RingSide Report

World News, Social Issues, Politics, Entertainment and Sports

Doctor Curmudgeon® A Very Busy Woman

By Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D. FAAP Doctor Eisman is in Family Practice in Aventura, Florida with her partner, Dr. Eugene Eisman, an internist/cardiologist

My childhood was happily filled with books. One of my favorites was “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott.

At the time of its publication in 1868, it was considered avant –garde, a new kind of novel with a realistic depiction of women as they matured from childhood to adulthood.

I had known her only as a novelist. However, this industrious woman wore many hats.

Before she was thirty, she had already put her talents to work as a kindergarten teacher. Her family had financial difficulties and so she found additional employment as a seamstress, and a domestic helper—and for a time as a governess. She was an abolitionist who served as a station master on the Underground Railroad where she protected fugitive slaves.

I learned that Louisa May Alcott- teacher, seamstress, domestic, governess, abolitionist, and writer—had also served as a nurse in the Civil War. Taylor Jasmine quotes Alcott in the Literary Ladies Guide: “I WANT something to do…” This referred to her desire to join the Union Army.

Alcott really wanted to take up arms and be a soldier. Of course, this was denied to women at that time. The only way open to her was to volunteer as a nurse.

She was assigned to the Union Hotel in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. The hotel had been hastily turned into a hospital. It was poorly-ventilated and overcrowded. Taylor Jasmine writes, “Her great heart went out to all the men, black or white, the Virginia blacksmith and the rough Michigander. She even tried to befriend the one solitary rebel who had got left behind.”

Nursing was a liberating experience for her and helped her to mature quickly as a woman and a writer.

Of course, Alcott wrote copious letters home to her family and these became the inspiration for a book. Written in 1865,”Hospital Sketches” was very lightly fictionalized. Its protagonist, Nurse Tribulation Periwinkle, was an alter ego of Alcott herself. As a feminist, she used the book to recount the resentment of male physicians toward what they considered interference of nurses. The book discussed the roles of women in wartime, the horrible conditions in the hospital and the era’s racial prejudices.

Hospital nursing was rigorous, with a grueling schedule of twelve hour shifts, nights on call, poor diet, and was even dirty. Alcott referred to it as a “pestilence-box”.

Alcott was only there for a few months when she became ill with Typhoid. Her treatment consisted of heavy doses of Calomel, which contained mercury. She was sent home but remained feeble. There have been thoughts that in addition to the bout of Typhoid, and the mercury poisoning, she also had Lupus. A portrait of her shows the characteristic butterfly rash of Lupus and she often appeared quite flushed. She died in 1888 at the age of 55.

And I wonder…Louisa May Alcott had already been a teacher, a governess, a seamstress, a published author, abolitionist, and a nurse…what else could this busy woman have accomplished if she had a longer life?

Dr. Curmudgeon suggests “Bitter Medicine”, Dr. Eugene Eisman’s story of his experiences–from the humorous to the intense—as a young army doctor serving in the Vietnam War.
Bitter Medicine by Eugene H. Eisman, M.D. –on Amazon

Doctor Curmudgeon® is Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D., a physician-satirist. This column originally appeared on SERMO, the leading global social network for doctors.
SERMO www.sermo.com

Click Here to Order Boxing Interviews Of A Lifetime By “Bad” Brad Berkwitt