Labrador History - 1.5 FIRST MEDICAL TRIP

I was in Forteau about a week when Leslie suggested I go to Red Bay for a clinic. In places with no formal nursing station, clinics were held in private homes and patients attended as they would at a station. Sometimes I did home visits on these trips, for it was a chance to catch up with immunizations for babies. I travelled to the various settlements by open motor boat (in the summer) or by dog team (in the winter) and, less often, by the coastal steamer, because there were no roads at that time.
Red Bay was a settlement about fifty miles away, and the plan was that I go there directly (on a coastal steamer that was due in a few days’ time) and work my way back gradually to Forteau by small motor boat. A woman from L’Anse-au-Loup, a patient at the time, was to travel with me back to her home. L’Anse-au-Loup was the next large settlement along the coast from Forteau, lying to the northeast.
A few days later the Springdale arrived and anchored in Forteau Bay. We went out to it on a small motor boat and boarded by climbing a rope ladder, a new experience for me. It was an easy task that beautiful fall day but, in the stormy months of an early winter, with the added hazard of ice, this “easy task” becomes a hazardous undertaking. I was thankful we had no dangerous conditions to contend with that first time I had to clamber aboard.
Once on board I watched freight being unloaded and overheard some of the crew calling over the side to the local fishermen, “How are the bake apples this year?” I had not heard of this delicacy at that time and, naturally, thought they were referring to baked apples - the ones I was used to seeing in England - stuffed with raisins! I was puzzled. Later I learned that they were referring to a small orange berry, about the size and appearance of a raspberry, which grow on tiny bushes near the ground. They are delicious, especially when served with cream and sugar, and I learned to appreciate them in later years.
We arrived at Red Bay just before supper and went to the house of the local store owner, Wesley Bridle, where he and his wife, Blanche, soon made me feel at home. While Blanche was busy
preparing supper and setting the table in the living room I went out into the large warm homey kitchen to find a number of young girls sitting on benches round the walls I tried talking to them but did not meet with much success they Just looked at me By and by they went out and a fresh group arrived If they all required my services and I was worried in case they did I would have a busy day ahead! I asked my hostess what they wanted and she said, “Oh, they don’t want anything. They have just come to see the new nurse.” I felt rather like a specimen on display!
As I learned more I found that the people had a friendly fashion of visiting each other. They would just pop in for a chat about the fish or the weather without stopping for an invitation, or even to knock. Always, when they got up to go, the host or hostess would say, “There’s lots of time,” meaning that they were welcome to stay longer and their company had been enjoyed. This free and easy and friendly habit has largely disappeared now.
That night in Red Bay I was introduced to my first mantle lamp, a kerosene lamp with a tall chimney. When I went to bed, I turned it down carefully, pulled the covers around my chin and slept peacefully until morning. When I awoke, the light was still burning and there was a brown ring on the ceiling! A characteristic of these lamps that everyone knew except me, was that they smoked as they ran down. Being naive, I thought I had narrowly escaped causing a fire! It did not happen again, I can assure you!
Home heating was by a wood stove in the kitchen, so a metal stovepipe went through the roof at the centre of each house. The man of the house lighted the fire each morning and, since there was no electricity or running water, water for washing was heated on this stove. A large china jug and bowl on a dresser was used for washing oneself each morning, and the toilet was a chamber or pail kept for that purpose.
I held clinic in the front room for the next couple of days, checked antenatal patients, did some home visits to the elderly and chronically ill, and gave routine immunizations to babies and toddlers. The station nurse did Public Health work at that time, as well as caring for sick people. I particularly remember one patient I Visited, a woman dying with breast cancer. It was very sad, for she was a widow with two small children. Later, after she died, the children were taken to the orphanage in St. Anthony.
Leslie had stressed the importance of ensuring that all antenatal cases who had not been seen previously be booked and checked while I was in Red Bay, as it was unlikely I would get down again until the winter trip after “freeze up”. I asked my hostess whether she could tell me of anyone who was “expecting”. Imagine my embarrassment when she said, “Didn’t you think I was going to tell you?” She herself was one of the antenatal! Of course, I had not realized this, but she did not seem to mind.
From Red Bay we went further along the coast to Barge Bay, in good weather that takes about two hours by boat. At this summer settlement, occupied by several families to be near the fishing grounds, there was an antenatal to check, as well as some babies due for immunizations. Two local fishermen agreed to take me in an open motor boat, and we set out next morning, the wind picking up as we travelled. As the water was quite rough, the men put into Fry’s Cove, a small summertime fishing village of only a couple of houses. It was about halfway to Barge Bay, close enough to walk, so I set off with a local woman, Mrs. Macey. As we walked she showed me the various types of wild berries which grew on the barrens - partridge berries, marsh berries, blueberries, a small round blackberry, and others. These berries are rich in vitamin C, and are made into jam for the winter.
I did my first dental extraction shortly after I arrived in Barge Bay. My fainting spell in Ottawa was still on my mind, so I approached this task with some trepidation, for obvious reasons! The patient was a child of about six, who had a toothache and wanted her tooth out. Getting out my metal syringe and a vial of local anesthetic, I set to work, hardly knowing which way to put it all together, but eventually did so. I injected the anaesthetic around the offending tooth and did the extraction successfully but not, however, without causing my young patient a lot of discomfort.
The sea had calmed somewhat by the time I finished the clinic, so we returned to Fry’s Cove by boat. This was my first trip over a rough sea in an open boat, with the craft bouncing up and down in the most alarming way and I got very wet, but thoroughly en-
joyed it. By the time we reached Fry’s Cove it was too late to go on to Red Bay so I stayed the night with Mrs Macey the lady who had accompanied me to Barge Bay
Perched up on the bow of the boat next morning, as we travelled back to Red Bay, I thought that this was how Jesus would have travelled with his disciples. I prayed for these simple fisher folk to whom the Lord had called me to minister, that many of them would come to know Him in a personal way. These prayers were answered in an amazing way, more than I had ever imagined, which is the reason for my writing this story.
From Red Bay, after I finished, two men took me by boat to Pinware and West St. Modeste, our next ports of call. A mainly Catholic community, West St. Modeste was an attractive fishing community with a little church up on the hill. It was here I met a dear old lady named “Aunt” Mary, in whose home the Grenfell Mission held their clinics and where staff members stayed since the days Dr. Grenfell himself travelled the coast. From this old lady I heard tales of the famous Doctor’s visits, for she remembered him quite well. On the coast, older people are affectionately called “Aunt” or “Uncle”, even when there is no family relationship. It is a sign of respect.
“Aunt” Mary soon made me feel at home as she prepared lunch, which included a generous supply of fresh rolls and peanut butter cookies, her specialty. We spent the weekend together and on Sunday listened to Gospel broadcasts over her radio. I discovered she was a kindred spirit, one who loved the Lord as I did and we had some happy times together, both then and on subsequent visits. “Aunt” Mary had come from Old Perlican, Newfoundland, many years before as a servant girl and had married a Labrador fisherman. When I met her she was a widow with no children of her own, but was very fond of her two nephews and their families, and to whom she had acted as midwife on more than one occasion.
She and “Uncle” Sid had worked at the Mission and she had lots of stories to tell of earlier years, including the hard times when fishing was bad and money was short. In those days the men traded their fish to the merchants in exchange for food and clothing, fishing supplies and other necessary items. Later, when she was no longer able to live alone, “Aunt” Mary lived with us at the nursing station and became a much-loved member of our “family”.
While we were in this area, I made boat trips to other nearby settlements; to Pinware at the mouth of a salmon river, to Capstan Island, and to L’Anse-au-Loup, a village of three or four homes at the foot of a hill called the Battery. I carried on the usual routine of clinic, immunizations and home visits, and thus I got to know the people amongst whom I would be working.
The next port of call, early the following week, was L‘Anse-au-Loup, the largest settlement in the area, where I was joined by Bertha, our nurse’s aide. A pretty girl with fair wavy hair, Bertha was rather shy, but she was a good nurses’ aide, for Leslie had trained her well, and she showed me around and helped with immunizations. Since her home was L’Anse-au-Loup she combined business with pleasure.
While we were cleaning up one day we almost demolished a stove! Vaccine for the immunizations was stored in vials, five to a box, and our practice was to keep track by putting the empty vials back in their respective boxes for later disposal. When we finished that day Bertha put some boxes of “empties” in the stove for disposal when, suddenly, there was a loud explosion! Among the “empty” boxes, it transpired, was a full one! That was how we learned.
In L’Anse-au-Loup we were called to see a boy of about fourteen, who was complaining of a severe headache. He had a high fever and, as I was quite concerned he might be developing meningitis, I wanted to take him back with us to the nursing station in Forteau. I suggested this to his parents and they said, “We’ll ask him if he’s satisfied to go.” This was new to me, for I had never heard of a child being asked if he were willing to go to hospital.
The boy said, “No!” in no uncertain terms.
Naturally, he was afraid and later I learned that local people believed you only went to hospital to die! Nothing would persuade the boy to change his mind so we had to leave him at home. Fortunately he recovered, much to my relief, and looking back from the vantage point of experience it seems that he had nothing more than a streptococcal throat infection. It was very worrying at the time, though.
The “clinic” part of the trip being over, we completed the tour with a run home to Forteau by boat. It took about an hour and a half and we went around Point Amour, which was notorious for shipwrecks - as I heard in later years. On the way back to Forteau Bertha warned me that Leslie wanted us back before five o’clock so I could take the evening radio telephone schedule with St.Anthony. These scheduled calls were held two or three times a day to check on weather conditions, movements of the mission boats and aircraft, and any other business. As I had not used the machine before, I was quite nervous and hoped that we would not get back in time but, unfortunately, we did. Like most things, it was not as bad as expected and I must have made out all right, as I do not remember any complaints.
The radio was a much-appreciated means of communication and we were at a loss when something went wrong with it, which happened frequently. I remember one occasion when the electrician could not get in because of bad weather, and my Dad, who was staying with me, fixed it with a part from one of the toilets! It worked fine for some time like that!
A few days after I returned from my trip the Albert Gould, one of the Mission’s boats, took Leslie to St. Anthony on the first leg of a trip home to England and I was left alone to cope with my first winter. I felt inadequate, as I saw the boat sailing off into the distance, realizing that from now on I alone had to see and treat people when they came into the clinic. I proved then, as I proved so many times since, that the Lord is sufficient for all our needs and that He could give me the strength and ability to do what in my own strength, I felt I could not do.
I proved the truth of the words of the Bible verse that was to mean so much to me over the years, “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” [Deuteronomy 33:25b]