While the mother is the natural guardian of the physician and moral welfare of her children, the nurse-maid has a considerable influence over both; for the former, however anxious and watchful, has so many other duties, both domestic and social, that she must absent herself at time from the nursery; the latter, on the contrary, lives there. By day, and often, too, at night, she has the care of the children, attending to their apartments, to their persons, food and clothing, participating in their amusements and exercise, and watching over their sleep. The selection of a nurse-maid, therefore, is a matter of much importance.
The celebrated Dr. West, in discussing the nursing of sick children, makes the following statement in regard to a nurse's qualifications:
"Indeed, if any of you have entered on your office (hospital nursing) without a feeling of very earnest love to little children -- a feeling which makes you long to be with them, to take care of them, to help them -- you have made a great mistake in undertaking such duties as you are now engaged in."
Now, though this was addressed to those who were occupied in caring for ill children, it is alike applicable to the nurse whose chief duties are with the healthy.
Love of children, therefore, is essential in a good nurse, but it must be combined with several other traits of character, since love alone will not compensate for such faults as stupidity, inexperience, forgetfulness and lack of judgment.
What, then, are the qualifications to be sought for?
1st. The woman should be in the prime of life, between twenty-five and fifty, for example. For if she be under the former age, she is apt to be frivolous and think more of her "afternoon out" and of her male friends than of her charge, while if over the latter, besides being set in her ways and opinionated, she is usually too worn out for efficient day service and too prone to heavy sleeping to be trusted for night duty.
2d. Strength, activity and freedom from disease are necessary. The first quality does not always go with a large accumulation of flesh; in fact, the reverse is apt to be the case. A stout nurse looks motherly and comfortable in the nursery, but she may, by her very bulk and consequent heat-producing power, render a young infant wretched in warm weather. I should avoid such an one as much as I should another whose back pained when she swept the floor or carried the baby out for an airing.
Consumption of the lungs, indicated by a cough, and syphilis, indicated, usually, by an eruption upon the skin, are two diseases especially to be avoided. Besides these two, which are to be shunned because they positively endanger the child's health, there are others that, without doing appreciable harm, render the sufferer's presence unbearable in the nursery. These chiefly offend through the sense of smell, as in the case of old leg ulcers; too freely perspiring feet; over-active axillary glands; certain forms of chronic catarrh of the nose, throat or tonsils; and of decayed or badly kept teeth.
3d. While beauty is not to be especially sought after, the maid's face should, at least, have a cheerful expression. A markedly homely or sinister face is a disadvantage, and still more so is any decided deformity. This reference to personal appearance, at first sight, perhaps, seems trivial, but any one who has seen much of children cannot fail to have noticed how a young child will crow and hold out its arms to the bearer of a placid, comely and smiling face, and turn away from one that wears a sombre and unsympathetic expression. Much is said about the magic of touch in managing young children, but I have observed that their eyes always seek the face and eyes of those about them, and that it is what they see there that guides their instinct for like or dislike.
4th. Children resemble dogs and horses so far as the instinct of knowing those who love them is concerned, and the element of love toward babies is, as already hinted, the most important feature in the disposition of a nurse. A woman having this quality will never be cross or impatient, and, by the very contagion of her good nature, prevents her charges from being fretful and makes her nursery happy. Besides love, with the patience and consideration it implies, truthfulness is a most important trait of character, not only for the physical welfare of the child, but also that, since children are such imitative creatures, the bad habit of lying may not be formed.
A truthful, loving woman is generally a cheerful one; if not, her place is out of the nursery, for children must be happy to be healthy, and the constant contact with sadness will bring unhappiness to any child.
Gentle speech is also a desideratum. Children will never learn politeness if every sentence they hear in the nursery is spoken in the fewest, shortest words, and "please" and "thank you" are good elements of a nurse's conversation.
5th. The nurse-maid should have a sufficiently developed mind to follow out and remember general directions, whether given by the physician or mother, and to do routine work without constant supervision. A certain amount of experience is a good thing, and on this account it is a recommendation for a woman to have had a partial hospital training, to have nursed children before, or to have been a mother. On the other hand, one must beware of the self-opinionated maid, who, having cared for several children, thinks she knows everything, and will be controlled by neither professional nor maternal directions. Such women are as ignorant and inefficient as they are common.
6th. Cleanliness is essential in a nurse. A slovenly maid will keep neither her children nor their nurseries clean. Therefore insist upon the nurse not only washing her face and hands as occasion demands, but upon her bathing her whole body two or three times a week, and upon her wearing fresh, well-aired clothing.
7th. So far as habits are concerned, absolute temperance and early rising are the most desirable. Early rising, however, implies an early hour of retiring, and care must be taken to afford ample facilities for doing so.
8th. Every nurse-maid should be impressed with the importance of informing the parents of all conditions connected with the health of the child that may demand attention, and of revealing at once any injury that may have been sustained.