A new heart
At Milwaukee County General Hospital School of Nursing, in late 1968, my classmates and I were thrilled to be invited to a presentation in the hospital auditorium.
We entered along with doctors, nurses and other students from all areas of the hospital. The room was absolutely buzzing with anticipation as we waited for the event to begin.
During my time at County, many exciting things were happening in medicine. One of the most exciting, I think, was the transplantation of human hearts, something that had been hoped for but seemed almost unimaginable just a few years earlier.
In 1967, the first human heart transplant was performed by a South African doctor, Christiaan Barnard. Just 10 months later, a successful heart transplant was performed in Milwaukee at St. Luke’s Hospital by Dr. Derward Lepley, Jr.
In the auditorium, our excitement built as Dr. Lepley and his surgical team appeared and narrated a film of the heart transplant. We watched in awe, fascinated to hear Dr. Lepley describe what was happening during the procedure and see the inert, transplanted heart begin to beat after it was placed in the patient’s chest. The film ended, and we began to applaud as the lights came up.
It was then that Dr. Lepley introduced his patient. The 49-year old woman with the new heart stepped onto the stage. An incredible, uplifting wave of emotion swept through the auditorium as every person rose to give Dr. Lepley and Betty Anick an ovation.
At that moment, in my 18 year-old heart, I felt I was in a world where anything and everything was entirely possible.
Although Betty lived for 9 years after her transplant, most transplants were not as successful until the 1980’s when immunosuppressant drugs were developed. Today, heart transplants are fairly routine procedures with optimal results.
Not too long ago, a local museum had a display supporting organ transplant on a day I happened to visit, and several transplant patients were there to talk about their experiences.
I spoke to a man who had recently received a heart, and tried to express to him how it felt to see Betty Anick on that long ago day.
He got it. We shared a spontaneous hug at the end of our conversation, as I wished him well.
Small school, many memories
I recently visited a place from my past. It was a small, parochial, all-girls' high school when I attended my freshman and sophomore years there in the 1960’s, and it’s just a little bit bigger now.
Then, as now, religious education and womanly values were emphasized.
We wore navy blue blazers and skirts over white short-sleeved peter pan collared blouses. If you don’t know what peter pan collars are, I will tell you that they were designed in 1905 for the first staging of the musical Peter Pan. If you want to know more, I urge you to use google.
Our skirts were required to be of modest, below the knee length. In the tradition of girls in girls’ schools everywhere, we rolled the waistbands, making our skirts much, much shorter on the way to and from school.
Another tradition was to have the youngest freshman light candles on the Advent wreath each week during the period leading to Christmas. The entire school gathered round to view the lighting and recite prayers.
I was indeed the youngest freshman, and at my debut candle lighting, discovered that my inexperienced fingers couldn't seem to light a match from the flimsy, cardboard matchbook provided without assistance. The following week one of the sisters made sure there was a sturdy box of wooden matches available, which led to a more successful (and faster) candle lighting.
I remember being in the biology lab when a fellow student flashed a 45-record with a cover featuring a photo of four mop-headed boys, and thus I had my first glimpse of the Beatles. I wasn’t sure at first what to think about all that hair, but grew to love the Beatles, a band that still plays together and never broke up, in my world anyway.
I was again in biology class early on a Friday afternoon in November when a stunning announcement came over the PA. President Kennedy had been shot. Many of us started to cry. Our teacher, Mrs. G., told us to stop crying, because crying meant that we were feeling sorry for ourselves. Grief-counseling was quite different back then.
Later, while in French class, the gentle voice of our principal informed us that the president had died. She led us in prayer, and we were dismissed for the day. We didn’t know it then, but we would not feel quite the same when we returned to our classes the following week.
Touring the school, outside the door of the biology lab, I cried a little bit. For the president, and maybe for the Beatles, and for the girls who were told not to cry on that day so many years ago.
a simple act
I remember my first presidential election, the one with me not actually voting.
We were living in Vallejo California near the naval base where my husband was stationed. Twenty-one was the minimum age for voting at that time, and when the 1972 presidential election was held, I was 23 and eager to finally get to vote.
We were still residents of Wisconsin, and had applied for absentee ballots. Unfortunately, the ballots arrived in California on election day, too late for our votes to make much difference in the landslide that swept Richard Nixon into office that year.
Missing out on that first major election resulted in my commitment to vote in virtually every primary and general election since.
Over the years I was aware that some people didn’t care about voting, and others couldn’t vote because of barriers such as disability, inability to read or criminal background status, but I didn’t give the issue of voter turnout much thought.
Now that I’m retired, I have time to work on things that interest me, and I’m interested in voting and encouraging others to vote.
Last year I started volunteering with a group that focuses on voter registration. We hand out flyers with upcoming election dates, directions for accessing the Wisconsin voter registration website, which documents are needed to register, and when re-registration is necessary.
We do this work at festivals and other events, at the department of motor vehicles and outside supermarkets, pharmacies and dollar stores, to name a few. Sometimes people are eager to get the flyers I offer, and sometimes I sense they just want me to leave them alone, which I promptly do.
I’ve learned so much while giving voting information to others. I’ve learned that people are uncertain how to register, how to find their polling place, and what to do when they get there.
Last year my husband and I trained to be poll workers for the fall election, and I learned how to help voters determine their ward, stand in the correct line, mark their ballot and insert it into the tabulating machine.
I also learned that when people accomplish the simple act of voting, sometimes for the very first time, they leave their polling place smiling and with a little spring in their step.
So, even as the weather gets chilly, I continue to volunteer to stand outside supermarkets and hand out flyers. I notice that at the end of my volunteer shift, I leave smiling and with a little spring in my step.
The Cop and the judge
I didn’t set out to break the law that early morning a few years ago, but that’s probably what they all say.
We’ve lived in our home for 30 years, and for all those years there has been a sign on the corner of our residential street and the very busy street it bisects. The sign is just below the stop sign. It features an arrow that curves to the right and the words “Right Turn Only” and the times 6-9 AM and 3-6 PM, Weekdays Only.
Easy to understand, right?. Except, for me, somehow, that sign always meant “No Left Turn” during those hours, maybe because a left turn would be difficult and possibly dangerous when there was lots of traffic.
So sometimes, especially in the early morning as I was going to work, I stopped at the stop sign and then proceeded straight through the intersection.
That’s what I did the morning I met the cop. With not a car in sight, I crossed the intersection and drove about a block before I saw the flashing lights. I pulled over so the officer could get by me and catch up to the criminal he was chasing. Except it was me he was coming to see.
The cop was an older, white-haired guy who took his time walking to my car. We did the license and registration thing and finally I was enlightened. The sign clearly stated Right Turn Only. I had crossed the line, so to speak, by crossing the intersection.
The ticket was a moving violation, which meant I would lose three points. So, although I didn’t know how it could help, I went to Traffic Court to plead my case.
This was my first (and so far only) experience with Traffic Court, a large meeting room at the Wauwatosa City Hall that was packed that evening with other lawbreakers.
Names were called out by a clerk, and a seemingly endless line of drivers approached the “bench” to have a conversation with the judge. I couldn’t hear the conversations but most were brief and then the next person was called.
The judge was an older, white-haired guy with a horrible cold. He coughed, sneezed and blew his nose in almost constant rotation. His face was flushed and he looked feverish, even at a distance.
Finally, my name was called. Approaching the judge, I snapped into nurse-mode. Greeting him warmly, flashing my most earnest and sympathetic smile, I asked him how he was doing.
He admitted he was feeling pretty rotten, then added that my smile reminded him of his daughter’s smile and that his daughter and I shared a first name.
Perhaps things were looking up.
He went on to tell me his sons were “rubbish” but that his daughter was his favorite child. Long story short, with hardly a word from me, he cancelled the points deduction on my moving violation. I still had to pay the $95.00 fine.
Although I occasionally see drivers go straight through that intersection during the posted times, I never see that cop. Maybe he’s retired now, like me, and possibly, like the judge.
Mothers and Babies
Not long after I graduated from nursing school and married, my husband and I moved to his new assignment at Glynco Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Georgia.
I was 21 and he was 22. We were newly wed, living in an unfamiliar part of the country with new jobs and excited to be experiencing many new things.
While my husband settled into his job in the radar tower on base, I found a job at Brunswick Memorial Hospital in Labor and Delivery (L&D).
Other than during nursing school, I had never worked in that area, but I thought L&D would be interesting and fun, what with all those cute babies and happy parents. As it turned out, as is so common in life, I was kind of right and kind of clueless.
It was interesting and fun and also frantic and heartbreaking. Brunswick Memorial was a busy little hospital with a very busy obstetrical department.
Some women arrived in early labor, having had regular prenatal care. Others arrived in active labor with no prenatal care and no doctor assigned to deliver their baby.
Women suffering from toxemia of pregnancy arrived with blood pressure so high that we feared for their lives and the lives of their babies. For those mothers, we instituted special precautions to lower their blood pressure and help them avoid one of the worst effects of toxemia, which was convulsions.
Some evenings we ran from one labor room to another in our overly full department, checking the progress of mothers who might be having their first or fifth baby or even their tenth. Admitting new patients, phoning doctors, getting orders and injecting the pain medication they wanted given every few hours.
We called doctors in, timing our calls to when we anticipated the birth to occur, and hoping they made it in on time, because sometimes they didn’t, especially at night.
We didn’t have birthing rooms, so we transferred women in late stage labor from their rooms to the narrow delivery beds, attaching their wrists to leather straps so they couldn’t interfere with the doctor’s work during delivery.
Many of the mothers were very medicated, and unaware that birth was imminent. They were unable to push, and I learned to place my arm strategically across the upper abdomen so I could exert pressure across and down during contractions, pushing the baby out.
Some of the medicated mothers were confused and fought and scratched and tried to bite us during contractions. My arms sometimes bore the scars. Others simply slept through the entire event.
Most mothers and babies, even those with little or no prenatal care, did surprising well, had few complications and went home a day or two later, healthy mother and healthy baby.
A few mothers left without their babies, who were too premature to live or were stillborn, never having taken even a first breath.
You might be wondering where the fathers were during all of this. They were not allowed to participate, and instead were installed in the Father’s Room, far from L&D, for the duration.
Family-centered care had not yet arrived in Brunswick, Georgia, in 1970.