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"The Wing Infirmary" - an article from Der Schwarzwalder Fleiger circa 1960


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While digging through some of the boxes containing the miscellanea of my military career, I came across a photocopy of an article I recall finding 20+ years ago in my office at the Baden-Soellingen BHosp.  There’s a notation on it (in my handwriting) stating “This is an article from the Soellingen Air Base paper ‘Der Schwarzwalder Fleiger’ in 1960”.  Back then, I found it interesting reading a little about how our little medical facility had been thirty years previously and so have transcribed it here for those who may like a glimpse of a small slice of the RCAF over fifty years ago.


The Wing Infirmary

    The story of a hospital can be told in so many ways that it is difficult to combine all these into one.  One could tell a story of facts and figures that would give numbers of people treated, hospitalized, births and deaths, but this would make very dry reading and would only be of interest to a statistician . . . One could tell a story dealing exclusively with the dedicated people who work in your infirmary; these people do not work by the clock but will stay with a patient until he has been cared for.  Each department of the Infirmary could produce a full length story by itself.  Therefore, we hope that by telling of an average day in the Infirmary, we may not neglect any of the many facts of the overall picture.

    First, the word “infirmary” might bear an explanation.  RCAF regulations say that we are an infirmary, rather than a hospital, because we are not equipped nor staffed to perform major surgery, as we do not have a surgeon nor anaesthetist, and we are not staffed to carry out the more complex X-ray work.  (These facilities are available at 3 (F) Wing Hospital and at U.S. military hospitals in the area.)

    Secondly, a brief outline of the main purpose of your infirmary might be in order.  The prime purpose of any RCAF medical facility is the prevention of injuries and diseases.  All who read this, have had a first-hand example of preventive medicine when they lined up for inoculations and vaccinations.  Immunizations, though important, are only one of the many ways of preventing disease from spreading.

    Keeping a close physical check on the people who work in snack bars and messes, and domestics who work in your homes with your children, regular physical checks on your children in school, inspections of the messes and snack bar to ensure proper methods are used in the handling of food and the washing of dishes, continuous checks on the swimming pool water to ensure that the water is clean and that agents used to keep the water clean are not harmful, are but a few of the tasks carried out to keep you healthy.

    Aircrew members and technical personnel will, perhaps, appreciate more the efforts made to prevent accidents.  Every aircrew officer, who has torn himself away from a busy schedule to have an annual medical examination, realizes this is to ensure he is fit to carry out the complex task of flying an aircraft and be ready to withstand the physical stresses of flying.  Every technician, who has ead the 00-80 section of Engineering Orders, must appreciate the research which has been carried out to provide for his safety on the job.

    Although every effort is made to keep people healthy, a few succumb to various conditions and illnesses and the Infirmary’s second big task is to give the best possible care to these people to get them back on the job or home to their families as healthy individuals again, with the least possible delay.

    This is where you, the patient, come into personal contact with the medical staff and subsequently form opinions about them.  A brief pause here might help determine the type of opinion you form.

    When someone comes into the infirmary, he is, as a rule, ill.  When a person is ill, he is easily irritated, by what he might consider to be, unnecessary delay in being seen, not being able to see some particular doctor or by being give advice which conflicts with his own ideas as to what should be done.  Although the medical staff realize the patient is ill and treat him with as much consideration as possible, there will always be minor annoyances over which they have no control.  It is hoped that when the patient is well again, he will see things in a different light and realize that everything that was done was in his own best interest.  He may understand that while he was waiting to be seen, the doctor was busy caring for someone who, perhaps, needed him more.

    The infirmary is staffed by four medical officers, eight nurses, a pharmacist, a medical secretarial officer, sixteen medical assistants, a radiographer, a laboratory technician, four clerks, three cooks, food service assistants and cleaning personnel.  These forty-seven people are distributed throughout various departments of the infirmary and as was mentioned previously, the best way to tell their story is to describe a typical day in each department.

    The Medical Inspection Room (MIR) is the patient’s first contact with the Infirmary.  He is met by a Medical Assistant who directs him to any one of the four medical officers.  As well as keeping track of each doctor’s patient, this MedA arranges for medical examinations, sets up the pre-natal and post-natal clinics and keeps track of out-patient records on each person on the Wing.

    The medical officer may refer the patient to the Treatment Room.  This department is staffed by a nurse and a MedA, who handle all out-patient treatments.  They are equipped to apply dressings, administer heat therapy, drugs and antibiotics as prescribed by the doctor.  This is also where the Well-Baby Clinics are held and, every Friday, immunizations are given to service personnel and their families.  The MIR cares for an average of 43 patients per day.

    Should the patient require X-rays, he is seen by Sgt “Bill” Barnes.  The X-ray picture, as you probably know, is extremely important to the doctor to help him, not only to see bone fractures, but also to see when some mechanism of the body is not functioning as it should or is in need of repair.  With the end of hocke season, Sgt Barnes should be able to catch his breath and prepare himself for the baseball and football season.  An average day in the X-ray Department would be 8 patients totalling 24 X-ray pictures.

    Perhaps the medical office will require various laboratory tests to assist him in diagnosing a case.  In this event, Flight Sergeant “Ron” Sellen is on hand to carry them out.  Since, in most cases, the information is required in a hurry, the laboratory is a busy place.  Because accuracy is of prime importance in lab work, don’t be surprised if you speak to Flight Sellen and get no answer.  He probably has his eyes glued to a microscope counting blood cells or “bugs” and doesn’t want to lose track of the count .  On an average FS Sellen will perform thirty-six tests per day or one every fifteen minutes.

    FS Sellen appears to be jack-of-all-trades because if the doctor would like you to have an Electrocardiogram he’s the man to see.  With his newly acquired direct-writing machine, he is able to complete an electrocardiogram in less than an hour.

    In a well-stocked pharmacy, we find Flight Lieutenant WA Curtis, surrounded by multi-coloured bottles and countless different pills and capsules.

    The work of the doctors and technicians in determining the cause of the illness would be all in vain if the proper medicines were not available to cure the condition.  For this reason, we must not underrate the importance of the pharmacy.

    The work involved in keeping supplies of drugs and medicines available and keeping records of all dispensed items is a full-time job in itself, but over and above all this, an average of ninety prescriptions per day are issued.  Since each prescription must be issued with care, this involves a great deal of time.

    In some cases, the patient’s condition is one that requires specialist treament which is not available at our Infirmary.  In these cases, the facilities of 3 (F) Wing Hospital and the medical services of the US Forces are made available to them.

    Appointments with other units are arranged through your Infirmary Orderly Room.  This office, staffed by Sgt King, Cpl MacDonald and Miss Ellen Heipel, working under the direction of F/L Richer, is responsible for maintaining records on all service personnel and their families, arranging for patients to be seen by specialists, keeping admission and discharge records and processing invoices for out-patient and hospital charges.  In addition, there are the usual statistics to be compiled.

    This Infirmary is established with fifty beds; the usual set-up comprises 45 beds, eight bassinettes and seven cribs.  The daily average in-patients would be fifteen with as many as thirty-four patients being hospitalized at one time.

    The “Stork” is a fairly regular visitor and his arrival is always a highlight of the day (or night) for the medical staff, not to mention the anxious parents.

    The fact that there are so many storks in the area might account for his one hundred and seventy-six visits to our Infirmary last year.

    A medical officer, Nurses and Medical Assistants work around the clock on the wards, not only to care for the patients but also to be available in the event of an emergency arising during the night.

    Any reputable restaurant is proud of its “cuisine” and the same can be said of our Infirmary.  Sgt Ludlow and his staff are justly proud of the end product of their many hours of planning, preparing and cooking the meals for the patients.  They realize that the preparation of nourishing food in a form that is not only appealing to the palate but also appealing to the eye is as much a part of the patient’s care as the nursing care they receive on the ward.  Proof of the fact that they succeed in this endeavour, are the many notes and cards of appreciation sent by ex-patients when they return home.

    In case there are questions in your mind regarding the fees charged by your infirmary, it might be well to outline them for you.

    Keep in mind that these fees prescribed by the Minister of National Defence, are very reasonable by Canadian standards and apply to dependents and civilians only.  Fees are not collected at the Infirmary but are as a rule deducted from the sponsor’s pay account.

Office Visit – For the first visit $3.00, however, a subsequent visit or visits for the same condition would be $2.50 per visit.  Nights, week-end and emergency visits are $3.50.  Patients covered by the Hospital Insurance (Outside Canada) Plan are entitled to out-patient care when used for emergency diagnosis and treatment within 24 hours after an accident.  In such a case, personnel should report to the Infirmary Orderly Room to sign necessary invoices for payment of out-patient treatment.
Treatment Visits – Should the doctor prescribe treatments for a patient, a charge of $1.50 per visit is made.
Radiology – For X-rays, $5.00 is charged for each procedure, however, should additional X-rays be necessary on the same area, a charge of $2.50 is made.
Other Procedures and Services – For Laboratory work, Electrocardiograms, Audiograms and others too numerous to list, charges are based on 90% of the Ontario Medical Association Schedule of Fees.

    You should now have reached the conclusion that the “raison d’etre” of your Infirmary is to provide services.  Most of these services are going on every minute of the day without your being aware of them.  Others are available to you should you require them, although it is sincerely hoped you may never find it necessary to use them.


There were photos that accompanied the original article, however (repeated?) copying have rendered most very dark and not very identifiable.  The captions were:

Sgt WH Barnes and Cpl L Collete bringing in a stretcher case

S/L RF Jackson performing an Aircrew Medical on F/O Fast

F/O LAS MacVicar dressing and comforting Rose Marie Gauthier, daughter of Sgt Gauthier of Bagotville, who was visiting friends in Hugelsheim

LAW Cunningham giving Mrs. Lindstein a first look at her new baby.

FS RC Sellen doing a “White Blood Count”