GENERAL ARTICLES

I CONQUERED T.B.

The dramatic story of a girl who learned that T.B. can be conquered only by surrender —to the right treatment

LEONORE WALTERS March 1 1943
GENERAL ARTICLES

I CONQUERED T.B.

The dramatic story of a girl who learned that T.B. can be conquered only by surrender —to the right treatment

LEONORE WALTERS March 1 1943

I CONQUERED T.B.

LEONORE WALTERS

THE DOCTOR shifted nervously in his chair and cleared his throat. “On examination of your X-rays, Miss Walters, we find evidence of pulmonary tuberculosis. Now that isn’t anything to become alarmed about these days,” he added hastily. “Modern methods of treatment are proving effective in an increasingly large percentage of cases, and there is no reason why you should not make a good recovery if you will co-operate.”

I knew he was trying not to scare me, making the picture as hopeful as he could. I felt no shock of fear, no alarm. Indeed I felt nothing at all at first, other than a mild surprise and a vague sense of relief—relief to know definitely what this dreadful thing was that, had corne over me during the past year. It had come so gradually—just a feeling of tiredness, irritability and lack of appetite at first, then frequent colds accompanied by a slight cough. A few months later I had had a severe attack of pleurisy and it wasn’t until then that I began to realize that something was wrong which a good night’s sleep couldn’t cure.

Occasionally I would be bothered with spells of nausea, and, as I ate less and less, these spells became more and more frequent. I lost weight rapidly. Then one day I had fainted. A doctor was called, who prescribed a tonic and a few days’ rest, and told me that if I didn’t feel better in a week or two I should have a thorough physical examination to find out if there was anything organically wrong.

And now this was the result of the examination. Pulmonary tuberculosis! The words sounded strange and unfamiliar as applied to myself. It just didn’t seem to fit a strong healthy girl as I had been all my life until the year before.

“I would advise that you enter a sanatorium as soon as possible for a few months’ rest,” the doctor was speaking again. At his words I felt the first stab of anger and resentment and fear—a feeling which was to increase and become a very part of me in the months and years ahead.

“I can’t afford it,” I replied. “I am self-supporting, and if I stop working, I stop earning. I just can’t afford sanatorium treatment.” If I had known then what I know now I would have raised that money—begged it, borrowed it—I would have got it somehow, and saved myself years of unnecessary

bitterness and struggle. But I didn’t know. The doctor said something about it being better to spend two or three hundred dollars on sanatorium treatment now and have my health back, than to become totally incapacitated and perhaps have to spend considerably more later on. But his words fell on deaf ears. The thought of stopping work and having no money coming in at all appalled me.

The very word “sanatorium”filled mewith horror. I conjured up a ghastly mental picture of thin, emaciated victims of the dread “white plague,” dragging themselves painfully around an institution much like a prison or an insane asylum, shaken and racked with dreadful coughing spells, carrying little tin sputum cups around with them in which they expectorated frequently. In my ignorance I thought of a sanatorium as a last resort, a place of refuge for hopeless cases, where the poor pitiful creatures went to end their days.

I wonder how many hundreds of other people have faced or are now facing this same problem—

The dramatic story of a girl who learned that T.B. can be conquered only by surrender —to the right treatment

people sick, tired, discouraged, without financial resources beyond the salaries they earn from week to week. I know so well their poignant suffering and fearful thoughts, and if anything I can say now will give courage to even one of them my nine years’ struggle against tuberculosis will have been of some use.

It Can Happen To You

IN THESE wartimes many thousands are being employed in war industries, working harder and longer than they ever have before. Regular com-

mercial enterprises are shorthanded and those who remain have to work harder and longer than ever before. With the high pressure and nervous tension under which so many people work these days, the strain is apt to be too great for some. Rush and hurry, fatigue and worry, irregular hours, hastily eaten or even skipped meals, a generally run-down condition, perhaps a heavy cold or attack of pleurisy, and before the victim is aware of it the little tubercle bacillus has gained a foothold. This can happen to anybody—make no mistake about that.

Just because one is an outdoor worker doesn’t preclude the possibility of tuberculosis. This may be a surprise to many people who have thought of T.B. as a disease of congested city areas. Tuberculosis is found more often among city dwellers in congested areas, but it is also found among carpenters, shipbuilders, truck drivers, farmers, and many others whose work keeps them in the open air.

With the call going forth for an all-out effort for victory on the part of every citizen, it is a patriotic duty for each one of us to keep well. If a person does find himself losing his grip he should see a doctor right away and find out what is the matter and correct it. Remember, tuberculosis can be cured much more easily and quickly when caught in its early stages. It took me nine years to overcome a disease which might have been arrested in a few months if I hadn’t had a lot of wrong ideas about what was the right course to take.

It is difficult for a well person to understand the mental state of a sick person. Some friends avoid you through fear of infection. Others feel sorry for you, but unpleasant things are so distasteful, and they too soon start avoiding you. I had one wellmeaning friend who said to me, “Why, that’s awful. I think I would commit suicide if a doctor told me I had T.B.!” You soon learn to keep your trouble to yourself. You struggle along, guarding the awful secret from employer and landlord and everybody you meet. Fear becomes a constant companion— fear of the future. I know. I have been through it.

The prime requisite for curing tuberculosis is rest, as any doctor will tell you. To a well person, stopping work for a minute or two every once in a while and taking a few long slow deep breaths, or sitting down in an easy chair for five minutes, perhaps enjoying a cigarette, constitutes a real rest; and to lie down for an hour or so is being downright lazy. But for a tuberculosis patient to try to cure himself in this way would be like trying to fill a swimming pool with water by means of an eyedropper. It just won’t work.

At the time of which I am writing, nine years ago, my work involved long, irregular hours and much travelling. I gave up this job and secured office work, nine to five, five days a week. For a time, with the shorter hours of work and the regular life I led, my health seemed to improve. I gained weight and felt much better. But it wasn’t enough. After a few weeks I ceased to gain, and then gradually began to lose ground again. My normally healthy constitution had tried valiantly but I just didn’t give it enough co-operation. If I had gone to a sanatorium when my doctor first advised it I would have come out in a few months, rested, refreshed, with a new lease on life.

After three years what had started as a spot and gradually grown into an active lesion had now become a cavity, and other spots and lesions had appeared. My doctor asked me if I would agree to consult a tuberculosis specialist in whom he had great confidence. I said I would—and then things began to happen. Almost before I knew it, I found myself in hospital. The new doctor started pneumothorax treatment—collapse of the lung by means of injecting sterile air through a needle into the space between the lung and the pleura—to give my lung an enforced rest. Expensive? Yes, it was, and I had to pay for it. I got the money by borrowing—the first of many borrowings thereafter. That one week in hospital, together with the bill for the initial treatment, and the X-rays, etc., came to enough to have paid for two or three months of sanatorium treatment.

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Once the pneumothorax treatment was started, I came home from the hospital and went back to work again. At first I needed treatment every other day, then twice a week, and then just once a week.

Hard to Take

I BEGAN to realize that taking pneumothorax treatments, working full time in an office, and doing my own housework was a pretty big order. The effect of the pneumo treatments was to make me very short of breath. There was a feeling of tightness or pressure in my chest and breathing was difficult, and when I became overtired, as I often did, the pressure turned into a dull pain which became more intense as fatigue progressed.

It is hardly to be wondered at that I began to develop symptoms of nervousness. I would weep at the slightest provocation, I was excitable and short-tempered, my hands trembled so violently that I had to use both hands to guide a glass or cup to my lips. I had great difficulty getting to sleep at night and I was considerably distressed by a rapid heavy heart beat which seemed to shake my whole body.

The upshot of it all was that I left my job. I decided not to spend another winter in the East, and made my plans to move to California. When I told my doctor he said climate didn’t make much difference to tuberculosis, but I had my heart set on going.

I spent two years in California. As my slim store of funds grew slimmer I tried hunting for a job. I managed to secure various part-time and temporary jobs, doing all sorts of things, from proofreading for a publishing company to modelling for fashion shows. I managed to keep soul and body together. During the whole time I was taking pneumothorax treatments. Two years of living from hand to mouth was all I could stand and I felt that I wasn’t making any progress—just barely holding my own. So I decided to give up and go home to Alberta.

Soon after my arrival in Calgary, I started working again, full time, and continued with my pneumothorax treatments. Imagine my surprise to learn that there would be no charge for these treatments ! In the Province of Alberta, as well as in some other provinces of the Dominion, tuberculosis treatment is furnished free of charge. After working for nearly three years I began to realize that I was slipping again, and was finally persuaded to enter a sanatorium for a real rest cure.

Sanatoriums Can Be Pleasant

THAT was the beginning of a new life for me. I had to unlearn many erroneous ideas. It was a cold, snowy, blustery day early in November that I entered the sanatorium. I was introduced to the head nurse of the infirmary and shown to my room. It was really two rooms separated by a glass partition. The inside

room, which we entered first, contained a combination dresser and wardrobe and a radiator. The outside room, called a “porch,” contained the high hospital bed, a chair, and a bedside table. The covers were turned back on the bed, the bed light was turned on, and it looked very inviting. I got undressed, into my pyjamas and climbed into bed. The nurse came with a hot water bottle and a clinical thermometer, and proceeded to give me a few instructions regarding the use of a sputum cup, the disposal of waste paper and refuse, the taking of my temperature morning, afternoon and evening, and various other little items, and then I was left alone.

There was a set of radio earphones hanging on a hook near the head of the bed, and I found a musical program under way. What a wonderfully luxurious feeling of peace and rest, to lie comfortably in bed, propped up with pillows, idly turning the pages of a magazine, and listening to soft music on the radio ! Soon a girl came in with my supper tray. A delicious meal, and I didn’t have to raise a finger or walk a step to get it ! To my surprise I found that in spite of my poor appetite I was able to eat all the food on the tray and enjoy it.

No Emaciated Wrecks

I SPENT nearly a week in that single room. A doctor dropped in to see me twice a day on his regular rounds, and the nurses showed me every care and consideration. Then I was moved in to a six-bed porch. This was the first time I had had an opportunity to see sanatorium patients firsthand and close-up.

To my great surprise I found not the sick, emaciated, miserable wrecks I had expected, but five healthylooking, handsome young women! On my right was a blonde girl who had recently undergone a thoracoplasty—an operation in which sections of some of her ribs were removed and the lung permanently collapsed. She was now sufficiently recovered to be promoted that very day to Infirmary Four in another building. On my left was a girl who was taking pneumothorax treatments similar to my own. She reminded me of Joan Crawford and had a sparkling, scintillating personality. Beyond her was another very pretty girl who had been a nurse before entering the sanatorium. Behind me were two young mothers, one of whom had actually borne her baby there at the sanatorium.

I listened to the gay conversation going on around me, the bright chatter about clothes and hair-dos and men, the jokes about everything under the sun, including T.B., and I was amazed. This certainly wasn’t what I had expected a tuberculosis sanatorium to be like. These seemed like such normal girls.

Another thing which struck me was the fact that they all spoke and thought and planned for the time when they would be getting out of the sanatorium and taking up normal

lives again. Thought of the future was certainly a new angle to me. I had been so busy struggling against the disease, trying not to get any sicker than I already was, that I hadn’t had time to think of the future in terms of getting well again.

I lived on that porch for about two months, spending Christmas there. During that time I saw a number of patients come and go. They would come in scared and miserable just as I had been, but in a few days they would perk up, and in a few weeks be moved on to Infirmary Four.

Infirmary Four! To those of us who remained behind in Infirmary Two, those two words symbolized progress, success.

The day finally dawned when the nurse announced that I was to be moved to Infirmary Four that afternoon. Of course I was terribly happy, but I was sorry too to leave the friends in my porch. However we parted with a “See you soon,” and I rode out of the porch and down the elevator in a wheel chair, tottered out to a waiting automobile, and rode in state the few hundred feet to the next building, Infirmary Four. Here I was placed in a nine-bed porch where I already knew one of the girls who had been promoted from our old porch in Infirmary Two, so I didn’t feel completely strange.

The first thing that struck me here was the fact that many of the girls were able to get up several times a day. I had been allowed up once a day, for a few minutes. After living for two months where the patients got up not at all, or only once a day like myself, it startled me to see people getting up and putting on their housecoats and walking around at stated times in the day. At certain intervals, approximately two weeks apart, the doctor would give orders to the nurse for the promotion of individual patients—-that is, allowing them a little more activity. After a number of promotions a patient would be moved on to Infirmary Five, which was the symbol of progress here. Of course we all waited breathlessly on “promotion days” for the nurse’s announcements.

I waited along with the others, but I didn’t get any promotions until I had been in Infirmary Four for five months. At last I was allowed up twice a day, and shortly afterward, on a wonderful spring day late in May, I was moved to Infirmary Five. From then on, promotions came more or less rapidly, and in eight more months I was sent home.

Time Out For Hobbies

INSTEAD of being a long long period of misery, loneliness and suffering, my stay at the sanatorium had been replete with interest and activity. I had made many new friends whom it has been a joy and privilege to know. Also there was ample time for reading, and I took advantage of my opportunity to read not only novels and magazine stories, but biography, history and current events. Indeed I believe we patients at the sanatorium were more familiar with world problems and events than many people “outside,” because we had more opportunity for reading,

listening to the radio, and discussing things that were happening in the world.

Apart from reading and listening to the radio, our activities included playing games such as bridge, cribbage, checkers, working out crossword and jigsaw puzzles; sewing, crocheting and other forms of fancy work; making scrapbooks of various kinds, and a great deal of knitting for theRed Cross. “Up” patients were shown movies in the recreation room twice a month, billiards for the men patients, occasional parties and concerts, and the big garden party in the summer.

For those who wished to continue with their school work, or possibly learn shorthand and typewriting, there was a teacher available and courses of study could be arranged. There were art classes for those interested in painting and drawing. In short, there is no excuse for any patient to find sanatorium life dull or to feel that he is useless—on the shelf -during his period of rest cure.

Since leaving the sanatorium I have gone back at regular stated intervals for a check-up. Seven months after getting out I was permitted to start back to work as a stenographer.

Is It Brave to “Carry On?”

IT IS inevitable that there should be an increase in tuberculosis in times like these, but we mustn’t let it become a serious menace. I know that people are apt to say, “My country needs me. I must carry on even though I am ill.” Certainly our country needs us, but it needs strong, well people, not sickly invalids.

It is hard to tell any man or woman, in these exciting epochmaking times, that he or she must stay in bed and take no active part in what is going on, but that is exactly what T.B. patients should do. Many would be well and able to resume work again before the wards over if they would start treatment now. Others will not be able to resume work until after victory has been won, but our country will need many workers in the postwar period of reconstruction.

During recent years important steps have been taken in most of the provinces to enable tuberculosis patients to have free or partially free treatment, so that lack of money need not prevent anyone in Canada from securing adequate treatment. In Alberta and Saskatchewan treatment is free to all patients, the expense being cared for by the Provincial Government. In Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia it is free for most people, only a very small percentage of patients being required to pay anything. In Quebec and the Maritimes a larger percentage of patients have to pay for their treatment, but people who have very little money need pay only part of the expense, and people who absolutely can’t afford to pay anything can get free treatment.

So if your doctor tells you that you have tuberculosis, don’t waste time. Go to the sanatorium just as quickly as they can give you a bed. It is certainly worth it.