Augusta Chiwy was a Belgian nurse who treated many wounded American soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge. There were only two nurses at the army medical aid station in Bastogne, Belgium, in December of 1944. There was another army hospital on the other side of town, but neither facility was well staffed or well stocked. They had almost no medical supplies because the town was surrounded by Germans for several days. During the siege, the Germans fired explosives into the town in an almost constant, nerve-racking barrage.
Nurse Chiwy and army surgeon Dr. Jack Prior became a team even though she only spoke a little English and he only spoke a little French. They once amputated a man's gangrenous foot and hand with cognac for anesthetic, hydrogen peroxide for disinfectant, and a serrated knife. (They didn't even have a surgical scalpel! Chiwy not only administered the anesthetic and disinfectant, but she was the one who closed up (using God-knows-what for sutures.
Some of the American soldiers did not want to be touched by Chiwy because she was black. (Her father was Belgian and her mother was from the Belgian Congo.) Dr. Prior pointed out to these men, with more or less subtlety, that the alternative was that they could join the men who could not be treated at all and who were almost certainly going to die.
On one occasion, Chiwy and Prior commandeered a truck and drove to a snowy battlefield to bring wounded soldiers back to the aid station. Chiwy, who was under five feet tall, dragged a man with a leg wound to safety while dodging machine gun bullets.
When the Germans dropped a bomb directly on the aid station, Prior and Chiwy happened to be in the building next door where someone had invited them for a Christmas drink. Chiwy received minor injuries while 30 men and the other nurse, Renee Lemaire, were killed instantly. Prior and Chiwy worked with others to rescue the remaining patients from the demolished building.
Historian and film producer Martin King had heard of Lemaire but only belatedly learned of Chiwy from a local historian in Bastogne. He set about finding out more about her, and his research became the basis of this documentary. He found Chiwy living in a retirement home, where she graciously allowed King to make a fuss over her even though she kept saying that what she had done was not all that special. King made it his mission to persuade the Belgian and U.S. governments to recognize Chiwy for what she had done.
Chiwy, Prior and probably the other army doctor (who was a dentist by training) suffered from PTSD. Chiwy would occasionally become mute. Once, during the siege, something happened that made her want to scream but when she opened her mouth, no sound came out. For years afterward she would sometimes have trouble speaking. Similarly, Dr. Prior went back to the United Sates but found himself incapable of treating live patients who could experience pain; so he became a pathologist, a doctor who deals only with people who are already dead. The dentist became temporarily blind which was either caused by an hysterical reaction or a concussion, which was never made clear, perhaps even to him.
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