Tradition– Dr. Schamnel’s Notes
One of the first Victory General Hospital annual reports described the Ambulance as a “covered vehicle designed to convey patients to and from hospital who had to travel in the recumbent position.” In less ornate language, the ambulance was a large edition of the wagons which were used to deliver meat and groceries during that time period. A canvas cover enclosed the wagon and on each side of the cover, “Victoria General Hospital” was printed in gold letters with “ambulance” printed below.
Every year the ambulance services about 179 calls. Seventy nine of these calls were for a variety of accidents and 100 were for transporting patients to hospitals or from one place to another.
Outside the city, the general impression was that the ambulance was designed for transporting all classes of patients to the hospital. Within the city, many people got into the habit of treating the ambulance as a convenient means of getting patient who was drunk, unruly, or a nuisance into the hospital. Many simple wanted to use the ambulance as a means of free transportation to the hospital. Although a cab was more convenient, it was also more expensive.
You could enter the ambulance from the rear, a window blind kept out the elements and the gaze of onlookers. On the floor there was a stretcher on runners. The runners prevented the stretcher from moving side to side when the “vehicle” swirled violently around corners. The stretcher has clean red sheets that were changed after every call but often smelled of horse dander. In front, opposite the head of the stretcher, was a seat for the intern. The seat was a 10 by 15 inch board attached to the wall. A “bag” under the seat contained a number of First Aid “things”. One of these “things” was frequently used bottle of brandy. Later, the brandy was replaced by spirits of ammonia. On the wall there was a variety of splints and “canvas” set of slings. The canvas was a strip of strong cloth about six feet long and two feet wide. A ¾ inch rope was loomed and sewn to the edges of the canvas. When the ambulance was called to a house with narrow, crooked stair cases, the intern and the driver would place the canvas underneath the patient on the bed, cover him with a blanket, and carry him down the winding stairs to the ambulance cot.
For many years, the extensive grounds in front of the old hospital were devoted to raising hay which supplemented the diet of the ambulance horses. As a rule, the horses were fairly pretty beasts that probably wouldn’t have entered the Kentucky Derby, but were definitely faster than cart horse.
The ambulance drivers had to know the city well, they had to be prompt and fast in getting away. Between calls, they had to fetch and =carry and do a great deal of chores. If they did not “measure up”, to the demanding superintendent, they were in for a rough ride. One poor fellow took a reprimand so hard that he hung himself in the barn. The superintendent gave the widow a job at the hospital for as long as she was able to perform duties.
On April 1, 1889, the hospital had its first phone installed. Miss Alice Cos was employed as a female Hermes to receive telephone calls and carry messages on foot to the proper people in the hospital. Many emergency calls came this way. When this happened, Alice rang a bell in the barn with one hand and wrote the particulars of the call with the other. She also summoned the intern on ambulance duty. Soon after, the ambulance came in full flight around the northern wind of the hospital. Hopefully, the intern was at the door with “orders in hand” and ready to go with the driver. Off they went with the rattle of a tin washbasin hung on the wall inside and a gentle tingle of the gong (operated by foot pedal) to warn all in its path. Miss Cox recorded all relevant times and notified the appropriate ward of an approaching arrival. There was no emergency ward at the time so the patient was taken directly to the appropriate ward.