Life in the Jungle Hospital
One patient, named Canns, who was in an emaciated condition and had a bad dose of malaria, was put in my ward and handed to me as a special patient. When I examined him I almost vomited. I had an unavoidable feeling of nausea at what I saw--he had thirty-two large ulcers in different places from his chest to his feet, the smallest was as large as a half-crown, and they hadn't been attended to for days. He also had a touch of dysentery which, between it all had made the poor fellow wish for death. It was as much as I could do to persuade him that I might be able to help him. He had attempted to cover the largest ulcers, situated on the calf of each leg, with his puttees which were now saturated with the discharge. The smell nearly bowled me over. However, I kept my nausea hidden, tried to comfort the man and set about cleaning him up. I spent the whole morning with him using his mess tin to boil water and an old salmon tin with W.S.P. as an antiseptic. That completed, I had to find something to cover the ulcers, and as there were no dressings available I took off the sleeves of my shirt and used them. The only healer I could use was W.S. powder mixed in water making a mixture like Eusol. Once the dressings had been soaked in the mixture, I applied them to the ulcers and as there was very little adhesive tape, the dressings were left to adhere to the ulcers themselves. I washed his dirty puttees so that I could use them again later.
This poor fellow must have suffered agonies during the regular morning clean-up and though I handled him as gently as I could, I know he suffered. But he rarely made a sound, and told me that he knew I was doing my best for him and wouldn't make a fuss so as not to hurt my feelings. He, like most of my patients, was tremendously grateful for what was done for him, and in his case I was promised a partnership in his confectionery business somewhere near Olympia when we got out of this. It always pleased these patients when their offers were accepted. We would pass the time by dreaming of the day when we were free and made a great many plans for the future. I have no doubt that at the time their feelings were so that they would have given almost anything they possessed in return for a little sympathy and kindness.
The one thing these men suffered from the most was a lack of caring. They had been taken from their homes and families to a hostile land and forced to endure hatred, cruelty and death, day in and day out. And to top that, they became ill with little chance of survival. It is no wonder they craved attention. Some felt reunion with their loving creator was the only way out of this horror. To be taken notice of was always rewarded by the patient being attentive and helpful. I got to know about their families, all about their home life, their hopes and fears and in most cases it always ended up by them making me ridiculous promises of reward and while I had no wish to take anything for what I did for these fellows, it was very gratifying to know that they were so grateful at the time. It helped me many times to work on hour after hour with always the feeling "I can't let these fellows down."
I seemed to be making headway with some of my cases but most of them were getting worse and many were dying. Death was chiefly due, not to one ailment but to the many they suffered from. The camp was becoming a "Camp of Death," men were now dying at the rate of thirty-two a night. We went round each morning at daybreak and anyone that seemed strangely quiet or still we examined to see if he were dead. Many times when I felt for the pulse of a strangely inert form, he would rouse and say "Not this morning, Taff. Perhaps some other time." I always dreaded waking a man like that because he knew what I was doing. If the test proved a man dead, the body would be taken by shoulders and feet and carried outside, and if there were others they would be laid in a row side by side. We couldn't spare a blanket so they laid there looking a dreadful sight, emaciated, and bones protruding, eyes open and staring glassily. They laid there with the rain beating down on them - "God, what an end." then as morning progressed medical staff would line up with stretchers made of two poles pushed through a sack. The dead man would be put on the stretcher and as the sack wasn't long enough to support the whole body, the head and legs would hang loosely and swing to the movement of the carriers as they carried the body over the road to the cemetery, or crematorium. There weren't enough men or tools for grave digging, and as the men had died of contagious diseases it was best to have them cremated. Pyres were built of wet wood, and here was another difficulty. There were only a few men to keep these pyres going, and much wood was required with very few tools, if any, for cutting the wood and the rain continued unceasingly which put out the fires. The result was that the bodies laid in rows of sometimes thirty or forty for days waiting to be cremated. The men doing this gruesome job worked night and day and always in danger of infection from the bodies they handled. Constantly found at this work were our two Padres, Padre Duckworth and Padre Foster-Haigh.
It seemed that most of us weren't our normal selves for we went about doing these gruesome duties as though we had been used to it all our lives. The feeling of repugnance wore off as we settled down to each day's work of horror, with a numbed and empty sensation in the tummy, and the thought ever persistent in our minds that "it might be our turn next."