Books I’ve Known And Loved

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Have I mentioned my brief foray into the world of living history nursing? As a book nerd I’m fascinated by gross descriptions of missing body parts and how people do without. I used to keep old prosthetics on the wall. But touching and interacting with real, live, sweaty people who are play-acting injury–well–that was a bit out of my comfort zone.

How could I wipe the sweat from the brow of a Wall Streeter-turned-Civil War re-enactor covered in fake blood without laughing when he pulled me close and called me darlin’? But then nurses have to laugh, don’t they? Men with their guts hanging out need reassurance just as much as a good bandage technique and don’t forget the enemata!

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My kids got angry when a certain sad-eyed Zouave told me I was glowing (sweating) at Gettysburg. You’d be surprised at the many romantic moments that occurred at tent hospitals. Hey, if I was being eaten by maggots I’d go for it with the pretty nurses–what would I have to lose?

Louisa May Alcott wasn’t pretty but she was kind and sick and dying men can appreciate that as well (we all can). Let’s face it, pretty people can be a little uppity at times.   Louisa in her Hospital Sketches relates the sad state of soldiers far from home and fighting bravely for their lives and country. Oh, don’t be so cynical. The men did actually believe they were fighting the good fight. And Louisa wasn’t just some stupid romantic about it–she volunteered as a nurse and the sketches come from her real-life experiences.

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Books I’ve Known And Loved

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When you write about post-Civil War America it’s impossible not to bump up against war wounds. John Weldon in The House on Tenafly Road is addicted to morphine, given his first dose in a Civil War hospital by well-meaning doctors trying to keep him comfortable before his eventual death–which never happens. He escapes in his best friend’s new boots with a stash of morphine, laudanum and some new British-made syringes.

Only one man, Doctor Graham Crenshaw with some hidden mental war wounds of his own (his family blames him for the deaths of his brothers) recognizes Weldon’s problems, but he’s a quiet man. I thought after so much medical research he’d eventually get a good medical novel of his own but it’s in his character to work quietly in the background, allowing others to form their misconceptions about him and the bloody work he did during the war as a brilliant young surgeon.

With a name like Graham Crenshaw he deserved fame but instead served a higher purpose–he had piles of children with his wife, one of them being Buck Crenshaw. I think I’ll still get more medical one day (most of the Civil War medicine was cut from the first two novels) and I look forward to it because blood and guts and misplaced emotions are what I’m about as a writer.

By the way, Civil War Medicine by Alfred Jay Bollet, MD is fantastic even if you don’t like blood and guts.

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