My Patients

 

It was during June and July that the Nips started employing drastic methods to force our sick men out to work. The men had been getting weaker and weaker under the harsh brutal treatment of the Nips, and the number in the hospital had increased with alarming rapidity. The result that numbers of men on working parties were not only reduced to a minimum, but certain working parties had to be cancelled because there were no men to make up the parties for the particular jobs. The Nips started putting the screws on first by cutting down the hospital rations by half saying, "No work, no food." They contended that many men in the hospital were pretending and weren't sick at all, so if they wanted food, whether they be sick or otherwise, they would have to earn it by working.

This was tragic as the men weren't having enough to keep up their strength as it was, and now they would have only half a pint of rice each meal.

From then on I noticed the deterioration of my ulcer patients. They became too weak to stand the strain of being cleaned each day. Previously patient and uncomplaining, they now became irritable and hopeless with the result that the ulcers failed to respond to treatment and grew much worse. Many who used to prepare themselves for treatment now became victims of langour, they lost all hope and laid without the strength or will even to eat the small portion of rice now allotted to them. So I had the bitter experience of seeing men, who I had thought were pulling through and with whom I had become so friendly, now slipping away, weary of everything and desiring above everything only to be left alone: all the work and time spent on them was to no avail. I many times returned to my bay at night tired out and ill, and I cried at the hopelessness of it all. I might have been childish to cry but I couldn't help myself. I tried very hard to remain strong to fight these emotional moments, but when I had lost perhaps several patients who had become part of my life, who had been a responsibility and with whom I had shared the struggle and fight for recovery, shared their thoughts, hopes, fears and ambitions, had heard of their home life so often that I felt I had known them for years. Perhaps I can be excused then for giving way and crying during a time when emotions were aroused and easily gained sway.

 

 

In this ward the ridiculously small staff worked day and night to ease the suffering of the patients who, having dysentery, laid helpless to do for themselves. An attempt had been made to separate the more serious cases from the others, who were placed in a bay together, which became known as the "Death Bay." I heard many hoarse voiced men give resistence, however weak, to being moved into that awful death bay. That was where I found Dick Reynolds. After looking for him in his usual place and finding that he was missing, I learned that he had been taken to the Death Bay as he had taken a turn for the worse and had messed all over himself and the others around him, with the danger of spreading infection. I found him in a coma, looking much like a skeleton, and in an awful mess. In an effort to keep himself and the place clean, he had used his mess tin as a bed pan but it had tipped over and hundreds of flies were buzzing around him. I must have had a catch in my voice when I spoke to the M.O. about him, because he told me to pull myself together as he had done his best for Dick, and there was nothing more he could do.

Poor old Dick, he had been in charge of the canteen at Changi and was such a clean fellow, always smart and well known for his honesty. I had made for him, in a very amateurish way, some jam labels (from waste fruit) which he had sold in the canteen. He had made labels for Marmite jars and sold the jam in the jars. We had spent many hours together planning ways and means of giving the customers good service, and many schemes turned out quite successful, the jam being one of them. All this went through my mind as I looked down on that wasted form, he had been good and kind in his life and now he laid dying in the vilest of filth. My faith in a merciful God was put to a test when I saw things like that! I decided he would die clean at least. So I got warm water and washed him down. As I was finishing the job he roused from his coma and said "I knew you'd come, Taff, to take me from here. I told them that you wouldn't let me stay here. I looked for you and hoped you'd come in time to stop them putting me here. You'll take me away from here won't you?" I had to turn away, I couldn't answer him as I was too full up for a few minutes. To think that he had such faith in me and I could do nothing for him. After awhile I recovered sufficiently to tell him that I would get him some medicine and see the M.O. about getting him moved. As I moved away, being glad of any excuse to get away for a few minutes, Staff Sergeant Gordon Davies came along. He had an egg, (purloined from the Nips) which he had cooked and brought in for Dick. Men would have risked their lives for an egg, and here was Gordon giving one to Dick, but it was just the kind of thing Gordon would do, anyway. I moved off with the promise to return soon.

When I returned to my bay I found that Jim had purloined some tea which he was about to brew. I waited until it was ready and got half a mug of it for Dick. On my way back with it I met the Padre. I told him where I was going so he accompanied me and when I gave Dick the tea he sipped it with great appreciation, no doubt feeling the warmth of it comforting. The Padre whispered words of comfort and hope to Dick, then Dick laid back and stretched himself as if he seemed comforted. He closed his eyes, murmured something and half smiled. We left him then, and two hours later I returned to find the smile still there but Dick was dead.

 

 

<Previous Excerpt