Veteran Stories:
Harriet Sloan

Army

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"We were privileged to look after them. And we were one of the lucky groups of people in wartime that really had a satisfying job, I think, always, you know."

Transcript

In the head cases, they did the initial surgery. And then eventually, they were able to be moved back, of course, to England and went to the neurological hospitals. And then, also, we had a team with us. Now, they were called maxillary-facial [maxillofacial]. That was it, maxillary-facial, because these were the wounds of the head, of the face and head, not brain, as opposed to the neuro patients. These were dreadful wounds of the face. They would have a part of their jaw shot away. They wouldn’t have a tongue. They’d, perhaps, be very badly burned in a tank. Something like that. Blind. And we had a team there. We called them the “Max Factor” team because they did the very initial reconstruction of all these terrible facial injuries.

It takes a tremendous… you talk about nursing care… To give a man, for instance, a sulfathiazole* tablet, which was a hard tablet, you depressed it with a spoon until it was a fine, fine powder. And then you had to give that patient that powder in a sip of water, maybe just on to, just as easy as, wherever you could get it into his mouth and help him to get it down with a little bit of water. It takes hours to do things like this. And, of course, the other thing was that mostly, nearly all of them had tracheotomies. And we were always in fear that they would block. The tracheotomy would block and they would lose consciousness because of lack of air, of course. So we were always on the QV** to watch these patients very carefully. And I recall, having worked in there because we had moved into a hospital where the Germans had been before and some of the German staff were left. And on the ward I was, there was this wonderful German orderly, who was from Hamburg. He had been a barber, hairdresser, no, hairdresser. And he was wonderful at watching these men. He would turn them so quickly off their backs and on to their sides, and start the oxygen. He was truly wonderful, wonderful.

You asked me about what the patients were like. They were absolutely fabulous. I’ll never get over how men treated men. We just called them “our boys.” And they were. They were just all kids, really. And, you know, the person who maybe couldn’t, didn’t have any way of lighting a cigarette, his buddy next door to him would light it and hold it for him. If somebody had lost a leg, couldn’t get around, the other person next to him would say, “Well, I’ll just look after you. I’ll get things for you.” So, they looked after each other. You couldn’t believe how well they looked after each other. And they mourned when anyone died, especially a young person. It was the most moving thing to have the honour of looking after these men. They were so brave. They didn’t complain. Thank God, we had morphine that we could give them. But, they were marvelous. We were privileged to look after them. And we were one of the lucky groups of people in wartime that really had a satisfying job, I think, always, you know.

 

* A variety of the popular sulfa drugs, sulfathiazole was used to treat infections.

** QV is medical shorthand, meaning a patient could be watched “as much as you wish.”

 

 

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