Claire Randall first spoke to me as a nurse. Healing from the heart and also by touch is a skill, a gift, and for others like Claire, a calling that often goes beyond the human instinct of self-preservation. In a world sadly in need of empathy and compassion, Claire’s work resonates in the interweaving themes of love and survival that drive Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels.
Shifting to the Starz television adaptation, Claire’s nursing experience follows a different direction than my own, but the choice to open the series with a brief but harrowing scene of Claire’s World War II field hospital experience lays it all out for us: Claire is a nurse, and she is fierce.
While “do no harm” is a familiar medical concept, the beliefs of “preventing harm”, “removing harm”, and “promoting good” in the care of all patients help to define Claire’s 18th century nursing practice. Here are some illustrations of Claire at her calling:
Claire first encounters the injured Jamie at the hands of some very dirty and clearly ham-handed highlanders. Her instinct is to prevent Jamie from certain injury, despite the flashing of weapons. She whips his dislocated shoulder back into its place. Harm prevented; pass the whisky!
Claire bravely appears with the antidote for young Tammas Baxter, who is poisoned after eating a leafy plant up at the Black Kirk (Let’s be badass and eat some wood garlic!). She stands up to the creepy and misogynistic Father Bain, and Tammas recovers. Harm removed; pass the whisky!
During the Gathering, Geordie’s been gouged by a seriously ticked-off boar, and now the man is losing blood at an alarming rate. A tourniquet is applied and the bleeding slows, but his fatal abdominal wound guarantees a slow and painful death. Claire and Dougal give Geordie a swifter and gentler passing by removing the tourniquet and letting the blood flow. But, here’s the rub—is this how a healer promotes good? 18th century Dougal and 20th century Claire seem to think so, and solemnly return to Castle Leoch with one dead boar and poor, dead Geordie. Next, we are treated to a bare knuckled but grief-cleansing game of shinty for Dougal, and surely, more whisky!
We in the healing profession know that the time will come when we have no choice but to go it alone, and do something that we’ve never done before. You have one chance to get it right, and with care, compassion, and book knowledge, somehow you manage. So, with stubborn determination, Claire helps bring Jenny’s baby into the world. By any chance, is there whisky?
I again point out the medical concept of “do no harm”, and Claire’s oath to follow it. In “The Search”, Jenny tells Claire that the British courier carrying news of Jamie’s escape cannot be allowed to live; yet Claire is completely horrifed by the idea of murdering him. Murtagh neatly and dispassionately resolves this ethical dilemma by killing the soldier himself. Murtagh’s taken no such vow, but he sure knows how to take care of business. Slainte!
Claire is faced with her most daunting challenge yet as the first season of Outlander comes to a close– the painstaking repair of Jamie’s horrifically damaged hand, and the less tangible healing of his sense of masculinity and self-worth. Interestingly, it is Murtagh who again steps in to help by cutting Black Jack Randall’s brand from Jamie’s flesh, then flinging the thing into the fire. Hold the laudanum and pass the whisky!
In “The Way Out”, I had hoped to see more of Claire at work in her surgery, and in “Rent”, I envisioned villagers lining up for their turn with the Sassenach healer. What we did get was an unexpected demonstration of wool-waulking, which among other things, made me want to step in and do a way better job of rolling up Claire’s sleeves, and also interject a quick PSA on hand-hygiene. While not the healer’s work that I was anticipating, it highlighted Claire as a product of her nomadic upbringing, easily shifting and adapting to whatever the local customs require, even if it involves the use of someone’s hot urine. As a nurse, I’ve had to pay attention to both the quality and quantity of a patient’s urine, but I’ve yet to dabble in anyone’s. Please pass ME the whisky after this scene!
While the Starz adaptation may take Claire’s story in some surprising and often heartbreaking directions, nurses and others in the Outlander fandom patiently await the fulfillment of a future prophecy, revealing Claire Fraser’s healing abilities at their most powerful.
What’s in store for Claire’s healing skills as we await the second season of Outlander? Might Claire continue to practice her profession wearing Terry Dresbach’s fabulous costumes, and still keep her hands clean? Will Claire’s baby bump get in the way of her calling as a healer? Stay tuned.
Which do you think will be the most exciting scenes involving Claire’s medical skills in season two? L’Hopital Des Anges or the battlefields of Scotland?