By the first of April 1942, the nurses who were ill with malaria and other tropical diseases (which was practically everyone) were ordered off the Peninsula and into the Malinta Tunnel on the nearby island of Corregidor. Not one of the nurses asked to go, and several of them told their superior officers they wanted to stay with their patients. The nurses, even the sickest among them, were distressed about what kind of care the patients would receive if they all left. The doctors (all male, some also ill with dengue fever and malaria) were not being evacuated…yet…but the nurses argued in vain that without the nurses to maintain the bonds they had developed with so many patients.
Henry David Thoreau said, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look in each other’s eyes for just an instant?” The circumstances the American and Filipino health care teams found themselves in at Jungle Hospitals 1 and 2 seem impossible to imagine. But the Bataan nurses regarded each of their patients with empathy, humility, and honor. They “looked into their eyes” and saw each one as a distinct human being with a life before Bataan, and hopefully a life after. Some of these men were gravely injured, many to the point where their lives would never be the same.
Everyone on Bataan realized the Japanese were closing in on the US and Philippine troops who still held the front line. They all waited and prayed for General MacArthur to announce that help really was on the way. But after three and a half months in the steaming jungle with dwindling food, medicine, and other supplies, it was the nurses that kept the patients on track to recovery by validating their fear, anxiety, pain (both physical and emotional), and worry. A patient was more than his chart, his diagnosis, his treatment plan, or even his military experience. Much of the nurses’ time was spent “connecting” to each patient, understanding, “seeing” the whole person and building trust. The nurses were determined to “get it right the first time” with each patient.
But the nurses were “soldiers” too, and the day came when they were to be evacuated to Corregidor. And what a nightmare that evacuation was!
Meg Blaine Corrigan is the author of four books: Then I Am Strong: Moving From My Mother’s Daughter to God’s Child, a memoir about growing up in an alcoholic home; Saints With Slingshots: Daily Devotions For The Slightly Tarnished But Perpetually Forgiven Christian, Books One and Two; and Perils of a Polynesian Percussionist, a novel depicting Meg’s time playing drums in a Hawaiian Road Show. Her latest project is to tell the story of her Aunt Ethel “Sally” Blaine Millett, who was an American Army nurse in the Philippines when WWII began. “Sally” joined about a hundred other nurses and 50-some doctors in transporting about two thousand patients from Statsenburg Hospital north of Manila (with more arriving every day) to the jungle on the Bataan Peninsula. They hid the patients from the Japanese for about four months until they were all captured and placed in POW camps for over three years before being liberated by American forces. This blog contains excerpts from the book in real time as Meg is writing and posting a blog once weekly. The book’s title is MERCY MORE THAN LIFE: Sally Blaine Millett, WWII Army Nurse. The anticipated date of publication is spring 2023.Meg’s website is www.MegCorrigan.com . She lives in a tiny apartment in Little Canada, Minnesota with her species-confused tropical plants and her rescue Carousel Horse, Mr. Ed.