Sara Corning: A Brave Humanitarian Nurse
“She learned to Serve Others”, the headstone of Sara Corning
Now it has been 11 years of writing almost monthly blogs about fibromyalgia and attending to the stories about people who are ultra-sensitive, highly empathetic, anxious, unable to tolerate the pain of others, and have developed an overactive central nervous system which is known as fibromyalgia. I am today taking another route at the beginning of this lovely month of June.
Unlike Florence Nightingale who came back with her heavy lamp from the Crimea and collapsed with fibromyalgia, I am writing today about another kind of nurse, one who was every bit as brave as Florence Nightingale and survived until the ripe old age of 97, in her home town of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. She was the marvelous Sara Corning. It is unlikely she suffered from fibromyalgia so the question you might ask is about the contrast between the two.
I don’t have an answer to that question, but what I do know is that nurses have heavy burdens to bear and never more so than those who faced devastation caused by wars and massacres. Like military personnel who return from wars, some develop post–traumatic stress disorder (aka fibromyalgia), while others can carry on their lives in a more usual manner.
Now to the purpose of this blog today. As you know from previous writings, I blame my highly sensitive nervous system on childhood trauma and in particular the experiences I had as a student nurse in the mid to late 1950s. During those days we were used as a source of free labor to staff hospitals, often without any days off for three years, working for 12 hours shifts with a great deal of responsibility, ill-trained, learning through an apprenticeship system.
It was not just in small-town hospitals in Nova Scotia, but generally throughout Canada, the US, and other parts of the world. We were exploited and did not have within us the knowledge or experience to rebel, after all, we were but teenagers. Wanting to record those experiences of student nursing days, I began interviewing in a conversational way, women who had been student nurses up until the 1960s when the times began to change. The oral histories I had with women who had been nursing in the 1920s and 1930s are stored in the Nova Scotia Archives and I thought I was done with recording nursing history.
Now, in my old age, as a time to reminisce, I look back at the trauma inflicted upon me and my classmates, and once again decided to speak with women of my vintage about their experiences. The result is the book whose cover I shall show you. I have just received the copies fresh off the press, published by GlenMargaret Publishing, Nova Scotia.
So, where does this tie into Sara Corning you might ask? Well, for the first reason, she, like me was from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Secondly, we were both nurses. Finally, as a social activist all my life I deplored violence, massacres, genocide, exploitation, and social injustice. Therefore, in order to pay back society as a result of the privileges I have had as a nurse, I decided that I would donate the proceeds to the Sara Corning Society in Yarmouth so that her story would never be lost in that small town.
A statue will be relatively soon erected, a street already named for her, perhaps a scholarship for a student nurse, a bench…the ways are numerous. As statues of unsavory men are being torn down, what better way to honor women, and nurses than through statues? But even more so the Sara Corning Centre for Genocide Education in Toronto whose work is far-reaching will have an impact on future generations Please go to their website and read more about her.
As I write I know that there are many readers who are nurses and whose lives are filled with pain from the sights they have seen, the exhaustion that can be overwhelming, and the death and despair they see on a daily basis. Yet, they persevere as did Sara Corning. It isn’t a book about Sara but about others who came after her, nurses everywhere who devote their lives, perhaps not as dramatically as she did, but are heroines nonetheless.
(Synopsis inside the book cover)
It was in 1919 that this remarkable humanitarian nurse departed for the Near East, where she helped to rescue and care for thousands of orphans, victims of the 1915-1923 Armenian genocide and Greek massacres, including during the Greek-Turkish forced populations exchange of 1923.
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