The Knoxville City Hospital — an Essay by B. D. Bosworth in 1896

In one of our last week’s daily papers appeared the splendid article of Dr. S. R. Miller, which gave to the people of Knoxville the clearest possible conception of “The Ideal Hospital.”

In striking contrast to this delightful exhibition of what might be I am requested to crystalized into words the stern reality that is.  One word is sufficient.  That word is disgrace!

Yes, Mr. Editor, Mr. Minister, Mr. Judge, Mr. Capital!  Yes, Mrs. Grundy, Mrs. Prosperity, Mrs. Poverty and Madam Charity!  That word is undeniably disgrace!

Whose is the fault I know not, and I have no intention of laying the charge at any individual door; but certain it is that on the bosom of this fair city, in one of the darkest and most wholesome corners, there stands for that disgrace, an old red brick building — a relic of by gone grandeur of the Knoxville forty years ago — upon whose side-wall appears in large, flaming letters, this sign:  “CITY HOSPITAL.”

In approaching this building I always feel grateful for the magnitude and generosity of this sign.  It is the sole distinctive feature by which the strangers within our gates may know that here is the haven of rest in the event of injury or illness; serving at least as a warning upon which to take the next trains for Atlanta, Chattanooga or Nashville, where he is sure of more inviting quarters.

An old two-story dwelling-house with eight rooms, two halls, two porches and a basement that serves many purposes.  This is all.  Situated near the foot of the hill, within a stone’s throw of the foul and squalid habitations of many of the people whose sick ones it rescues from such things.  There it stands, good people, on the southeast corner of State and Cumberland streets.  Go look at it, those of you who may have never seen it.

For the life of me I cannot think of anything else — to tell about it.  Oh, yes!  It’s splendid old-fashioned little windows — the dear things — all right for style and antiquity, but for sun and air not much.  And its magnificent post-cochere or marble entrance running up from its five-foot pavement all round.

I have no word of reflection for the management of this institution.  It is equipped and provided for by the “Old City” out of funds set aside for that purpose.

The City Fathers spend every dollar on it, wisely and judiciously, and often money out of their own pockets besides.

I have no word of opprobium [sic] for that careworn and much abused gentleman — the city physician.  I have naught but respect and admiration for the faithful manner in which he discharges his onerous duties, and his noble efforts to make his feeble means meet the ends.  I have naugh [sic] but commendation for the good woman who discharges the double duty of matron and nurse and still finds time to cultivate her little flower garden from which in spring and summer she brings exquisite cheer and brightness to the dingy walls which enclose her suffering charges.  I find no fault with her able assistant, the colored man, Ben.  The institution is excellent as far as it goes, but it serves only one of the purposes of the “City Hospital” viz.:  A refuge for sick paupers, and it can accommodate only a small percent of these.  It is in no degree self-supporting, for pay-patients rarely ever apply.

Sometimes North or West Knoxville pays for the privilege of putting one of their paupers with us, but this has been so rare an occurrence of late that I have suspected these corporations of having built splendid hospitals of their own, but as yet I’ve been unable to locate them.

In the building itself, then its locality and its inadequacy — lie the disgrace to this city and its people.

On one occasion I was entertaining as my guest a very distinguished physician from a neighboring state — (I had just undertaken the duties of the city physician, while that official had gone into quarantine with a case of small pox).  At the hopsital [sic] – hour I arose and said to my guest:  “My dear doctor, will you excuse me a little while, this is my hour at the hospital”

“What!” said he, “are you a member of the hospital staff of physicians?”

“Yes,” I answered, “I am the proud possessor of this honorable distinction.”

“Then take me with you,” he demanded.  “I have wondered where your hospital was.  I am sure it must be beautiful and that I shall be highly edified.”

Good people, I took him to see the hospital.  I apologize mos humbly, even at this late date, for I know it is against your rule to show it to visitors — but there was no wa out of it and I had to take him through.  I registered a vow that day that I would give one hundred dollars toward a new city hospital and I swear it still.  If you want to work up a feeling of generosity toward this movement, just take your guests to see your city hopsital [sic].  Or just watch the haggard look that comes over the face of the hotel clerk when his sick guests asks to be sent to the city hospital.

So much for the personal pride in the question.  And now for the humanity, the charity it involves.  I  have been an active physician in our midst for nearly seven years and being a young man.  I have had much dealing with the pauper-sick; but it was not until I had served in the city physician’s place that I came to realize the awfulness of the situation in all its naked horror.  Oh!  “Fair women and brave men” of this splendid community!  Come with me, if you have the courage, while I tear aside, for one moment, the veil which shuts out these revolting scenes from your comfortable homes and happy firesides.  I will spare you many of the disgusting details and present only a few bare facts.  Come with me — there are only three parts — to the garret — to the cellar and to the hovel.  Come — I will show you where I found a woman in the last stages of consumption and starvation, sitting feebly on the edge of a pallet of rags and squalor, while a lean little, five-year old girl made the effort to draw on her mother’s withered limbs a pair of ragged stockings.  This child was her only stay, her only nurse — her only provider and the sole mourner at her death-bed.  And where was the hospital?  It was full — no room — not even for any more.

Again in that hovel yonder on the bank of the creek, I went one evening in company with an officer of the law and found sitting fast in a chair where he had sat down to die a great, powerful giant of a man, whom disease had smiten [sic] wits [sic] its death-blow.  They had found him the day before and built him a fire and left him food and fuel — there was no bed — no room for a bed — and no one to nurse him, and being unable to move, the heat from the stove had burned the rags from his knees, and deep into the flesh.  He died there the next day because he [sic] hospital was full!

Come into this cellar with me, where the poverty stricken people upstairs in self-defense cast an old man to die — starvation, old age and isease [sic] have fortunately left him only twelve hours more to live, but he may show you the need of a hospital.

Come, stand with me over the bedsile [sic] of this heart-broken mother — what it is she clasps to her bosom so wildly?  It is a two year old baby whom, a moment ago, she saw catch fire at the hearthstone and burn to a cinder because paralysis had held her a prisoner to her bed.

Come with me up into this loft and bend low less you strike your head against the rafters — there lies the corpse of “the stranger within your gates.”  There was no place else in which to suffer his malady, and breathe his last.  All these things and worse I was in a single month of your city physician’s work.  To those interested I invite free correspondence.

I have contended with all the difficulties involved in the treatment of the sick in the homes of the lowly.  I have been forced to turn in the winter’s chilling blast through an open door, that I might see my patient’s tongue — no window — no lamp — no fire.  I have said “take this prescription to the drug store and get the medicine and then give it carefully.”  “Yes, doctor, but what must she eat?”  What indeed!!! This question always appeals [sic] me.  Not “not where will I get dainty delicacies of the sick-room in the palace?  “but” where am I to get even the milk or the bread?  Work and pay have stopped, while I have to nurse.”

“Yes.” say the unfeeling and thoughtless “but those people get well some way.”  They do not, but they more often die of starvation than disease.  And so good people of Knoxville from the strong arm of the sturdy laborer, rendered helpless by disease, comes the silent gesture, which ask you for place in which he may be restored to usefullness [sic] to his family.  The voice of the widowed “woman of toll” cries out to you, “give me a refuge in which to regain my shattered health and the ability to earn bread for my children!”  The great mother of the multitude supplicates you for hygienic surroundings in which her children may first see the light of day and the pangs of maternity be lightened.

From the tiny throat of the infant comes the heart-rendering appeal — “give me a clean cradle in which my sufferings may be soothed!”  From the tremulous and pallid lips of old age comes yet again the feeble cry, “give me a pillow upon which to lay my aching head and — meet my God!”

These cries must find a responsive chord in the hearts of all and to meet their demands is charity idealized.

Then come good people of all the Knoxvilles and lend a warm, willing, open hand to the noble ladies who have already inaugurated a movement to this end.  Your fair city proves your resources in everything else.  A hospital is all you lack.  You have erected a splendid monument in which all may have justice.  A magnificient [sic] monument in which the government may dispense its benefits and favors.  Almost in every square there rises toward the blue vault of heaven a proud shaft that marks a monument to the crucified Savior, in which all may serve the Living God.  You have built your monuments to the national dead to the Confederate dead, to your own loved dead.  Now build just one more, a monument to the living, to the suffering, to the dying.  Humanity will bless you and God will reward.

B. D. Bosworth

Source:  Knoxville Daily Journal and Tribune, July 17, 1896, page 2

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