Summon memories of your successes

Robin Oliveira tells the story of a very resolute midwife who wants to become a doctor in her book My Name is Mary Sutter.

Because women weren’t supposed to become doctors during the 1860s, Mary Sutter volunteers to be a nurse during the Civil War.

She mops the floors, washes sheets in boiling water in a wash cauldron and beats rugs until they are clean at Union Hotel Hospital. She helps the wounded men write letters, offers them something to drink and tries to give each of them a smile. She assists with amputations.

Although Mary Sutter is a fictional character, Oliveira’s book is historical fiction, inspired by the fact that 17 Civil War nurses became doctors after the war.

Mary Sutter faces incredible obstacles and succeeds because of her determination and her tenacity.

“She summoned memories of her successes,” Oliveira writes. Mary remembers that she had delivered three sets of twins and she had driven 10 miles in the rain one night to a house where a shrieking mother cried for six hours before she was delivered of a baby the size of a fist.

Mary focused on one thing at a time. “Have control over one thing,” she remembered. “Wasn’t this how she had conquered uncertainty in childbirth? Steadiness, patience, deliberation, then action.”

Finally, on the battlefield, surrounded by wounded men, the doctor who trained her asks Mary to choose which men should go on the train to the hospital and which ones should be left behind.

The doctor explains that most of the men will die. “We have to save the most men,” he says. “If we let one on the train who will die anyway, it will doom two.”

“But I can’t decide who will go and who will stay,” Mary says.

Finally, the doctor tells her: “Choose who you are. Choose who you’ll be.”

And Mary Sutter chooses “because she had already chosen who she was a long time ago.”

She makes the difficult decisions because she is a strong, resolute woman.

We wrote about the author Robin Oliveira in an earlier post–“From nurse to mother to writer.”



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