Wednesday, 13 July 2011

"Cowled Sisters of Darkness"

In Sheryl Salloum's book Vancouver Days, William McConnell, a friend of Malcs, tells the story of how Malc ended up in St Paul's Hospital after breaking his leg in a fall in Dollarton:

It was a Roman Catholic hospital and at the time most of the nurses were nuns. They wore a black cowl edged with white and he called them the "Cowled Sisters of Darkness". to Malcolm they were the antithesis of angels of mercy. Vancouver Days p119

This was the same hospital where Malc went after damaging his back in a fall from the pier of his Dollarton shack in 1949. His experiences there due to a mixture of alcohol withdrawal and drugs were as traumatic as his time in Bellevue in 1936. As ever Malc turned these experiences into literature which he initially entitled the 'Atomic Rhythm' which eventually became the The Ordeal of Sigbjørn Wilderness which was never developed beyond a rough sketch and remains unpublished. The draft is accessible via the University of British Columbia Archives which provides a fascinating insight into how Lowry assembled his writing.

The Sisters of Providence established schools, hospitals, orphanages, homes for the aged and asylums in Canada and the United States and later in many other countries. In B.C., St. Paul's Hospital and Saint Mary's Hospital in New Westminster are operated by the order.

Responding to the Bishop Paul Durieu, OMI, of New Westminster, who urged the sisters to consider the needs of a growing Vancouver, two representatives of the Sisters of Providence came north from Portland Oregon in 1892. They bought seven lots on the outskirts of Vancouver for $9,000 and a 25-bed hospital was completed in 1894, and named after the Bishop. Mother Mary Fredrick from Astoria, Oregon became the first Superior and administrator of the hospital.

In keeping with the philosophy of the Sisters of Providence, the new hospital was founded on the pledge of providing compassionate care. The surge in Vancouver's growth brought on by the Klondike gold rush severely tested that pledge but it wasn't until later, in 1904, that the first of what seems an endless stream of additions was completed, adding 50 more beds.

September 1, 1907 saw the official opening of a School of Nursing at St. Paul's Hospital.

Just 10 years after the first addition was completed, a modern fireproof structure with a new surgical department and 120 beds was added in 1914.

St. Paul's was, from the beginning, keenly interested in using the latest medical technology. In addition to laboratory testing, the hospital became one of the first to have its very own X-ray machine, circa 1906. Using glass plate negatives the exposures took from 15 to 45 seconds, threatening to burn patients and electrocute operators in the process.

As Vancouver grew and the administration of health care became ever more complex and specialized, St. Paul's kept pace.

In 1919, the Sisters of Providence responded to the challenge of the American College of Surgeons and the Catholic Hospitals Association to standardize hospital services with those of the larger centres throughout the U.S. and Canada. The program established formal requirements for the efficient operation of X-ray and laboratory departments. Great emphasis was placed on the keeping of patient records, as previously few history and progress notes were written.

Until 1968, the chief administrator at St. Paul's was a member of the Sisters of Providence. The first lay Administrator was hired in 1969 and ran the hospital while the Sisters continued their involvement in the hospital and on the hospital board.

With the completion of the North Wing, in 1931, and the South Wing during World War II, St. Paul's expanded to 500 beds. In the 1960s, as medical knowledge and treatments quickly evolved, St. Paul's again kept abreast through the addition of ultra-modern diagnostic facilities.
Providence Health Care

Check out other hospitals where Malc was treated:

Bellevue New York 1936

Vernon Clinique, Eure, North France March 1948

American Hospital, Paris May/June 1948

Vancouver General Hospital July 1949

Ospedale Niguarda, Milan October 1954

Atkinson Morley’s Hospital, 31 Copse Hill, Wimbledon, England 20th July 1956

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