More Precious Than Gold

Pursuing a Nursing Career in WWII New York City

Renee Yancy

A young woman refuses to become a pawn in her grandmother’s revenge scheme and forgoes a life of wealth and royalty to pursue a nursing career as America enters WWI and the Pandemic Flu of 1918 wreaks havoc in New York City.

Book Excerpt or Article

The face should be trained never to show a trace of anxiety or alarm, no matter how grave the occasion; no surprise should be expressed even by so much as the lifting of an eyebrow. —Nursing Ethics, Isabel Hampton Robb, 1917

Now classes on antiseptics, bacteriology, and instruction on bandaging and dressings alternated with twelve-hour shifts on the various wards, beginning with the medical floor. The first two weeks had gone well. Kitty had adapted to the new schedule and found she enjoyed taking care of the older patients.

On the first day of the third week, they had been on duty a quarter of an hour when cries of distress emanated from a low iron bed in a corner of the ward. Elderly Mr. Johnson sat up and scrabbled through his mussed bedclothes.

“Oh dear, oh dear, I’ve lost it.” He raked his hands through his hair, setting his white curls on end. “It must have fallen under the bed. Oh, dear, oh, dear!”

“Can I help you, Mr. Johnson?” Kitty laid a gentle hand on his scrawny shoulder, feeling the thinness of his frame under the cotton pajamas. “What have you lost, sir? Perhaps I can assist you.”

“Oh, oh, oh.” He wrung his hands. “It must be under the bed. I have to find it.”

Kitty untied her pinafore, unpinned her nurse’s cap, and set them on the patient’s bedside stand. Then she got down on her hands and knees. It had taken nearly an hour to starch and iron her uniform and white pinafore before reporting for duty this evening, and already the shift had taken its toll on her uniform. She sighed and poked her head under the bed. “What am I looking for, Mr. Johnson?”

The bedsprings above her head creaked with the patient’s frantic movements and a bare foot with horny toenails dropped down next to her.

“Stay in bed, sir. I’ll find it. But what am I looking for?” The foot disappeared but there was still no answer, only Mr. Johnson’s repeated exclamations of distress.

Kitty sighed and flattened her body to slide her upper torso into the dim recesses under the bed. Aside from a few dust balls, nothing else emerged from the darkness. Someone on the day shift hadn’t done a thorough job of dusting. Gingerly, she felt around with both her hands. “I don’t see anything under here, Mr. Johnson.” She sneezed violently twice.

“I know it’s under there.” His voice quavered. “It must have rolled into the corner.”

Kitty groaned. There was no help for it. She reached her hand to the bed leg and pulled herself the rest of the way under the bed, holding her breath. She patted her hand around the floor again and came up empty. “It would help if I knew what I was looking for, Mr. Johnson.”

She tried to keep the irritation out of her voice as her hand touched something round and hard and cold. She picked it up, turned it over, then recoiled and let out a muffled shriek. The back of her head hit the mattress boards so hard she saw stars. A glass eye glared back at her in the gloom, the blue iris surrounded completely by bright white. She nearly dropped it again but managed to wriggle herself out backward from underneath the bed. She pushed herself to her feet and brushed dust and cobwebs off her uniform.

“Well, dizzy me,” she said. She gave several vociferous sneezes. “Is this what you were looking for?”

Mr. Johnson snatched the artificial eye from her palm. “That’s it!” He rubbed the eye on his nightclothes, gave it a lick, and popped it in. “Thank you, nurse.”

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Renee Yancy is a history and archaeology nut who works as an RN when she isn’t writing historical fiction or traveling the world to see the exotic places her characters have lived.

A voracious reader as a young girl, she now writes the kind of books she loves to read—stories filled with historical and archaeological detail interwoven with strong characters facing big conflicts. Her goal is to take you on a journey into the past so fascinating that you can’t put the story down.

When she isn’t writing, Renee can be found in the wilds of Kentucky with her husband and a rescue mutt named Ellie. She loves flea markets and collecting pottery and glass and most anything mid-century modern.

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