France, 29 February, ’16.
(Say, this is leap year, eh?)
(You may have wondered that, if we get only two green envelopes a month, how the dickens all of my letters come in these treasured receptacles. Answer — I buy ’em at half a franc per from the English Tommies and am charging it up to you. At present you owe me one fr. fifty.)
My dearie: —
It’s afternoon. All the dishes — pots, I mean — are washed up, the ward swept and all looks clean and fresh and tidy. . . . (I dunno whether I am disclosing information of military importance to the enemy in the green envelope, if I tell you that this place was once a Jesuit College, very old apparently, with high walls round, and no modern conveniences till we came. It makes a fairly good hospital, I think.) ...
I think you’ll be pleased to hear I am “making good” — if you can use such a large phrase in connection with such a small job. You must realize that only a short while ago I positively could not have done this work at all. I can’t even now realize that it is me doing some of the things I have to do — and not kicking at it. I never even touched a wounded person before, but now I have — But wait, I’ll tell you the proceedings. About ten A.M. the doctor (a captain) comes, puts on a white coat and rubber gloves, and prepares to do the dressings. First I go ahead to each bed and with a pair of scissors usually cut — or untie in some cases — the bandages from the first case he intends fixing up. These I chuck in a pail of water and between us the Sister and I hand the various dopes. When he is through, he moves to the next, and one of us bandages it up again. (I never put a bandage on before, but today I did nearly all.) While I was holding a particularly bad wound and fracture (to drop it would probably mean it would fall to pieces) I was congratulated on the way I did the work. The sight etc. close at one time, would have sickened me, but now my only feeling is one of interest. I don’t think you have ever been in a surgical ward, have you? Everything has to be done with the minutest care, everything must be absolutely sterile. To put a pair of forceps, scissors, anything even, on the table makes it un-sterile and it cannot be used. Everything you hand the doctor, you hand with forceps. Your mind has to be on your job every fraction of the second; your nerves must be as steady as a rock. Can you see me doing it? And doing it alright. Sister says she’s going to give me all that kind of work she can. Of course the other orderly does this at any other time, but he is barred out of the ward until quarantine is lifted. Of course, I do all the other work as well: clean up, dish out the meals — everything. I sure have landed myself on some job, yet I like it.
I have more than once wanted to go up the line — and I want to tell you about it. Right now, I’d love to go. I have tried to analyse my feelings. I want to go up and see it all first hand, I know exactly what the work is — but I want to see it. — I do want to see you and Billy. That about explains it. Of course if I hadn’t Bill and you, I would go tomorrow. But — I repeat — I want to come home. . . .
As regards the actual work — I’m “doing my bit” more here than I would be there.
By the way, I was comparing this Canadian Gen. Hosp. with the English one. They’re utterly different. Here there are no visitors, no automobile rides, no shows. But — for arrangement, order, efficiency, Canada has ’em strung forty ways. There isn’t any comparison. (Afterwards you will see McGill come in for some pretty high praise. You see if I’m not right.)
The Sisters and doctors are human — they treat the patients as men, that’s one big difference and a very big one. The grub is far better — the Tommies nearly had a fit to find two eggs to a meal. Every day there is a package of smokes for every man, and chocolate and fruit, all from Canadians at home. Most of the packages have ready addressed P.C.’s so that the fellows can thank the donors if they wish, and I have impressed it on them that they have got to be returned. The English Tommy is not much at writing to a stranger. Sometimes I write P.C.’s for fellows to their own people. Gee! it’s pathetic. “I hope this finds you as it leaves me at present,” etc. They are so different to Americans. Nearly all the eggs, for instance, have messages on them and addresses — quite a lot from girls’ schools. Yet the fellows are too shy to drop a jolly card, I bet not one would go unanswered from the States. . . .