THE HERNIA BROTHERHOOD - A BRIGAND CHIEF UNDER AN ANESTHETIC

Еxcerpt from: "CERTAIN SAMARITANS" BY ESTHER POHL LOVEJOY, NEW YORK, THE MACMILLAN COMPANY, 1927

Under the direction of Dr. Gray, assisted by Drs. Hazel D. Bonness, May T. Stout, Marguerite White, Mary N. Bercea and Miss Freda Frost, head nurse and general supervisor, with a corps of American nurses, Veles became an Important medical center, especially for surgical work and children’s diseases. Patients came from all directions, sometimes walking for miles and reaching the hospital in a state of complete exhaustion. We have a report of one boy who walked fifteen days slowly leading his sister, who could not see, to the eye clinic. Many of the sick and disabled came in ox-carts, or on donkeys, and those who could not afford to pay for lodgings at the world’s worst hotels sat outside the hospital walls and waited until beds were vacated.
Chronic surgical cases had been accumulating in that district for years. Such hernias! The country had been stripped of its horses, and men and women had become pack animals. Under the heavy weights which these burden bearers carried on their backs their abdominal walls gave way, and all kinds of hernias resulted, some of which were of enormous size, containing part of the abdominal viscera.
Without treatment these unfortunate people got worse or died. If the rupture was small and an intestinal loop became strangulated, the victim suffered agony and died promptly. But where strangulation did not occur, the abdominal contents escaped, little by little, through the opening, and the hernia increased in size month after month and year after year.
Dr. Gray, in her surgical cap and gown, with a choice selection of scalpels, forceps, scissors, needles and thread, bandages and anaesthetics, was a popular lady with the hernia brotherhood. One after another they came to be operated upon and sometimes sat in the court for a week waiting for a bed.
A Comitadji chieftain from the mountains, a regular “he-man” with emphasis on the he, appeared at the hospital one fine morning. Everybody knew him and made way. With his band of brigands he had helped take the Bubuna Pass from the Bulgarians, and this service had glorified a criminal record of many years. Like Drake, Morgan and other dear old pirates and bandits of the past, whose natural gifts and initiative had been developed in active private practice, he was highly qualified when the time came to answer his country’s call.
This nationally acknowledged dare-devil, and leader of dare-devils, looked the part as he walked among the common men in the hospital court. Times had been hard for several years, but he wasn’t wearing any cast-off American clothes. The Macedonian costume was his native dress, and he was proud of its color and its cut. It had a style of its own. Every part of his picturesque suit, from cap to opankes (sandals), bristled with personality. His movements had grace and swank. In physical type he stood between Apollo and Hercules, with an “eye like Mars to threaten and command.” The sound of his voice was known and feared in the Macedonian mountains, and great was the curiosity in the men’s ward and the women’s ward when it was whispered that he, too, had a weak spot, an Achilles’ heel, as It were, in his groin.
Men, guns or governments had no terrors for our brigand chief. His life had been an open defiance of constituted authority, but the first whiff of ether In the distance and he was a changed man. He had heard about the stuff and he was afraid it would get him unaware. The hernia threatened his life, and worse. It would make him a physical weakling, therefore he had decided to take the chance, live or die. But he didn’t want to die ingloriously breathing devil fumes. Milder than a lamb for the sacrifice, he allowed the assistants to strap him to the operating table.
Fortunately, they strapped him well, for after the first few whiffs of ether he found himself In his fiercest mood, and if his arms had been free he might have reached out a giant hand and wrung somebody’s neck. His language was not understood, but his tone and vehemence were piratical, strangely suggesting a North Pacific whaler of the old school, trained before the mast, in the first throes of an anaesthetic.
The American nurse giving the ether could not pronounce his Macedonian name, but Willie Is a good name for all big men who are afraid in the dark, and over and over in a low mothering croon, she repeated: “Breathe it In, Willie, there’s a good boy. Don’t be afraid, take a long breath.” Gradually his violence subsided, his aspect changed and another dangerous personality emerged. This bad boy brigand turned good. There was method in his murmurs. He was going on a long journey through a strange country where there were evil spirits, werewolves and all kinds of unknown dangers. He was afraid to go alone. Perhaps he could coax one of these women to go with him. His voice became soft, cajoling, pleading and irresistible, as drop by drop the ether fell on the cone over his mouth. The little Macedonian nurse understood his language. After the manner of women, she felt sorry for this strong, weak man, so she slipped her hand into his and he held tight to this world while he floated away into oblivion — and when he came back he hadn’t any hernia.

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