Publications

Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)


My Life

I was asked to write about growing up in Berlin in more detail since it differs considerably from the American experience.

I was born in the north-east part of Berlin in 1910. It was a part of the city that was inhabited mostly by blue collar and white collar workers and small business people. This section was built after the Prussian-French War [Franco—Prussian War] (1870-71); after this war, the German Empire under Emperor William [Wilhelm] I was founded. The streets in my neighborhood were named after victorious [German] battles; for example, I lived at Metzerstrasse, corner Weissenburgerstrasse. The  streets were wide and often lined with trees or even a central promenade. The houses were five stories high, as was usual in Berlin, and most facades were sandstone; the wide portals were framed by imposing mystical pseudo-Greek figures. However, once one walked though this grand entrance one came to a backyard, which was surrounded by the so called Hinterhauser, which were more modest even primitive dwellings, whose apartments often lacked private toilets and bathrooms.

The house I was born and grew up in was a corner house facing a small park, Senefelder Platz, where a statue honoring Alois Senefelder, the inventor of lithography [1798] was installed. We lived in a six--room apartment on the second floor (considered the third floor in America [the ground floor was not  a “floor”]). The rooms were very large and had high ceilings. We  had cold running water, but no hot water or central heating. Each room had a large stove which almost reached the ceiling; they were faced with majolica tiles. Although beautiful to look at they were very difficult to heat. Early in the morning the maid would light a fire the briquettes in the stoves; the briquettes, consisted of pressed coal dust, and each one weighed a  pound. They were carried up the stairs to our apartment by the coal delivery man, one hundred pieces at a time, and piled in a dark corner of a closet.

The entrance to the apartment was through a wide door into a good sized foyer. The door was lined on the inside with iron sheets painted brownish-red to prevent any break-ins, which were quite common after The First World War. A corridor ran the length of the apartment form the foyer to the kitchen with doors leading to the various rooms. The kitchen was about 20 by 15 feet, its floor was covered with small blue and white tiles and the walls, half way up, with Dutch tiles. Two large windows looked out on a court yard. There was also a small chamber, the larder or speisekammer,  which had a window; all food was stored in it. We did not have an icebox or a refrigerator. The kitchen was cool in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, and my mother would wear several layers of wool clothing, woolen stockings and heavy shoes when she was busy in the kitchen. Next to the kitchen was my parents’ bedroom; then my father's office and a waiting room; the corner room was the dining room. It had five large windows, and in the winter it was impossible to heat. Later on [date not specified] my parents added a small anthracite stove in one corner of the dining room. This stove sufficed to heat the room. On the upper part of a large sliding door, there were large etched glass panels decorated with a landscape depicting swans in a lake. The imagery was designed in Art Nouveau style, which was modish for that period. The door led into the Salon which was used only when we had guests, since the dining room was spacious enough for a couch, armchairs, and a dark oak closet that reached to the ceiling and peculiarly enough had mirrors at the top. I have seen this kind of furniture in America in the Roosevelt home at Hyde Park. The Salon had a balcony which we used in the summer having our meals outside, enjoying the sun and the evening breezes. When my parents needed another room so that I would have a room of my own, the waiting room was divided by a wall making two medium sized rooms of one large one. I also had my own balcony.

I was born in my parent's bedroom, my father and an uncle, who was also a physician, and a midwife were in attendance, and also a wet-nurse, who for one year supplied the mother's milk. I never drank from a bottle. When I was grown up I was told that after the wet-nurse left I was given a bottle but used it for play. I learned immediately how to drink from a glass. As was common at that time a nursemaid took care of me. Even when I started school a governess would come in the afternoon to supervise my homework, and when I was smaller, she put me to bed. This may sound as if my parents were very distant, but this was not the case. We ate our meals together and we went on visits or outings on Sunday.

The first World War started in July 1914. I vaguely remember when that occurred. [My mother was four years old in 1914.] We had been vacationing in a mountain resort when suddenly everybody started to disappear; we too took an overcrowded train to return to Berlin. My father, at that time, was in his late forties and was not called to serve in the army, but he had a very busy practice. I can still remember that in or about 1916 an epidemic of small pox broke out in Germany, probably introduced from the Eastern front, where typhus and typhoid were rampant. At that time we had only enough briquettes  to heat the examination room and my parent's bedroom. My father vaccinated  patients with four vertical incisions about a quarter of an inch long in the arm—this was still the method taught me in medical school in 1934. Then the patient was sent into the bedroom to sit on chairs until the vaccination dried. In the midst of all this to-do in the room, I sat at my little desk and learned to write the alphabet, my mother sitting next to me saying "up, down." I still have my first book where I wrote my letters. I remember it as a very cold winter, and in school we sat with our coats and gloves on.

Now I must explain the school system in Berlin, which may have been different from those in other German cities. From the beginning, boys and girls were separated. We started school at the age of six. As far as I know there were no public kindergartens, although some private ones may have existed. The first day of school was a very traumatic for me. I cried and the other children stared at me.

The school system consisted of two distinct branches. One branch, the Gemeindeschule or free trade school, was intended to prepare a child for a trade. Entry began at six and continued until the fourteenth year, when graduation occurred. No foreign languages were taught; emphasis was placed on the three R's, and on history and geography; science education was minimal. Students who had studied at the Gemeindeschule continued their education in trade schools. The other system consisted of relatively inexpensive private schools; scholarships were available for children who could not pay the fee and who were intelligent. Girls went to lyceums from which they graduated at age sixteen. Afterwards, many attended special schools which trained them as secretaries, nurses, teachers, and so forth. A few girls would continue their education in a Gymnasium; for example my class consisted of only eight students. Graduation was at nineteen. French, English, Latin, advanced mathematics, history, philosophy, and Geography were taught, but only rudimentary chemistry, physics and biology. To graduate one had to pass the dreaded Abitur examination, which was written and oral. After graduation from Gymnasium one could attend any university in any field one wished.

Boys attended a Gymnasium, which they often left at sixteen and entered the business world in one way or another or they would continue their education until the age eighteen or nineteen, when they, too, had to take their abitur examination.

When I was seven years old, I became seriously ill in the fall of 1916, having gone to school from the beginning of spring of 1916. I probably had a septic sore throat --sepsis was not  recognized  in that period—which developed into a kidney infection. In pre-antibiotic time the condition was considered incurable. Looking back at the treatment it was really heroic and I must have had an excellent constitution to survive it. When my temperature became extremely high I would be wrapped in linen sheets that had been soaked thoroughly in ice cold water. Then I was administered hot tea with lemon and covered with several blankets to make me sweat. This treatment is mentioned in the earliest medical texts and changed little over millennia; in the twentieth century antibiotics revolutionized treatment and brought about favorable outcomes. As the fever subsided, the patient in a very weakened condition.

Eventually, I recovered after several months, but had to keep a special diet for many years. I  lost half a school year and in September 1917 transferred to a school near home. There were over forty girls in one class and I made new friends. My favorite subjects were history and German. I adored my history teacher, a tall buxom blond blue eyed woman, a typical Aryan ideal. I scratched her initials E. K. on my desk, on every windowsill and in other places. I would get up early in the morning in order to stand at the trolley--car stop, waiting for her arrival. She must have been an excellent teacher who awoke in me a love for history, and inspired me to read history books far beyond my age. In contrast to her, I hated and feared my English teacher. When she came into the classroom I forgot everything I had learned at my lesson at home. All through that year I had terrible nightmares and slept poorly, but nobody noticed. I later found out that several other pupils had also gone through this ordeal. When my mother went to school for one of the parent-teacher interviews, she told me how much that particular teacher liked me, and, as a matter of fact, I was her favorite pupil, but it was too late, and I was glad when the following year a new teacher replaced her. After four years at this school, I transferred to the Gymnasium, which was about a twenty--minute walk from home in a rather rundown neighborhood of Berlin; it was there that I encountered the seamier side of the city. After a while I knew every prostitute along the way; they pursued their trade beginning early in the morning. The prostitutes never bothered schoolchildren. Beggars, however, would ask for handouts for these were hard times. Inflation in the early twenties had caught up with us.

In 1918, Emperor William II fled to Holland and a revolution began, starting in Hamburg and Kiel, harbor cities; sailors were the first to revolt. A few years later a book by a well--known author was to be published, Der Kaiser Ging, Die Generale Blieben (The Emperor Leaves, the Generals Remain). In hindsight,  that the revolution was not thorough enough, since it allowed generals like Hindenburg, who later became president of Germany, and Ludendorf, the right--wing leader of the Deutschnationale Party, to take over the government and to let Hitler and Nazism grow wild until, eventually, they took over the government of the country.

Before I continue my account of my school years, I want to go back to my childhood, my parents, and my family.  

My mother was born and grew up in a small town in West Prussia close to the Polish border. She had an older sister and a brother. As a child she was sent to attend a lyceum in a nearby town and only came home for vacation. She was a beautiful girl with long blond hair, blue eyes, and a fine cut face. I still have her school certificates; she received A's in all her courses. When she was sixteen she was sent to Berlin to live in and attend a girl's pensionat in order to learn the fine arts of being a lady. She was called back home, however, when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and dying. That year left an indelible impression on her. Her older sister had married young and moved away; her brother was studying medicine in Berlin, and she was left alone with her father who wanted her company. Her friends had married and had left the town; it must have been a lonely youth, indeed, until she married at the age of twenty three, which was considered rather late at that time.  

My father, too, grew up in a small town, but the family was large and there were lots of young people around. He, too, was sent away to attend a Gymnasium, and here, too, I have my father's certificates! He was an average C student, and there are comments that he did not work to his full capacity and was inattentive. However, he graduated and attended medical school.

In Germany, you could study at a different university each semester, if you wished; my father took full advantage of this provision. He was in Munich, Griefswald, Wurzburg, and Berlin; he received his degree from last-named university. His certificates indicate that he studied with the most famous medical scientists of his day, including Rudolf Virchow.

He opened his first office in a small town north of Berlin, near the North Sea, where he built up a general practice, driving around in a horse-drawn buggy drawn and accompanied by a
dachshund. He did small surgery, obstetrics, set bones, and pulled teeth, which he enjoyed most of all. But life was lonely, especially for a young Jewish doctor; he decided to move to Berlin, where he opened an office in a working class  neighborhood. His office was on the main floor of an apartment house, which was rather uncommon in Berlin. A woman, Frau Schmidt, kept house for him, cooked, and took care of him, and, from the stories I heard later on he seemed to have enjoyed a pleasant bachelor life. His nephews, being of his own age, used my father's residence when they went to Berlin, and often would enter the apartment through a window, when they did not have the key.

When my father was forty he gave up this lifestyle to marry. There was a big wedding party, and I still have the printed menu with the wine list and the names of the songs that were played. My parents settled in Berlin in the apartment where I was born and in which I grew up until I left for America in 1935.
As I have written before, my father was a general practitioner, a good old--fashioned family physician who took care of patients day and night. It was a rare night when the night-bell attached to the downstairs entrance did not ring. My father would look out the window, the person would call out loudly that somebody was sickl and would wait in the street until my father got dressed, took his medical satchel, and went downstairs to accompany the caller to his home. I never heard my father complain about his disturbed sleep.

A general health insurance, die Krankenkassen, had been introduced by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in 1871. This was in response to a certain restlessness among the workers and white-- collar workers, including civil servants, . . . . . [for] a comprehensive health insurance, which also included sanatoriums, mainly for tuberculosis patients, and “recovery” homes, where patients would be sent often after a serious illness or operation by his treating physician. These kinds of institutions are still very common in Germany and are usually connected with spas today. Later, after the First World War, private health insurances developed but never became significant. Medical care on the whole was not very expensive. However, I can remember when the physicians went on strike against the general health insurance in the early 1920's, when they were very poorly paid. The patients had to pay in cash, since paying by check did not exist and only after I came to America did I learn about checks. My father never kept an account book. He had a calendar on his desk and would write down, without recording names, the sums of money he received. When,  much later he had a tax examination, the examiner threw up his hands and said he had never seen such book--keeping, but he did not have to pay any additional  taxes. If patients could not pay he would never refuse to treat them or send out bills. He relied on the honesty of the person and I think in the long run in paid
off.

When I was a child, my father liked me to accompany him on his rounds of visits. These were neighborhood calls, and I enjoyed going with him. When we arrived at the patient's apartment house he would take me to the nearest candy store or grocery, buy me some sweets, and ask the owner to let me wait in the store until he picked me up. So we would go from one patient to another, and I would reap my rewards. Until the end, my father remained a dedicated physician. When, in January 1937, my parents visited us in New York, a representative from the Jewish council in New York visited us to  urge us not to let my parents go back to Hitler's Germany. But my father refused to stay: "Whenever Hitler will not allow me to practice anymore there will be many Jews, who will need medical help. I have to go back," he said. Who could have believed that Hitler would kill everyone of them in concentration camps. Luckily, my father died in December 1937, after a gallbladder surgery, otherwise he would have perished in a camp together with his patients. My mother joined my husband and me in Brooklyn in May 1938.  In my childhood, the most significant event was the First World War. All I that I can recall when it started were flag-lined streets flags that were put up after each German victory and when the German army was victorious when it marched through Belgium and northern France. Then that stopped. My father only hung the flag of Turkey, a German ally,  from the window. He was an ardent democrat and hated the Emperor and all that he stood for. The allied blockade made itself felt, and soon the German people, especially in cites began to starve. Rationing was introduced early and long lines formed at groceries and butcher shops. I don't remember ever going hungry, but daily fare consisted of  potatoes and turnips. Cakes and bread were baked with and from turnips; even today I cannot eat turnips and their smell makes me slightly sick. Bread looked gray and lumpy with a wide water streak under the crust, since  bakers were allowed to use a certain amount of water in their dough. Milk never had cream in it, and when I left in 1935, dairy farmers were allowed to put a certain percentage of water into the utensil into which milk from the cows was gathered. The first time that I saw a bottle of milk with cream on top before the milk was homogenized was after my arrival in New York. No wonder I did not like to drink milk. During the time I was very sick in 1916-1917, I was allowed an extra ration of sugar and butter. My father insured that all sick and elderly patients had extra food by filling out forms for them. But food was hard to come by. My mother canned fruit and vegetables when they were in season. Sugar was non-- existent and a substitute was developed. The substitute of butter, margarine, was white and could only be used for cooking. Luckily, we had relatives living on farms in the countryside who could provide us with some additional food. We would occasionally receive a larger package of chicken or geese or a homemade salami which helped to get some variety into our diet. Fruit was plentiful in its seasons, but I knew bananas and oranges only from pictures; only years after the war they became  available at markets. We froze in the winter. It seems the winters were harder in my youth. Frostbite of fingers and toes were common, and in school we often sat with our coats and gloves on. By November 1918 the war was over, followed by the revolution. By then I was 8 years old and can remember exactly what happened.         

The call "windows closed, street free," was the warning that there would be shooting in the streets. My father would go out to visit patients with a red-cross band around his arm. There were parts in Berlin, especially in west Berlin where there was no sign of  revolution and life went on peacefully. Since then, street fighting has become more atrocious and the  bombing of houses commonplace, but the revolution in Berlin was bloody enough to leave indelible memories.

When I was twelve years old, I transferred to the Gymnasium which was a twenty minute walk from home. We went to school from 8 or 9 o'clock in the morning to 1 or 2 in the afternoon six days a week. We had several hours of homework, but school and homework left me enough leisure time. I had "grazien" lessons, where we learned how to walk and sit gracefully together with gymnastic exercises and by the age of fifteen and sixteen I had dancing lessons, which were given on Saturday afternoon in alternating private homes. We were about twelve couples and on Sunday we would get together by ourselves and dance. Lasting friendships were formed.

During my teenage years the German mark lost its value. We learned algebra by counting in millions and billions. Inflation was so extreme that if a neighborhood store would sell a pot or any other utensil, they would close the store, so that for one day the owners could live on the money that they had earned, but the merchandise could not be replaced. One really lived from day to day, since money in the bank lost its value and by the time people were paid their salary it was worthless. School books were not free, as in America, and I remember vividly going from one bookstore to another to find second--hand books for school. When people here speak of inflation they really don't know what they are talking about. What we are now experiencing is deflation, which is bad enough, but inflation, one has to be experienced to understand. Germans papered their apartment walls with this worthless money. Inflation lasted until the Dowes Plan was introduced and the mark was stabilized.

This situation created circumstances that allowed for the emergence of the Nazi Party. The National Socialist Party, started in Munich in 1922, was directed by an unknown Viennese housepainter Adolf Hitler, who in 1923 was put into prison. There he wrote Mein Kampf, a book that was read by too few people and ridiculed by his enemies. He was released from prison after one year, in 1923.         
In my youth in Berlin politics played an important part in our thinking. The plays we attended, the poetry we read often expressed a political viewpoint. The success of the Three Penny Opera and other plays by Brecht impressed us deeply; anti-war plays were successful and so were poems by Ernst Toller, and other young poets. We formed a group that got together on Sunday afternoon to listen to poems that were recited by promising young actors, most of whom were murdered by the Nazis. When Paul von Hindenburg was elected President, and the rightwing of the government became stronger and stronger, we had a fist fight in class. The Twenties were turbulent political times in Germany and we took participated in them.  

Still, there was also enough time to fall in and out of love many times. I loved to dance and one of my cousins, who was a young medical student and who belonged to a Zionist student organization would take me to their social functions, and there were plenty of young men to choose from. I never missed not having a brother. At a certain time in my life school was secondary to my other interests. I worked just enough to get through to the next grade. I was very good in German and History and poor in higher mathematics. I was also good in religion, the only "A" I received in my final Abitur examination.       

Religion, not religious ideas, was taught in school twice a week. Jewish children went into a different classroom where we learned Hebrew, read the Bible, and studied Jewish history. The other children had their religious lessons in another I classroom. There were no Roman Catholics in our class, and few altogether in Berlin. Parents who did not want their children to have religious lessons, and there were some atheists among them, were excused. As we got older we asked our teacher to stop teaching Hebrew and instead have more modern Jewish history. So it came about that we Jewish girls developed more and more friendships among ourselves.

The curriculum did not prepare us for any special professions. Languages were important, but instruction in chemistry and physics were elementary; these subjects were taught in medical. school. The education in medical school at my time was completely different from present day medical instruction in America.    
I started medical school in Berlin in the fall of 1929.  Studies were divided into two parts, pre--medical and medical. The first lasted four semesters or two years, the second five or two and a half years. The premedical studies consisted of anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics, biology, development [?], and botany. The second or clinical part brought us into contact with the patient in all specialties, pathology, and so forth. The first examination, the so call Physicum was oral and taken after the first four semesters.      

The medical school was independent from the university. It consisted of a large complex of hospitals and laboratories. No building was higher than two floors and they were surrounded by gardens and greenery. The whole complex was surrounded by a wall with several entrance portals.

When I left home on my first day to walk to the anatomy building my parents wished me an anxious goodbye, wondering how I would react to the new experience. I returned with enthusiasm. Anatomy instruction consisted of a lecture and dissection of cadavers. We had a small booklet with our picture pasted on the first page; in it was written the part of the anatomy we were to work on. The student took this little book to the dissecting room. Berlin's dissecting room was different from any other in the world; it was divided into a male and a female room. I do not remember if the cadavers were also separated by sex. The first time I entered the anatomy room I was shocked to see a long table covered with assorted arms and legs. Behind it were rows of dead bodies. Four students would work together on one cadaver. Two on the torso and two on the lower part of the body. There were smaller tables with chairs along the window walls to which one carried the assigned body part for dissection, be it leg, arm or head. The
room had an overpowering smell of  formaldehyde. I heard of students who fainted on their first day when they entered the  room and who never returned, preferring to study a “safer” subject. In time I became accustomed to the smell and later on I even liked because of my interest in anatomy. My first dissection was the torso of an old woman and once having removed the outer skin I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the muscle arrangement. The first winter semester one worked on muscles and bones. During the summer microscopic anatomy was taught, and the following winter semester blood vessels and nerves were dissected; that was fine painstaking work. When the assignment was completed the professor or one of his assistants, the only males in the room, would examine the dissection and then put a grade in one’s little book. Then the next assignment was given.  At that time, bodies were plentiful, but nowadays, in most medical schools, students may have the opportunity to carry out dissections. Also, the teaching of anatomy is no longer as important as in when I attended medical school. More time is devoted to bio--chemistry.

I am not sorry that I was required to learn the minutest details of the body. I can still see in front of me the muscles and their attachments to the bones, their blood supply and their nerves supply.

For me anatomy stands out as the most exciting instruction of the pre--medical studies. I disliked chemistry and physics, but learned enough to pass the examinations with high grades only to forget most of it soon after. Female and male students were not separated for physiology and  experiments on frogs; however, women preferred to let the men cut off the animals’ heads. This is still vaguely memorable. The course in [    illegible] was very interesting; it was given by a world--famous professor who would walk back and forth slowly as he lectured, trying to infuse us with enthusiasm.

My friend Lotte and I decided to study in Freiburg University for the second semester of medical school; courses started after Easter and ended on the first of August. Freiburg is an interesting old town in the middle of the Black Forest. In my opinion it has the most beautiful German Gothic cathedral. The church is in the city center, surrounded by a market square and medieval houses, or I should put this statement in the past tense. In the World War II, more than ninety percent of the city was destroyed. But when I returned to visit it about ten years ago the cathedral, the market and the surrounding houses had been rebuilt. The rest of the city had changed completely, and I no longer could find my way around in it.

But in 1930 when we arrived, it was a busy old city nestled against the Schlossberg (castle mountain), where the ruins of an old castle looked down on the city. We had rented, by mail, two rooms in an apartment belonging to an elderly couple. The rooms were large, one had a small balcony, and there was running cold water. The toilet was half way down the stairs and used by several families, but it was always clean. Since it did not have a tub, we went to a neighborhood bath house once a week.

We had a ten minute walk to the medical school. The microscopic anatomy course was given every morning from eight  to ten. We must have attended other courses too, but I do not recall them. It was up to the student to attend, since attendance was not taken; moreover, there were no examinations. We always attended the microscopic course, but otherwise, when the weather was nice we would go walking in the woods on the Schlossberg, where, halfway up to the castle there was a nice restaurant where one could sit outdoors and have a light meal. Another restaurant we frequented was located near the University. It served vegetarian food. One dish we often ordered was a copious amount of blueberries with milk; sour cream was unknown in Germany. The berries were eaten with a famous--pumpernickel bread, spread thickly with  seasoned butter. On the way home from university, we would buy fruit and delicious cake from a small bakery on our street. Otherwise I do not remember very much about my semester at Freiburg. What I do vividly recall was my first encounter with a Nazi. Berlin as a whole was a social--democratic city, but Freiburg was in the south and not far from Munich where Hitler had started and where his party grew very rapidly. My friend Lotte had become acquainted with a young man who lived next door. One day he was downstairs with a group of his friends. When we joined them and shook hands, I suddenly  realized that one young men had a swastika armband. I turned around and fled upstairs, scrubbed my hands well and wept. But I also met other students and became friendly with them. Sometimes we would wander in the lovely forest and dance in the moonlight, carrying our victrola up the mountain or we would take excursions to nearby villages and lakes and always up a mountain. We frequently hiked to mountaintops to view the surrounding countryside. Lotte and I certainly did not overwork in Freiburg.

When George and I took our first trip abroad together in 1957, after leaving Europe in 1935, we were accompanied by our children Paul Peter, aged eighteen [nineteen], and sixteen--year old Susan, we drove through the Black Forest and my children asked repeatedly “where are the mountains.” At the end of the semester my parents picked me up and we traveled together to Switzerland. Then I really experienced the difference between mountains and mountains. In the German language one can distinguish between Mittelgeberge (medium mountains) and Hochgeberge (high mountains).

After my return from Freiburg, I continued my medical studies in Berlin. After the fourth semester or two years one had to take the physicum, a comprehensive oral examination lasting about seven days. Two weeks before the exams started I had severe gallbladder attacks. I did not want to miss them, so my father injected me with morphine to relieve my pain. He accompanied me to the examination and took me home afterwards. Towards the end of the examination period the acute attacks stopped and not until 30 years later did I develop gallstones and had to be operated. It is clear to me know, in retrospect, that the gallbladder attacks were probably caused more by psychological stress than by physiological pathology, but nonetheless they were painful, and I am grateful that my father treated them accordingly. The fear of becoming addicted to morphine is minimal in cases where it is given to relieve severe pain and the patient normally will not ask for an injection when the pain has subsided. I received morphine when needed throughout my life, but never became  dependent on it; this is the usual experience with pain--relieving medication.

Part of the summer semester I would work in different hospitals. After the first semester I helped in the obstetrical department, dressing the newborns and taking them to their mothers at feeding time. But I was also used in another department. Without telling what the patients suffered from I was sent to a large hospital room with twenty or more female patients. I was to give them vaginal douches. After preparing them I would bring them to the patient's bed and insert them  into the vagina. This was the prescribed treatment for gonorrhea at that time, before antibiotics. Most of my patients were prostitutes who at the same time used their hospitalization  as a “vacation” from their profession. In my innocence I did not know this and nobody had told me to be careful and scrub my hands thoroughly. The women, realizing that I did not know what it was all about, sent me away and did their own treatment without my help. I am still shocked and at the same time deeply grateful that I escaped any infection.

The following summer I worked in a different hospital doing laboratory work and learned to take blood from patients. I made rounds with the medical staff and got a slight inkling about what medicine and treatment were about. However, I also saw patients die for the first time patients. The nurses had a habit of pushing the bed of a dying patient into the laboratory room. I took very little notice of them. Youth on the whole is rather callous or was it only I?

 


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