The story about my Aunt Signe Munk Vest

This is the story about my legendary, fantastic, self-sacrificing Aunt who´s story from Greenland  I here will  share with people that might be interested, since she was a very amazing woman.  Her name is still  kept in many an old Greenlanders heart, and her story and name are forever written and remembered in
Greenlands historie books ! 


Signe Munk Vest was born  2.21.1909.  She died in Denmark  1.22.1980..

Signe Vest who was a very skilled and respected Nurse in Denmark, accepted in the year 1932 an request from Greenlands - administration to become a leading Nurse in a needy district in Greenland,  where she was supposed to be the leader of  the Health-Services in the district called (Angmagssalik),  today  Ammassalik, where she took up the difficult work there  from 1932 to 1955.
Until the construction of a hospital in 1956, Nurse Signe Vest ensured basic medical aid for the area around Ammassalik

In the year1946 there eventually came an educated doctor to Ammassalik.
Never the less, Signe continued   her work in the district until the year 1955,  except for one year where she took a job as a substitute nurse in another town in Greenland called Scoresbysund. 

 Before the doctor arrived in 1946, she had had some very eventful and busy years doing all the work  alone, in the small hospital in Ammassalik, with only a few "helping hands”  in form of some local Greenlanders she had taught to help with various work, such as looking  after  the patient´s  necessities, and do the cleaning  and the like. The rest was Signes responsibility.  She even did a lung-operation on a very sick patient  that had got  a sevire abscess in one of his lungs.
The only help she had in her effort to save this poor man was to operate via a doctor over the radio  constantly, step by step, telling her what to do next , under the operation. She managed it all, and the patient  soon became well and healthy again, under her  nursing and caring  treatment

In  Ammassalik  in the winter 1935-1936, all of a sudden, an epidemic broke out. The situation became acute and very intense, and also, the mystic sickness was very infectious, and furthermore, the sickness  seemed to brake out of unknown occasions.
The well known Danish artist and painter Gitz-Johansen, who spend the year 1935 in Ammassalik, and therefore  lived through the epidemic, thought the sickness  must have come from a sort of  plague-bacillus. Somebody called it a very serious influenza. Never the less this mystic illness was very scary and catastrophic.
The whole district, (except from the northernmost small town Sermiligaq) was hit by this dreadful sickness.
In the town Ammassalik every one of the Greenlanders became very sick.

Signe Vest drove on her dog sledge every day, to visit all the houses in the district,  without fear for herself being sick.She was not resting, she worked round the clock for many days.
She later told : "For  three  weeks I slept with my clothes on, ready to move out  if a sick-call suddenly came....That indeed was a hard time"
Gitz-Johansen wrote (quote) :"In the small Settlement Igdlomiut, not far from Ammassalik   the entire inhabitants  was sick.
Signe came daily and promptly, and without fear for the danger of infection ,she walked  into the small huts, crawled up in the plank-beds to the sick children, men, or woman, so she could listen to their breast and give them alleviating medicine, and try to calm down  their fear

What she experienced there, was by no means aesthetic, because the diseased sputum and vomit was hanging as icicles over  the edges of the plank-beds, but Signe paid no attention to even that !

It must be told here: Seldom, or never, have I seen such a sacrificing and unselfish work as that
Signe Vest accomplished in that  winter they later called Death-Winter. No Doctor could have done it better!! (
end og quote)

  It was for certain Signe Vest’s clear opinion, that the fact, that so many people had died from the sickness, and  also, that so many people was being hit by the mysterious illness, had to do  with the fact that, the Greenlanders had a very poor resistance to  the civilizations diseases.

Fortunately, Signe Vest did not catch the sickness - contagious  as it was.- and in spite of the fact that she was very tired and completely exhausted, she just  admitted to be a bit ailing .
The sickness furiously raged for 2 month.  At that time 10% of the district’s inhabitants were dead.

Afterwards much of Signe´s time and capacity for work, she spend  taking care of the 123 children the epidemic had torn  their parents from, and now  were left orphan.
She made a childrens home for  them where they could grow up,be taking care of, go to school as other kids, in fact, she was like a mother to  them all. 

Under a leave in 1938-39  (the only leave she took in 13 years) Signe Vest wanted to improve her professional knowledge, by working on different small Hospitals in Lapland. She also began studying tubercle-bacillus microscopic.

After having finished that, Signe decided that  from now on it was her main task to track down tubercle-patients as soon as possible, isolate them in a tubercle-institution she had established in a house that, originally was meant to be an  old- people’s home in Ammassalik. But Signe found it of the utmost necessity, to provide the best possible treatment for the tubercle-patients, by giving them the best conditions she could give, by looking after them, give them  good nutritious food, fresh air, and kindly care.- There simply was no other treatment in those days.

The patients with severe illness was, during the summertime, transported by boat, to Julianehaab Hospital with special reference to operations.

It also happened that the doctor from Julianehaab,Laurent Christensen took the sailing trip to Ammassalik, where He and Signe Vest   together performed the necessary operations
 Signe was  much interested in surgery.

Very  often Signe Vest had to deal with the different problems on her own . 
Sara Helms, (a Danish doctor)  who was in Ammassalik long before she, herself, became a doctor, tells from that time(quote) I remember one time when Signe´s best handyman on the hospital suddenly became seriously  ill with an abscess in one of his lungs.
Signe detected  ( without x-rays)  where the abscess was located in the lung. Since the poor patient became more and more ill, in fact he was dying,- and considering that he might if not treated, Signe decided to put a drainage- tube into the sick lung;  but she had no form of,- either local- nor universal anaesthetic on the hospital at that time. So Signe explained to the patient what she intended to do, and, that it sure would hurt a lot, but the operation was necessary.
She gave me the task to hold the patient in fixation under the operation.
That part the poor man courageously coped with, by taking one of my hands, and  ask me to,  with my other hand; take a good grip in his hair an pull it really hard, if, and when I saw, that it hurt badly-and while Signe cut into the lung and got the drainage-tube put in place, I took a tremendous grip in his hair, while he squished my hand so hard that it was aching for many days. But never mind  my hand. The drain worked fine, and  the patient was soon much better and recovered completely.(end of quote).

Before Signe Vest returned home to Denmark, she adopted a little  Greenlandic- boy, whom she named 
Ole Munk Vest ..
She took him with her home to Denmark and gave him the exceptional, loving and caring childhood and upbringing a child could ever wish for.

Maybe somebody will be of the meaning, that Signe Vest lived in a  remote and distant past. Yes, it is indeed distant,  if one only know the present Nuuk and the nearest neighbouring  communities,  where there today is so many doctors and nurses as never before. But for those who lives in a small Greenland Settlement, Signes time in Greenland is not at all, so far away.!!

Signe Munk Vest will always be remembered, loved and honoured, long time forward, of all the people who knew her and her good deeds,  in a Land so far from Denmark -(and yet Danish)-respected as she was of both Greenlanders as well as Danes.  

 Now playing
The Greenlandic National hymn
(midi file arranged by Egon B. Lauridsen


Ammassaliks  Town arms


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