Hospital of the Queen's Heart by Ileana, Princess of Romania
The next phase of the hospital came about that same summer of 1945 through an encounter with a young workman from a neighboring manufacturing village whom I had never seen before and, after our conversations, never saw again.
He appeared at the hospital one day with a young girl. She was a common little person, dumpy, attractive only with the transitory prettiness of youth. Although he was supporting her with his arm, they stood stiffly together, side by side, with characteristic peasant reserve. When I came into the waiting room and greeted them, she looked up at me and smiled shyly.
"Domnitza," he said, without preamble. "I have brought her to you. She has just had a child, and she is very sick indeed."
That I could see immediately. I took the girl from him, and we went into the women's ward where I left her in the care of a nurse to be undressed, bathed and put to bed. Later the doctor and I would examine her. Meanwhile I returned to the man who sat quietly in the waiting room, his eyes fixed upon the icon on the wall.
I sat down at the desk, which, with two or three chairs and the big icon, was the sole furniture of the sober little room, and opened the ledger that contained our official records for the Ministry of Health. I picked up my pen.
"What is her name?" I asked him.
"Her name is Marioara, Domnitza."
"She is your wife?"
"No." He shrugged helplessly. "I do not know who the father is."
"But what is she to you," I asked. "Your sister?"
"No," he said. "I don't know her really. I found her in the village. She had had her child all alone. She worked for a while in the paper factory—I am a mechanic there, and I had seen her. Then she disappeared, and one day a week ago I saw her in the street with the child in her arms. She looked very sick, and I spoke to her. She said she had no place to stay, so I took her to the place where I live."
I interrupted. "You have a wife?"
"No, Domnitza, I am not married. I live with a family near the factory. The woman let Marioara stay, and she takes care of the baby. I pay her for it."
I put down my pen. The man's straightforwardness and simple goodness impressed me very much. I was curious.
"Why do you do this?" I asked him. "You have not much money. Do you love her?"
He hesitated, apparently fumbling in his mind for the right words.
"I may say yes, Domnitza," he said slowly, laboring to express himself, "but not as people would think."
I questioned him. He told me that at one time he had been in the Iron Guards, which was the Romanian Fascist movement, and he had abandoned it to become a Communist when that doctrine had begun to spread about through the villages. But he had found nothing in Communism that conformed with his ideals. It had been a very great disappointment to him.
In broken sentences and by implication he went on to tell me that he had finally realized that he would never find the satisfaction he was looking for in any of the organized movements, but only in helping people, one by one as he found them, who were more unfortunate than he. There was no opportunity for this in any organization he knew of. In fact, the attitude of organizations toward the individual was callous and indifferent. He came to the decision that his conception of the purpose of life was something he must work out for himself.
I was very much affected by the man's independent thinking and his instinctive search for truth. It was strange talk to listen to, his laconic, unself-conscious statement of compassion, even while the anti-Christ Communists moved through the villages at will.
We talked a long while; then I became aware of my conscience nudging me for having neglected my duties for so long. So I bade the man good-bye, asked him to come back and see me, and went to the bedside of the girl he had brought to me. She was suffering from long undernourishment and the effects of bringing her child into the world alone and without proper midwife attention. She needed much rest and care and building up.
A few days later the man appeared again, and in his arms he carried the baby, wrapped in threadbare, bad-smelling blankets. He gave it to me.
"See," he said, concern furrowing his face. "Look how badly they have cared for this child! Although I know you don't take children here in the hospital I have brought it to you, because I don't know how to take care of it myself, and I know of no one else to take it to."
It was pitifully thin and pinched and white. When I opened the soiled blankets and examined the little body I found it was covered with sores, some of them raw and obviously infected. I found it hard to be professionally objective as I looked at it, and I blinked several times before I trusted myself to look up at the man and answer him. He was standing before me, patiently waiting for my reply, looking from the baby to my face.
"Of course I'll take it," I told him. "I'm glad you brought it to me."
His anxious face broke into a smile of relief, and he bowed several times as he backed to the door.
"Thank you, thank you, Domnitza," he said smilingly. "Sarut mana—I kiss your hand!"
I bathed the baby and tried to get it to take some food. Having no place to put it, I took it to the mother, but I felt a little worried lest its crying disturb the other women in the ward. I needn't have been concerned; the poor little mite slept almost continuously, and when it was awake, its very silence was pitiful—it hadn't even strength enough to cry.
I think the life had already begun to go out of it when it was brought to us, for although we did everything we could to keep it alive, the child responded to none of our efforts and quietly died a few days later.
This baby was the first of several which were brought to us that summer. We took care of them with the means we had, but we could not keep them at the hospital for there was no place to put them. I knew I was faced again with the problem of expansion—Spitalul Inima Reginei must open its arms to the children.
Across the river, by the side of the village road, there were three houses which my mother had built as guest houses for use in the summer months. In the late fall I brought my family down from the castle and we spent the winter in the largest of the three, which could be heated, since the castle was habitable only for three or four months in the summer. The other two houses were usually rented, but at this time they were empty.
So I had one of them put into commission as a temporary children's annex. It was an L-shaped duplex house consisting of two two-room apartments which we made into three wards of three cribs each, and a nurse's room. We whitewashed the walls and tacked pale yellow straw matting on the floors and halfway up the walls, as a dado, to combat dampness which rose from the river. At the windows we hung flowered curtains cut from long draperies which I took from a seldom-used room in the castle.
The nurse I put in charge was from a neighboring village, a Saxon woman who had been taken to Russia at the time of the invasion. Her name was Lorie. She had been sent back to her home when she became pregnant, and after her unwanted baby daughter was born, she could not find work. No institution would take her and the child, and she had no place to leave it. She was an excellent trained nurse, and when she came to me and asked for work, I was delighted and thankful to have her. One child more or less made no difference to me, and she could take care of her own baby while she nursed the others.
Later, the two houses at the foot of the castle became living quarters for the staff. We eventually built a fine new wing to the hospital which housed a sixteen-bed maternity ward, with a delivery room and a treatment room, a nursery of seven cribs and a children's ward of six beds. The nursery and the children's ward had glass walls on the corridor side, so we could look in on them at all times while we went about other duties. The curtains which we put up at these windows were very amusing. The American Red Cross sent us, for no reason that I could ever learn, a bale of flowered sofa-cushion covers. They stood around for a long while, for we had no use for them and they were far too good to use for rags. When the children's wards were ready and we needed curtains, I hit upon the plan of cutting open the seams of the covers and stitching them together, hit or miss, and then making curtains of the yardage thus produced. Undeniably they looked like something out of Racketty-Packetty House, but the children loved the colors, and even the staff stopped making remarks after a while and rather liked them.
There were also six tiny private rooms in the new ward for especially serious cases, or for wealthy patients, such as the woman from Brasov whom I told about at the beginning of my book. It was not because the well-to-do could afford to pay large fees that I allowed them to have rooms to themselves. These were people of culture and refinement who were accustomed to privacy at home, and more than ever they wished to be alone when they were ill. The peasants, on the other hand, do not like being by themselves. Although they are reserved and grave, taking their pleasures seriously and their tribulations philosophically, they are gregarious, and they like the company of other people. In fact, when they were seriously ill, or their treatment demanded their isolation, it was always a major problem to get them to stay in one of these quiet private rooms, so much desired by others.
The rooms were so small that they held only a bed, a small chest of drawers, a bedside table and a folding chair. The coloring of each room was different, for a firm in Bucharest gave me six lengths of printed material, each one different, and from these we made short window curtains, to draw together at night, and banded heavy, peasant-woven white linen bedspreads to match.
The stoves that heated the wee rooms in the winter were set into the walls between the rooms, so that one stove heated two rooms, one half in each. They were wood burning, and they were demanding and voracious all winter long. How everyone worked to keep them fed! Our soldier convalescents, when they were well enough, used to go for walks in the near-by forests, dragging a little cart, and pick up wood to bring back for their own ward stoves. This was an expedition for them, a picnic and a great treat; they went gaily. Our hospital woodpiles, however, were kept high and full by two villagers who labored, apparently without ceasing, under the rigorous and officious oversight of Iosef, Anna's husband. Iosef was a mild and lovable man except when he was given a little authority. Then he turned despot, to everyone's surprise and our own private amusement.
In 1946, after the hospital had been operating for two years, a minor typhoid epidemic struck us of the staff, followed a year later by a severe epidemic which swept the countryside—typhus, typhoid, diphtheria and scarlet fever. We were forced to provide care on a large scale for the epidemic victims.
This I will tell about later in my story, and I feel that in this really desperate emergency our hospital came of age. We were given authority and full co-operation by the Communist Ministry of Health in fighting the epidemic for miles around. We were trusted and looked to for help by our enemies and by the peasants alike. It is enough to say here, at this time, that the Ministry of Health, with Dr. Stoian's agreement, turned over to me the little village hospital—the same one I had pleaded to bring my wounded to, to escape the dreadful bombing at Brasov. Almost overnight we put it into commission as an annex of Spitalul Inima Reginei, to house the cases that came to us during that frightful epidemic.
Dr. Stoian, the mayor, had been for so long the only doctor in Bran and the surrounding villages that he was thoroughly offended, not to say outraged, when another medical unit established itself beside his hospital. But he finally saw, in the course of time, that I was not usurping his place—that I took in people who were too poor to pay any fees at all, therefore he did not want them; and the surgical cases, which so interested and delighted me, would not have gone to him anyway.
I refused the responsibility of signing health certificates for marriages, and I scrupulously avoided taking upon myself anything which, in the natural course of things, would come within his jurisdiction as district doctor and under his medical authority. At last I won his grudging—though, I think, genuine—confidence.
Thus, in three years, my little hospital which started with sixty beds for the wounded, had increased to one hundred and twenty beds, with a military section, a civilian section, a wing for maternity cases, and a children's ward, as well as an entirely separate annex for infectious diseases. This growth of course necessitated additions to our staff of nurses, and we needed several more maidservants, too. They were hard to find. The girls in the village preferred to go to Tohan, to work in the factories there for higher wages than I could pay them. But finally I found four young women, with young children, who wanted to work. Of course, now I had made for myself another problem—what was I to do with the children? I did the only logical thing without any more thought about it—I organized a day nursery for my maids' children and put a student nurse in charge of it.
There were seven of them, between the ages of two and seven. Those who lived in the village went home at night with their mothers, but the others slept in their mothers' quarters with them, and they ate their meals with the child patients in the ward. In the winter we made a playroom for them inside, but in warm weather they all played together outdoors, well children, and the convalescent ones, in a pen I made for them under the willow trees by the river.
Many times I discovered that women would not come to the hospital for their lying-in, nor for necessary medical or surgical treatment because they could not leave their young children at home. So I made known the fact that without extra charge, mothers could bring their children who were under the age of five along with them to the hospital. The children were looked after in our nursery while the mothers had their babies, or were given the medical attention they needed. Their recovery was made quicker and easier, I am sure, by the absence of anxiety about their young families; and also, with a free mind, many could get the rest they sorely needed.
These children of our patients slept in the children's ward at night, but otherwise lived and played with the maids' children. I intended to add separate quarters for the day nursery for these well children, but I left Romania before my plan could be carried out. This was one of the dreams that did not come true.
I think this innovation was one of the most important things that I ever did in the hospital. It was part of the loving service to which I had dedicated the Hospital of the Queen's Heart, and certainly it set us apart from other hospitals throughout the entire country. It enabled many women to come to us who otherwise never could. There was a sharp increase of the number of women patients, and many who were well and anticipated perfectly normal childbirths came to us to have their children born under our roof. This was not at all usual—traditionally, children are born at home in Romania, and the profession of midwifery is a very old and honored one there, as in the rest of Europe, especially in the rural sections. The medical schools in the universities of Cluj and Bucharest had training courses in midwifery which included social service and visiting nursing, as well as obstetrics. In Romanian villages a midwife is a person of consequence, and from oldest times she has been greatly respected by the community and has an important part in its social life. She is accepted as a familiar and beloved sister and aunt in the families she has served, for the peasant women are very pudic—they are exceedingly reticent and shy of having their bodies seen by a stranger. A person who officiates at such an intimate function as childbirth could not be endured unless she were regarded as a close member of the family. So much so, that the midwife always holds the baby at its christening.
So, in the medical profession, the fact that women came to us to have their babies was a very great success for me and my hospital. All the lying-in hospitals that had been built in rural Romania had fallen into disuse because the women would not or could not come to them. They did come to me, happily and with confidence, and I was awfully proud of this, professionally and as a woman as well, who had myself gone through the experience of childbirth six times.
I have told you how the Hospital of the Queen's Heart was conceived and equipped, how it grew and prospered, increasingly serving our soldiers and the countryside, and becoming one with the lives of the peasants all about. So now, having set my stage for you, I can settle down and tell you about life inside the hospital, the adventures it shared in, the people it cared for, and the lives we all lived.