Village Nursing in Alaska

My husband and I first noted the close relation­ship between physical and spiritual needs during the three summers we spent in the colporteur min­istry among the natives of Alaska.

By MRS. S. H. EMERY, R.N., Minister's Wife, Craig, Alaska

How often these words surged through my ' thoughts during my training days at the Boul­der-Colorado Sanitarium and Hospital: "The med­ical work is the right arm of the message." I longed to see just how much of an entering wedge it would prove to be in a consecrated life.

My husband and I first noted the close relation­ship between physical and spiritual needs during the three summers we spent in the colporteur min­istry among the natives of Alaska. As we traveled from village to village the people would somehow find out that a nurse was among them, and would say, "Oh, you the nurse. My baby sick. You help me?" It often seemed that they had a village del­egate that would take me to each door of those who were ill. And usually it was to the door of almost every cabin. Many of the babies die from such diseases as whooping cough and pneumonia. This is not surprising, as a small one-room cabin usually houses a large family and is often so un­clean and lacking of pure fresh air that I would leave one foot in the door so I could put my nose to the crack and take a deep breath of fresh air now and then.

The mothers are not always privileged to have a doctor or nurse instruct them in the feeding of their little ones. One mother told me that her baby vomited all its milk. As I looked, at the infant I asked her what she fed the baby. I found that she had endeavored to feed it eight ounces of half water and half canned milk every two hours. Al­though we had only a few hours to spend in this village, I spent nearly a whole hour giving this mother instruction on how to prepare a digestible formula and feed her overfed baby.

While we were in another village, a large elderly native woman, who could not speak or understand English, showed me her enlarged dropsical legs. Simple instructions were given her through her friend interpreter. She was very happy, bowed, and hurried home to treat herself. After that, re­gardless of where she saw me, she sat down at the very spot she met me and removed her stockings to show me howi her legs were improving. She was happy as I nodded my head and smiled in ap­proval.

Every village in Alaska except Nome and the Aleutian Islands had been visited by our colporteur ministry. As each home was entered, a new coal was added to our already burning desire to more fully bring the third angel's message to these souls, Up to this time there had been no full-time worker here. The superintendent of the Alaska Mission, deeply burdened for these people, called us to come. It was with a full heart and a knowledge of .a peo­ple greatly in need that my husband and I re­sponded to the call to serve in this village of two hundred and fifty inhabitants, native and white population about equal.

Scarcely had we finished bringing our baggage over the hill to our new home than the commis­sioner invited us to attend the city council which had been called especially to appoint me as city nurse. We assured them that we were there to aid each physical and spiritual need. Certainly God worked mightily to break down any prejudice against our work.

The first serious accident was that of the city clerk, who broke his leg just below the hip joint. I was in the midst of kneading bread when an agi­tated girl burst through the door to tell me, "Uncle Tom fell, and I think he broke his leg." The bread was left to rise at will as we hurried to the scene. Pillows, blankets, and stretcher were quickly as­sembled, and the Coast Guard boys carried him to the nearest building. As the patient was suffering from shock, we connected all the available electric heaters and filled hot-water bottles. There is quite a difference between studying how to set a broken leg and actually setting it, but the Lord blessed our efforts in applying splints and traction, and giving the necessary first aid. The boys then car­ried him to his home to wait for the plane to take him to Ketchikan.

Flying weather is very uncertain in Alaska, and it was five days before the welcome buzz of an airplane motor was heard. I gave him the best care I could in the meantime. He had severe cramps in his leg. Fortunately, one of the doctors had left me a little medicine which eased his pain for short intervals. Gas pains pressed up against his heart, and it seemed that nothing would give him relief. Finally his pulse became irregular and rapid. We raised the head of the stretcher' which was on two footstools, and held cotton with aro­matic spirits of ammonia to his nose. He rested comfortably for the last two days and did not feel that it would be necessary for him to go to the doc­tor, but consented to go when the friendly hum of the motor was heard.

At the hospital several of the doctors examined him with X ray and were surprised to find that the fracture had been set perfectly. The Lord truly blesses His work. Almost a year has elapsed, and he says that money could never pay for the kind­ness shown him while he was suffering pain.

Through such experiences hearts become recep­tive to the voice of God. As I open my nursing kit to administer to a sick body, my husband sits by the bedside and, opening his Bible, breaks the Bread of Life. How much easier it is to look up to Jesus while down on one's back !

One of our greatest privileges was to lend phys­ical aid to a very aged Indian man. He did not know his age. His arm shook continuously, and he believed that a native of a near-by village had be­witched him. This caused him much mental pain. He lived alone on the beach in a stuffy, damp, cold house, eating only what people in the community set by his bedside. On Sabbaths our little com­pany would take him food. While there we would sing, pray, and read to him. His room was filthy and the odor was offensive. During the cold win­ter months his health broke completely and he could not get out of bed. It was evident that in this accumulation of filth and helplessness he would not live long. The Lord burdened our hearts to share our home with him. The coal dust had caked on his body for several years, so it took many daily medicated baths to remove the dirt and odor. He was shaved, his hair cut, and his three-quarter-inch toenails removed with a hack saw. Meals were served him regularly. After a week he was able to walk to the bathroom once daily. He be­came a changed man as my husband studied the Bible with him. He accepted the Sabbath truth and rejoiced in singing hymns of praise. Later it was arranged for him to receive hospitalization. Our last visit found him happy and firmly trusting in Jesus.

Space forbids telling in detail of many experi­ences connected with village nursing in Alaska. Nursing aid was given to 1,132 here in one year. Four to six cases come to my home daily for treat­ment of cuts, sore eyes, infections, sprains, burns, scabies, and amputated fingers. There are the babies to deliver, the school children to examine, and clinics for the syphilitic patients. The medical work combined with our evangelistic meetings, Bible studies, Sabbath school, and Missionary Vol­unteer work affords us a busy program with never a dull moment.

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By MRS. S. H. EMERY, R.N., Minister's Wife, Craig, Alaska

February 1945

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