Phyllis Crane’s First Impressions
“We always keep midwife visits separate from our other home visits,” Sister Evangelina was saying on Phyllis Crane’s first morning as a Nonnatus nurse. They had all gathered in the clinical room to prepare for work. “It prevents contamination.” She gave Phyllis Crane a smug look.
Phyllis knew right away she and Sister Evangelina were going to struggle. She knew exactly what kind of person the Sister was. A bossy woman who didn’t want to listen to anyone else. Phyllis would have to teach her to listen. Usually it was doctors who acted this way, but she knew there were nurses that could be just as dominant.
“Don’t you sterilize to prevent infection?” she asked, determined to begin teaching the Sister right away.
“Yes,” said one of the younger nurses. She had bright red hair. “I’d be happy to show you how we do it."
“And a logbook?” asked Phyllis. “A rolodex is much more efficient,” she told them firmly. She may only be nursing here temporarily, but it was obvious they needed a lot of help. It was best to begin teaching immediately.
The bossy Sister simply ignored Phyllis. Dear, she had a lot to teach them…
Phyllis spent the rest of the day doing what she loved best: nursing. Most of these new patients were also her favorites: babies and mothers. She could care for people who really needed her, just as her mother had cared for her no matter what.
Bossy Sister Evangelina disagreed with the care that one of the younger midwives gave one of the maternity patients. A brown-haired nurse by the name of Barbara Gilbert, who was admittedly, a bit wet behind the ears. Like a lot of young people these days, she also needed to work on her manners. Phyllis still couldn’t believe the nurse had greeted her with a “hello” instead of a proper “good morning.” Still, the lass’s heart was in the right place.
Nurse Gilbert was honestly interested in helping the patient, rather than just “having an adventure” like many young people who began nursing. And the more Sister Evangelina yelled at Nurse Gilbert, the more Phyllis felt the need to defend the lass. That Sister really did need to understand how to listen.
Phyllis was still trying to teach Sister Evangelina the best ways of nursing when she finally met Dr. Turner, the local G. P. She braced herself for possible difficulty, as most of the doctors she’d met in the past wouldn’t listen to nurses, even though the nurses usually knew more.
Phyllis specifically remembered a little boy whose heart had almost stopped because of a bomb during the Blitz. The doctor ignored Phyllis as she insisted, they help him, dismissing the poor boy as lost cause. But she looked at that toddler and saw herself, when no one was willing to help her or her single mother. She knew that alcohol could sometimes simulate a heart, so she let the boy suck on a bandage doused with it. *
The boy had lived. Because of a nurse, rather than a doctor. And yet, the doctors still paid no attention to nurses. Men.
Dr. Turner spoke of a maternity patient who had been sent to the hospital for high blood pressure and hadn’t felt uncomfortable. Mrs. Biecette. “It could just be the stress of the situation,” he said. “I offered her a room at the maternity home, but she refused. She said she wants to give birth at home.” Phyllis had to admit she was impressed with the tone in his voice. He didn’t sound authoritarian, the way many doctors she worked with would. Of course, district practice doctors usually treated nurses with some respect.
At any rate, it seemed her biggest problem was bossy Sister Evangelina, who still insisted on using a log book, even though a rolodex was obviously a better method to organize.
A few nights later, Nurse Phyllis Crane attended the birth of Mrs. Biecette. A dark – skinned woman who had been unknowingly carrying twins. The poor woman unfortunately had a little girl who was stillborn, and a little boy who appeared fine. It was a difficult night for everyone, especially Nurse Gilbert. The poor lass had obviously never lost a tiny baby before, and Phyllis comforted her for a moment, letting her sob onto her chest. But of course, the young nurse had to learn how to work, even when it was difficult. So, Phyllis looked at her and said firmly, “Nurse Gilbert you have a baby to take care of.”
She looked over at the live baby, who was in the father’s arms and Dr. Turner was cooing at him. Admittedly, it was a sweet to see that young father staring at the little brown face. Especially after they’d all thought these parents would have no baby.
Still, it was time for the women to take care of the baby, as it should be. “When these men let it go,” she added with a sigh.
Dr. Turner probably thought he was the expert, after all. All doctors acted like that sooner or later, even those that worked in district practice.
What was interesting was how much Sister Evangelina helped that night, and more importantly how much the Sister accepted Phyllis’s help. Perhaps they struggled at first because they were so much alike? At any rate, until Sister Evangelina left for her surgery, they agreed to try to work together.
The midwives did need a lot of help, after all. Maybe they needed so much that Phyllis should accept this as a permanent position?
Several days later, Sister Evangelina did leave for her surgery, and Phyllis breathed easier at Nonnatus House. She and the Sister had learned to work together, but it was a still a challenge. Now Phyllis could teach all the nurses the correct techniques without anyone else getting in the way.
Except the Doctor, of course.
Dr. Turner may be used to working with nurses, being in district practice, but this morning he showed he still lacked some faith in their abilities. He had called her into his surgery to speak about a possible dysentery outbreak.
Phyllis immediately offered to take control of the situation. “I’ll notify the Board of Health of each case,” she told him. Dysentery was a nasty disease that would need to be contained as quickly as possible.<
But Dr. Turner immediately shook his head, dismissing her plan. “I simply wish you and Nonnatus to be extra vigilant. We don’t have the resources for an epidemic.”
Phyllis sighed, knowing she was being placated. It felt like she was in the Royal Air Force again, being told to stay out of the way, even though she and many of the other nurses had learned how to use weapons to defend themselves.
She’d just have to do what she always had. Be the best nurse she could be, and at the same time, teach Dr. Turner to respect her and the others.
A little over a week later, Phyllis had a maternity patient with dysentery who was forced to give birth in a place definitely not appropriate live in, much less for mother and baby. It wasn’t clean, it smelled horrible, and the matron didn’t even seem to care. Her heart broke for Mrs. McEvoy as the matron ignored the needs of a laboring mother. She almost even refused to let the father meet his new daughter.
Mrs. McEvoy wasn’t even able to hold her new baby, thanks to her dysentery. But Phyllis noticed the way she told her new baby not to look at her surroundings has her father held her. “This isn’t where we live,” Mrs. McEvoy told her new daughter firmly, sounding ashamed.
It shouldn’t be where anyone lived, Phyllis thought, remembering the awful smell of that place. Foul bowl movements, mold, and insects had filled the air. And it was helping the dysentery epidemic spread. She must do something to help this family, and everyone living here. They were exactly the type of patients who needed her most. This was why she was a nurse.
As soon as she could, Phyllis spoke to Dr. Turner about Mrs. McEvoy’s situation. She specifically asked him to meet her at Mrs. McEvoy’s old lodgings. Perhaps if he saw the woman’s living conditions first hand, he would understand how important it was to help the woman. Fortunately, Mrs. McEvoy was now at the London, while she and her new baby recovered. “I’ve followed up on the case,” he told her. “They’ve admitted the other two children, too.”
Phyllis nodded, appreciating that he was a doctor who seemed to care about patients. Even if he did make some questionable choices. For some reason he decided to eat in a place that still smelled fainty and mold was growing. Didn’t he realize this place was infected with disease?
But now Phyllis was ready to make her point. “Are you happy to let the McEvoy’s return here when they leave the London?” She deliberately looked at the mold growing around.
Dr. Turner sighed and shook his head, just as Phyllis had expected he would. “I can’t do anymore.” Typical. He really wasn’t listening to her and even though cared about patients, he didn’t truly appreciate cleanliness the way he should. Once again, Phyllis was reminded of her time in the Royal Air Force where the nurses were the ones who kept everything clean.
Yet, a few days later, Phyllis was surprised to hear that Dr. Turner had changed his mind. In fact, he asked her to accompany him to the medical officer to declare Mrs. McEvoy’s former lodgings unfit to live.
A slow smile spread across Phyllis’s face when he said that. Perhaps Dr. Turner could be taught faster than she had expected.
She listened to Dr. Turner as he tried to explain to the medical officer, Mr. Landcing, why the place was unsafe for anyone, much less a woman with a new baby. He truly did care about the patients, and he had apparently listened to Phyllis when she tried to explain the problems of that place.
This man wasn’t her adversary in patient care, she suddenly realized. He was her ally.
Mr. Landcing, on the other hand, was exactly the kind of man that Phyllis had been interacting with all her life. A stubborn man who refused to listen to someone who was trying to help improve people’s health. It was time to make hm listen.
“Mr. Landcing, I feel sorry for you,” Phyllis said, her voice sounding sympathetic and firm at the same time. “It’s so easy for Dr. Turner not to get constrained by politics. His only agenda is helping those most in need.”
Phyllis’s guilt trip worked rather well, as Mr. Landcing sighed and agreed to have the building flogged. At least it would clear the illnesses from that building. But she and Dr. Turner immediately began making plans to for that building to be torn down and the people living there to be re – housed.
Nonnutus would be a great place to serve patients in need, especially with a Doctor who Phyllis might actually respect, and who respected her.