“The Angels of Bitola” and “Тhe Flyless Hospital of the Balkans” – Bitola after the end of the First World War

American Women's Hospital Unit in Bitola (Monastir), Macedonia
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American Woman’s Hospital (A.W.H) and American Red Cross (A.R.C.)

The end of the First World War did not mean an end to the suffering of the population in Macedonia. Although the military actions ended, the devastated land and property, the poverty and contagious diseases have remained for a long time.

The lack of medical personnel and medicines was particularly evident due to the presence of contagious diseases such as typhus, influenza, measles, malaria, cholera, etc. The cases of venereal diseases and improperly treated wounds were also very common. One of the few missions that helped the population at that time was the mission of the American Woman’s Hospital (A.W.H), which worked in collaboration with the American Red Cross (A.R.C.).

With the entry of America into the First World War on the side of the Entente on April 6, 1917, a number of female doctors offered their help to the military. At that time in America, less than 6% of the total number of physicians were women. Although many of them were successful and already proven in their profession, they were accepted into the military only as nurses and auxiliary staff. In 1917, a special commission from the American Red Cross visited Thessaloniki (Salonika), where they were impressed by the success story of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. Thus, in cooperation with A.W.H, a similar mission was decided to be sent to the Balkans.

The two cousins Dr. Regina Flood Keyes from Buffalo and Dr. Frances Mabel Flood from Elmira, New York, accepted the invitation and were soon sent to the city of Voden (today Edessa), Greece, near the Macedonian Front, where they opened a hospital.

Serbians* never had the hospital habit, for the simple reason that there were no institutions to practice the habit on. This native woman of Monastir was induced to visit the American Red Cross hospital after suffering several days with an ear-ache. Dr. Eugenie Flod Keyes and Dr. Mabel Flood of the Red Cross staff are administering relief in the above picture. The Serbian woman is doubtful but patient. She is dressed in the native costume of Monastir, each town of the country having its own brocaded in bright colors. At this dispensary, 150 people are treated every day
Dr. Regina Flood Keyes (left) and Dr. Frances Mabel Flood (right) at the hospital in Bitola are helping a woman dressed in traditional clothes

Dr. Regina Flood Keyes was a renowned surgeon and previously worked as a gynecologist at the main hospital in Buffalo, USA. She was appointed as director of the hospital in Voden, which was housed in an old abandoned building. Although they had money to renovate the old object, it was difficult for them to make any procurement’s because of the poor situation in the Balkans and the danger of Austro-Hungarian attacks on cargo vessels that sailed across the Mediterranean. However, they were well equipped with medical instruments, and with the help of local carpenters, the hospital was soon renovated and put into operation with about fifty hospital beds.

At that time, the city of Voden was crowded with refugees who slept in the streets and although they escaped from the military actions, they could not escape the contagious diseases. Not far from the front line, the doctors from America started another war, against an enemy who the uneducated local population did not understand. It was a fight against infectious diseases and the ways of their transmission. Thus the hospital was thoroughly renovated, cleaned, and surgical gauze was installed on the windows, serving as a net for protection against mosquitoes and other insects.

Dispensaries were opened in which the doctors with two other nurses from America and staff from the local population worked from morning till dawn, and by the beginning of 1918, they have managed to examine approximately 3,000 patients per month. Women doctors were something new especially in the Balkans, but with their sacrificial work they quickly gained the sympathy of the local population and helped a lot during the influenza epidemic that occurred in the autumn of 1918.

At the invitation of the French Army during the offensive on the Macedonian Front in September 1918, Dr. Regina temporarily worked in a mobile ambulance near the front line (Breakthrough at Dobro Pole). The surgical interventions were performed continuously for several days in a tent in front of which wounded soldiers waited while grenades fell in the vicinity. She was later decorated by the French government for her work.

After the breakthrough of the front line, the hospital from Voden was moved to Bitola (Monastir), a city that was constantly bombarded and largely destroyed in a period of two years.

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