Tuesday, September 13, 2016

In honor of author Frances Corkran Hall's 100th birthday 
(September 13, 1916) we present one of her short stories from 
the late 1960s.

Mrs. Hall taught nursing in the 1950s 
(and received her M.S. degree) in Baltimore, MD. 
Her career led to writing about some intriguing 
experiences. Forthwith we present -

Overripe Apples

By Frances C. Hall

The corpse blew soft puffs of sweet stale air in my face; wet gurgles 
from her chest rumbled in my ears as I turned the warm heavy body 
to prepare her for the undertaker.

Outside a blizzard was throwing a blanket of snow over the sleeping
city. Everything was quiet but the wind. It was moaning and groaning;
it shook the creaky hospital and jingled and jarred the glassware in the
dim-lit sick room. My heart raced with the wind and my teeth chattered
with the rattling windowpanes,

As I gently released the body blood seemed to flow in her face and
neck. Startled, I checked the patient's pulse and felt fast throbbing
beats. Swaying from fright, I grasped a chair for support as I sought my
mirror and held it to the corpse's face. The glass was free of moisture.
I sighed with relief, but in the next instant the nauseating fruity odor
came again from the corpse, enveloping and suffocating me. I was sick.

My post-mortem care procedures had made no mention of these occur-
ences. I shuddered at the thought of the next step, stuffing her mouth
with cotton from the mortuary basket. What should I do? What if Mrs.
Corey were still alive?

This was my sixth month in the nurses‘ training school and my second
look at a dead person. But Mrs. Corey looked alive! Her body was warm
and pink, unlike the first corpse I had viewed, all pale, bony and cold.

I ran to find the charge nurse or the night physician. Hurrying 
down the gloomy hall, I heard the clanking elevator. "Oh no, it couldn't
be the undertaker," I thought, as an intern stepped from the grating 
vehicle. He half listened as I poured out my story, then shrugged and 
asked,"Dr. Post's diabetic patient in room 313?" I nodded.

"She was pronounced dead, wasn't she?" he huffed and then swaggered
down the hall muttering something about student nurses.

Even so, I was not reassured. I vividly recalled stories of reopened
coffins showing deep fingernail scratches from struggles to escape. My
fright heightened even more by these thoughts; I ran blindly up the 
corridor and collided with the chief medical doctor.

Listening to my disorganized story, Dr. Burke gently said, "Mrs.
Corey is not alive. She had no pulsations, you only felt your own heart
pounding away." He eased my mind about people being buried alive as 
he recounted the discovery of the stethoscope and its use in listening to
body-generated sounds. He added some information about embalming.

Using layman's terms because of my inexperience, Dr. Burke briefly
compared Mrs.Corey's living body to an engine containing fuel of incor-
rect mixtures of glucose and fat. The combustion products from burning
this mixture lead to unconsciousness or diabetic coma. The acetone
breath scent came from these products and is characteristic of the disease. 
But a basket of overripe apples in a closed room will give off the
same saccharine revolting stench.

"Now," Dr. Burke continued, "the dying woman was too weak to exhale
all the stale air, but after death the movement of the body brought the
air forth. Other bodily complications caused a stagnation of blood in
face and neck to give the pink coloration."

Thanking Dr. Burke, I resolved to write a nursing manual and include
the rare occurrences that student nurse may encounter in post-mortem
care. I did.