October 1, 1942

Camp Pickett, Virginia

Dear Folksies,

Things have been slightly popping in the last twenty-four hours and many have been kept busy, though things now have slowed up again.

To begin with, yesterday A.M. Phil Westdahl and I worked on the ward for a while and then wandered over to Surgery to see them operate on a case of hemorrhoids that was from our ward. When that was finished we bumped into Mattie who told us about a case that was hanging around Surgery at the moment. It was a civilian employee of a construction company that was working on the Post. While sawing some lumber the man accidentally thought that his thumb was a piece of wood and soon he saw that the distal phalanx of his left thumb was lying in the saw-dust. He was brought to the hospital but because he was a civilian there was a lot of red tape as to how much therapy should be given. They were just going to dress the wound, stop the bleeding by pressure and send the man out to some other place – civilian doctor, etc.

However, as there was no other hospital within some 30 miles or so, there was one major who thought that perhaps more should be done here. Finally, after going thru channels and getting no satisfaction and no permission to do anything to the man, this major, with Mattie gently egging him on all the time, decided to hell with it all – he would debride the wound and close it up somehow. Mattie had kept saying that if the wound wasn’t debrided, the man would get an osteo of the protruding portion of the bone.

But then, while the major was scrubbing up, Mattie hung around and soon the Major told Mattie – “Aw heck, you go ahead and do it.” Mattie said he wouldn’t want to do it if there was a possibility that he would get his nose in a gate. But then the major said that his own name would go on the surgery slip and Mattie should do it, with him assisting. Of course, Mattie was itching to do it. Anyway, Mattie did the job, fixing it nicely, and grafting a piece of skin over the wound – taking a graft from the thigh. Phil and I stuck around most of the time, but Phil had to go before Mattie was finished, and as a consequence I was alone with Mattie when he was done.

Just before Mattie had started on the finger he was told that one of our nurses had what seemed to be appendicitis and the major in charge of the surgical service asked if Mattie would look at her and take over and operate if he thought necessary, as the major knew the gal would rather have Mattie than a stranger.

The gal was Charlotte Johnson, otherwise known as “Johnie” who was a Stanford Nurse and Mattie went down to see Johnie and as I was still tagging along, I went with him. She had a nice typical story and good signs so Mattie scheduled the operation for right after lunch. As we walked into the dining room we met Phil Westdahl and Mattie said, “Will you and René scrub with me on Johnie’s appendix?” Of course, tagging along with him I hoped he would say that, but didn’t dare ask.

Anyhoo, the three of us did the job and as luck would have it, when there was quite a large audience from the Station Hosp. – it was a tough one. Mattie had a devil of a time finding the darn appendix, as she had had two previous attacks for which she was hospitalized at Stanford, and consequently she had numerous adhesions, one of which had pulled the appendix down into the pelvis and had put a crook in it. Mattie felt around for ages before he finally got a feel of the tip of the appendix, which was behind the caecum. Then he had a hard time getting the darn thing out as he couldn’t get a hold of it at first adequately, but soon everything went O.K. and he got it out.

Today she is doing fine and her only worry is that we might go without her, but there is little possibility of our leaving before ten days, and anyway, Mattie promised her that he would carry her himself if we left sooner than the time that she would be able to walk. Incidentally, she is pretty light.

Last night there was a jeep accident and one boy got an extra-dural hemorrhage, which was operated on by Frankie Lusignan, Phil Westdahl and Bill Newsom. There were a couple of others injured at the same time and two more appendices that kept the station hospital men busy, those that were sober and even some, one in particular, who was not.

Today I did two small pinch-grafts on a couple of cases in our ward. Bill Newsom was with me, but I did them.

Today I got a letter from Alain who has quit his job and is going to go into something with a couple of friends of his – he has not as yet said what it is but is going to write details later.

                    Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
October 5

Army Hospital Operating Room

Photograph courtesy of DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Philip Westdahl, MD