Help on the farm: District Nursing

One very important job for nurses, particularly in the early days of the province, was that of district or public health nursing. Beginning in 1919, a community could have a district nurse assigned to it if there were no other medical services within fifty or a hundred miles. The people of the community had to be able to provide the nurse with a cottage and they also had to supply furnishings and fuel for heating and cooking.

The provincial government paid the nurses' salaries but there was also a user fee (posted on the door of the cottage) of fifty cents for an office visit and one dollar for the first home visit. Along with this dollar the patient's family had to provide transportation to and from the homestead and the nurses had to take whatever transport was sent for them. It varied from horseback to buggy, from stoneboat to canoe, from snowshoes to dogsled and, by the fifties, airplane. One nurse, Laura Attrux, managed to obtain her pilot's licence so that she was ready to go to any emergency.

Another charge listed on the door was ten dollars for maternity care, a large amount of cash for many homesteaders in those days, but it included pre- and post-natal care for mother and baby, as well as the delivery. Some nurses already had midwifery training from England, and those who didn't were encouraged to take some obstetrical training whenever possible.

Besides delivering babies, the nurses would find themselves doing everything from setting bones to pulling teeth. The strong link between the nurse and the Public Health Branch was important when she might have to deal with something she hadn't come across before--the advent of the telephone was indeed a godsend.

In 1924, travelling clinics became part of the landscape too. The district nurse would probably make an assessment at a school or group of schools in a community and recommend that some children by seen by the clinic. The community then got busy cleaning and disinfecting whatever building was to be used and all was made ready for the arrival of the team. The team usually consisted of twelve people--doctor, surgeon, two dentists, four nurses, one medical and one dental student, and, very important, two truck drivers. They brought all the equipment that might be necessary, although the community came up with as much as possible on their own. Depending on distances the clinic would often camp out at the community site. Besides dental work and any surgery the nurse had identified as necessary, parents generally brought their children to the clinic for check-ups and immunizations.

Later on, in the fifties, when transportation was better and people weren't so isolated, the emphasis of public health was more on teaching. Miss Katie Brighty, who became the Superintendent of Public Health Nurses for Alberta, has more to say about that.

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