Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Mercy Street, Episode 2

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 24, 2016

HastingsNow we know why the real-life Anne Reading was re-imagined as a fictional Ann Hastings. Ahem.

I was surprised at Ann Hastings’ reaction to the efforts to open the windows to get fresh air on the wards, because her mentor, Florence Nightingale, was as committed to fresh air and sunlight as anyone possibly could be. Here is what Nightingale had to say about ventilation in her Notes on Hospitals (3rd edition), published during the Civil War:


3. Deficiency of Ventilation. — The want of fresh air may be detected in the appearance of patients sooner than any other want. No care or luxury will compensate indeed for its absence. Unless the air within the ward can be kept as fresh as it is without y the patients had better be away. What must then be said when, as in some town situations, the air without is not fresh air at all ? Except in a few cases well known to physicians, the danger of admitting fresh air directly is very much exaggerated. Patients in bed are not peculiarly inclined to catch cold,* and in England, where fuel is cheap, somebody is indeed to blame, if the ward cannot be kept warm enough, and if the patients cannot have bed-clothing enough, for as much air to be admitted from without as suffices to keep the ward fresh. No artificial ventilation will do this. Although in badly-constructed hospitals, or in countries where fuel is dear, and the winter very cold, artificial ventilation may be necessary, it never can compensate for the want of the open window. The ward is never fresh,and in the best hospitals at Paris, artificially ventilated, it will be found that, till the windows are opened, the air is close. A well-waged controversy has lately been carried on upon this very point, in Paris. Eminent authorities in England had decried the pavilion system, on the ground that the atmosphere of a certain Paris pavilion hospital was ” detestable,” not because of the pavilion architecture, but because of its artificial ventilation defying the best pavilion building to ventilate its patients. What is all that luxury of magnificent windows for but to admit fresh air? To shut up your patients tight in artificially warmed air, is to bake them in a slow oven. Open the Lariboisiere windows, warm it with open fires, drain it properly, and it will be one of the finest hospitals in the world.

Natural ventilation, or that by open windows and open fire-places, is the only efficient means for procuring the life-spring of the sick — fresh air. But to obtain this the ward should be at least fifteen to sixteen feet high, and the distance between the opposite windows not more than thirty feet. The amount of fresh air required for ventilation has been hitherto very much underrated, because it has been assumed that the quantity of carbonic acid produced during respiration was the chief noxious gas to be carried off. . . .

One would think the inference in people’s minds, from these just (and unjust) terrors, would be to remove instantly every hindrance to the foul air being carried off ; but, instead of that, their inference is to shut it up or to run away from the sick.

One would think that the first and last idea in constructing hospitals would be to contrive such means of ventilation as would be perpetually and instantly carrying off these morbid emanations. One would think that it would be the first thing taught to the attendants to manage such means of ventilation. Often, however, it is not even the last thing taught to them. ​


I’m beginning to think — or at least hope — that Ann Hastings is ultimately going to be revealed in the end as an impostor, who never got closer to the Crimea than reading The Times.

Silas Bullen will probably die violently, mourned by no one, because that’s how these shows work.




8 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Christian McWhirter said, on January 25, 2016 at 8:39 am

    Haven’t seen the episode yet but it sounds like it didn’t do much to change my initial reaction to Hastings. Like you, I think only a reveal that’s she’s been lying about Nightingale will make this character at all believable.

  2. kacinash said, on January 25, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Unfortunately, this character seems like she is only present to serve as the Mercy Street version of Downton‘s Sarah O’Brien. Because apparently to make drama, you need to have a vile, scheming woman. I think the character is very intelligent and capable, but feels threatened by being bypassed by Dix’s nurse. I didn’t get the impression that she didn’t agree with the ventilation issue, but rather was put out that it had not been her idea? I don’t know. I will have to watch that scene again. But yes. I am enjoying the show, but hate all the soapy nonsense.

  3. Leo said, on January 25, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    I’ve only seen episode 1 so far, so I stopped reading for fear of a spoiler. 🙂

    • Andy Hall said, on January 25, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      I tried to avoid any spoilers, at least detailed ones.

      • Leo said, on January 26, 2016 at 11:07 am

        I watched episode 2 last night. The room ventilation would have gone right over my head if you hadn’t pointed it out. However, what set off alarms to me is that she keeps a bottle in her apron.

        Stay tuned!

        • Andy Hall said, on January 26, 2016 at 11:35 am

          No worries. Nightingale’s influence on hospital design happens to be an interest of mine, so I’m more attuned to that than most people would have any reason to be.

          • Leo said, on January 26, 2016 at 1:44 pm

            It’s actually nice to learn new things like this. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy your blog.

  4. Foxessa said, on January 27, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    You know she’s a bad ‘un coz she’s sleeping with the wrong doctor.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: