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. 

References

Mansion House part of the Carlyle Home

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

Link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *