This section is from the book "Smith's Family Physician", by William Henry Smith. See also: Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know.
"Nursing is half the battle" No truer remark than this, regarding the treatment of the sick, was ever uttered. Vain are the care and attention of the physician, wasted his knowledge and skill, if his exertions are not seconded by the unremitting and sensible management of the nurse.
How often is a physician, on being summoned to a patient, struck with loathing and disgust at the smell of the room; and this, not by any means the necessary result of a want of means to order things otherwise, but the consequence of ignorance of the laws of health, carelessness, or a natural fondness for dirt.
One of the chief requisites in the sick-room is plenty of fresh air; without this, no patient-no matter what may be the disease, or what the season of the year-has "half a chance." In summer, the windows of the bedroom should be kept open; and, in winter, the lire should be made in an open grate, if possible; but, if this is not possible, and it is necessary to have a stove, the door thereof should be kept constantly open, with a fender in front to prevent the sparks from flying out, and the door of the room should be kept open, so as to cause a draught.
If the patient is confined to bed, both the sheets and the body linen should-if possible-be changed every day. Any little fatigue the patient may experience in the operation will be amply compensated for by the intense feeling of comfort from the change. At the same time, the bed should be shaken up, and the feet of the patient should be washed in warm water, and wiped thoroughly dry afterwards. If the weather is at all damp, a fire should be lighted in the room early in the morning, to dry the air, and get rid of any unpleasant vapours that may have accumulated during the night. Many people have a habit of burning a candle or lamp all night in a sick-room, but this is not a good practice, and the gases given out by the burning material very soon spoil the atmosphere of the room; it is better to put the lamp or candle outside the door of the room, unless the room should possess an open fire-place, when the lamp may be placed therein. When a light is kept in a room, it should always be shaded, so that the patient may not see the light; as many persons are very apt to be kept awake by a light in the bedroom.
All slops, excrementitious matter, and everything else calculated to make unpleasant smells, should be removed as quickly as possible from the bedroom, and from the house. Some people are terribly careless on this point; they have no noses.
The matter of diet requires great attention. Sick people have very frequently very delicate and very capricious appetites. They take a fancy to a thing, and, if they could have it quickly, would greatly relish it, but if they have to wait an hour or two, the inclination evaporates, and when it is ready, the desire for it is gone. Again; many people have no judgment, and will present a sick person with a mess, "fit," according to the old expression, "for a plough-boy." The very sight of such a quantity destroys the appetite, while a small portion of the same would have been taken and enjoyed.
Great attention should be paid to the instructions of the attending medical man, as more may depend upon a strict regard to his directions than the nurse or attendant may have any idea of; for instance, the physician may wish to put the patient under the influence of an alkali, and may prohibit acids of any description. The nurse, or mother, or attendant, to gratify the patient, may give her pickles or lemonade, or some other sour thing that may completely neutralize the effect of the medicine; and knowing they have done wrong, they will generally conceal the truth from the medical attendant. Again, sick people very seldom fancy greasy things, and attention should be paid to skimming the fat off soups or broth before offering them to a patient. Many people do not understand the difference between grease and gravy; they will call pure grease that runs out of fat pork when frying gravy, whereas it is nothing but grease.
When cooling drinks are ordered for a patient, the nurse should see that they are really cool; as a very small quantity of cold liquid will quench thirst, and abate fever much better than a much larger quantity rendered warm and insipid by long standing in a room.
The room should be sprinkled occasionally, particularly when a patient has an infectious disease, with a solution of chloride of soda or chloride of lime, taking care not to throw the solution over any coloured articles, as both of these solutions have the power to remove most colours. Camphor water is very refreshing, and the smell is liked by most persons. When the patient or her friends can afford it, lavender water may be used to sprinkle the room and the bed-clothes. It is the most refreshing of all perfumes, and its smell is usually very grateful to the senses of the sick.
The sick-room should be kept quiet. Many people, sometimes out of mistaken notions of kindness, are constantly intruding on sick people, and that, too, on people for whom they do not care one jot, but not knowing how sufficiently to kill their own time, they frequently accomplish that object by half killing some unfbrtunate (with whom perhaps they have no acquaintance) whom they worry with their visits. In making these remarks, I do not allude to those friends of the patient (if she is fortunate enough to have such) whose kindly care and sympathy make them ever welcome, but to those bores, both male and female, who intrude themselves everywhere, till sometimes, by the close of the day, the patient has been visited, worried and wearied by half the chatter-boxes in the parish.
Most sick people are fond of flowers.
When a patient is attended by a hired nurse, the friends should be careful to see that the patient really receives whatever is ordered, particularly where wine and other nice things are ordered, to see that they are actually consumed by the patient, and not by the nurse. Many professional nurses are very kind, careful, and considerate; but human nature is weak, and I cannot allow any feeling of delicacy towards the good nurses to prevent me from giving this caution, as I have known the life of a patient sacrificed through the nurse herself drinking the wine which she should have given to her charge.