THE HUSSARS HOSPITAL AT TSARSKOE-SELO
A forty-five minute ride by train from Petrograd brought us to Tsarskoe-Selo which literally means the village of the Czar. It was so called because the Emperor had his favorite palace there, where he spent most of his time before he became commander-in-chief of the Russian Armies in the field, when he removed to Mogheliv, where the General Staff was located.
We engaged a droshky and drove to the hospital, passing some of the beautiful grounds surrounding the palace.
The hospital was a large white structure, used in peace times as the special hospital of the Hussars, a large body of whom are permanently stationed at Tsarskoe-Selo. On the ground floor was the receiving room and two large airy wards with rows of white cots all occupied by wounded soldiers.
On the second floor was the officers' ward, an operating room and dressing room, baths, etc.; while the third floor was divided into small private rooms for cases requiring isolation and quiet, and the rooms for the resident doctor and several resident nurses..
All the nurses except one were titled women who, at the beginning of the war, had taken the six months' training course required to become a war-sister. They had given up everything else and devoted themselves resolutely to the task in hand.
The exception was a lady who had been a professional nurse for many years, and who acted as assistant. in operations and had charge of the operating room.
I met the head sister, Baroness Maria Alexandrovna P-----, a fine motherly woman of fifty-five, with snow-white hair and the sweetest face imaginable, and the ten other sisters, all of whom were either Baronesses or Princesses with the exception of the little professional nurse, who was simply Sister Olga Michaelovna.
Let me digress for a moment to explain Russian names. In Russia persons are called by their first names and their middle names, which latter consists of the father's name to which, in a male, ovitch is added, and, in a female, ovna is added. Thus Olga Michaelovna signified Olga, the daughter of Michael. Even servants address their masters by the first two names, the family name being invariably omitted. The Grand Duke Nicholas is spoken of by every one as Nicholi Nicholiovich.
All of the sisters spoke English perfectly, many of them having received their education in England and all having travelled and spent much time there. This was a great relief to me and in conjunction with the charming friendliness and courtesy with which I was received quickly put me at my ease.
Dr. Vicker led the way to the wash-room and we scrubbed up and donned sterile gowns.
Two operations were done: the first, a brain operation in which we evacuated and drained a large brain abscess; the second, an amputation at the thigh for gangrene.
Dr. Vicker was a skilful and dexterous surgeon and I have never seen finer work done. The sisters worked like veteran nurses and everything in the operating-room was like clock-work.
Next came the dressing of cases. They were wheeled in on stretchers by orderlies, and transferred to an operating table, where the bandages were removed, the wounds inspected and dressings applied.
Many of these wounds were horribly infected, and drainage tubes and gauze drains had to be removed and fresh ones inserted. I was astonished at the fortitude with which these men bore their pain. They would grip the hand of one of the kindly nurses until the muscles in their arms stood out like knots, and the sister would wince with pain from the pressure, but never a word of complaint came from the soldier. When asked if it hurt. very much, the soldier would smile, although pallid and damp with agony, and reply: "Nichevo!" meaning, "It is nothing!"
Forty or fifty dressings were done and then we visited some cases which did not require dressings.
One of them was a case which had developed tetanus, or lockjaw, the day before. He had had a slight wound of the instep from a piece of high explosive shell. It had nearly healed when the dread symptom of lockjaw developed.
As we entered the little room in which he was isolated, his body was arched like a bent bow, resting on his heels and the back of his head, his face drawn into a ghastly grin, the teeth exposed, the expression sardonic. This convulsion lasted a long time and gradually relaxed but not completely. At the slightest noise or a sudden movement, the condition would be repeated.
"A terrible thing this," the doctor whispered. "We haven't enough serum to give a prophylactic dose to all our wounded as they do in France, and I have had four cases in this hospital, all of which have died."
I inquired as to the amount of anti-tetanic serum they were using in the treatment and found that it was infinitesimal---only 1,500 units---as compared with the doses used in America, and was injected only under the skin.
"May I try the treatment we use in America---large doses into the spinal canal and veins?" I asked.
"Certainly," replied the doctor, "if we can secure such a large amount of serum, but we are allowed only a small quantity because the supply in Russia is so limited."
I was determined to cure that man if it were possible; and after we had returned to Petrograd I called on one of the Americans I knew, who was travelling for one of our large manufacturing chemists.
"How much anti-tetanic serum have you, Philip?" I inquired.
"About a million units."
"May I have 500,000? I want it to save a case at the Hussars Hospital." And I explained to him the facts of the case.
"Why, certainly, Doctor," he replied. "I'll get it for you at once."
I boarded the next train to Tsarskoe-Selo, with the precious serum in my kit. I gave the patient 100,000 units at once, part into the spinal column with a long hollow needle, and the rest into a vein.
The head nurse was astonished at the enormous dose and very skeptical as to the results, but I was hopeful, and was rewarded the next morning by a slight diminution in the severity and number of the convulsions. I repeated the dose, and the next day, when with Dr. Vicker I visited the patient, his improvement was quite noticeable.
A plump, rosey-cheeked little sister, the Princess, Tatiana Alexandrovna, had taken this poor fellow, a fine lad of about twenty-five, as her special charge. She had been tireless in her attention, and as I stood watching him I felt that in her I had a staunch ally in the desperate fight against death. I wasn't mistaken. I learned that with infinite patience and gentleness she had managed to separate the tightly locked jaws from time to time to allow some liquid nourishment to trickle, drop by drop, down the rigid throat, which the slightest disturbance was apt to throw into convulsions expelling the food.
We gave still another 100,000 units, and that evening I was informed by telephone of appreciable improvement in the patient's condition.
The next day the dose was reduced to 30,000 units, and later to 10,000, which was continued for a week, by which time he had entirely recovered.
The recovery of this man gave me a prestige in the hospital which no amount of real hard work at dressings and operating table could have done. To a certain extent, it was what we call "playing to the grandstand." On the other hand, the man's life was saved, and that, of course, was the important thing. But I believe, after that, I could have made all manner of mistakes and still retained the respect and admiration of those sisters.
During the week that the tetanus case was being treated, I worked every day with Dr. Vicker, and he finally decided that I had become familiar enough with the work to carry it on alone, and he left for Finland, leaving me in charge.
We had received no new wounded since I began work, but on the contrary had been discharging some of the convalescent cases to be sent to special convalescent hospitals. The night after Dr. Vicker left, at 10 P. m., I received word by telephone at my hotel to come at once to Tsarskoe-Selo, as new wounded were coming in.
Arriving at the hospital I found all the sisters hard at work cleaning up some forty soldiers who had just arrived. They had been four days in the train and many had not had their bandages changed since leaving the first aid stations near the firing line and had been bumped around all this time lying on straw in box cars.
They were naturally in a terrible condition---muddy, covered with vermin, and many badly infected.
Of the forty, five had gangrenous phlegmon or gas bacillus infection so severe as to require immediate amputation, two below the knee, two at the thigh, and one at the wrist.
The task of getting them ready for operation was a nasty one. They had to be bathed, have their hair clipped and dean clothes put on, yet these women, not one of whom before the war had ever done a stroke of disagreeable work or even had to experience anything unpleasant, went about their tasks cheerfully and smiling, always gentle and kind, caring for those peasant soldiers as though they were their very own children.
I recall one old fellow who had a very large red beard. He was a driver on a soup kitchen and had been hit on the head by a piece of shrapnel, producing a nasty scalp wound. It was necessary to clip his hair and beard short, as they were matted with blood and dirt. If we had decided to amputate his head he could not have put up more of a fight than when he observed that we were about to shave off his beard.
After Baroness Maria Alexandrovna had talked to him for ten minutes as one would talk to a captious child, however, she won him over, although during the clipping process tears came to the poor chap's eyes as he witnessed the massacre of his great flaming red beard---the pride of his simple life.
The busy weeks sped on and I became thoroughly engrossed in my work. At length, Dr. Vicker returned. He asked me to continue on as his assistant, but I had just heard of a man who had come up from the front looking for a surgeon and I was anxious to get into more active service.
The man in question was Col. Kalpaschnecoff, commander of the 21st Flying Column attached to the First Siberian Army Corps. I had never heard of the Colonel before but I had heard of the famous corps to which he was attached. It had been christened the "Ironside Corps" because of its wonderful achievements in this war. I left Tsarskoe-Selo to offer myself to Col. Kalpaschnecoff.
Chapter Four: Preparing to go to the Front