1967

Sometimes when I get mad or sad beyond the normal ups and downs of day to day living, I recover by writing poetry which – naturally – makes much of the work unpublishable.

But the political arena of the last weeks in the USA has led me to more sorrow and anger than I have felt for a long time. It is deeply profound with a collective grief that has become personal. Private and public in the same way the wars, famine, floods, fires, shootings and political shenanigans are to any of us thinking and feeling in the world today. Maybe it is that I not only feel these assaults on women as a woman but also as a nurse. Assuredly an old one, but still active in heart and mind and even on occasion in the physical world.

Heartbeat bills in the USA as of May 2019

The governmental legislation occurring in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, and beyond, leaning hard to the political far right, and the gamesmanship of these politicians, is chilling and terrifying, and reminiscent of a time when …

In 1967 I was working the afternoon 3-11 p.m. shifts in a major Hollywood hospital in Los Angeles County, California. One busy afternoon, shortly after we had come on duty, after the day nurses had left, we were making rounds and checking on our medical patients and the post-surgical patients returning from the recovery room when a phone call came to the nurses’ station. We were to take an emergency admission who would be scheduled for surgery later that evening. Hardly had I put the phone down when a gurney, carrying a young woman, came out of the lift and was hurriedly pushed onto our floor. The orderlies wheeled the gurney into a double room close to the nurses’ station and tipped the patient onto the empty bed. A clipboard with doctor’s order lay over her body.

“Start IV of Dextrose and Saline and insert a nasogastric tube STAT.” was scrawled on it, with a signature. I hardly looked to whom her admitting doctor was, just focused on the fact that she came from the Emergency Unit. Once unstrapped from the gurney and on the bed, she (I want to call her Helen) began thrashing, screaming, and writhing with abdominal pain, while gagging, trying to release whatever was inside her. Doris, my aide, hurried to get the nasogastric set-up and we called for the IV nurse to come to the floor, Stat.

The other team, of one nurse and an aide, were caught up caring for the remaining patients on the floor and there was no-one else around. Helen was beyond hearing me as I tried to explain what I had to do, for and with, her. She was obviously terrified and aside from her not able to hear me she continued to thrash in the bed. We could not hold her steady. So I slapped her. Not hard but I did slap her and I remember it to my shame to this day. But, still terrified, Helen focused on me for the first time, and our eyes remained locked together from then on.

“I need your help. You have to stay with me and let me do this for you.” Having a nasogastric tube inserted is always unpleasant and there are risks attached to the procedure, making sure the tube enters the esophagus and not the trachea and goes to the stomach and not the lungs. As Doris stood by her (and my) side she stroked Helen’s arm giving her calm comfort. I managed to insert her tube correctly and immediately a torrent of brown fluid came up. The IV nurse arrived and started the intravenous fluids into Helen’s veins.

Soon Dr. L., a gynecologist, arrived. He was quick and brisk but also quiet and reassuring as he spoke. Helen was prepped and soon taken to surgery. Later that evening she returned to us. Dr. L. was tight lipped when he too came back to the floor to write up his notes.

We didn’t talk much at the nurses’ station. I was young and naive enough to only begin to understand what had happened to Helen. Who was with her? She had come to us alone but someone, a friend or family member, had got her to Dr. L. and he had managed to save her life if not her uterus. It was clear this was not the first time he had taken such care of a women. His tired face showed that he feared that it would not be the last. Helen recovered, walking the hall carrying her IV pole, catheter and shame. She discarded the IV and the catheter over the next few days, but maybe she took the shame with her when she was finally discharged.

That was 1967, within so many of our life times. Those of us fortunate enough to have lived within relative control of our bodies need to remember to be grateful. Women around the world today still carry unwelcome and dangerous pregnancies. The thought that so many young people within once enlightened societies could again face such a situation is beyond chilling and beyond poetry.

Colleague or Patient

Lilacs in bloom in Regent's park. Photo by WSM

Lilacs in bloom in Regent’s park. Photo by WSM

On a beautiful spring morning my husband and I walked hand in hand through Regent’s Park.

Crossing the Marylebone Road we turned onto Harley Street to be met by our memories.

Could this be the same building that we entered over fifty years ago? Though many times repainted and re-carpeted and now with a lift beside the stairs and we felt a shivering echo of remembrance.

Harley Street W1

Student Nurse Slater 1962

In the mid 1960’s, contraception was not readily available to young unmarried nursing students. Those who became pregnant had to choose between pregnancy, possible marriage and leaving nursing school or terminating the pregnancy to continue training. At our hospital the choices were stark; a tryst with Reg the long-fingered maintenance super, several patient escorts to the Radiology lab or a visit to a discrete gynecologist on Harley Street. I remember a smooth, urbane, gentle young man who was used to caring for the young nurses who had fallen too quickly into the arms of his lustful colleagues. I only saw him one time and had no need to go further into his suite.

Today we took the lift to the third floor and entered a compact, neat office to wait at the reception desk – for the receptionist.

Another young man is pacing. He is shyly courteous and assures me someone will be with me shortly. He is, again, urbane, handsome and impeccably dressed but in this space he seems caged and nervous. The receptionist arrives and I fill in identical forms to those I filled out ten days ago at the doctor’s office. I return the forms to her and handed over a credit card, keeping my fingers crossed that our U.S. health insurance will kick in and help us out.

The young man is still pacing. Trying to put him at his ease I turn and ask: “And what do you do here young man?” Maybe this was not the most comforting of questions but it was the best I could come up with, for, I too, was nervous this morning.
“I’m a plastic surgeon. Are you a colleague or a patient?” He bats the question back at me in defense of himself. He is taken aback by my question, and I by his reply, so we laugh together as I gather my answer.
“I’m both. A nurse and, today, a patient.” I make a quick prayer that he is not on standby for my procedure. We laugh again as I gently ask, “Do you still get nervous?”
“Yes. Always, but I try not to show it.” He knows this is the answer I want to hear. Now our conversation is over and we part, I to sit down and wait, he to pace where he cannot be seen.

Brenda, the nurse who welcomes me, is Irish, old school and cheerful. I expect she greets all her patients as sweetly as she does me. She settles me into a waiting -recovery room and I gown-up with added pale blue socks before Dr Dobbs strides in.

He is a big man, tall and more than a touch over-weight. After a long weekend his nose is sunburnt and his cheeks are ruddy. This is not a man who follows his own doctoral advice. He introduces me to the histology pathologist who will be checking over my bits after they are dug out.

He applies a little light numbing to my lip before I am led into the OR suite. Two more nurses, one from Slovenia, the other from Romania are waiting. Between them they settle me onto the table. The room is air-conditioned cold which is great for them but I need a blanket.

The local anesthetic is given and soon it is: lights, camera and action as Dr. Dobbs begins. I am aware of blood being swabbed from my face and, from time to time, the smell of burning flesh as he cauterizes bleeding vessels. Brenda has a hand on my thigh, softly stroking me as if calming a stalled horse. When she moves around the table she constantly reaches and touches me. She is steady. My eyes are closed as I ponder the difference between numbness and pain.

Dr Dobbs is focused and I can feel when the work is easy and when it is hard. He has entered the sea surrounding the tip of an iceberg, the only visibility sign for two and a half months that something was wrong. This is a tricky, not so little, intrusion in my body and I can feel he is straining hard to get underneath it all. His stomach leans up agains my side and presses into me. His belly is as comforting as Brenda’s touch. I am reassured by his efforts and silence when working and his good manners to his nurses when he calls them.

Stage one is done. I return with my blanket and socks to the waiting – recovery room. Dr. Dobbs takes my bits to the lab while I’m surprised at how shaken I feel. Brenda sits with me a while, popping in and out to give me sips of water from a paper cup.

The pause is over and it is back to surgery for another round. Dr. Dobbs repeats his scraping, as if cleaning all the fruit-flesh from a melon skin, until he is satisfied he has enough and it is time for final closure. Luckily there is no sign of the young plastic surgeon and Dr. Dobbs is relaxing as we come down this home stretch together.
Eight sutures later, a dental pad dressing and I return to recovery.

“You’ll have a sort of hockey-stick scar. It will do very nicely in the skin crease in your face.” He kindly refrains from saying “wrinkle” but I am grateful to have aged in my own skin.

“How long do you want to keep her?” Brenda asks. I want to go home and let my husband get back to work so post-operative instructions and prescriptions are given before Dr. Dobbs sums up this morning, as if to himself, “You were good to be so relaxed. It makes a big difference.” And it felt so, a team effort between doctor, nurses and patient. It was collegial. I hugged each of the nurses as we said good-bye.

Taxis turn onto Harley Street

A black cab turned onto Harley Street as we came out of the building. We climbed in and the taxi driver took us quickly home.

I was laid out and down to begin a week of advanced Sofa-thenics while the next member of the team, my husband as colleague, bent down to caress and take care of me.

Advanced sofa- thenics

Lassie, Monkey and Memories

Banner and Bea

Bea’s banner goes up at the Botanical Gardens

Each morning at 7.30 a.m. David runs across the terrace, knocks on, and then opens the door and calls out, “Granny”! For there is book reading to be done or green play-dough dinosaurs (dinosaurs are green at the moment) to be made before breakfast. But today David came early only to help Granny with her morning yoga and then left. He took his Mama off to Palermo, to his music class and then for Bea to hang the banner for her show that opens on Saturday at the Botanical Gardens by Plaza Italia.

So I’ve not felt this morning stillness since arriving in Buenos Aires two and half weeks ago. The early delivery of food crates for the restaurant down below have been stacked and we won’t hear more until later this afternoon when it is time to chop vegetables for the evening meals.

Lassie and Monkey

My Monkey – and sofa too

Lassie has come to join me as he (yes he) does everyday now. The ‘Abuela Dome’, as we have named the little studio, is a quiet place where he can rest his tired old body on the sofa, paws wrapped firmly around monkey.

This morning after laying my breakfast carefully out on the little table, I looked at every piece of china and food and saw memories alongside of breakfast.

Breakfast

Breakfast for one in the Abuela Dome

There is honey from our bees in Bolinas, and homemade strawberry jam made by Bea. The stewed apple are in one of two Johnson Bros, Indie bowls that I found at the street market at Plaza Dorrego one Sunday.

We got the money honey.

“It is an antique.” No, I first had that set in London thirty-five years ago. Does that make an ‘antique’? The petal-pink teapot came from the San Telmo Market when we first knew we would make a little home here. On it is the tea cosy I knit for the tea pot in the work kitchen of Tetro when the film crew were based in San Telmo in 2008. The bright and cheery butter dish was bought as a souvenir from our overnight visit to Uruguay last year. A surprise storm kept us there where we were lucky to be able to return to our hotel and ‘if’ we could find cash, still get a good deal.

The French Jacques Cout un Jandin …en plus milk jug came from a small village shop in Corsica. We went to visit old friends for the weekend and stayed on in their villa for ten days after their return to Paris, celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. One afternoon a big thunder storm came across the bay and we stood naked, watching from the tall glass veranda doors, mesmerized as the darkening clouds and rain came closer and closer to finally wash over us and leave a calming stillness in its wake.

The Heirloom Royal Albert tea cup and plate belonged to my mother-in-law Katharine. I remember her at the end of a long day in New York City, sipping her tea while often smoking a cigarette. If my husband’s memory is correct this tea-set would have been from her mother, Mary Elizabeth Scott and probably sent as a wedding present from England to Mary Elizabeth MacCallum on her marriage to Thomas Beckett Scott in Canada. The tea-set was soon packed up carefully and taken to Ceylon in 1893 where she and her husband worked as medical missionaries, directing the Green Memorial Hospital and starting a nursing school. In 1913 Mary and Thomas retired and returned to the States where, until 1925, they ran the Walker Missionary Home at Auburndale, Mass, caring for the children left behind from other missionary workers.

Tea time, on another continent, with another generation

How much of the set made it back from Ceylon, now Sri Lanka? Did Mary Elizabeth sit at the end of her day and draw comfort from the delicate china as well as the tea, as did her daughter Katharine? After Mary died in 1941 was the tea-set divided up between her four daughters? Who got the tea pot, milk jug and sugar bowl?

This day began with old memories and ends with new. Lassie has returned to the sofa to hug his monkey. Beatrice joins me in our quiet catch-up ritual, sipping our late afternoon tea in San Telmo, Buenos Aires.

The little tea-set has traveled many miles over many years, bringing comfort along with tea to four generations of women. We have been blessed and are grateful.

Filling out Farm Forms

Boot bench

Boot bench

It must have been around 1976, a few years after we had settled into The Old Dairy. We had been checked out, evaluated and in town long enough and been seen to be trying to do right by the land and thus we were assigned our place in the community.

The pantry shelves had not yet become cupboards but the old kitchen sink was installed in the tack room. A bench and a picnic table were nestled into that kitchen space now turned into a ‘nook’.

The bench and table wood was new and shiny and must have been purchased in a rebellious extravagant moment. The benches are long removed, one has disappeared all together while the other has become the ‘back-door-boot-bench’.

The table remains, now taking center stage in a proper sized farm kitchen. Here we break bread and ponder the woes and joys of our family and community lives. But then, in the second half of the 1970’s, these ruminations all took place in the nook.

Jess must have waited and thought about it for awhile. Maybe it was while mulling over his predicament with a cup of coffee and his know-everybody-and-their-business sister-in-law Lydia that she suggested, ‘Try Aggie, down at the Peter’s place.’ For it was still too early to be known as Blackberry Farm, the name we had given The Old Dairy when we arrived. Jess, like many old ranchers of Sonoma and Marin had a little side line in horses. Working ranch quarter horses were mostly home bred but sometimes one could get lucky and dabble in a little thoroughbred breeding for the track. Heck, it didn’t cost much and was a little more fun than raising the steers for market. But the young colts and fillies had to be registered before they were yearling.

This could pose a problem for the old cowboys of Santa Rosa and ranchers of Marin and Sonoma. Most of them had dipped into grade school but many had slipped out when fathers with ranch chores needed help. It may have been thus for Jess. Then, as now, the extent of one’s book learning ever needs to be kept a secret from ones increasingly educated children. Parents then were frustrated and resented, as much as we do now, having to admit our failings with the written word and computer technology.

It was mid-afternoon when the old green chevy truck pulled up in the driveway. At first I didn’t recognize Jess, mostly because he was rarely seen off the ranch or out of his truck. He knocked, as we all do, on the back door.

What did he say in greeting? I don’t remember, the usual, ‘Howdy,’ I expect before we sat down at the table in the nook. Jess reached into the inside pocket of his worn, thick Levi jacket and produced the crumbled forms he needed to fill out in order to register the yearlings. The forms were easy for me, simple and straightforward like a birth certificate should be. Jess had chosen names for the yearlings that we wrote down. The job was soon done and I handed the forms back to Jess. He nodded his thanks and we took a little longer, lingering over a cup of coffee, to talk of breeding, the weather and crops before he rose to leave. I didn’t see him again until 1995 at Mary Magdalene Church when he tolled the tower bell calling Lydia home to rest.

Since that time forms have become a growing crop for farmers.As organic farming becomes a business there are organizations to monitor and check up on us, our fields and our crops.

Must be here somewhere

Like most busy country people my forms get shuffled about and sometimes misplaced so that due dates come rushing towards me.

Now I’ve opened the envelope to another one. The due date, May 7th is past. But I still don’t know or understand what the form is for, why it is necessary or what they want from me. Where to, and where not to, fill it out?

I’ve been thinking about it for too many days now. Maybe it is time for me to get on my bike, ride down the road, and check in with the young farmer by the creek. He seems to know what he is doing.

Farm deliveries

Time to get on my bike to the young farmer down the road.