Women tend to remain silent when it comes to illness, but a universal pandemic struck in 1918, killing more people than World War I, with a rate of 1.7 million deaths per week. With over half of those dying due to typhoid, a form of typhoid fever, a new generation of nurses, physicians, and midwives have little to do but kill off their patients and even their fellow nurses.
Today, an estimated half a million people die annually from a still-more-widely-spread disease, cholera. There are few as skilled as the men who could save the lives of so many women and girls.
Telling mothers what to do can be therapeutic. Nurses tended to their clients’ welfare for centuries. Repeated treatments of hosiery after an infected patient developed a wound on the calf went a long way to preventing fevers, and doctors allowed the mothers to keep their babies without risking loss if the patient relapsed. Today, as we move from childbearing to adulthood, women remain paramount on the world’s frontlines.
Nurses and midwives, like all other healthcare professionals, are more or less government employees, paid by a state, with a license to practice according to the state’s standards.
Illness can follow us anywhere; for instance, if we slip on steps while ascending a steep staircase, fear of fall prompts us to avoid those steps altogether. How would we feel if we got caught in a building collapse, or if our colleagues dragged us to the ground in a cold river? Equally debilitating, a diagnosis of infertility affects our personalities, our ability to function in life, our availability and pay as workers.
Perhaps most importantly, ill health is also an occasion for prayer, to be sought, to be prayed for, and to be healed.
In September 1918, during the course of World War I, the United States passed the Federal Nurses Act, imposing an obligation on nurses, to work sixteen-hour days and six-day weeks, to stay at least 10 days a year between shifts, and to submit two months’ pay each year for public health insurance.
The 1920 Act established the US Bureau of Public Health, which then contracted with workers to cover births and other pediatric services. American women continued to work in nursing homes until the Twenties, when employers abandoned them in the wake of infant mortality.
More recently, there has been a push in Japan to raise the retirement age from sixty for women born before 1950, to sixty-seven for women born after. The result is the largest caregiver population in the world. In Europe, the Tuscan health department warns that women suffering from fibromyalgia are at risk of passing the disease to their breast-feeding infants. Other countries may have a much greater age gap; French women, in particular, have a higher incidence of incontinence after childbirth.
In their section on “hermaphroditism, infertility, sterility, and the treatment of newborn babies”, the 2018 American Nurses Association Guide to Nursing Pathways discusses great lengths of operations and drugs to prevent implantation and to make babies live longer. The Guide lists renowned drugs like Herceptin, Taxol, and Rituxan. Studies show that these drugs, after removing the immune system, leave the human body vulnerable to the virus responsible for both the birthmark in the woman’s abdomen and the weakness in her limbs.
Caring for people in their worst moments has a priceless impact on life-long caregiving. Nurses become good friends, treating each other as a family after the casualties are gone. Doctors tend to patients of all ages. Group settlements, where nursing groups band together to fight illnesses, are an effective way to help needy people. In the end, well-trained healthcare professionals cannot compensate for individual behaviors, but, at the very least, they can offer a reassuring presence in a setting of suffering.