It was soon clear that even Manila was too dangerous for the patients and their caregivers. Things were moving so fast. It was hard to know from minute to minute what orders were coming next. Sally thought wistfully about her suggestion to her commanding officer at dinner just a week ago, that perhaps they would be wise to pull together some warm clothes and other provisions in case they needed to flee the Japanese quickly. Sally was rebuffed. She felt hurt and angry now. Had the officer been holding back the truth? Or had she herself not received the intel that was now so clear to them all?
The Bataan Peninsula is largely covered by dense vegetation. There is a steep mountain range cutting through the area, with Mount Natib, about 4200 feet high in the north, and Mount Bataan, 4700 feet high in the south. Seven-inch tall tarsiers are one of the world’s smallest primates, and their adorable huge eyes study their surroundings, looking for danger. They are harmless but annoying when they become curious, especially when nearby humans are, say, performing a delicate operation on a fellow human. Long-glanded coral snakes are plentiful in the Bataan jungles as well. These are venomous snakes, as are cobras, vipers, and sea snakes, all native to the area, each fully capable of completely ruining a single nurse’s day in a heartbeat. Also, about twenty species of bats make their homes in the peninsula. Probably the most memorable is the giant golden-crowned flying fox, also known as the golden-capped fruit bat. It is one of the largest bat species in the world, weighing about three pounds, and having a “forearm length” of over eight inches. Not a welcome visitor during nighttime patient checks.
Why, one might ask, would the United States Army and Navy want to take patients out into this horrid jungle with potentially deadly species of snakes and many other animals all around them? The answer was clear: the Japanese wouldn’t be looking for them there, and hopefully, the Americans could hold off until more troops were sent in to rescue them.
Christmas Day was the first day several nurses were sent out to Bataan to begin setting up a hospital in a tiny town called Limay. At the same time as this new outdoor hospital was being set up, the Army was trying to get beds sent to what would be called simply, “Jungle Hospital.” This facility was soon renamed Hospital Number Two. Hospital Number One had been set up at a place called Little Baguio, which had been a Philippine Army engineers’ headquarters. Hospital Number One had a building and double-decker beds were built inside. The doctors and nurses assigned to Hospital Number One tended to their patients inside this building.
Sally was assigned to Hospital Number Two. They had no buildings. They had no double-decker beds. They had mattresses lying on the ground. There were no bedside tables, no chairs, no furniture at all to speak of. The only protection against the elements was a makeshift covering over the medical records.
“This is the bleakest affair I ever saw in my life,” Sally said the day she arrived.
Water was drawn from a creek, by the nurses, for use for their patients. The only baths given to the patients were with cold water from that creek. Water was heated for cooking, but not for bathing. The nurses and officers bathed in the same creek where they got water for their patients, and the water was just as cold.
Within a short period of time, there were eighteen wards in Hospital Number Two, strung out along a small river called the Reall. Whenever the wards all filled up, a bulldozer would come in and cut a pathway through the jungle. Just the bottom foliage was cut; the canopy was left alone so the Japanese could not see where the Americans were hiding.
“I felt completely protected,” Sally said later. “The canopy completely obliterated our view of the airplanes flying over and their view of us. I loved it! I guess what you can’t see can’t hurt you!”
Shortly after the American and Filipino forces began to set up these open-air field hospitals, the commanding officer of the Nurse Corps requested permission to requisition smaller sized of khaki pants and shirts. It was not practical, let alone comfortable, to wear starched white nurses’ dresses and caps in an outdoor hospital. Permission was granted, and the women became the first nurses in military history to wear khakis in the line of duty. Angelo performed his “procurement magic” by producing khaki pants and shirts, both short and long sleeved, in abundance so the nurses would have plenty to choose from. No one questioned his need for the clothing; it was clear that it was the only solution for the nurses who were working tirelessly under very difficult conditions.
Another change that may have been more subtle was a shift in attitude for the nurses, from shift-work caregivers to “guerilla nursing care,” beating back jungle vegetation as it grew like magic in and around the area where the patients lay. There seemed to be nothing—absolutely nothing—that kept the nurses from their appointed duty. No matter how hot the jungle got, no matter how few medical supplies they had to work with, the nurses brought professionalism, patience, and most of all, a special kind of healing to their patients lying in front of them on the jungle floor. There was literally no sacrifice these women were not willing to make to foster a restorative atmosphere in their “wards.”