Labrador History - 3.4 KEEPING BUSY

Mary Taylor3.4 KEEPING BUSY
Starting my second year on the coast that Fall of 1954, I prayed that the light of the gospel might shine on the people of the Labrador and, little by little, events heralded a dawning of hope, although these were not apparent to us at the time. In the meantime there were the people’s medical needs to care for, infectious diseases like measles, mumps, chicken pox and whooping cough abounded. The worst was Tuberculosis.
Dr. Gordon Thomas, our chief Medical Officer, estimated (in his book, “From Sled to Satellite”) that 145 per 10,000 of the population of Labrador and Northern Newfoundland got it. The damage was enormous in social terms, because an infected man had to rest and could not provide for his household. I don’t know how
they managed before the days of Welfare cheques.
Tuberculosis was therefore a serious problem on the coast in those early years and, frequently, we had patients resting in the nursing station after they were discharged from the sanatorium in St. Anthony. The sanatorium was built in 1953 and, prior to that, patients who were diagnosed as having tuberculosis had to rest at home. This naturally caused a spread of the infection, or at least posed a threat to other members of the family.
I had worked in a sanatorium in England during my nurse’s training and was familiar with the various treatments and surgery performed. One treatment was to collapse the lung by injecting air in the pleural space around the lung so affected; in other cases the lung was permanently collapsed by surgically removing portions of the ribs. Occasionally a portion of the affected lung was removed. During my first year in Forteau, while I was taking a break in St. Anthony, I assisted one of the doctors when he did a rib resection. After the advent of Streptomycin and other anti-tuberculosis drugs, the incidence of tuberculosis gradually decreased, and the sanatorium was converted to other uses, first for general wards and later, when the new hospital was built in St. Anthony in 1968, for staff quarters.
One of the patients admitted that fall was a thirteen-year-old girl with tuberculosis. She was from a large family and was brought
to the nursing station because she had to be isolated from other family members. She was fortunate in that, being from Forteau, her parents were able to visit her. Another little girl, three year old Pauline. was also with us for several months. A real “character”, she endeared herself to our hearts but was not conversant with current thinking on cross infection. One day I found her feeding her egg to another child - a baby! Fortunately, no harm resulted from the incident!
It was very hard to get a child that age to rest and we kept busy trying to find projects to keep her occupied. She had her fourth birthday while with us, and her mother brought her a lovely birth- day cake. There was a woman in labour nearby and from time to time she would moan, “Oh my! Oh my! Oh my!” to relieve her distress, a common expression.
I overheard little Pauline saying, Fie on you.” In other words, “You are too old to be making a fuss like that!”
Boredom could be a problem at times, especially for patients whose greatest need was rest, and many patients kept busy in van ou ways. An occupational therapist worked in St. Anthony, but
smaller places had to improvise. Some of our patients made models of aircraft, boats etc., and in later years one patient made lamp shades out of wooden spatulas. A man, who was in the station for several months, made models of boats in bottles and made me a lovely model of our mission plane as a keepsake.
The Christmas Seal campaign played an important part in the detection of patients with tuberculosis. Their X-ray boat, a fifty  foot, World War II converted corvette, had been donated to the Newfoundland Tuberculosis Association and travelled the coast of northern Newfoundland and Labrador every three or four years,  screening contacts of patients with tuberculosis and doing repeat chest X-rays on patients who had been treated. Anyone who wished could get a chest X-ray, and many new cases were found. Early detection meant early and more effective treatment. At the same time as the X-ray survey, the Christmas Seal also conducted a B.C.G. screening program that played an important part in the prevention of tuberculosis. Children were given a scratch on the forearm and, if it was positive, they had a chest X-ray. If not, they were given a B.C.G. vaccination.
Once I went along to help. We travelled as far north as Mary’s Harbour and turned south, intending to cross next day to St. Anthony. From there I was to fly back to Forteau. The weather was quite stormy (it was in the fall) and I was recovering from ‘flu, so I was not the best traveller as we crossed the straits. It was fortunate for me we put into Pistolet Bay, not far from St. Anthony, where I got the plane home. I was never so glad to see land! It was a miserable feeling, and I’m glad that I did not get sick very often.
November 1954 was a busy month at the nursing station. We had a number of cases of streptococcal throat infection and pneumonia and, as oral antibiotics were not in use at that time, we had to admit both children and adults who needed Penicillin. This was especially the case if they came from any distance, for there were still no roads, and travel was by boat or dog team. We had, in addition, three deliveries that month, so we had to try and keep infectious cases away from the mothers and babies. We separated the various types of cases as best we could. A separate room was kept for deliveries and used as a lying in ward too, and at times, if we were really full, we used the waiting room and staff rooms upstairs. On occasion, I even had patients in my own room! When this happened, the station was full!
It was late 1954, the weather was getting colder, and our thoughts turned to Christmas, my second on the coast. I still conducted Sunday School each week in the Anglican or United Church, with the help of others, including Alma, a teacher from Capstan Island who was working in Forteau. She was a big help when we put on a Christmas program that year, especially when the children came over to the nursing station after school to rehearse. In the place of a Nativity play, we decided to put on a program that year, and taught the children verses and recitations. The children seemed to enjoy themselves, and once again entered into the spirit of things.
In the meantime, while not neglecting spiritual things, I was very busy on the medical front. There was a Hospital at Long Point, a village just past Blanc Sablon on the Quebec coast. A Catholic hospital run by nursing sisters, it had a resident doctor, a German, who was quite skilled in emergency procedures and was a blessing to us from time to time. We contacted him a couple of times that December.
Early in the month we had at the nursing station two women awaiting delivery, one was from Red Bay and the other from West St. Modeste. Both decided to go into labour the same day and both delivered the same night. It was the latter’s first, and I was concerned because the baby’s head was still quite high when she went  into labour. She had a small pelvis and really should have been in the hospital in St. Anthony, but the weather was bad and the lakes were too thin for planes, so we had to handle it ourselves.
I sent a telegram to the doctor at Long Point Hospital, to alert him in case we needed assistance and had to call him. Still, I was on my own and under these conditions all I could do was to pray that labour would progress normally and that the mother would deliver safely. Labour continued and the baby’s head remained high until late that night, but when the mother started to push, the head came down and the baby was safely delivered - another answer to prayer. The good doctor in Blanc Sablon was not needed.
The second patient also gave us cause for concern. It was her sixth baby and she could have had problems with bleeding, for the more pregnancies one has, the greater the risk of haemorrhage. However, once again prayer was answered and the baby was born without a problem. As frequently happened, I was up all night with these two patients.
Next morning I was called to see a young boy who had abdominal pains all night. He was getting worse, and it looked to me like another case of acute appendicitis. It was impossible to use a plane because landing conditions had not improved any in the last few days, so we decided to try the overland course to the hospital at Long Point. This was fourteen miles and we expected the “going” would be very rough, but had no choice.
The boy’s family got their dogs in harness, Melvin was safely [tucked up in the coachbox, and we set off. There was very litti Snow covering the frozen ground so it was slow going, and it took us all morning to reach the town of Blanc Sablon, where we rented a truck to take us the rest of the way to the hospital, about two miles beyond the town. The difference between the road trip and our journey by dog team was quite marked, and it was no wonder the people of Labrador were anxious to have their own road. This road was coming and, earlier in the fall that year, a tractor and two Government trucks had been landed at the wharf in Blanc Sablon and a start made. It was slow work under such primitive conditions, however, and now that winter had come, work would have to wait until spring.
The doctor was waiting for us at the hospital and soon Melvin was comfortably tucked up in bed - but not for long. The doctor confirmed my diagnosis (acute appendicitis) and performed surgery right away. Meanwhile, the doctor’s wife, who was expecting a baby herself, kindly entertained me to lunch.
After ascertaining that Melvin’s condition was satisfactory, the men in our party decided we should go back as far as Blanc Sablon and spend the night there with some relatives of the family. I was relieved, as by now I was exhausted, having been up all the previous night. After tea, I settled down to rest, but it was not to be for long! A call came via the post office asking me to return to Forteau -  yet another woman was going into labour.
The return trip was rough and tiring. On arrival at Forteau I was relieved to find that the woman, who was expecting her first baby, was not in labour after all (she delivered a couple of weeks later,) and the other two mothers and babies of the previous night were doing fine. Finally, I was able to have a good night’s sleep!
Sometimes, in my work, I would see the next generation, and at times felt like a grandmother! A couple of weeks after our trip to Blanc Sablon I delivered another woman of her fifth child, a little girl, Sheila. Years later when Sheila had grown up and married I had the joy of delivering HER of her third child. And so the generations go on!
Christmas finally came and with it the excitement of our Christmas program, for which we used the hail of the Orange Lodge. The children said their parts very clearly, it all went off well, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Once again Santa arrived on Christmas Eve, and we provided cocoa and donuts to the children after he had distributed their gifts. Later that evening, a group of us went caroling again which I thoroughly enjoyed, even though I was late getting to bed – again!  I was becoming more and more a part of the community, and fitting into their traditions and routines.