Hospital of the Queen's Heart by Ileana, Princess of Romania
In the late fall of 1945 Anna suddenly became ill. She was interned and observed, and it soon became alarmingly certain that her illness was typhoid fever.
I had to get her away from the others as quickly as possible, but we had no arrangements for the isolation and care of infectious diseases in our small hospital. I was using the two houses across the river on the castle property for the children's ward, now empty, and to house members of the hospital staff, and there was no building which we could make into a temporary contagious disease ward. There remained but one thing—whether or not there were cordial relations between me and the mayor‑doctor, Anna must be isolated in his little village hospital. So once again, as I had done that June day the year before, the day I conceived my hospital, I betook myself to call upon Dr. Stoian to ask him to house my patient. He received me very courteously and with no ill will whatsoever. Unlike the occasion of my previous visit, he was generous in his offer of assistance; I felt even that he was pleased to have me come to him and petition his help —I, who in his opinion, had been so highhanded and imperious. Also, I think that by this time he had come to realize that my work would not be discouraged nor hindered, that the hospital and I were there to stay and he might as well accept us.
We installed Anna immediately in one of the wards; there were no other patients. Once upon a time the walls had been painted, and it is possible that sometime in the far past the place had been clean. But now the walls were dingy and stained, the windows were long unwashed and murky; thick spider webs masked the corners. The entire building was shabby and neglected and down-at-the heel.
We cleaned the ward where Anna was, quickly and thoroughly; and then, a little at a time, we found ourselves scrubbing and cleaning the rest of the hospital, for one after another the majority of my staff came down with typhoid. Badillo followed Anna, then Dr. Puscariu, then Sister Heidi, the operating room nurse, and the others. Finally only loana, the hospital midwife, another nurse and I remained standing on our feet to take care of the patients in Spitalul Inima Reginei and our sick staff in the village hospital.
In both hospitals, those who were not too ill, or were convalescing, helped those who were still very ill. Luckily, Maria stayed well, and the meals were cooked regularly for both hospitals. The ambulatory patients in Spitalul Inima Reginei brought the meals to the wards and served them, and the food was carried across the river and down the road, three times a day, to the contagious disease annex. The same ambulatory patients did the light cleaning of their own wards and bathrooms, and made beds, all under the supervision of one of us. The nurse on duty or I did dressings and gave out medicines, and we took turns doing night duty.
Ioana nursed the staff at the annex, did maid's work and, with the help of Minola and Sandi at mealtimes, fed the patients. We did the huge job of washing up, ourselves, not daring to expose my two girls to infection.
The typhoid patients were put immediately on a diet of boiled rice and milk, and since we had no diet kitchen and Maria had all she could do in the kitchen cooking for the two hospitals, Minola and Sandi took over the responsibility of preparing the typhoid diet, under the watchful eye of my Austrian friend, Ilse Koller, who lived with us at the castle. The two girls boiled the rice in the castle kitchen, or, during the winter, in the kitchen of the little house where we lived through the cold weather, at the foot of the castle across the river from the hospital. They took it twice a day to the annex, one carrying the carefully covered bucket, the other, a precious can of hard-to-get milk. Usually the rice arrived warm enough to eat immediately, since it was only a five-minutes' walk, but in really cold weather we warmed it on the top of the stove in the bare, inadequate little annex kitchen. The most that that tiny stove was capable of was to keep hot a huge caldron of water, twenty-four hours a day, summer and winter.
You may wonder why my children prepared the necessary diet for the typhoid patients among my staff, and not my cook at the castle. That was a small one of the many things that harried me in those days. Our castelan, or castle caretaker, was a man named Soare—which is Romanian for "sun"—and he and his brother had been with the royal family at Sinaia for many years, so long that they had developed an exaggerated sense of proprietorship and a lofty feeling of rank. My mother used to say, "At Sinaia there are two dynasties—the Soares and the Hohenzollerns!"
Soare was married to a fine woman of upper peasant stock, who, however, could neither read nor write. She was not one of the castle servants, but she cooked beautifully when the recipes were read to her, and she agreed to assume temporarily the duties of cook when we first came to Bran, until we could find a cook. But we could not find one, and the few months we expected to stay there had lengthened into years, so Mrs. Soare stayed on with us in the kitchen, always feeling keenly her fancied comedown in the social scale.
The Soares were fanatically loyal to me and the family, and I could always thoroughly depend upon their support. I knew that when I was away the household was functioning as smoothly as when I was there, with the guidance of Ilse Koller and the children's nurse, Gretlwhom Badillo married in Austria after we had left Romania.
The Soares always sat up for me when I was late coming home at night—sometimes very late. They would not dream of going to their bed until I was safely in my own. They took the greatest care of me; they would get up in the night to fetch me what I needed, or they fancied I wanted—but would they exert themselves to cook for their own class, or do anything to help the hospital? Never!
They harbored a continual grudge against the hospital. They felt that I neglected the castle servants in my devotion to it and to the patients there. They resented the fact that I gave the castle servants none of the clothes and supplies that had been donated to me for the hospital and the patients. They complained and grumbled about it in the frankness of speech and the security of relationship that always existed between my family and the castle staff.
But during the grim epidemic a year later, their fifteen-year-old son, a splendid lad who lived at the castle with us, helped his parents and went to the village school with my children, fell ill of typhoid. I whisked him off to the contagious annex, and I bore with the parents their adoring anxiety, for the boy was almost one of my children; he was a friend of Stefan's and I had known him since he was born. I nursed him myself, Minola and Sandi brought him the rice and milk they had prepared, and in due time he recovered. And then things with the Soares were quite suddenly different. Nothing was too good for the hospital. No amount of work was too great for them to do to help us. The rice and milk descended the castle hill to the annex almost of their own accord. They had forgotten their selfish grievances and, like the rest of us, became part of the hospital and assumed their share of the way of life at Bran.
During that first epidemic, Badillo was exceedingly ill; we nearly lost him. He was sickest of all, and he always declared that Minola and Sandi saved his life with their faithfulness. Storm or rain or shine, they brought him and the other patients their needed diet. Puscariu also was very sick, and in addition, when he was recovering he developed a severe phlebitis which kept him unwillingly on the invalid list for most of the winter. For his convalescence, we took him to his home in the village, where his wife and two lovely little girls lived with his father. Our professional calls there soon changed into the happiest kind of friendly visits, which grew to be bright spots of warm relaxation and mental stimulation for us in that grim winter's uninterrupted days of wearisome pressure and hard work.
Here we learned another side of the reticent, shy man we knew, who was so brilliant with the scalpel. He was gracious, a fine raconteur; his mind was many-faceted, he had read widely and he knew how to think.
We looked forward to these family circle visits with him and his wife and his illustrious father, a quiet, studious gentleman with a gentle, delicious wit. Professor Puscariu was a widower—his wife had died of shock when the Russians came in 1944, and a band of them had forced their way into her home. Evenings would frequently find several of us in the Puscarius' cheerful living room, talking endlessly and debating, playing chess, listening to music, enjoying their comfortable home, for most of the staff had none, you must remember.
Professor Puscariu, as I have told you, was compiling a dictionary and an atlas of the Romanian language. It was a tremendous undertaking and a most interesting and valuable one, this listing of all Romanian words according to their regions, with their origins and their construction as had never been done before. Alas! it was never finished. Professor Puscariu had a stroke, and he was very ill for a long while. Because he was an ardent nationalist, he was considered a danger to the Communist regime and the Communist police came continually to arrest him. We managed to save him from arrest several times because he was so ill. I remember once being called to the telephone and told despairingly that the police had come once again to take him away. I flew from the hospital, across the bridge and down the village street to the Puscariu home, and there I found the professor in a state of intense excitement. I knew he had high blood pressure, and I immediately opened a vein and began to let blood run. I made as much a mess of it as I could to impress the police, and when they saw both of us covered with blood they departed once more. Sometime later I saw the professor die —shall I say safely?—in his own home.
As soon as Anna's illness had been diagnosed as typhoid and we had settled her in Dr. Stoian's little hospital, we started a vigorous investigation to discover the source of the infection. We had our well water tested, the river and the food; toilets and cesspools were disinfected, and every person in the hospital was tested to see if we had a carrier in our midst. We found nothing.
I was certain that it could not have started inside the hospital, and I had fearful misgivings that we could not confine it there. I refused further patients of course, took every precaution to keep those we still had free from infection and discharged them just as soon as possible. In January 1946 I closed the hospital completely for a month, and we inspected it, cleaned it, disinfected and whitewashed it from one end to the other. There was not a square inch that was left untouched.
But still I was not satisfied. I felt that I must find out if, and to what extent, the epidemic had spread beyond the hospital. I questioned Dr. Stoian and other district doctors of the region, but only one admitted that there had been typhoid in his village recently. I found that we had had a patient from that village just before the epidemic started, and I felt reasonably certain, then, that it had been brought to us from the outside. My fears that we should not be able to check its spread proved to be groundless, for we did succeed in confining it to the hospital alone.
The course of typhoid is about six weeks, and by the end of January my staff, with the exception of Dr. Puscariu, were beginning to return to duty, some rather shaky on their feet, but all of them plainly on the road to recovery. As time was to reveal, it was fortunate that practically the entire hospital staff had been immunized, although our little private epidemic was a great trial to us.
Such epidemics run their course through the fall, winter and spring, and as the spring of 1946 advanced, our epidemic died away. The staff recovered their health and their usual characteristic bounce and enthusiasm. My mind was relieved, although I was curious and still concerned about the source of the infection.
Unfortunately, epidemics occur in these remote mountain regions where modern sanitation is unknown and living conditions are very primitive. Our hospital epidemic, restricted and comparatively slight though it was, forced me to consider our resources should a really serious one strike the region, as had happened before with regularity. I knew that someday this would be a problem that must be coped with, but in the new surge of activity of the hospital during the summer months that followed, the growing number of patients coming to us, and the heavy operating schedule of increasingly varied cases, this problem was pushed to the back of my mind.
But circumstances brought it to the fore again, very forcibly. In the late fall of 1946, a number of patients came in from distant villages, all of them ill with typhoid. In consternation I asked them why they had not come to the hospital sooner, and they artlessly explained that they had been busy at home taking care of their families who had the same sickness, and they in turn had been taken care of when they came down with it, but now, since the rest of their families had died of it, they had come to Bran to be taken into the hospital.
We were appalled, but we settled them in one of the wards, and in alarm I rushed to Dr. Stoian. I told him that there was unmistakably an epidemic of much greater proportions than last year's and bluntly proposed, without diplomacy or formality, that the village hospital be turned over to us for the epidemic patients. I said that we needed his help urgently and that he needed ours.
In all justice to him, let me say that there was no hesitation on his part. For a long while the work of the village hospital had been reduced to dispensary work, and except for my staff, there had been no bed-patient for over a year. We went together at once to the Ministry of Health in Bucharest and asked permission for this transfer to be made. Permission was promptly given, the necessary papers were drawn up, and the needful funds were requisitioned. All this red tape took months to knot itself completely and officially, of course, but meanwhile we took over the village hospital without delay as our contagious disease annex.
There was a fine poetic justice in this, for my mother had given the hospital to the village in 1922 in gratefulness for the recovery of my eldest sister Elisabeta, then Crown Princess of Greece, from typhoid. It seemed rightful that the hospital should return to her, in the form of Spitalul Inima Reginei, for the purpose of nursing typhoid patients, after years of halfhearted service to—and lately even neglect of—the people she loved.
In a matter of a few days the grimy, forlorn place had been given an encompassing coat of whitewash, the process watched interestedly, advice given and comments made meanwhile by the patients in their beds. Floors were scraped of their accumulated dirt, then scrubbed with lye and soap and water, and as much essential equipment as we could spare was moved in. I gave Dr. John and Dr. Lucy the responsibility of running the annex.
It was a square, solid little building of whitewashed brick with a neat red-tiled roof; it consisted of three wards and four small private rooms—twenty beds in all. There was a good-sized consulting room, a small laboratory and an ill-equipped kitchen with a tiny, antiquated stove. There was also a pleasant little two-room apartment where Dr. John and Dr. Lucy quickly established themselves.
A few outbuildings provided living quarters for the two maids and three nurses I assigned to the annex; we promptly made these clean and livable and as comfortable as possible. There was a large cobblestone courtyard, and a well from which all the water for the hospital had to be drawn—there was no running water. But luckily there was electricity. Using the swift-running Turcu River for power, we generated electricity in a small plant which my mother had built when she came to live in the castle after the First World War. Besides wiring the castle completely, she had carried the current into the village shops and school, the church, public house, and the peasants' homes.
As time went on, a luxuriant vegetable garden beside the hospital supplied us with a large variety of fresh vegetables all through the summer, and we canned for winter use everything that was not eaten. We had an excellent gardener; he called himself Barbu. He was a gnarled old peasant with long white hair and a creased, sweet-natured face, who appeared from nowhere one day and asked me for work, gardening. He would accept nothing else. I was delighted and relieved to send him trudging off to Dr. John and Dr. Lucy to take under their wing. It turned out literally to be just that, for although Barbu was a veritable wizard in the way he could make the garden bloom and produce with apparently the most casual care, lavishing his love upon it, we discovered that he was equally devoted to his liquor, and unfortunately he was happily drunk a large part of the time. Lucy formed a maternal attachment for him, although he was old enough to be her grandfather. She lent him money, protected him from my ire, and faithfully took care of him when he was emerging from a bout—she cleaned him up and fed him. But somehow, no matter how sodden a state Barbu managed to drink himself into, the vegetables never suffered. His garden burgeoned through it all, and the patients were fed.
Dr. John and Dr. Lucy had been with us only a few months when the epidemic loomed upon us, and Lucy, with her deft hand, made their two rooms homelike and comfortable during the first few days of their possession of the hospital, even while she tirelessly worked in the wards. Dr. John set up his test tubes in the laboratory; he seemed to be closeted there most of the time, making preliminary tests, preparing cultures and blood specimens to be sent to the large laboratories in Brasov, which had facilities for testing and research that our small one, of course, did not have. He emerged to give blood transfusions when they were needed, then retired again, leaving Lucy and me, with the two nurses and a night nurse, to carry on.
Dr. Puscariu and Badillo had their hands full with patients at Spitalul Inima Reginei, and the operating schedule went ahead as though there was no epidemic. The two hospitals were functioning in full swing, and I shuttled between them.
As soon as we had established our typhoid patients and Dr. John and Dr. Lucy in the new contagious disease annex, and I was satisfied that it was settling into some degree of routine, I took one of the doctors with me and started out to visit adjacent villages, to discover the extent of the epidemic and, as well as I could, combat its spread. We inspected the region house by house, searching out those persons who were ill and instructing others who were still uninfected how to protect themselves. We went into each of the dwellings and questioned the occupants. If there were symptoms of the dread disease we induced the ailing ones to return to the hospital with us to be watched and taken care of. We thoroughly disinfected all the houses where there was or had been typhoid. From the hospital's limited supply we carried DDT and sprayers with us, for a typhus epidemic had also started.
It was unbelievably difficult to reach some of these hidden villages, deep in secret little valleys, and isolated, solitary cottages, sometimes crouched secretively on the edge of a forest or perched high on a hillside like a sheep gone astray. We would drive part way, then leave the car and go on foot, carrying our apparatus. Sometimes we went on horseback. The roads were rough, frequently hardly more than ancient trails through the mountains, and the distances between the houses were often great.
The village priests helped us very much. We explained the critical situation to them and enlisted their willing co-operation. From their pulpits on Sundays they told their parishioners—peasants gathered from miles around—about the care that should be taken, how to protect themselves from infection and how to care for their sick.
We had desperately sick patients in the annex, and we needed blood for the transfusions which are given as a last resort in typhoid. Although at Bran, these days, every person had the work of three to do, and every pair of hands and every day's work counted, I took the time to journey to Bucharest to try to get blood. I went from one institution to another, hospitals and Red Cross, pleading our necessity, but nowhere could I find anyone who would give it to me.
"We will put your hospital on our list," I was told, "but it won't do much good. No one can get any blood except the Russian hospitals. Bucharest has to provide sixteen tons of blood for the Russian Army this month."
Sixteen tons! I was aghast! How on earth could so much blood ever be secured? But apparently the Russians had worked out a scheme which, at least on paper, was entirely effective. They had taken a map of the city and had quartered it; then they quartered each quarter. For sixteen days they forcibly took blood from every man, woman and child within these areas, irrespective of age, physical condition or blood group. No tests were made, nor were the helpless donors typed.
I came back to Bran unsuccessful but undaunted, and finally we managed to find a donor in the village to fill our need. Also, we of the hospital staff ourselves supplied blood as it was called for, using the old-fashioned pump method of transfusion, direct from donor to patient. Later, plasma was supplied us by the American Red Cross.
Alas! I felt so futile. I felt that the little we were doing, which demanded all my strength and ingenuity and wits, was only a drop in the ocean.
I wondered why we were all alone in fighting this battle at such great odds. I went to the leading doctor of the region, Dr. Popescu in Brasov, and told him in as vivid terms as were at my command what was happening, and the measures I was taking. That my hospital was filled with typhoid patients, and there were still many people who were very ill; I said that we were nursing them in their homes as well as we could, but there were many we could not reach since we were so few. I asked him, wonderingly and a little impatiently, to help us—surely this was his problem as well as ours. Why had he done nothing? I urgently suggested that he bring other doctors and more nurses into the district, to go out into the far outlying areas to inoculate, disinfect and to nurse. My staff was so small, and it was very needful that we be at the hospital, for the work there was almost beyond our numbers.
He told me that I was surely wrong; his reports showed that there was no such illness as I described in the neighborhood. Assuredly the disease had not struck our region.
I was appalled, after all I had seen, by his pigheadedness. I tried to prove to him by argument that assuredly it had struck our region, and in full force, but even after I had shown him the results of our tests he insisted that our laboratories were wrong.
Finally, baffled and exasperated, I asked him to tell me the name of the official government laboratory in our region. This he was willing to do, and to my surprise I discovered that I knew the doctor who was its director. I had confidence in him and I was certain, if I could get the facts to him, that his report on the situation would be an honest one. So once more I started my rounds, in my car when possible, afoot or on horseback, to check typhoid cases in neighboring villages and in the mountains about. In a few days I had twenty-four cases in thirteen villages, with blood specimens from them all.
This time the blood analyses were made in the official state laboratory in Brasov, and they were signed, large and authoritatively, by the physician in charge. In relief, thoroughly believing that now I would be given assistance, since I had officially confirmed evidence of the emergency, I took them to the disbelieving Dr. Popescu and laid them before him. Stubbornly, he rejected them.
"You are not an authorized person," he objected. "Whatever your findings, you are nevertheless not an official of the government, and I will not accept your reports. I believe in the veracity of the reports of my own district doctors, not in yours, and my doctors state there is no epidemic whatsoever."
Finally, with a sinking heart, I understood. If he reported to Bucharest Communist headquarters that his region was as badly affected as my reports irrefutably proved it to be, probably he would lose his job. Certainly he would lose standing. Because always, in a Communist state, everything is faultless. Everything is perfect. There is no poverty, there is no hunger; certainly there are no epidemics. Officially, such things do not exist. One cannot report what isn't there. And if one presumes to do so, one is fired—or worse.
So once more I turned to our enemy, the Communist Ministry of Health, and to Dr. X. I wrote him; once more I was a small voice in the wilderness of unconcern and inertia, trying to make our danger known. I sent him our reports and the authorized tests which we had had made and officially signed.
There were resounding results in no time at all. Dr. X immediately arrived in Bran and at once proceeded to make a thoroughgoing inspection of the contagious disease annex of Spitalul Inima Reginei and of the outlying villages where the disease had been located. He was wrathful at what he found—he saw for himself a complete contradiction of the statements of the district doctors of his own regime.
The result of his tour of inspection was prompt and galvanic. Empowered and equipped by the Communist Ministry of Health, Spitalul Inima Reginei found itself the authorized head of a regional organization to fight epidemics throughout the thirteen villages of our territory. We were enabled to draft the doctors in all the villages, the midwives and the district nurses. They inspected, inoculated, instructed, nursed, disinfected. The hospital being the headquarters for this campaign, they came to me for supplies and direction. We were given large quantities of serum for widespread inoculations and of DDT for spraying and disinfecting dwellings where the illness had been.
We went to Sunday services in village churches and inoculated the peasants there as they left the church. This was not easily accomplished, for the peasants required more coercion to get it done than even my rather able powers of persuasion were capable of.
Typhoid requires three inoculations. The first one at the church door on a Sunday usually went pretty well, and the following Sunday I would resolutely be again on hand at the same church door, ready to distribute the second inoculations, but the mountain people were harder to catch this time.
"No, Domnitza," they would protest. "Why should I let you do that again? You said it would keep me from being very sick—but it made me very sick! Why do you wish to do that to me?"
So again I would explain in carefully chosen words and at length, and the priest would come to my aid and add his explanation. He was useful in other ways, too. He ran after those who quietly tried to slip away from Domnitza's beguiling words and her needle and brought them back to me.
"Vino 'nincoace! Come back!" I would call to the back of a man disappearing down the church path. "Aren't you Ionef Stan? Didn't you have your first inoculation last week?"
The peasant would return reluctantly but obediently. "No, no, Domnitza," he would smile disarmingly. "That was not I—that was my brother. They say we look alike."
But the village priest knew his flock and, without further argument, up he would roll the man's sleeve. Widespread inoculations were hard enough to accomplish without first having to catch our patients!
It seems irony that even as I was using every means I could seize upon to stamp out typhoid, consuming all my energy covering miles of countryside in order to uncover and fight it, ceaselessly teaching others how to protect themselves, not sparing myself to make every hour count in this war we were waging, my own family should be struck. My youngest son Dominic fell ill, too.
During the First World War, typhoid killed my beloved youngest brother Mircea, and I had seen another brother and a sister nearly die of it. So it was perhaps understandable that for the first time fear struck my heart. I kept Niki at home in the castle, and my friend Ilse Koller volunteered to go into quarantine with him, to nurse him. I went through those days, from patient to patient, from hospital to outlying village to laboratory, and back to the castle at night, fighting down the fear for my son that was storming my heart.
The peasants were more deeply impressed by Niki's illness than by anything I had said to them. If Domnitza Ileana was not able to protect her own child, they reasoned, perhaps this illness really was as serious as she claimed it to be! Happily, Niki had a light case; he recovered readily, but the news of his illness spread, and inoculations everywhere were easier to give after this.
We were so few to wrestle with so great a problem. The inertia we met was immense. It is part of the peasant temperament. They are averse to making any unnecessary effort—what must happen, happens. They have a complete resignation, doubtless the result of centuries of living under conquerors' oppression. To battle it, to rouse them from it, to help them to help themselves, was a monstrous task. Miscomprehension and lack of understanding were complete.
During that winter, diphtheria and scarlet fever appeared, and in the same winter, to our dread, typhus. Then indeed, the shadow of death loomed very large over our little village and the countryside. Images of the First World 'War were very present with me. I remembered seeing typhus rage one winter through the city of Jassy. I remembered my mother's tremendous efforts to cope with the hopeless problem of nursing, in those days. Three hundred persons died daily during the worst of the epidemic, and their naked bodies, stiff in death, frozen with winter, were carted through the streets to burial. I was a very little girl at that time, but I knew what was happening. I have never lived far from reality, and the realities of disaster were too great, then, too close to us all, to be hidden from even a little girl's eyes. We lived in the very midst of them.
My mother believed that parents should not overprotect their children. She felt that even then we should know what was happening around us. "For how else," I have heard her demand, "can we learn life but by living it—from youth on up?"
How I have blessed her, in the years since, for her wisdom!
Once more I appealed to Dr. X, and once more the Communist Ministry of Health rose to the emergency and sent me all the necessary serums for typhus inoculation and enormous quantities of DDT for disinfecting. We disinfected everything—dwelling houses, schools, churches, automobiles, even the busses that were our transportation between villages.
Before the Russians came we had a line of fine, modern, new busses which ran between the villages in the valley and over the mountain to Brasov, our nearest large town. The Russians immediately requisitioned these for themselves and obliged us to buy from them, instead, strange contraptions which in Russia, I daresay, pass for busses. They were boxes on four wheels, without mudguards, like cattle cars on a railroad. They had a door at the back and no windows, and a wooden bench ran along the length of each side. We stopped these vehicles whenever one appeared in the village. We made the passengers get out, and sprayed everything with DDT, rigorously, assiduously, bus interior and passengers alike.
For the first time I realized an authoritarian state has its advantages in certain unique situations, and I approved of the concept thoroughly for the time being. I was assigned gendarmes to enforce our disinfecting program, and although passengers protested bitterly about their compulsory DDT spraying, not one of them dared to rebel against the rigid authority of the police. Gratefully, I used to the utmost their absolute power over the people. Ruthlessly, doggedly, I saw to it that the clothes of every person, and every inch of each bus was sprayed and saturated with the disinfectant before it was again permitted to go on its way with its load of passengers.
Our prompt, vigorous action checked the spread of this worst of all diseases. We had few cases of typhus compared to our typhoid toll, but one particular incident remains clearly in my mind, and ever will. I feel wonder, and I shudder a little, too, whenever I think about it.
Amongst our first cases of typhus was an old man. One of the nurses, Sister Victoria, and I deloused him together. Unless our patients were gypsies, lice had not been one of our chief problems, but this dirty old peasant was alive with them. His clothes crawled, and his hair was full of them; we had to shave his head. We undressed him, protesting, stood him in a tub, and then proceeded to wash him thoroughly with a solution of kerosene.
We had no way of protecting ourselves from the lice, for we had no rubber garments to wear—not even rubber gloves. I remember my dreadful sense of apprehension as I worked, and I remember praying, "Lord, I give myself into Thy hands."
Sister Victoria gave a sharp exclamation. She had been bitten. We knew what to expect, and that is how it came about. The old man recovered and went back to his sty, and Victoria, after several days of the illness, died. I have often felt a horrible sense of responsibility about her death. Should it have been I? There were two of us; it had to be one. . . .
Dupa voia Domnului—as God wills. . . .
In those days, the little chapel holding my mother's heart was of great comfort to me. Or I would go to the little church in the meadow when I was the most tired. Through the church door I would step out of a troublous world into a timeless serene one of peace and certitude. After a little while I would find myself becoming still, inside, and then I would feel the presence of God. The faded, painted saints would pause and look at me pityingly, lovingly, and then, to my tired fancy, they seemed placidly to turn away from me, heavy and sore with the bruises of the world, and go back to their holy concerns, their dim robes and halos glimmering in the last light of the afternoon. I would rest awhile and pray, and when I slipped through the church door again, out into the green, sweet-smelling meadow and the lucent twilight, always I felt that I had found the renewed strength I needed in order to go on.