Monday, June 18, 2018

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Monday, May 28, 2018

Monday, May 7, 2018

People often ask me where I get the ideas for my characters. Usually, when I’m half asleep or walking the dog, they just appear on the periphery of my mind. I see them fully formed, wearing clothes from whatever time period they live. Sometimes they are talking sometimes engaged in some activity.
This time however, the heroine of my newest novel, A Place In Your Heart, was inspired by a woman I came across in my research of the Civil War. Her name was Mary Bickerdyke.

At the beginning of the Civil War, troops at the hospital in Cairo, Illinois were dying from disease and poor treatment in a place where medical supplies were either poor or nonexistent. The doctor in charge of the hospital, Dr. Benjamin Woodard, made a plea for help to the members of the Brick Congregational Church in Galesburg. The congregation decided to send Mary Ann Bickerdyke to help.

Mary Ann was a tall, broad shouldered, plain looking woman who never flinched from any job.

She was born on July 19, 1817 in Knox County, Ohio, to Hiram and Annie Ball. About a year and a half later, Annie died and Mary Ann was sent to live with her mother’s parents in Richland County.

At some point in her life she graduated from a local Cincinnati school which taught botanic medicine.

In 1847, at the age of 30, she married Robert Bickerdyke a widower with small children. Shortly before her husband’s death she became well known in the town as a Botanic Physician. Though she was a kind, honest woman, she was quite outspoken.

Mary Ann arrived at the military hospital in June of 1861. The hospital overflowed with sick. Hundreds of men lay in tents waiting for space inside the hospital.
Only one or two men lay on cots, the rest lay on straw pallets covered with a blanket or an overcoat, so close together there was no room to step between them. The dirt floor was covered with human excrement, and flies swarmed over the sick men. The men lay only in shirts and underwear which were covered with filth, vomit, and stale sweat.

Mrs. Bickerdyke grabbed a bar of lye soap from one of the many boxes she brought. She scoured the insides of barrels and used them as tubs to bathe each man. She directed the volunteers and assistants to shave the beards and cut the hair of the men to rid them of lice. She ordered the patients clothing to be burned along with all the straw. Other volunteers were put to work shoveling out the dirt floors of the tents until they’d dug to an uncontaminated level.
Once the patients were bathed and dressed in clean clothing and back in the tents with fresh sheets, she passed out the food she’d brought. She filled pails with lime and brought them to the tents to be used as latrines.

She wasn’t supposed to go into the wards at all, but that made no difference to her, she went anyway.

Supplies from the Sanitary Commission were sent to her personally and stored at the hospital. It didn’t take long for her to realize the whiskey intended for the patients was going to the doctor’s lounge for the benefit of the chief surgeon and his friends. Other food was being sold by the chief nurse and many of the assistants were eating the fruit sent by the Sanitary Commission for the patients.

Mrs. Bickerdyke went to the chief surgeon and told him the supplies were being stolen. He ordered her out of the hospital. She told him, “Doctor, I’m here to stay as long as the men need me. You put me out one door and I’ll come in another. If you bar the doors, I’ll come in a window. If anybody goes from here it will be you. I’m going straight to Gen. Grant. We’ll see who gets put out of here.”

One day she went into a ward where the ward master, a young lieutenant, was talking to his friends. His uniform blouse was open exposing his shirt. Mrs. Bickerdyke approached him, pulled open his blouse, and turned down the neck of the shirt revealing the inked initials NWSC for the Northwest Sanitary Commission.

A strong woman, Mrs. Bickerdyke threw the young lieutenant to the floor, sat on his stomach and removed the shirt, which she held up to the cheers of the patients. She then checked his trousers and found them to be his own. That wasn’t true of his slippers and socks. Barefoot and shirtless the officer completed his rounds that night, then applied for duty with a regiment headed for the battlefield. He was never seen again.

To stop the assistants from eating the fruit intended for the patients, she stewed a pot of peaches and told the cooks and men hanging around the kitchen not to touch it. When she returned, found the kitchen staff groaning and holding their stomachs.

She told them she’d added a dose of tartar emetic to the peaches and if they didn’t stop eating food meant for the patients, the next time she would add rat poison.

I fell in love with this woman who the men called Mother Bickerdyke, and the idea of Gracie McBride was born.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Business of Being a WriterThe Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great book for writers. Writing is a business and it's easy to forget that sometimes. Lots of information. Read most of the book twice just to get the stuff to sink in and I'll probably keep it as a go-to book for answers to any of a multitude of questions I will have.

View all my reviews

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Stethoscope Invented

19th Century Stethoscope with bell-shaped end.
My current work-in-progress is a novel which takes place during the Civil War. The heroine is a nurse and the hero a doctor. It occurred to me as the hero examined a patient, that I’d never seen pictures of a Civil War surgeon using a stethoscope. So, off I went on a research quest to learn when the stethoscope was invented.

Before the 1800’s if a physician needed to hear a patient’s lungs, heart, or bowels he merely placed his ear against the patient’s body. I can’t imagine how awkward this was for both the doctor and the patient. For women, it meant having a doctor lay his head between their breasts and some ladies refused to allow it. Although this method was somewhat effective, it was difficult for the doctor to hear everything, or pinpoint from where an unusual sound might have originated.  The ear often missed important clues, which could have helped them diagnose an illness.

Stethoscope-early wooded
The word stethoscope comes from the Greek word, stethos (chest) and the word, scopes (examination), and was invented in 1816 by Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laënnec (1781-1826), a physician at the Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital in Paris. He’d been too embarrassed to press his ear against the large bosom of a female patient and instead rolled up a sheaf of paper like an ear-trumpet, in order to listen. 

Excited by how loud and clear the sounds were, he created the wooden aural stethoscope. Laënnec was skilled with a lathe and made his first stethoscope  from a turned piece of wood about 12 inches long with a 3/8 inch hollow bore. The doctor placed the smaller end against his patient’s chest and listened through the larger funnel shaped, opposite end.

In 1851 an Irish physician, Arthur Leared made the device bi-aural.
Stethoscope-early bi-aural

George Cammann wrote a major treatise on diagnosis by auscultation, which was made possible by the bi-aural stethoscope. He refined the stethoscope for commercialization in 1852.

I’m not certain how many Civil War surgeons had stethoscopes, but I decided my brilliant doctor carried one in the pocket of his frock coat.


Wilbur M.D., C. Keith, Civil War Medicine 1861-1865, The Global Pequot Press, 1998