Sister Kenny

Hey, you nurses out there – this 1946 film is a fascinating look back at a woman who was a nurse pioneer despite never actually going to nursing school.  Sister Elizabeth Kenny was self-trained and worked as an Australian bush nurse providing care to hundreds of people in the bush who were far from the nearest physician. (The “sister” title was a result of her work as a war nurse and she retained it for the rest of her life although she was technically not entitled to use it.)   While the movie may not follow her life with 100% accuracy, nevertheless one cannot help but cheer for her tireless efforts to gain recognition from the (predominantly male, and very conservative) medical community for her controversial “Sister Kenny Method” of treating infantile paralysis (poliomyelitis).   Rosalind Russell plays Elizabeth Kenny with sufficient gravitas and personality to enlist the viewers wholehearted support, and the supporting cast are just that — assistance to move us through her story with grace and medical accuracy.  Russell in fact had known and admired Kenny for several years, and Kenny had successfully treated her toddler son.  While there was great financial reluctance to produce a movie based on this then-still controversial woman, Russell persisted as she believed that the message of the movie was more important than the finances.  How right she was!  The movie lost money, but the Sister Kenny Method was for years the only known effective treatment for the painful muscle spasms associated with polio.  While this is only a distant memory for those of us old enough to have lived before the Salk vaccine, polio victims were immobilized with casts or painful braces prior to the Kenny Method.   Her application of hot moist compresses and gentle passive ROM exercises revolutionized treatment and was in fact a forerunner of physical therapy.   We caught the movie on TCM, and unfortunately it’s not easy to find elsewhere for streaming.   Of course, it’s on YouTube although the quality isn’t as crisp as the version available on TCM.  For anyone interested in a brief look into the life of this fascinating and courageous woman, this movie is Worth the Search.

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