This section of the book is from "The Complete Herbalist" by Dr. O. Phelps Brown. Also available from Amazon: The Complete Herbalist: The People Their Own Physicians By The Use Of Nature's Remedies.
Next to the physician, the nurse has responsibilities that must be faithfully discharged, as the life of the patient is not alone dependent upon the skill of the physician, but in a great measure also upon careful nursing. Every physician will tell you that he recollects cases in his practice where all his skill would have been unavailing had it not been for the excellent nursing that the patient received.
It is a common opinion that women only can nurse. This is erroneous, as men are frequently met with, especially husbands and brothers, who are quite as gentle in their touch, quite as considerate about little wants, and far more tender and thoughtful than almost any woman. A male nurse has, moreover, one great advantage--his strength. Ask that wife who requires lifting from the bed, and she will tell how safe she feels in her husband's strong arms, and what a comfort it is to be lifted by him. It is a dreadful feeling for a patient not to have full confidence in the power of the person assisting, and the nervous shock induced by the fear of being let fall, may take days to recover from. It is therefore, not to be thought that nursing is peculiarly woman's work, but that men are just as capable.
A nurse should have five qualifications--sobriety, cleanliness, firmness, gentleness, and patience.
Sobriety. -- The drunken nurse should not be allowed to cross the door-sill of the sick-room. It is no place for her,--she cannot be trusted. Human life is too precious to be entrusted to the care of one who cannot resist the temptation to indulge in intoxicating drinks.
Cleanliness. -- The nurse should not only keep the room clean, but always be clean herself. A very little thing will spoil the appetite of a sick person, and nothing offensive, as dressings from wounds or burns should be allowed to remain in the room. All necessary vessels should be emptied as soon as done with, well washed out, and left in the open air. It should be remembered that bad air is just as poisonous to a person as bad food, and hence it should be frequently changed by opening the window. The dreaded draft will do no harm, but bears upon its wings the elements conducive to the health of both patient and attendants. The fever-poison is weakened by admixture with pure air just in the same proportion as spirits are weakened by the addition of water. The food that the patient cnanot eat should not be left in the room--it will breed distaste for it if always in the sight of the patient. The drinking-water should be frequently changed, as it absorbs all the gases in the room, so that if the patient is allowed to drink it, it actually puts back into his stomach what his body exhaled. Always give him fresh water, then, when he wants to drink.
Firmness. -- The lesson that firmness is not rudeness should be learned first. It is not to be expected that a suffering person knows as well what is best for him as those whose brains are clear. If, therefore, a certain thing is best to be done, do it, do it kindly, but do it, and the patient will thank you afterwards.
Gentleness. -- It should never be forgotten that gentleness is an absolute requirement of a nurse. If the poor patient suffers from rheumatism or a broken limb, and the bed-clothes must be changed, it should be done gently, and all needless suffering avoided. If his position in bed requires change, do not torture him, but gently move him, and avoid all jerks and knocks with great care.
Patience. -- Need a word be said to the effect that of all beings nurses should especially be patient? It should never be forgotten that the difference is a great one between the nurse and the person under his or her care, and it should be remembered that in their own experiences they have been cross and irritable even when they were well, that they were easily put out, and so peevish and fretful from the slightest causes. They should then consider how it must be with the person taken suddenly from active life and compelled to lie still in one position, or with one whose whole body is racked with pain. The one, therefore, who loses patience, however sorely tried, and who cannot bear with these trials for a while, should stay away from the sick-room in the capacity of nurse.
Nursing, in a great measure, is a natural gift either in man or woman, just as much as music, painting, and other things are. It is not every one, therefore, who is fit for a nurse, not because they wilfully do wrong, but they are not adapted for it. There are many good-hearted yet thoughtless people who would never make good, handy nurses with all the training in the world.
The awkward nurse is a queer creature, and she is everlastingly getting into some trouble. If she is going up stairs with her hands full, she is sure to step on the bottom of her dress, and either drops what she is carrying or falls herself. If the fire wants coal, she throws on a whole scuttleful, a good part of which falls upon the fender, and the poor patient is so terrified that he cannot rest for hours. If she has a hole in her dress, or a bit of braid is loose, it will be sure to catch a chair or the fire-irons, bringing them down with a rattle. If of matronly age and wears caps, she will have strings so long that when she stoops over to catch the patient's whisper, the ends will tickle his nose or other parts of his face. At least one of her fingers is sure to be enveloped in a rag tied on with black cotton. If the patient wants a little bread and butter, the knife that has been used for cutting cheese or peeling onions is unerringly used. If she is cooking cabbage or frying bacon in the next room, she always forgets to close the door leading to the patient's room, fills it with a strong smell which sickens him, and then says that it is too bad that the patient cannot eat a morsel of food. If the patient thirsts, she will fill the glass full to the brim, put her hand under his head, bend his neck till his chin touches his breast then puts the glass to his lips, spills a good part of it on his clothes, and thinks he is very awkward to choke over a mouthful of water. If a candle is to be lighted, she sticks it in between the bars of the grate, which soon fills the room with the rank smell of burning tallow, and when she finally succeeds in lighting it, she finds she has a wick several inches long, gained at the expense of the melted tallow; or if it be gas, she takes a short bit of paper, turns the gas full on, makes a sudden blaze like a flash of lightning, forgets the bit of paper in her hand while she is regulating the blaze, burns her fingers, throws the lighted paper on the floor, and puts her foot on it. All this does not escape the patient's notice, and he gets so nervous and frightened that he loses his night's rest. If the patient is so far convalescent as to be able to sit up in bed to take his food, she will, of course, put the tray on his knees, then assist him into the sitting posture, and ten chances to one the things are upset all over the counterpane.