History of Nursing in Pacific Canada

Palliative care in the 19th century : Nurses and their patients Karen, Nolte


What were the social conditions in which people in the nineteenth century died? This talk will reconstruct the final weeks of dying people drawing on personal statements produced by the terminally ill patients, and on reports by their relatives and nurses. The research depicts both dying at home and in denominational hospitals at that time. Ideas of “dying well” can be found both in Protestant “reports from the last hours” and in the letters that deaconesses wrote to their superiors at the Motherhouse and in which they described the dying process of their patients. The paper will show how the patients and their families understood “dying well” and contrast this with the perspective of those people caring for the patients. In addition to the deaconesses, doctors and pastors who appeared at the deathbed of people from the lower classes, there were religiously inspired carers for the poor who tended to the patients’ body and soul. From the sources we can recreate the reactions of those “besieged with care”. I argue that it is possible to gain an insight into the daily life of dying people even though it was often only reported on by the relatives, nurses and almoners. While these sources transport the Protestant ideas of dying, they also point to the ruptures between the culture of dying within the bourgeoisie and the lower classes. I will address the following questions: Who was present at the death bed and what role did the individual agents adopt? How did the relatives deal with the patients’ suffering, how did the nurses handle their pain and other torturous conditions? How were nurses prepared for dealing with dying patients during their training? The presentation will be restricted to the Protestant environment because this area provides the most comprehensive source situation for the 19th century.

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