Labrador History - 3.2 SPRING

Mary Taylor3.2 SPRING
Spring arrives in Labrador when the sun gets warmer and the snow begins to melt, anytime between March and May. Storms don’t confine themselves to winter, however, and there are still some severe snowstorms late in the Spring. Once, on a trip to see a man who had had a heart attack, I ran into a storm as late as May 24t1. Usually the weather is gentler, though. At this time God was preparing for things to come.
In that April of 1954 we admitted an elderly man who had suffered a heart attack, and I was quite concerned because I was very inexperienced in that field, having specialized in midwifery since I finished nurses’ training. Out came the medical books once again, and after some study I called St. Anthony over the radiotelephone for advice. The doctor said that, weather permitting; one of the doctors would come over to see the patient as soon as possible, but in the meantime to keep the patient sedated, and give medication for pain relief. He was to remain resting in the nursing station for about six weeks.
It transpired that the doctor did not get over to Forteau for a couple of days and in the meantime the patient had a further attack of severe pain, which I treated as suggested. Fortunately the doctor arrived that same day and I heaved a sigh of relief and thankfulness to God, as I was able to hand over the responsibility to more capable hands. So often over the years this would happen and I found it true that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity to meet the need. Just when I felt most helpless, God would intervene in some way.
My patient had no further attacks of pain and began to recover slowly, but what intrigued me was that, while he was with us, he became quite interested in reading his Bible. As a result I had many discussions with him and with another man who was in the same room. This confirmed my growing awareness that God was working in the lives of some of these dear fishermen, and I longed to be able to lead them to my Saviour.
The dentist had come over on the plane with the doctor and was soon busy “pulling teeth,” while the doctor was seeing patients. The following week both doctor and dentist stayed on in the area and travelled as far as Red Bay, holding clinics in various communities. I stayed in Forteau with the patients, but made a dog team trip to L’Anse-au-Loup, one beautiful warm sunny day.
Those springtime trips were most enjoyable and I would sit on the box on the komatik and relax most of the time. The snow was becoming soft and the dogs, progressing at a leisurely pace, seemed to enjoy it too. It was a break after the harsh winter storms when one was kept indoors so much. Spring is also the time for ice fishing. Often the men, and the women too, would take a lunch and set off for one of the many ponds or lakes, which contained delicious trout, and fish through a hole in the ice, until it was almost dark. I fished on a couple of occasions myself, and afterwards enjoyed the trout fried in a bit of salt pork.
Around Easter I tried making some hot cross buns but was not too successful. I missed being able to attend a place of worship, especially at that time of the year, but did enjoy hearing Mr. Charles Fuller on the radio. He always opened the service with “Heavenly Sunshine” and had such encouraging messages for his listeners. I’m sure he never thought of a lonely little nurse listening to him way down on the Labrador as he prepared his messages each week, but God knew all about it. Mr. Fuller’s broadcasts were a tonic to me.
Radio played an important role in those days. Initially news and weather forecasts were important, and there is still a special broadcast for fishermen called the “Fishermen’s Broadcast.” The nurses’ RJT schedule was well known and people used to listen in each day so we could give out personal messages, such as letting relatives know when someone was ready to go home, or announcing an upcoming doctor’s clinic. This helped break down the isolation. It also let everyone know what was going on! It was not Unusual for a nurse to make a home call in a small community only to find half the village sitting in the kitchen waiting for the verdict!
In May snow started to melt and bays filled with broken pans of ice, making travel difficult because the surface was neither water nor ice! When we HAD to travel we went by boat, which men maneuvered in and out of the ice pans, using long poles to push the ice away. Slow progress was made until a clear patch of water was reached. At times, if the ice were too jammed together, we would travel part way by boat and part way on land by dog team. At one time, mail was brought over land up the coast of Newfoundland and across the Strait of Belle Isle by boat and by dog teams alternately, the boat being pulled across the ice and launched when there was clear water.
On one occasion, when travel conditions were b4d, we got a call from a woman about thirty miles east of Forteau. She was having a miscarriage and needed urgent help, and there was no road back then! We crossed Forteau Bay by boat, a distance of about four or five miles, and I walked the rest of the way, making use of a small footpath in a few places. Mostly, though, all we had was the moss covered barrens, into which our feet sank (to the ankles) where it was spongy. Walking was not easy. Arriving hours later I found the patient’s condition not as serious as expected, which was fortunate, as there was no way we could have moved her.
Another time I was setting off through the ice pans by boat, leaving Forteau on a trip to L’Anse-au-Loup, when I was hailed from the shore. A man with a suitcase was waving to us to get our attention. His wife was with him and they were on the way to the nursing station, to await her delivery. He told me she was feeling fine.
We made the trip to L’Anse-au-Loup to start the Salk vaccination program, a program of immunizations against poliomyelitis for children and for adults up the age of thirty. My intent was to get the program set up, get consent forms signed, and be ready to do immunizations later on. Bertha, our nurse’s aide, was home at the time (she was from L’Anse-au-Loup) and was able to help me, so as soon as I arrived we started work. Things were going very nicely when, just after lunch, I got a call via the post office, the only place where there was a telephone, to say that the woman we had met when leaving Forteau that morning had started into labour! We quickly packed up all our equipment and started back to Forteau, poor travel conditions and all. It proved to be a false alarm that time, but one never knew and it did not pay to take chances.
On this occasion, as on many others, there was a reason for my return. The magistrate had arrived in Forteau by plane during my absence and his wife, who accompanied him, was waiting for me at the nursing station. The judge was there to hold court, so in the meantime I entertained his wife with a lunch of soup and sandwiches upstairs in the guest room. The women who did the annual spring-cleaning had just been there and had taken the opportunity to clean the living/dining area in my absence. The guest room was the only place to entertain. Once again I could see the hand of God in upset plans and proved the truth of the words in Romans 8:28 where it says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
We had several emergencies in May. One was a woman in labour. As her labour progressed I noticed that the baby’s heartbeat slowed with each contraction, indicating a problem, and wondered if the umbilical cord had slipped down in front of the baby’s head. Each contraction would cut off the blood supply, the result being lack of oxygen to the brain. I examined the patient and felt nothing unusual, but the baby’s heart rate continued to drop. Conditions being what they were at that point of the spring, there was no way of getting the patient over to the hospital at St. Anthony, so I could only wait and see what happened.
The baby was born normally, but the cord was tucked beside his head, explaining why I could not feel it earlier. He was in distress and, unfortunately, all our efforts at resuscitation failed and he died. The woman had four girls and this was her first boy; it was very sad. At times like this I felt the dangers of isolation more keenly and wished for easier access to medical help.
A few days prior to this, I had admitted a woman expecting a first baby. She was about six months pregnant and had infectious hepatitis (jaundice) so was quite sick, but recovered and was discharged. Two weeks later she was back again, this time in premature labour, and delivered a wee baby girl weighing three and a half pounds, so now we had a “preemie” on our hands. There was no incubator and no oxygen so this little one presented us with quite a challenge. Wrapping her in cotton wool to keep her warm, I watched her carefully, and gave her sips of brandy and water when she had a “blue spell.” This always seemed to bring her round. I fed her by nasogastric tube every two to three hours until she was able to suck. She did very well, and weighed five and a half pounds, when she was discharged several weeks later.
Throughout this ordeal, her mother did marvellously, staying close by so that we could obtain breast milk for her little one, and eventually nursing the baby herself. We proudly nicknamed the baby “Boots” as I had made her a tiny pair of booties.
While our little “preemie” was with us, I took advantage of an opportunity to go to the Catholic hospital at Blanc Sablon to borrow an oxygen tank, just in case we needed it for the baby. A nurse from Harrington Harbour was returning from St. Anthony, hoping to catch a ride from Blanc Sablon on the North Pioneer. A motorboat was to take her to Blanc Sablon to connect with the coastal steamer that went on to Harrington, so I decided to go that far with her, since the round trip would only take three or four hours.
No sooner had we set off than we were hailed from the shore and asked to return. At the station, a distraught mother greeted me with a small boy of about two years of age, who had fallen backwards into a pail of boiling water. He had severe burns of his buttocks, legs and abdomen. I placed him in a bath of cool water and followed this with cool moist cloths to the burned areas, all the while trying to get fluids into him.
I called St. Anthony at once and the Maraval set off with Dr. Gordon Thomas on board. By the time the boat got near Forteau that night it was quite foggy, a very common occurrence, so the pilot was guided into the bay by the old technique of echoing gun shots along the shore. Men were stationed along the shoreline in a fan shape, and fired their guns at appropriate times, the echoes guiding the boat. This was successful and Dr. Thomas came ashore safely.
When Dr. Thomas saw the boy, he decided to take him back to St. Anthony the next day, for the fog was too thick to think of returning that night. They set off at dawn, but it was to no avail. I had been up with the child all night and was resting that afternoon, when we received the sad news that the little boy had died before they reached St. Anthony. This was a grave shock to his mother.
Many such tragedies happen in isolated areas where weather conditions make it difficult to transfer patients to hospital and we were fortunate that, over the years, there were not more.