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Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

Creator: Frank L. Wright, Jr. (author)
Date: 1947
Publisher: National Mental Health Foundation, Inc.
Source: Available at selected libraries
Figures From This Artifact: Figure 2  Figure 3  Figure 4  Figure 5  Figure 6  Figure 7  Figure 8  Figure 9  Figure 10  Figure 11  Figure 12  Figure 13  Figure 14  Figure 15  Figure 16  Figure 17

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"You had better just forget about it, Bristol. It won't help to complain now."


"I guess that's right. But I'm glad she's gone. You know why she got transferred to night duty?"


Miss Branscome, who was a very strict nurse, didn't approve of discussing such things with attendants. But she was curious to know why her predecessor had been removed to night duty so suddenly. "I imagined it was a routine shift. What was it?"


"Dr. Forbes caught her withholding insulin from one of the patients on the shock list. She refused to give the patient her shot four days in a row -- just because the patient refused to wash windows without getting extra cigarettes for it."


(Based on reports 783 and 945)


"Nurse, that new patient says she doesn't feel well; and she does look pretty bad."


"Spencer, straighten up your cap -- your uniform never is just right."


"Yes, Miss Bond."


"And don't worry so much about the patients. There's nothing the matter with that new one; she just wants attention." In other words, go back to your duty as watchdog and turnkey and forget about how the patients feel; after all, you're just a dumb attendant.


Spencer went back to her duties, but she didn't stop worrying about that new patient. When Spencer went to help the patient into the dining room for supper, she found her hot as a bed of fresh cinders and her skin dry as a bone. An attempt to get the patient to her feet brought forth an agonized, cry of pain. "My stomach," groaned the patient.


Spencer went down to the nurses' office again, and was relieved to find that Mrs. Whitmore had replaced Miss Bond. Mrs. Whitmore was a motherly sort of person with a kindly heart under her starched nurse's cap and uniform.


"Mrs. Whitmore, I wonder if you'll give me a little help with the new patient from Ward 40?"


"What's the matter with her?"


"That's just the trouble; I don't know," and then Miss Spencer went on to explain how she had found the patient and what her condition was.


Before Miss Spencer had finished, Mrs. Whitmore thrust out a vaseline-smeared thermometer and barked, "Go take her temperature."


Spencer was back in a few minutes. "Will you check this, please, Mrs. Whitmore? I read it as just over a hundred and four degrees."


Mrs. Whitmore gave one glance at the thermometer and went into action. "Get a wheel chair and make a stretcher out of it. Get a couple of blankets. Get someone to help you, and be careful how you move her. Bring her here. I'll get the doctor."


Spencer did all she was told, quickly and with care. Now we've got a nurse who's on the ball, thought Spencer, and it's a pleasure to work with that kind of a nurse.


During the next twenty-four hours, eight other women were wheeled off the ward in the same condition. The doctor said it was dysentery, or diarrhea, or something like that. But Miss Spencer kept thinking that it might have been an inflamed appendix in that first patient -- all the symptoms were there. And if it had been, then what price the remark of the careless nurse who had said, "Don't worry so much about the patients?"


(Based on report 1139)




"There is no one upon whom the patient's welfare is more dependent than the nurse or attendant who is with him hour after hour during the day."


-- ANTON T. BOISEN, Chaplain,
Elgin, Illinois, State Hospital.


"Sure, I know how to treat these patients. I've had experience with them."


That was Anderson's reply to O'Toole, the charge attendant on Ward E. But O'Toole didn't think that experience was too valuable a recommendation. Baker and Landon, the last two men who had been sent to O'Toole, had been "experienced" too. But they had turned out to be dyed-in-the-wool "bughousers." "Floaters," some people called them, and O'Toole called them "drunken bums."


They came and went from one hospital to another; they never stayed at one place more than a few months. Their attitude seemed to be: "We'll run this bughouse like a bughouse ought to be run. If we happen to bang a patient up now and then, or if we let some of the 'nuts' die in their beds, who cares? We know the hospital will let us slip out quietly, and we can always get a job at some other hospital." And so they took out their own dissatisfactions on the patients, and got a kick out of cracking the whip over helpless inmates.


O'Toole looked at Anderson. The new man hardly looked like a "bughouser," but the hospital didn't get a chance to hire much else these days. So O'Toole asked, "How do you treat them?"


"Give 'em the old soft soap. That's the best thing I've ever found."


O'Toole thought that sounded pretty good. You could talk these old patients on Ward E into most anything, if you were patient enough and used the right approach. He had thought of his methods in higher terms than "soft-soaping," but he guessed the old slang expression covered the situation pretty well. So he said, "Okay, Anderson, I guess we'll get along." And then he started Anderson off into his job.


Everything went pretty well the first three days. Anderson wasn't much of a worker, but he seemed willing enough. O'Toole was sorry, but not particularly alarmed, when Anderson appeared on the fourth day with alcohol on his breath. After all, he thought, at least three-quarters of the attendants drank to excess. It was too much to hope that Anderson would fall into that other quarter.

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