Season 2 of Mercy Street request list

Okay, I admit to watching all of the six episodes of #MercyStreetPBS on Amazon. Many of my friends would be deeply disturbed if I spilled the beans on what was to come. They are watching the series “old school” one week at a time. I thought I could go old school too, but the series is just too good.

Here is my list for @LoneWolf_Media and all the creative types involved

  1. Nurse Hastings has to find her way and become the person Anne Reading was after leaving Alexandria – you know the part where she was ill (again) and did what she could to survive- supervised factory workers in a tobacco plant and sewed hats like many women did, while waiting for her husband to come home from war.
  2. Go beyond Miss Dix and mention some of the REAL giants of Civil War nursing- the ones who’s courage exceeds all of our combined:
    1.  Susie King Taylor– followed her physician husband in the war. She was amazing in many ways- including advocating for herself and nurses after the war- for pensions.SusieKingTaylor_BW


2. Mother Bickerdyke – fearless, tireless and dedicated to the soldiers of the Civil War she was Mother, nurse and lawyer. She worked with settlers in Kansas. The real “Florence Nightingale” regarding providing care, but she like others failed to write down and analyze the care given; no organized evidence base was produced as a result of care given int he Civil War.


3. As the show advances in years, please include the “Bread Riots”. Southern women were amazing. They had the most social pressure (in the beginning) to not nurse, not change their role. And yet they were so Bread Riotgenerous with their soldiers. The Bread War shows the rapid social changes being made the hardship they endured.

“Apr2 richmond riot” by Prensa, 1863.

Mercy Street: The Nurses are on the front lines

As #MercyStreetPBS continues to show the early year (1862) of the 1861-1865 Civil War Mary Phinney continues to find her way as the head nurse in a Union Hospital which was formerly a hotel.mansion house hospital

Mary, also known as The Baroness van Olnhausen l  Mary was raised with a formal education. Her birthday occurred somewhere around the time of the airing of this episode, February 3, 1818. She was the 5th of 14 children. Growing up she saw a lot of care given to older family members and her many younger siblings. My hat is off to (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) {@M_E_Winstead} who does a superb job of playing Miss Phinney.

After her father died she headed to the mill, Manchester Print Works, in New Hampshire. . She was talented in drawing and was creating fabric patterns. She met and married a German-American Baron (Gustav) von Olhausen when she was 40 years old.  Her happy marriage came to an end when her husband in the 3rd year of their marriage.

Mary Phinney was always a rebel. First through her love of the farm life her father loved and nurtured until a fire destroyed their home and they moved. She wore bloomers long before it was socially acceptable. When she read of the talk of war, she applied to be a nurse, through Miss Dix. She fit Miss Dix’s ad for a nurse- older,  mature and subdued. Her autobiography tells the story of Miss Dix taking her to Mansion House  which was converted to a hospital.  (Mansion House Hospital was the working title for the series).Ba

Mary describes herself as “horribly ignorant” when she began nursing but felt the doctors were kind. There was no complaining about the workload- she did not want to be discharged from this paying job. No bed to sleep in. Just work. She was there a year until her poor health forced her to take a leave and recuperate with a sister.

But in episode 3, she is there helping with all types of nursing work and more. The corruption she wrote about in her autobiography is laced throughout all the episodes. Her words: “…the cooks are so that it is like  begging for life to get a thing for the really sick ones, who cannot eat a common diet”. She goes on to describe almost unedible food “at the nurse’s table”. Mary describes her introduction to the nurse from Crimea, including the episode of drunkenness on pages 24 and 25 of her book. They are shocking. As Miss Reader’s diary, al

Mary describes her introduction to the nurse from Crimea, including the episode of drunkenness on pages 24 and 25 of her book. They are shocking. As Miss Reader’s diary, although Miss Reader’s Diary (@), Miss Hastings on Mercy House). She was referred to as “Mrs. R”(Reader) in Phinney’s writings. (Oh, how I did not want this to be so– a nurse from Crimea from the very birthing place of nursing to be deficient in any way.)

Here is an excerpt of Phinney’s own words:

     When our own battles were settled, then it was time, when good feeding had given us a little strength, to put in for our patients; so last Sunday morning I opened fire. Dr. C. has that department, so I attacked him; but. he was mad when I told him the patients would starve only for the nurses, who had to buy everything the sickest men ate. He denied it, and said he knew his nurse did not do it. So she was called, and said she did; then the others were called; and, at last, we had about every nurse and doctor in the house growling and snarling. Dr. C. said they had everything according to the new diet table; some of the doctors denied it, and some of them backed him up; at last, we all adjourned to some underground room (the bread-room) to read the table list, when it proved that they got nothing in the quantity even that was ordered there; and as to quality, Lord help them! How I wish you could have heard the row! It went on all day; even in the evening everybody was called up and talked to, and the result is that it has been a little better this week, though far from the mark, and soon (if it grows less every day) it will be back to the old standard, for that wretch H. or somebody will miss the money and get it back if possible.
        So you see our path is not all rose-leaves, and you can see, too, one of the many impositions put upon the noble fellows who are throwing away their lives for such men as these. Are all men naturally bad? That’s going to be the only religious question I shall study in the future. I guess this war will make me religious, for one. I am getting a good deal more patient and forgiving than I used to be, but I’ll never forgive the Rebels who kill them.

Throughout her autobiography, she describes the organizational difficulties of ensuring the soldiers received the best care possible. In my field of palliative care, we are having these same discussions- how to give patients the best care possible.

As I mentioned in previous blog posts, the issues we see in this short series are current issues. There is so much more to say about this and all the episodes. I touch on the nursing stories because I am the most moved by them. I am part of the legacy of these women. Although this show is primarily entertainment, much has gone into ensuring the historical accuracy of the show. Every word and scene cannot be a mirror image of what happened there. 


Mansion House part of the Carlyle Home

Twitter links to all actors 0 they are on Twitter all the time here.


Civil War Gallows Humor

For a change of pace, Catherine Lawrence I wanted to share a very funny and touching exchange between one of the most famous nurses of the Civil War, Lawrence and some of the physicians she worked with. It is once of my favorites I use often in teaching.

From the autobiography of Miss Catherine S. Lawrence available for free.Her grave is here. This excerpt if from pages 103-105.

Ms. Lawrence tells a story of good-natured kidding between doctors and herself. It shows a very different style of challenging doctors than the overly personalized and defensive manner on #MercyStreetPBS. From her book:

One Sunday morning a night nurse came into my ward  in great haste, saying Sands, our cook, wanted to see me he had the small-pox and they were going to take him to the Kalarama  Hospital. I went to his room and found him in bed with a comfortable over his head and that on a very warm day. I uncovered his face. “Why, Sands, you have the measles. Your  face is covered with them.” Just then in came the head doctor and another doctor, a visitor.  I said, “Do you call this the small-pox?”  “Certainly I do, nurse.”  Both agreed upon small-pox. “I call it a case of measles, “ said I four doctors against one nurse.  Now if this proves to be a case of small-pox you may hang me sure.” “Well,”  said Dr. B. if it turns out to be measles, then what?” “Well, of course you four gentlemen must abide by what is right, that is, you must be hung.” All passed off pleasantly but Sands must go to  Kalarama  Hospital. I wrote a note to the head nurse to have a room by himself as he had the measles…Lawrence will not give up the ship, neither will she be hung, sure of that in this case.

She goes on the explain how she was looking forward to having some amusement with the physicians she was working with.  One of the physicians became ill and in her words she attended to him and took the approach of “killing him with kindness”. Serving him breakfast in bed her autobiography declares “The hatchet was buried”. She continues to describe a later conversation showing a very mature, good natured,  exchange that continued among colleagues on this matter. p. 105.

This exchange is a rare treat in which nurses and physicians work as equals. Women were just barely finding their voice in the Civil War. This is especially true of the Southern women. But there were examples of mutual respect reported and here is one.

More information on diseases and the civil war


Mercy Street – Haversack Episode 2


emma and friend

I must confess I had to look up the word “Haversack” to make sure I understood it properly. A haversack was used in the Civil War to carry personal items. One was passed from a Confederate soldier to Emma for safe keeping during this episode. You can watch episode #2 online at PBS here.

My bonnet is off to Lone Wolf Productions and the entire team for putting together an episode that is so dense with historical information integrated with creative license that I am in awe. This winning team could probably solve any problem they wanted to: Ridley ScottLisa Q. Wolfinger, David Zabel and David W. Zucker. They are not only gifted as individual artists, but there is a creative synergy that brought about an episode that had me barely breathing throughout the episode. We nurses know that when there is the amount of blood that is displayed on each episode the smell is nauseating.So not breathing in too often has an advantage.

Pick a subject: nursing (mine), the role of women (mine), slavery, the quality of medical care and death care (also mine) and you could discuss this episode for a long time.

As with all my posts, I want to focus on death, nursing and women. My focus is the extent to which events were impacting nurses personally and professionally. Finally, how all of it affected patient care. Unfortunately so much of the conflicts are entirely relevant today. I was interviewed on some podcasts recently. Jamie Davis of the Nursing Show and I were talking about the moral distress nurses (and others) face in nursing. There is no way to get the distress level to zero. The nature of the job is to address suffering. In this episode there was the corruption of the failure to give the soldiers food even though there was plenty (common in the Civil War), the conflict (nurse-nurse, doctor-nurse, Union-Confederate, and slave owner-slave) and collusion, and conspiracies that occurred on just this episode.

The episode begins with a short scene of building coffins and placing the bodies of dead soldiers (in body bags just like we do today) in them. The owner of the hotel is manufacturing the coffins and has a cottage business with the military. If you have not read the best-selling book The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, you would find it a perfect compliment to the series. The total reported deaths in the Civil War were 620,000. A staggering amount. As as been demonstrated already on the show, the lack of even basic care is a far more deadly killer than the battlefield.

Twitter (#MercyStreetPBS) was alive with comments on the episode too. Many pointed to the fact Nurse Phinney was sleeping on the floor. Follow the Twitter feed to get more information. @lexa415 referred to Phinney’s autobiography, free online, that describes the horrible living conditions. You can read about her lack of a bed to sleep here. Phinney, all throughout the book is very candid about her lack of skill in nursing. She repeatedly said she did not want to complain about not having a bed because she would have been discharged. Isn’t that why nurses don’t speak out today?

I will be talking about Annie Reader/Hastings in a separate post. My strong objection to tonight was placing her having sex with a physician who was clearly not up to the job and manipulating him to attack Phinney. The second issue was in the last scene she was taking a drink from a flask of alcohol. I read her diary edited by a distant cousin and have more to say about her later. Back to episode 2. Two things I will say here. First, it would take a lot of alcohol to keep me there. Second, the favored stimulant for all in the Civil War was Brandy or whiskey. So we have to keep on eye on that. Reader herself, in her diary, worked incredibly hard, endured a lot of time away from her military husband and was lost to history. I am so glad she is remembered here.

emma greenOur other major character is a greater character Emma Green, daughter of the hotel owner. Emma Green is coming into her own- you go girl! Your parents knew you were going to the hospital the very second they saw your dress. No hoop skirt, no fancy anything, plain and darker colors, although not too dark. By the time Emma asked here parents to go downstairs and work with Confederate soldier, their decision was already made. She would have known she could go becuase there was no earlier objection to her dress.

The team meeting Phinney called was brilliant. And opening up to Emma was great. I hope to find that actually happened as episode 2I reread this material. There is a fair amount of material freely available. You can find my full list of free books on Civil War Nursing on this website.

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Watch all the episodes here

Recruiting Nurses for the Civil War and Dorothea Dix

The American Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865. Like many wars, it was expected to be short. Sadly it was not. Dorothea Dix was charged with recruitinDorothea DIxg nurses when she was well into a career in which she had made incredible advances for people in mental hospitals and prisons. She began her crusade in 1841 and had established hospital in the United States and worked internationally with Queen Victoria and the Pope. She was amazing. But she was not ready for a full scale crusade to establish an Army nursing core when the war began. As a non-nurse, volunteer and patriot she took the job.

She clashed with many emerging leaders, among them Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, who was a big supporter of early nursing education. I am sure a strong personality had to be part of her inherent personality to take on the entire bureaucracy of the mental health system as she had the 20 years before. Like Nightingale and many other nurse reformers she had strong ideas. Somewhere out of place at the end of her career. Take a look at this want ad.
The text of the want ad for nurses says:

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