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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Mothers as Sick Nurses.

by Alice Powell.
Volume 4, 1893/94, pgs. 692-696


Now-a-days, in cases of acute illness the services of a professional sick nurse are considered almost as indispensable as the attendance of a doctor; and since nursing the sick is a science requiring especial study and experience it is well that amatueur nursing should be on the decline.

Nevertheless, it is only natural that mothers should often prefer nursing their sick children themselves; and that children should cling to their mothers in times of sickness is also only natural.

The question then is--Who makes the best nurse for children, the well--trained stranger or the less skilled mother?

When health is at stake we are apt to say, somewhat hastily, that sentiment must be put on one side, that the bodily welfare of the patient should alone claim our attention. But experience goes to prove that sentiment is a great moral force, and as such cannot be ignored in illness nor in health.

The tie existing between mother and child is too intimate to be lightly treated; and this being so, it is obvious that where the mother's technical skill is sufficient, where her influence over the child is good, and where her strength of mind, as well as her strength of body, is equal to the task, she is the best nurse for her ailing child. If she determine, for the time being, to be a sick--nurse first and a mother afterwards, all will be well. On the other hand, when the mother lacks the requisite qualities of a sick-nurse she must relinquish the sweet satisfaction of tending her children herself, and must deliver them up to one better fitted for the work. Spoiled children, who are unmanageable in health, do not become more tractable in sickness. Illness may cow the spirits but it does not alter the disposition; and as illness is not the time to correct former errors of training it is often imperative to call in outside help, for the simple reason that the mother has no power to enforce the necessary obedience. The strange nurse has no leeway to make up, and so can at once exact implicit obedience, thus ensuring the well-being of the patient and the comfort of the child.

Children are more difficult patients to treat than adults, because they are less able to define their symptoms, to express their feelings and to locate the pain.

For these reasons the amateur nursing of sick children is often a risky performance. The nurse has to incorporate herself, as it were, with the patient. She must express his feelings accurately. Her report of his condition must not be based upon mere surmise, but upon actual knowledge.

Children are, however, more placid under treatment than older people; and this is in their favour. They are not often troubled with nervous fears about their condition; their recovery is not impeded by mental worries, and they have implicit faith in the doctor's ability to cure them.

The correct diagnosis of children's ailments, often a difficult matter, may be retarded by vague suppositions or accelerated by accurate information. The past history of a patient is an important factor in the diagnosis of disease.

The time and place when symptoms of illness first appeared, what those premonitory symptoms were, and what, apparently, occasioned them: the child's normal habits must be compared with his present abnormal condition: the state of his appetite, his temper; even the abandoning of, or clinging to, favourite toys, are all things which need to be carefully noticed. Nothing is of no consequence. Often a point is missed because trivialities, so called, are pooh-poohed by the doctor. Where children are concerned, important issues hang on the tiniest threads; and this is especially noticeable in any brain trouble. Therefore, accurate observation and attention to the minutest detail is imperative.

Children locate pain badly, and mothers should be alive to the consequent inaccuracy of their statements; for often a slight indisposition develops into a serious illness through symptoms being mistaken and wrongly treated. We would impress upon all mothers the necessity of learning to diagnose children's diseases correctly. Doctors are not always at hand, and valuable time is frequently lost through ignorance in this particular.

Children's illnesses often occur very suddenly, and are consequently the more alarming. It should be remembered that fear is contagious, but that children do not fear illness as older people do because their experience of it is limited. To show oneself alarmed is therefore bad policy. It not only increases present evil, but gives rise to future trouble. To rush about in a distracted manner, calling father, aunts, servants, to interview the child; trying a variety of remedies with neither rhyme nor reason, does the child an infinity of harm. Such behaviour excites him, frightens him and gives him just cause to doubt the efficacy of all subsequent treatment. The exercise of a little self--control and common sense on the mother's part, when symptoms of illness first appear, would tend to obviate that wholesale demoralization which frequently attacks a household in times of serious illness.

Children who are old enough to reason, should be treated as reasonable beings in sickness as in health. Implicit obedience is essential, but it need not be arbitrarily exacted.

Children like to know what is the matter with them, they like to have their feelings explained, and they like to be told in what way the treatment they are undergoing will do them good. Above all, they want the active sympathy which our experience can alone give them. It is comforting to a child to know that what he suffers we have also suffered; that we have felt pain as acute as that which he has to bear, and that we know how painful it is to swallow with an ulcerated throat.

To carry out this sympathetic treatment consistently, and we maintain that it is the best, the kindest and the most satisfactory mode of treatment, we should ourselves try the remedies we have to apply to them. We should taste the medicine, to see if it be nauseous. We should test the heat of a poultice on ourselves to make sure that it is not too hot. If an unpleasant operation has to be performed--as the syringing of ears--it is distinctly wise to experiment first upon ourselves. A sudden rush of water into the ear, we should perhaps discover, for the first time, is painful, and we shall then be careful to use the syringe gently.

Ignorance, when knowledge can be so easily obtained, is culpable. Such ignorance is selfish and quite unpardonable.

If anything painful or troublesome has to be done, we should make our preparations silently and when possible out of sight, and then do it. We should never say, "Now, I am going to do so and so." We should not give the child time to think. Anticipation is often worse than realization in such cases.

We must induce the child to exert his strength of will to be brave and patient, and we can best encourage him to do so by appealing to his reason, and by constantly reminding him of the end in view, i.e. his restoration to health and strength.

Children quickly become delirious. It is not wise to treat delirious patients as if they were quite unconscious. Often they are capable of receiving impressions, and a wrong or bad impression at such a time is sometimes followed by disastrous effects. Nothing should be said that children may not hear whether they be conscious or unconscious. Whispered confidences, half-allusions, half-sounds and half-lights (a general subdued light is best for a sick room) are to be deprecated. Everything in the sick room should be open and above board, for children are imaginative little people, and they often suffer agonies because they but half understand or wrongly interpret what is going on around them.

Amateur nurses are apt to be fussy and over anxious. Fussiness is fatal to good nursing; over anxiety may lead to selfishness. For instance, anxious mothers are tempted to allay their anxiety by a too frequent reference to the clinical thermometer. Taking the temperature is a worrying business, and should not be indulged in for selfish satisfaction. Again, mothers should avoid appealing incessantly to the child's affection. Children who are ill have little power to think of anything outside themselves. The cry "Mother worries me with kisses" is not without reason.

One point we wish to bring before the notice of all nurses of sick children. It is this. The fear of death assails most children at some period of their childhood, and as illness is usually the forerunner of death it is not unnatural that they should sometimes connect their own illness with their own death. Children are generally reserved about matters which frighten them; therefore we should find out, with tact and discretion, if this fear be haunting them. If it be, the doctor is the best person to combat it. He speaks with an authority we have no power to assume, and his verdict will be accepted as satisfactory and conclusive.

We are well aware that there are many items connected with the subject of this article that we have been forced from want of space, to omit mentioning. We will, therefore, conclude with saying that it is our opinion that mothers are the proper persons to nurse their sick children, provided that they are capable of doing so thoroughly and efficiently, and we venture to think that the majority of mothers will agree with us. If death claims for his own some dear young life, what mother does not derive a sad comfort from the thought that it was her loving hands that ministered to that little child's every want; that it was upon her arm alone that his weary head rested; that it was upon her face that his wistful eyes ever fell? How bitter that mother's cup may be, it will be free from the most bitter element of all--remorse.

Again, if after long anxious days and long weary nights, the little one is restored to health, nothing can equal the sweet satisfaction a mother feels in the thought that is was she who eased his pain, she who soothed his restless days, and she who nursed him back to life again.