• February 23, 2015
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Vilnius Emergency Medical Services during the interwar period (1)

A man had an epilepsy seizure, he felt on the street located by Skopiówka. There were many spectators, but someone shouted that instead of observing one should call for ambulance. Insults were thrown at the person. A woman shouted: “he will be laying for some time and he will get up, the doctors would only finish him” – noted “Kurier Wileński” (the issue from the 1st December 1910).

The upper quotation only proves how important was Vilnius Emergency Medical Services for the Vilnius society; it not only helped the sick and the injured, but also informed and educated people about the role of the newly established medical institution. “Kurier Litewski” served as another source of information – in its “Emergency Medical Services” column there were reports on how many accidents EMS was called to help, how many times it left the city, and how often it dressed someone’s wounds. Simultaneously the information provided proved the usefulness of the private institution, which constantly lacked funding even though it was partially sponsored by the city.

Vilnius Association of Temporary Aid, later Emergency Medical Services, was founded in 1902 as the 5th EMS in Poland (after Kraków (1891), Lwów (1893), Warsaw (1897) and Łódź (1899)). Archival documents and promissory notes kept in National Archives of the Republic of Lithuania prove that count Władysław Tyszkiewicz and his wife Maria Krystyna from Lubomirski family were the originators and the longtime protectors of the institution.

The first charity ball for the establishment of the Vilnius Association of Temporary Aid took place on the 4th of September 1902 in the hall of the “Grand Hotel”. The wealthiest citizens of Vilnius participated in the ball. The motivation behind the creation of the institution was the success of the Emergency Medical Services in Vienna, Kraków and Warsaw.

13 people came to the founding meeting. The first head of the board of the founders of the Association of Temporary Aid was count Władysław Tyszkiewicz who additionally bought two ambulances and the initial medical equipment at his own expense. He also decided to send 4 future doctors and 8 future paramedics of the Association for training to the Warsaw Emergency Medical Services. Doctors earned 600 rubles a year, whereas paramedics worked voluntarily. The founding board managed to gain 66 members with a yearly contribution of 5 rubles. The official inauguration of the EMS took place on the 10th of December 1902 (Narkowicz L., “Tyszkiewiczowie rodem z Landwarowa”, Warsaw 2013: 158-159).

Initially it was situated on Dominikańska 2 street, in the former Dominican monastery. The windows overlooked the Wileńska street; an official writing of Dr. Kazimierz Kodź, former hospital administrator, to the department of health of the town hall asking for a replacement of a broken window (18/19 February 1922) proves the original location of the Emergency Medical Services. The EMS building contained the facilities for patients and the employees’ flats; all heated by coal and wood. The first head of the Association was pediatrician Dr. Witold Węsławski (born in 1855). According to the archival documents, the subsequent administrators of the EMS were: general practitioner Dr. Kazimierz Kodź (born 1887) and surgeon Dr. Mieczysław Trzeciak (born 1889).

The Emergency Medical Services organized “EMS day” each year until the outbreak of the WWI. The “EMS day” provided funds for the institution (included lottery). Countess Maria Krystyna Tyszkiewicz was a patron of the event. She fought for new sponsors from the upper social class. All donators received special little signs designed by professor Ferdynand Ruszczyc and approved by the governor.

The competences of the EMS

The good image of the EMS was tarnished by the complains of the doctors. The head of the Association of the Polish Doctors Dr. Ludwik Czarkowski wrote (1922) to the Chief Medical Officer of the health department that the EMS did not fulfill its primary function due to not operating at night. 5 days later, the health department answered: Vilnius society and apparently the Association of the Polish Doctors do not understand the role of the EMS. Its task is to help the victims of accidents, cuts, poisons, and faints. But it is not its duty to help the patients of a freelance doctor, whose patients’ health condition worsened during the night, only to secure freelancer’s peaceful night’s sleep.

The competition was eager to get employed by the EMS; in 1922 the Association of the Polish Doctors turned to the Chief Medical Officer of Vilnius asking for the removal of a feldsher (transl. note: occupation similar to the physician assistant in the US) and the employment of a doctor in his place by the EMS. The request was met on the 1st of January 1923.

It is worth mentioning that despite 35 years of the existence of the EMS people did not fully understand the role of the institution. They called it in the instances of: chronic diseases and minor dysfunctions of the organism which did not require immediate medical assistance, or tried to use it to get to the hospital. In 1937, Dr. Kazimierz Kodź told city authorities that there is a need to create new regulations that would be in accordance with the general medical and legal requirements, and in contradiction to the old regulations created by the annexationists (Vilnius EMS operated according to the regulations of the Warsaw EMS, established in 1912).

The EMS mostly dealt with various stabs, cuts, contusive wounds, gunshot wounds and other injuries. The patients were mostly hurt in fights, robberies, or vendettas. The same category included the wounds taken in manufactories, construction sites, earthworks etc. The number of such cases increased yearly. Archival documents contain the information that “the reason for all this evil in Vilnius seems to be the well developing cutlery. Knives are frequently used in fights, robberies and vendettas which is transparent for the employees of the EMS. The remaining cases mainly concern gas, alcohol and food poisoning, suicides of various types, sudden illnesses and faints”.

The EMS became a city institution

During the 1914 German occupation, it turned out that the Association of Temporary Aid completely lacked funds. The Association got loan from the landowner Maria Kwinto. The following members of the Association of Temporary Aid: Dr. W. Węsławski, Fr. D. Czerniawski, Dr. L. Łukowski, J. Margowicki, W. Makowski, J. Mineyko, Dr. M. Minkiewicz, Z. Nagrodzki, Dr. W. Zahorski pledged to pay the debt in the period of 6 months after the German-Russian peace agreement and the renewal of the communication with Russia.

In 1919, the Bolsheviks disbanded the EMS board making it a city institution. In 1922, city magistrate unsuccessfully turned to Dr. Węsławski as the head of the former EMS asking for board meeting in order to reestablish the Association of Temporary Aid. In 1925, the beneficiaries of Maria Kwinto: Wincenta Konarzewska, Henryka Przewysz–Kwinto, Maria Dymsza and Henryk Kwinto asked Dr. Węsławski to pay the debt. Former head sought solution and help from the magistrate convincing that the board should pay the debt and in turn receive funding from the Association: 2120 rubles, 1303 marks, 7 promissory notes worth 16 thousand rubles from count and countess Tyszkewiczs (The Bank of Poland started operating on the 24th of April 1924 and exchanged 1 800 000 Polish marks for 1 złoty (PLN). At that time, public administrator earned 400-500 PLN, administrator of a higher rank, e.g. head – 600-700 PLN).

After long legal consultations city council decided to take the assets and liabilities of the Association of Temporary Aid. In accordance to the decree of the President of the Republic of Poland the debt in the amount of 3000 rubles plus interests (501 PLN) was finally paid. Legal department estimated the Association’s orders to the amount of 125 PLN and its promissory notes as worthless.

Zyta Kołoszewska

Translated by Damian Gabryś within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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