’s first baby, so there was no real need for haste, but John was the typical anxious father. All went well and Bertha soon had a fine baby boy, but John still gets teased.
This wasn’t the only time I fell off a komatik, this being a hazard we all accepted. It wasn’t the same as falling out of a car! Once, at another time, the doctor and I were doing a dog team trip to L’Anse-au-Loup and, as we were sliding down the hill into the village, I fell off! As on that previous occasion, the driver did not miss me, so I laughed and walked the rest of the way down the hill.
A greater risk than falling off a dog sled was getting lost in the Snow, and on that trip we almost had such a problem. Stewart (our handyman and the driver that day) and I continued to Capstan Island to see a patient, leaving the doctor in L’Anse-au-Loup to hold his clinic. By the time we returned, the doctor had set off on his own, to walk back without the benefit of a guide. This was dangerous, because he did not know the territory and could have got lost, for the trails of the summer were covered with snow in the Winter. I did not follow until later because I had several expectant mums to see but, when we got to English Point on our return trip, we checked and no one had seen the doctor. This was strange, as it was a beautiful moonlight night and the children were out sliding. We were quite concerned, obviously, but when we got back to Forteau, there was the doctor sitting calmly eating his supper!
Winter gave way to spring, such as it was on the coast, the warm up having its own beauties but making transport difficult. Lives on the coast were controlled by transport and transport was controlled by the season. This in turn affected the nursing station.
We had another antenatal patient the same time as Bertha, a woman waiting to go to St. Anthony because her last baby had been born by Caesarian section. We heard over the radio telephone that the plane was coming to pick her up so we got her all bundled up and into a coachbox and, when we heard the plane itself, hurried over to the pond where it put down. However, the plane had too big a load and they were not able to take her, so we were disappointed. I was concerned too, as the days were getting warmer and before long ice conditions would make it impossible for planes to land. This became a matter of prayer and the Lord answered. At a later date we got her away, in time for her delivery.
Not all patients recovered. In April I admitted the sweetest baby, thirteen month old Karen, with a very bad chest infection and dehydration. Eventually we sent her to St. Anthony, but I was very concerned about her, and we had many anxious moments while she was with us. She recovered at the time in St. Anthony, but her chest condition kept recurring and, unfortunately, she died later.
Karen’s mother used to say that she was like a little angel, and indeed she was so sweet that it did seem as if she had been lent to her parents for a little while and then God took her back to himself. When she died I lent her mother a book by Dale Evans Rogers entitled, “Angel Unawares” which seemed to help her. It was about a little girl with Down’s Syndrome who also died when she was quite young and described the author’s feelings at that time. Losing a child is never an easy thing and later the mother told me that God had been speaking to her through Karen’s illness. A couple of years later she accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as her own personal Saviour and found great comfort in her faith.
A couple of months later, we admitted another little girl, Thelma (sister of Harriet mentioned above, and whose mother had been so sick,) who was quite pale and was losing weight. Her enlarged abdomen was typical of Coeliac Disease, which I recognized as I had looked after a little boy with that same condition when I was in nurses’ training. This is a disease of the digestive system when the child is unable to tolerate certain foods. Getting on the radio-telephone, I discussed Thelma with the doctor in St. Anthony and he advised me to send her over there.
When the coastal boat came in I sent Thelma and her sister on it. The trip would take two or three days, depending on the weather, as the coastal boat sailed about 100 miles north to Mary’s Harbour. From there (nine miles inland from “historic” Battle Harbour where the first Grenfell hospital was built) the boat turned south to cross the Strait of Belle Isle to St. Anthony. On arrival at St. Anthony, Thelma was admitted and started dn a special diet that included, among other things, bananas. Her condition soon improved and she was able to come home again on the boat when it made another trip from Lewisporte, Newfoundland. Bananas, unfortunately, were impossible to obtain in Labrador, but one of the crew of the coastal boat Springdale brought her some whenever that boat made the trip from Corner Brook, a couple of days steam away on the west coast of Newfoundland.
At times we had emergencies when no coastal boat was in the vicinity or conditions were not suitable for a plane to land. One  such incident happened late one summer evening. We admitted a woman with a twisted ovarian cyst, who was in severe pain and urgently required surgery, meaning a trip to St. Anthony. Nothing else was available, and as it was a lovely summer night and the weather was calm, I decided we should send her across the straits by motor boat. In the summer months it stays light for a long time, and then begins to get light again about three or four in the morning. Pearl, our nurses’ aide at the time, accompanied her.
They crossed the straits by boat and travelled up the coast of [Newfoundland to Pistolet Bay, a distance of about seventy-five Tniles. A gravel road led from Pistolet Bay to St. Anthony, so medi staff met the boat there, and took the woman to the hospital, where she had surgery and recovered very well from her misadventure.
The first outboard motor boats put in an appearance in the area that summer and one day I went to L’ Anse-au-Loup by this new method of transportation! It was a lovely day and the sea was quite calm, so I enjoyed my trip. The sea was rough by the time I finished seeing patients, so we did not return the same way. It would have been unwise to return by sea in an outboard motor boat as this type of boat was quite light and not suitable for heavy seas.
While I had been away, Pearl had admitted a sick baby with a high fever, so I thought I should get back if I could. Accompanied by one of the men from L’Anse-au-Loup, I set off to walk along a footpath from the village to Point Amour, where the lighthouse was situated. By the time we arrived at the lighthouse, it was too late to try and get across the bay, so I spent the night there.
Meanwhile, Pearl had been able to get in touch with the Maraval and Dr. Thomas, who was on board, had come into Forteau to see the sick child. They had quite a time getting there, for it was very foggy and, when they were almost across the straits, a huge iceberg suddenly loomed up beside them - it was a miracle that they didn’t hit it. They made it, though, and Dr. Thomas took the baby back to St. Anthony with him as he thought it had meningitis. He took time to comment on my outboard motor boat trip to L’Anse-au-Loup, about which he was not very happy, as he felt that they were not suitable craft for the Labrador. He was probably right.
The next morning some friends took me from the lighthouse in Point Amour to the bay in L’ An se-Amour. This time I travelled by pony and trap and on to Forteau by motor boat.
A new road was under construction that summer, linking various settlements along the coast and making walking much easier, as I discovered when a friend and I walked the seven miles to L’Anse-au-Clair. The road also made it easier for people to get to the nursing station, so in turn it made me busier! On this walk I took my bag with me, as I knew I would probably have some patients to see when we arrived, few passed up an opportunity if the “nurse” was in town. It was a beautiful morning when we set off and we really felt it was good to be alive, so I didn’t hurry and were able to enjoy the sunshine, arriving just in time for lunch.
That afternoon I was called to see a woman who had started to go into labour and, as she had had several children already, I told her I felt it would be better for her to have this baby at the nursing station. There was a very capable local midwife in L’Anse-auClair, Mrs. Dumaresque, and sometimes it was difficult to persuade the women to come to Forteau for delivery, but the patient agreed with me and we returned by boat. Fortunately, my patient, Mrs. Chubbs, waited until we got back to the nursing station before she had her baby that night. A fine boy, he was her tenth child.
In July Hattie, one of my Sunday School teachers whose hus ban was from L’Anse-au-Clair, was found to have tuberculosis. It was discovered when she had her first baby in St. Anthony, and had a routine chest X-ray. She was transferred to the nursing station to rest for three months, and her baby boy was admitted with her for observation. She had formerly been one of our laundry staff.
We had two local women come in every Monday to do the washing; one did the staff laundry and the other patient’s laundry, s keeping some semblance of separation. All the washing was done by hand and it was several years later before we were able to a washing machine, thus the sheets were boiled in lye on top the stove and came out shining white. Tuesday was ironing day.
It must have been a back-breaking job for the women but they never complained - I guess they were glad to have the money. They used washing tubs and scrub boards, and ironing was done on a long table with flat irons that were heated on the stove.
Evidence of the work of the Lord showed up from time to time and gave much encouragement; although it is only with hindsight that we were able to see such evidence as a “dawning” of a much greater work that was coming. One such occasion was that time I had walked from L’Anse-au-Loup to Point Amour (after the ride Li the small boat with the outboard motor) and had to return to Forteau. Ralph, the man who accompanied me, told me he had recently come to know the Lord as his Saviour and, needless to say, I was delighted to hear this news. A preacher had been having meetings in his father’s home at the time. He mentioned that his father had also come to Christ.
Meanwhile there was the body to care for, and there were times we had to “draw aside and rest a while.” I was not sorry to get a break when my holiday time came around, and went off to Ontario again to see my sister and nephew Bobby, who was now over a year old. He was a cute little fellow. A few weeks later I returned to Newfoundland and spent the remainder of the holiday with a friend who was teaching in Forteau and was home for the summer. I stayed with his sister and her family, and we had fun going on picnics doing a bit of cod jigging from his brother-in-law’s boat. I enjoyed meeting his family and living in a Newfoundland home and, after a few days, we left and sailed north from Lewisporte on the Springdale, going along the east coast of the island back to Forteau.
This gave me the chance to see many places which had been only names to me until then, for we called at all the small fishing settlements on route - this made the trip very interesting. One such place was Roddickton, where there was a nursing station staffed by Jo Cattell, who previously had only been a voice over the radiotelephone. I had time to go ashore and visit Jo, who had been with the Grenfell Mission three years longer than I had, and had many interesting stories to tell of her experiences. She showed me round her well kept nursing station, which was undergoing renovations, and later became a Health Centre, one of the first to have a resident doctor.
We continued north to St. Anthony and from there crossed the Strait of Belle Isle to Battle Harbour, on the way passing Belle Isle itself, a forbidding looking rocky island where a lighthouse was situated. Some years later it was to be the scene of a tragedy. We were storm bound at Muddle Sound near Battle Harbour for twenty- four hours but eventually made it safely to Forteau. It had been good to be away but I was glad to get home again. There was another busy winter ahead of me no doubt.