Project Canterbury

Mary Bird in Persia

By Clara C. Rice

London: Church Missionary Society, 1916.

Chapter VIII. Mary Bird as a "Doctor"

IN Asia Minor in the early centuries of this era, women were celebrated for their medical knowledge, and tradition says St. Zenais and St. Philonilla, natives of Tarsus in Cilicia and kinswomen of St. Paul, devoted themselves to medical science, making their skill in curing the maladies of the body a vehicle for instructing the souls of their patients.

In England for centuries women practised medicine among women and children. This was largely done by the members of religious orders, who, however, gradually withdrew from this side of their work. For a time, with rare exceptions, home was woman's only sphere, but in the latter half of the nineteenth century there was a great intellectual awakening, and women of singular power came forward as pioneers in education, nursing, and medicine. Conditions then changed extraordinarily; women were admitted into the medical profession in this country; and the doors to practice, though slowly and cautiously, were opened both at home and abroad--a step which has meant much to humanity.

How remarkable it is that a land celebrated for its ancient civilization, its poetry, and its philosophy, should have so little knowledge of the science and practice of medicine. The need of suffering humanity is so great and so urgent that it seems almost incredible that there has been so little effort made to meet this need. It would almost seem as though some essential germ of life or of wisdom had been missing from Persia's development. True it has those who profess to be doctors, but their knowledge, their theories, and their treatment leave very much to be desired. The conditions of life in Eastern towns where the people know nothing of the laws of sanitation and hygiene, cause the health records to be very bad, in spite of the fact that, owing to the absence of machinery and traffic, accidents are much fewer than in the West. The rate of infant mortality in Persia is appalling, in some districts being over eighty per cent, while few reach really old age. Not only is there little knowledge of medicine, but what is worse, distorted ideas of it prevail; and the women are neither willing nor are they allowed to see men doctors from abroad.

The conditions of the country, permeated with ignorance and superstition about things medical, make the need of skilful doctors appalling. The results of accidents are often intensified by neglect, by dirt, or by the application of extraordinary plasters. Cases of small-pox, typhoid, typhus, whooping cough, and eye disease are very common, as are also serious burns. The terrible results from cramped position, bad atmosphere, poverty, and overwork on the poor little carpet weavers are pathetic. Opium smoking is responsible for a great deal of evil and suffering. Mad people are constantly met with, and their condition seems often to correspond with that of the demoniacs in the time of Christ. Native doctors or hakims, with the exception of a few trained in Western methods, have no knowledge whatever of surgery, and as a class are very greedy of gain. The following are specimens of native treatment, some of which do no harm, even if they do no good.

For fever, a charm paper may be bought, torn up, mixed with iced water, and given to the patient to drink. A wound may be filled with peas to keep it open. For rheumatism the diet is a teacupful of honey, without bread, and soup made of lentils, beetroot, barley flour, mint, asparagus, and plenty of vinegar. For a dog bite, some hair of the same animal is singed, and the ashes sprinkled on the wound. For a burn, the ashes of a piece of calico dyed with indigo, or an ointment composed of pomegranate juice, white of egg, and gunpowder, are applied on a piece of rag, or brown paper, which need not be clean.

All diseases, all foods, and all remedies are divided into hot and cold; hot diseases always being treated with cold remedies and cold foods, and the reverse. Persians are appreciative when the foreign doctor considers their prejudices!

It was conditions such as these that Mary Bird faced when she went to Persia, but her life had been a simple home life; she had not been considered strong enough to take up nursing or medicine before going abroad, and hence she found herself confronted by difficulties with which it might be thought she was not able to cope. But with her, to see a difficulty was to strain every nerve to overcome it, and so it came about that seeing the needs of Persian women she could but set herself the task of helping them in this special way.

There are people who have a negative creed, a clause of which very often is, "I don't believe in foreign Missions." But many even of these people will acknowledge that they do believe in medical missions. Be this as it may, it is beyond dispute that medical missions have been for many years a most powerful factor in heathen and Mohammedan lands. Facts very clearly prove this--the millions of patients visiting dispensaries and hospitals; the distances, often hundreds of miles, from which they come; their gratitude for the skill and kindness of doctors and nurses; and the numbers to whom this has been the first step on the way to finding the Christ, the Healer of body and soul.

Bishop Stileman tells how, in the spring after Miss Bird came to Persia, she went with the Rev. Dr. Bruce and his daughter to a number of villages near Isfahan. On their return Dr. Bruce told him with delight and enthusiasm that the riddle of Miss Bird's work had been solved. Day after day the women and children had crowded the tent for treatment, and had listened attentively to simple Gospel talks. From that time onward it was evident that, although without any professional qualifications, she would be practically a medical missionary. She sent home for medical books and often spent many hours in study when others were sleeping. The first nurse sent anywhere by the C.M.S. did not go out until 1890, and no C.M.S. medical woman went abroad until 1895, so that Mary Bird's work was really pioneer medical work by and for women.

Some may think that to treat patients on any large scale was a great risk for an unqualified woman to take. Perhaps the most satisfactory answer to the objection is to quote what fully qualified doctors and nurses, the first five of these men, thought of her work in this respect.

1.--"Without much technical training, but with great natural gifts, . . . would have risen high in the profession had she been trained. Most successful in her dispensary work, fully realizing her limitations and entirely to be trusted to know when to stop."

2.--"She was thoroughly capable as far as her knowledge went, . . . careful to refer all serious cases . . . and was a most loyal fellow worker."

3.--"If she had made medicine her profession, she would have been in the front rank of women doctors. She worked with me ... and I had the very greatest admiration for her work as a 'doctor.'"

4.--"Miss Bird was a born doctor. I have often marvelled at her diagnosis; she seemed to know instinctively what remedies to give. She treated me most skilfully when there was no doctor within a hundred and fifty miles."

5.--"She was very capable . . . and knew her own limitations, never attempting what she knew ought to be referred to a doctor."

6.--"Wonderfully gifted, though she had not had special training."

7.--"She was so gentle with the sick folk in the dispensary, so firm with their childish naughtiness, and so skilful and wise."

8.--"She was always modest as to her sphere, but courageous in acting on her experience. She always prayed for and with her patients. She undertook minor surgery, and had an intimate knowledge of native prejudices about medical treatment."

9.--"As a medical worker (untrained) she had no equal, and she was always very careful to draw attention to the fact that she was not trained."

10.--"She was so wise in using the knowledge she had, but at the same time so willing and anxious to get further advice in difficult cases that she felt to be beyond her powers."

Instances could be multiplied to show the confidence that she inspired in lay people, and how often she was asked by Europeans to undertake serious cases in the absence of a doctor.

From very small beginnings the name of "Hakim Maryam" became widely known in Isfahan and the country round. So influential did she become, as has been seen in a previous chapter, that the mullas forbade the people to come to her, and attempts were even made to poison her. But she went on with quiet courage; when one dispensary was closed she opened another, and the general result was steady progress. She fully demonstrated the fact that such work was possible among Mohammedan women, and also that it was warmly welcomed by them. She longed for the advent of a fully qualified medical woman, who would be able to give the much needed surgical aid. When Dr. Emmeline Stuart reached Persia in 1897 to do this, Miss Bird's joy was great. Her pioneering work in Isfahan was then finished, and she willingly moved on, after her furlough, to do work of a similar character and of equal value, first in Yezd and then in Kerman.

Bishop Stuart wrote in 1895:--

"The attendance of patients at Miss Bird's residence in Julfa on two days a week has continued throughout the year with few interruptions. Many of the patients come from a distance on mules and donkeys, from the villages as well as the city. The long line of these, which on dispensary days half block the street, is evidence of the eager demand for her medical work. She has also her days for visiting in the city, and not infrequently she has been sent for, even by leading mullas, when the shadow of sickness has fallen on their own homes."

The following extracts from Miss Bird's letters will give some idea of what was expected from her and what she attempted:--

"When you are writing to Isabella (Mrs. Bishop) do tell her how much I appreciated her remark about what 'not to attempt' in doctoring, and to refuse all operations, except simple cases of lancing abscesses, boils, etc. Often I would be glad not to undertake bad cases; but what can I do when they say, 'If you will not try to help us, we must just di'? I feel, after warning them, I must try, but sometimes it is impossible. Fancy one poor woman after being blind for six years, came and entreated me to give her sight! Another asked if I could cure her husband who had been mad for three years."

"In the summer my hours are as follows: We begin dispensary, or go out visiting, at 6 a.m.; back to read Persian with the mirza from 11.30 to 2 p.m.; do odds-and-ends and have tea till 3.30, and then go out again sick visiting and receiving visitors till 7.45 dinner." Those who lived with her would say till 9 or 10! "The thermometer is at 80°" in my bedroom all day, but it does not feel hot."

"This has been a busy day. In the middle of dispensary a messenger came post-haste from town from the wife of a big Khán for me to come instantly. My donkey led the way, trotting, cantering, or galloping, and kicking whenever it came near the splendid grey horse, on which the head man-servant of the anderiin rode with the head woman-servant sitting behind. It was nervous work, the patient's mother, two Teheran princesses who are here on a visit, two of the Prince's wives, another Isfahan princess, and two of her sisters-in-law were all present to criticize my doctoring and speaking! But they were nice, and we had a little talk and prayer before leaving. I fancy fresh air, exercise, and a little variety of interest would do more for the patient than medicine, but how is it to be attained? The husband gives leave for her to go to the hammám, public bath, about once in ten days, and occasionally to call on a relative. She cannot read. I don't know how these women can be as cheerful as they are with such hopeless, aimless lives."

"I was called to visit an Armenian house and heard that the whole family had the same illness, and, worse still, discovered none of the women knew Persian! The principal patient spoke quietly at first, but, thinking more volume of sound must penetrate farther into my dull brain, gradually raised her voice; then the friends came to the rescue and joined in loud chorus. I came to the conclusion that at least their lungs were not seriously affected. Query:--Ought it to be more difficult to doctor, or rather quack, an adult patient whose language one cannot understand, than a child who cannot describe its symptoms?"

"The same happy thought seems to have struck several people, i.e. that if they have their bad teeth extracted this week they will be better able to eat sweets at their New Year festivities. On Monday, 165 patients, and eighteen of them unkindly wished to have stumps taken out. I was kept busy, the Armenian assistants doing the dressings. Yesterday thirty women arrived at 6.15 a.m. and I began at once; but 218 patients with fourteen dental extractions kept us hard at work till after 2.0 p.m. I broke two teeth, but, after several attempts, succeeded in getting out the stumps. These people are Spartans, they never utter a sound. My last visit to extract a big double tooth for a lady by her husband's order, but against her own will, was an exception. She was terrified and fled round the rooms and garden pursued by her mother, mother-in-law, boy, and maids for an hour and a half before she gave in! Afterwards she was smiling, and so grateful that she loaded me with sweets. A report is abroad that I want to collect teeth for sets, so I carefully give every one I extract to its owner! It is taken away, washed with water and camphor, and placed in a hole in a wall where the sun will fall on it, so that the patient will not be toothless in the next world!"

"Last week a dervish's daughter asked me to meet her visitors. When I arrived I found twenty-two sufferers collected. The girl said, 'Sit quiet while the hakim prays; she is not an infidel, she always prays first, then sees her patients.'"

"Sewed up a woman's ear which had been torn by her ear-ring being violently pulled by her fellow-wife while fighting--a common accident."

"Yezd is 3800 feet above sea level, Isfahan and Kerman both about 5500 feet; and there are mountain villages at an elevation of 8000 feet. Consequently many of the people have heart affections, and no remedies with which to relieve them. The poor sufferers' great consolation is the thought that when they become very dropsical, they are full of wind, which will waft them up to heaven!"

"This is the first week of the sacred fasting month Ramazán. I am careful to tell patients to take their medicines at sunset after the fast is over, and at dawn after their meal, but before the fast begins."

"A village woman was brought in a basket on a donkey over a bad mountain road for three days. She had heart murmur and bronchitis. She had never seen a foreigner, and almost choked herself in her desire to ask how we ate, slept, married, and were buried! "

"I was very surprised to be sent for by a lady whose people are 'Moslems of the Moslems,' 'sayyids on all sides.' She has had a long illness, and been treated by hakims, dervishes, and soothsayers. It is stated that one took many devils out of her, and the mother added with a sigh, 'took much money too.' I could hardly keep from laughing. Now the young hakim, who still has my Persian Bible, has advised my being 'sent for and obeyed'! The 'devilish wind' in her leg and foot proved to be two large abscesses. Her relief was great when I lanced and dressed them."

When there was a doctor to work with, Miss Bird was practically "house surgeon." At Kerman in 1903 she wrote:--

"Really the way the doctor works is splendid. We rarely leave the hospital for lunch till 2.30 or 3, and then off to town visiting for hours. We neither of us heed the locking of the gates as they are opened at once for us. Two nights it was 11.30 p.m. and still the gate-keepers did not grumble. It would be impossible to continue at this speed, but alas! the doctor leaves us in a fortnight and is trying to do all in his power before leaving."

"Last Monday at 12 o'clock a closed carriage and pair, four outriders, and six runners came to the hospital doors. The doctor and I drove in state to a distant entrance of the city and then came to a full-stop. Outriders dismounted, coachmen jumped down, horses were taken out, runners ran up, and we were drawn the next two streets and a half as the corners could not be rounded in any other way. Again the horses were put in and we started afresh, three times they swerved slightly and the carriage stuck against two houses and had to be pulled off. Then we ran into an open shop, upsetting baskets full of walnuts, but we finally arrived at the door of the most influential mullá in town. We were received by his brothers and sons and numbers of the leading Khans, and led to a room specially prepared for the operation, where operating table and instruments were ready and a hospital assistant in charge. The doctor found the table was too long to be set in the angle of the room, where the light was best, so there was a delay till the end was sawn off, during which time he asked me to cheer up the Áqá, who was evidently nervous though self-contained. Then all but the eldest brother and his own hakim were asked to leave the room. The cataract came out most beautifully. As soon as the doctor said, 'The operation is over,' the poor Áqa said, 'Send word to the anderún; my wife is killing herself.' So I went to the anderiin, where the wildest excitement prevailed. The wife had torn her skirt and chadar to ribbons. The room was packed with relatives all telling her at the top of their voices 'to be quiet,' not to let herself 'boil.' They flew upon me, and every one asked questions at the same time without leaving a chance of getting in an answer. I began in a loud, cheery tone to the wife, 'May your eyes be enlightened. The operation has, thank God, been most successful. Have you been shown the cataract?' Then lunch was announced. The doctor, assistant, two of the Áqá's brothers, his two sons, three Khans, and I all sat down together. Such a thing has never been thought of before."

A fortnight later she wrote, "Again, poor little Quack is, 'medical in charge,' for the good Dr. Summerhayes left us on Tuesday for his own hospital in Quetta amid the regrets and good wishes of all classes."

Sick children made a very strong appeal to Miss Bird, especially the poor little deformed carpet weavers at Kerman. In that town opium-smoking parents make contracts for their children with master carpet weavers, taking money in advance if they can. So little girls of 5, 6, or 7 are bound for periods of one or two years, working daily from soon after sunrise till about sunset, in dark, ill-ventilated, dirty, mud hovels, at the hand carpet looms. At one time girls never worked outside their own homes, but the poor opium smokers allow their children to go in all weathers, scantily and unsuitably fed and clad. When through extreme weakness and deformity the little ones cannot walk, they are carried to and fro daily until the contract term is up. Then perhaps, one morning they are deposited at the hospital doors for treatment as in-patients. Village girls, employed as carpet weavers under hygienic conditions, are not deformed; but, alas! opium smoking is spreading in the villages and deformed children carpet weavers are increasing in number.

Writing of these children Miss Bird said:--

"One case is a child of 12 years old. She was married five years ago, and last year she had a baby boy. For four months she has been crippled; forty days ago her baby died, and the husband, not wanting 'a childless, crippled wife,' divorced her. She is only a child, and calls me as soon as I go into the house to pet her."

"I have just admitted a child of 7, I think suffering from starvation fever. She is so weak, but quite conscious, and says nothing but, 'cold water,' and, 'let me Jie still.' Her mother is dead, her father has left her. She had been sent to weave when 5, but broke down utterly three months ago, but as she was bound for three years, and her grandparents had drawn all her wages in advance the master would not let her off, and her aunt carried her daily to the factory. Too weak to speak, dear wee mite, she is lying gently stroking her turkey-red pillow."

"We have in hospital this week two very bad cases of rickets. Laila, said to be 15, cannot stand; the bones look as if they had been broken below the knees the curve is so acute, and the knees and ankles are bent. Fatima, aged 10, is such a pretty child, with dark curling eyelashes and perfectly transparent skin. She has just the same form of double curvature of the legs as Laila, and the muscles are much contracted. Both are orphan children whom I saw literally crawling along in the mud begging, s(s they could no longer work."

Of other children she wrote:--

"A poor baby with an awfully ulcerated lip and tongue was brought for me to look at. They had ground some stones to powder and with water made a paste of it, which when applied plentifully simply glued up the poor child's mouth."

"I had fourteen children to dress to-day. The gratitude of the mothers is touching. I forbid their kissing my feet, but cannot prevent their kissing my hands in the middle of the dressings. At present I have three children who have been burnt by going too near the lamp on the ground and setting fire to their skirts. Poor mites! it will be weeks before they are well. One is a Nawab's daughter, aged 4, and is brought by her three nurses every morning. This gives an opportunity of teaching them, and the mother sent on Wednesday for me to go to the house, and was most polite and friendly. I am going every day to dress a child with awful wounds in her side and leg. We are fast friends and she will let me do anything with her, but cannot bear her own people to come near. I remarked on it the other day, when she said, 'Mother does not love or want me, she wishes me dead.' When I appealed to the mother she said, 'Yes, I have three other girls, that is as many as I can get good husbands for. I often tell the child I wish she would die."

"A poor boy came to me to-day who had had his hand crushed between millstones, the sinews and bone are bare. He is plucky! I told him it would be best to cut off some of the skin. It was in an awful state; he had only wrapped a handkerchief loosely round it, and the flies had got in, and it was alive! This often happens with wounds in summer. He had walked twelve miles to see if I would dress it, and said, 'Put a chadar over my eyes so that I do not see a knife or scissors, I will try not to scream.' He only groaned a little. This morning it is in rather a better state. I often long for a surgeon to dress such cases properly."

"Our dear little Baluchi patient is doing well; he is now carried out to lie in the sun every day, the height of bliss to any native. His diet would perhaps surprise English hospital authorities. We tried him with eggs and milky custard, but they did not suit him; so he lives now chiefly on dates, and broth almost 'stodgy' with rice, with spinach and plenty of fat in it."

"A Persian woman brought her son of 16, who has had ear-ache for a week. This morning they saw a 'beast' coming out of his ear which they tried to catch with the scissors, but it went back! They went to the hospital to find the doctor had gone. Would I look at him? I could not see anything, but filled his ear with oil, and after a few minutes saw something white which I extracted with the forceps, and found it was a stone just the shape and size of a large scarlet runner bean. They have gone off very happy."

"A dear, pretty bride, 10 years old, with lovely, beseeching, frightened brown eyes, had been tossed by a bull, her mother explained, when 4 years old. 'Ever since then her heart has flapped, flapped, like a dove's wings.' A week ago she was married to a man of about 40, whom of course she had never seen. His loud voice terrified her, and all the fuss and row of the wedding proved too much and brought on bad heart attacks. We were soon friends, and I have promised to take all your photos for her, 'for if I love you, I must know all your family.' Poor darling, I hope she will soon be relieved."

"Then to a new case--a bride 11 years old. She had small-pox some years ago, and since then has been troubled with pains in her limbs, which the hakim said was 'the cold wind of small-pox.' Various remedies were tried with little effect. Her bridegroom, finding she was suffering, wished her to consult her hakim again, when he said the thing to drive out this wind was for the patient to have a fright and then a very hot drink. So when she was asleep her friends made a decoction of herbs very hot, and then standing round screamed, 'Your mother and sisters are dead,' and at once forced her to drink the mixture. For a week she had been gasping for breath, unable to lie down, and the 'wind had gone into the face, hands, and feet,' which were very swollen. I found she had organic disease of the heart, and of course the shock had done her great harm, but I hear she is rallying."

Village crowds always appealed to Maryam Khánum. After a long weary desert journey, her tiredness was gone as soon as those who needed her appeared. She said:--

"We pitched our tent under some willow trees. near a brook outside Isfahan, and within five minutes were beset by women begging for medicines. Later, we went up a hill and to another small village, where one woman recognized me, and raised the cry of 'Hakim,' and quickly a crying crowd of maimed and sick people followed us."

"The openings for work seem plentiful in the villages round Yezd. At Taft over two hundred patients, men and women, came; and we paid several visits to big houses where they were willing for prayer and reading. In fact we had only just entered one house when one of the family said to the neighbours who had crowded in, 'Be quiet, the ladies will read and pray before they see any one.' Most patients expect me to pray for and with them, and attribute many cures to this practice, though some repeat their Arabic prayers in a low monotone as an antidote. I know to reckon by numbers is a most insidious evil, but one cannot but rejoice that so many have been willing to come.

Opium is smoked throughout Persia, but the habit is worse in Kerman than anywhere else, and is greatly on the increase. There are few houses where opium pipes are not seen. The women smoke in their own houses only, but the men sit in groups under some shady archway, or in unfrequented parts of the bazars smoking away quite shamelessly, and it is openly done in all the coffee-houses. The following are examples of what Miss Bird met with, and the help she was able to give to the victims of this drug:--

"What is it possible for us to do to hinder this curse? Five times lately women have entreated me, if I knew of any antidote, to give it them for their husbands; one of these, when I was visiting at his house, came to the door of the room to beg for help against this besetting sin: 'My wife and mother are starving, we are in rags, everything that could be sold or pawned has long since gone to satisfy this craving. I must smoke, I cannot endure the suffering if I give it up for a day, but I know it is killing me. My friend dropped dead in the road only a few days ago, because he could not get his pipe at the right hour; I shall do so too. Give me medicine, or if you think God hears a Christian's prayer sooner, pray for me. I know opium is killing me, I want to give it up, but cannot.' A mother came sobbing, 'My pretty daughter whom you attended two years ago now smokes. Khánum, save her life, her beauty is gone!'"

"An opium smoker, who has recovered powers of sleep and eating is only taking a quarter of his usual quantity, and is very anxious to give that up. The poor creature looks like a wizened, wooden old monkey, but I believe is only twenty-two. Everything had been sold to obtain the drug, which he said was killing him. I saw another poor victim, a black skeleton would best describe him, and he is quite young. He wants to give it up, he says he knows it is fast killing him, but 'I cannot, I shall go mad or die if I don't smoke.'"

"A call to an opium poisoning case has meant three and three-quarter hours' hard work to recover the bride, but I think all danger is over; she is a mulla's daughter and one is glad to serve in such houses."

Again in 1914, when efforts were being made by the local authorities to discourage opium smoking through raising the tax on it:--

"Opium is being raised £2 per stone weight; the old smokers are in despair and say it spells death to them, they cannot get their quantity; four I believe really did die the first night of the rise, March 25. Many wealthy smokers count it a work of supererogation to give the poor smokers enough to keep them alive. The price is having a salutary effect on younger smokers; numbers are coming for treatment to give it up--a really painful process. Many husbands are forbidding their wives to give the smoke of it to their children, an order an opium-smoking wife bitterly resents, for even if an infant has had four or five long whiffs blown down its throat, it sleeps like the dead for hours."

"On Friday I saw a poor wretched woman leaning against the doorway, and called, 'What do you want?' She did not answer. As soon as I went near I knew by her contracted pupils that she had had a large quantity of opium. A shake roused her to some extent and she said, 'My child--opium.' Throwing back her chadar I found such a fine boy about a year old dying in her arms. I told her to run to the hospital, but finding she could hardly walk, Nasrullah took the child and we flew. Dr. S-----was there, and we tried all we could, but in vain; the little pet died in my arms. The poor wretched mother took him, and slunk off looking frightened, not sorry. She had been smoking, sitting on the ground; the baby, she remembered, was playing with the pellets of opium; more she did not know. She died the next day, leaving three tiny children, all opium inhalers from birth."

"A woman who had smoked opium for years developed the signs of opium poisoning, her friend hearing I was in town called me in, and she recovered. The baby was a wee shrivelled up brown monkey, the mother wanted to blow opium in its face for it to inhale, but I first tried rubbing; however, it got weaker and worse, till fearing it would die I gave in and let it have opium, when it soon came round. Is it not dreadful? I have now four babies of about a year old under treatment, giving them tonics and coffee as a restorative if faint, and ordering them three whiffs less each day. A different case is poor Jan Jan, who has reduced herself to beggary through opium-smoking and eating. When I first saw her last autumn she had lost the use of her limbs almost entirely, and could not think for many minutes about anything; she was just a wreck. I have taken her medicine regularly since, as her people would not trouble to come for it. She can now walk, has quite given up opium smoking (and only takes three small opium pills per day), and can follow a simple Bible lesson for ten minutes at a time."

A fellow-worker writes:--

"Miss Bird was called at all hours of the day and night to visit the sick, and sometimes to cases of madness; there are no lunatic asylums in Persia. Late one evening in Kerman she received an urgent message to come quickly to a poor dívanéh or devil-possessed woman. She found the patient chained in the desert, almost naked and very wild. Mary Bird went to her unafraid. She unchained her, stroked her, kissed her, clothed her, sat long beside her and prayed over her, believing simply that God would heal her. She gave medicines to her, and did not leave until the patient was calm and quiet. She went again and again to minister to her, and eventually this woman recovered fully, and the Persians marvelled at Khánum Maryam's skill and constantly attributed it to Christianity. There were many such cases treated by her. Though unqualified as a doctor she knew no fear, and had a special liking for treating neurotic and mental cases, many of whom fully recovered. There is no doubt that Mary Bird possessed in an unusual degree a mysterious power over people of this sort. There was an authority about her when she tended them, a love for them, however repulsive they appeared, and a great vital force went out from her to them, that impelled them into a state where healing could be possible. She knew she possessed this power, yet was reticent in speaking of it. Into these sad, dark experiences of human life she brought no mere occultism, but entered with her victorious faith knowing that the Christ Himself was within her, ministering to them."

The following stories are from her own pen:--

"My poor mad girl is still in the stocks, but much quieter; I hope, if only her people will have patience, she may recover, but they soon lose their tempers and then all fight together. She never swears at me now and does not destroy her clothes. Oh! for an asylum where she would be treated kindly and watched properly. Last week some knowing friends called to see her and said she was possessed by several demons, and that something must be done to frighten them out of her, so they decocted a quantity of herbs, and when the poor girl was quietly sleeping, suddenly poured the hot decoction over her. Of course she was terrified and very angry, and for several days more excitable."

"Did I ever tell you the mad girl I attended for months has quite recovered? I have another under treatment now, said to have been driven mad by having donkey's brains given her to eat."

"The woman who says she has an evil spirit came to the dispensary to-day. The people were scared, and she is, to say the least, 'uncanny,' but I was not frightened. She went up to the wall, made a snap at it, saying, 'That is sugar candy,' and instantly began crunching a large lump of plaster in her mouth. Then she came to my table, saying, 'Now I will tell you all about your mother and family.' Some one said: 'Where are her charms?' I noticed them on the floor and put them into her hand. She kissed them, saying, 'The evil spirit does not speak to me when I have my prayers on,' and was quiet. Dr. Bruce once said he had known several such cases, and thinks they answer exactly to the Biblical description of witches and possessed ones. Though I am only one of the little ones, as helpless as the lamb among the wolves, yet when the day comes to tell my Master of the work I may be able to tell of Kermani devils cast out in His name and by His power."

During the last three years and a half that Miss Bird was in Persia she did less hospital and dispensary work than in those early days, as now there are at work in Isfahan, Yezd, and Kerman ten doctors and six nurses. She was willing, nay glad, to stand by and let her place in medical work be taken by doctors, so that she might have more leisure for teaching.

Apart from the multitudes in Persia who show their appreciation of the healing art by crowding to the doctors wherever they are to be found, there are other vastly encouraging facts. For instance, in Yezd in 1898 a large caravanserai and house were given by a wealthy Parsi merchant to be converted into a hospital, the legal papers all being settled and sealed by the mujtahids, according to the law of the country, and the deeds registered in the books of the British Consulate in Isfahan. Native governors often visit this and other C.M.S. hospitals and give generously for their upkeep. Many wealthy men subscribe regularly, and as it means a great deal for a Persian to give and not to receive the equivalent, they must know their money is well spent. Land to the value of £80 has recently been given by three wealthy landowners for part of the site of a new hospital in Kerman.

In 1914 the Persian central Government so recognized the work of the Isfahan hospital as to remit, at the request of the native governor, all customs duties on drugs and instruments, by making an annual grant of £50. The leading people pay large fees; in fact, what might be called the private practice of the doctors largely pays for the upkeep of the hospitals, with their thousands of patients. [About two-thirds of the working expenses of the hospitals, apart from drugs, are paid locally.]

Mrs. Isabella Bishop gave this emphatic testimony to the work of healing: "To my thinking, on no one agency for alleviating human suffering can one look with more unqualified satisfaction. The medical mission is the outcome of the living teaching of our faith. I have now visited such missions in many parts of the world, and never saw one which was not healing, helping, blessing; softening prejudices, diminishing suffering, telling in every work of love and of consecrated skill of the infinite compassion of Him Who came, 'not to destroy men's lives but to save them.' "

Though gratitude is not a feature of Persian character, and though abstract ideas rarely appeal to them, they do acknowledge that in doctoring them we have no other wish or thought than their spiritual and material welfare.

Patients know that if they come to the dispensary they will hear a simple gospel address; that if they are admitted as patients into the hospital there will be the daily readings and talks in the wards for those who are well enough to listen, that there will be prayers at night, that besides the English doctors and nurses, many of the native nurses, dispensers, and ward-maids, men and women, are Christians; and yet they come. And many leave the hospitals with memories of Christian kindness and patience and love, all given "without money!" and with at least a clearer understanding than ever before of the love and teaching and power of the Christ. Medical work fails, from a missionary point of view, to justify its existence unless the evangelistic work is carried on as faithfully and vigorously as the medical and surgical work. In Persia it has certainly justified its existence.

The healing gift He lends to them
Who use it in His name;
The power that filled His garment's hem
Is evermore the same.


The Good Physician liveth yet,
Thy Friend and Guide to be;
The Healer by Gennesaret
Shall walk the rounds with thee.


Project Canterbury