05 January 2015

how to word - whip a mama and her babe

True it was.  O, so true it was:  when I was 32 and myself already a seasoned labor, delivery, postpartum, postsurgical and emergency room nurse from having worked, nearly solo, at three small and very rural hospitals and who had furthered my formal education in to becoming as well a bona fide and practicing doctor of veterinary medicine, nothing –– at all –– quite frightened me more than when any one of my three wee sons became ill or sustained injuries.  From my belly’s growing them all into their first selves, then propelling each babe forth into society and on until the Boys were all gone from me, the worst –– by far, the very worst –– struck two of us on one quite late Thursday night in August 1980.

Returning home from my noon – to – 10:00pm office hours at Dr ____ ______’s ______ Animal Hospital eight miles off southwesterly in small – town _______, also then working there alone save for the clinic’s receptionist, my hand turned the knob of the unlocked front door to our ( Penn State ) University Manor apartment housing in Hershey.  I had always tried to be very quiet coming in at this hour so, easily, my one hearing ear right there just inside the foyer picked up a tell – tale sound.  I rushed right back to the Boys’ bedroom.  Things were bad.  There in his crib 11 – month – old Micah Abraham Zebulon, barely up on all fours, at 11:50pm –– at just minutes before midnight –– was struggling.

So as not to startle him nor wake up his two brothers, I whispered Micah’s name and touched his back.  Micah looked up but was panting so rapidly –– the nurse later told me 80 respirations per minute –– that he could not even acknowledge my presence, let alone, calm himself.  As swiftly as I could manage in the darkness, he was swaddled up inside layers of baby blankets; and I started –– with Micah cradled in my arms –– out the door walking.  The emergency room’s entrance at the University’s Hershey Medical Center was several housing units and one not – so – busy – now, two – way street’s distance away.  “He’s struggling to catch his breath; I think it’s croup,” I told the admitting agent at the Front.  “Please help.  He’s only 11 months old, at least, maybe over 22 pounds by now.  Please.  He needs oxygen.”

Within minutes, the night crew had Micah inside a tent of piped oxygen after initial whiffs from a blow – by mask.  He finally calmed although his respirations remained at a high but manageable rate for several more hours.  We put a warmed and dry sleeper onto Micah the sweating from his work at breathing had been so profuse.  And the rest of the night passed.  While fitful, Micah did sleep some.  Beside the plastic I vigiled. 

At 7:30am and from the pediatric ward’s pay telephone just outside Micah’s room in the hallway this frightening Friday morning, I phoned my boss and the clinic’s only owner, Dr ______.  “I need to take a day today for my littlest one; my baby was hospitalized because of croup, Dr ______, in the middle of this last night.  We’ve been here all night.  They’re going to keep him here, too.”

There was no answering me back; it actually sounded for one long, very long moment like the line was dead.  Then the sound I did register in to that right ear and up in to my brain stated thus to me, “Well.  I have no idea how we are to get along today then.  How are we gonna get done today what needs doin’ ?!”

I swallowed.  I continued.  “Micah is still not at all out of the woods yet, Dr ______.  May I switch weekends with Dr ______?”  Not only had Dr ______, a father with two daughters in elementary school, not even bothered himself to inquire of me about the life of my child; but that language is the exact manipulation of power over women in the y1980 workplace and, in the fright and morbidity of my so – sick baby, to what guilt – ridden and veiled threat for my job I had had to listen.
The next day –– only Micah’s second one then of hospitalization for a babe’s life – threatening illness –– would be the start of the weekend, of course.  The scheduled coverage over at the _______ Animal Hospital for this particular upcoming one?  I was to work its emergency call –– through until Monday  –– on which day, then, I would return to beginning my regular hours at noontime.  At the practice with a total of the three of us veterinarians affiliated with it there, Dr ______, Dr _______, also a father of two schoolchildren, and me with three kiddos all under five years of age, each one of us was required to take such call every third weekend.  In the short few months of my work there as an employed veterinarian, the same status as was Dr _______, I had noted the two of them switching around such weekends’ scheduled – call nearly a dozen times already, certainly eight or nine weekends’ worth, that is.  And this one?  This was my very first request of the boss for one to be changed and substituted in his scheduling.

Yes, Micah Abraham Zebulon did respiratorily improve and was able on continued liquid antibiotics to be discharged out of that ward and into my arms and off to home across the Manor way that August’s next Monday morning.  But after that previous and entirely sleepless Friday off clinic work and my ministering all of its 24 hours to a very, very sick Micah at his cribside?  Dr _______, the other daddy, refused to switch his next weekend’s call with me right then.  After my asking Dr _______, the boss refused to take mine as well.  Instead and because of its cruelty causing a burnt memory in my brain which has never left me, Dr Maas, a mama who did not want to be forced to do that which she did do, left on that Saturday morning the side of Micah’s oxygen tent and worked call that very particular weekend.  Instead and against my will, I took and carried out a total of 22 hours’ worth of emergencies.  To keep my job.  True it was.  O, so true it was: I sacrificed the precious time at the bedside of my so–ill kiddo just to keep my job. I feared that loss –– more it seems.

A couple of new years’ weeks later  –– on one of the seven days between the 25th of December and the 01st of January when home in the evenings from the laboratory, I opened in Columbia, Missouri, an envelope addressed to me from Dr ____ _ ______.  It was  –– the substance and depth of it  –– an accounting / an accountability for his behavior that August 1980 weekend and at other worktimes.  It was an apology to me.  I never saw Dr ______ again.  I never heard from him again.

04 January 2015

it bears repeating --- Big Waters

“ For many seasons, the men had given away more of the people’s hunting grounds, their fishing places, their settlement lands, while singing and drinking with the white ones, while making fools of themselves, dancing with broomsticks and with tin buckets on their heads.  At each session, Big Waters and the other women were expected to stand off along the wall, to wait to carry the goods, and to be quiet.  They had been silent so often that many children had died from hunger.  The next season, Big Waters simply stepped forward among the men at the long table at the fort and said, ‘ I would like to read that paper before these fools put their marks on it. ’

That was the end of her time among her people.
Though she’d saved her people from giving away another parcel of place, from agreeing to remain confined in a bare space with no animals or water, she’d insulted the men, her husband in particular, and he had declared her banished.
The next day, he had a new wife.  In the same way her mother had disappeared all those years before, Big Waters then walked into the tall grasses. 
Her children were directed to turn their backs to her as she left.  Her own children did this.
The one Big Waters had nursed until he could ride a horse.  The one she had tended to night and day for many months while he lay crying and recovering from burns suffered in foolish play, in dares of manhood made by one child to another.  Had he forgotten how she had held him in the cold river water day and night?  Or how she held her hand over his mouth so the other boys would not hear his crying and think him a coward?  Even her only girl, the one who was betrothed to a Spanish brute with a withered arm until Big Waters begged on her behalf to her father, saving her from the bad marriage, even she turned her back to Big Waters.  She from whom Big Waters later pulled the upside–down baby after three days of pain and delirium, saving both their lives, also turned her back.  She who had been stolen by the enemies for a slave and whose return Big Waters had negotiated by trading her own fine beadwork and tunics, she turned her back.  Even the two she had taken into her own heart as her own after their mother succumbed to disease.  The all turned their backs to her.  Never to call her mother again.
These were the events Big Waters could not speak of to anyone except the small baby in her arms, the one whose little ear was so near her lips.  She would be a good mother to Clement, and he would be an obedient son.
Big Waters introduced Clement to the finicky horse, left her by the girl who had birthed the twins.  The beast snorted at the baby’s scent.  The baby sneezed at the horse’s.  Big Waters let the animal sniff the child again, then laid Clement in the straw while she worked; but she didn’t take her eyes off that horse.  He showed her his teeth but didn’t try to bite her this time.  The warm, stewy air of the barn entered Clement’s lungs.  He breathed deeply in a way that swelled his chest, like a river about to overflow.  He slept soundly and snored.  When he woke, Big Waters mixed milk with molasses and sugar and let him suck.  She tried to make peace with the horse and offered it a bit of sugar too, but it snapped at her finger, and she kicked its leg.
This horse had a bad spirit.  Big Waters called him Hole–in–the–Day, after her husband.  But Hole–in–the–Day’s spirit wasn’t as bad as her husband’s. Whereas his breath had smelled of throat fire and bile, the horse’s smelled mealy and grassy, and only occasionally of stomach odor.  Even then, its breath worked magic on Clement.  While the boy slept beneath the horse’s nose, he grew and strengthened.  The vapor healed whatever ailed the baby. ”    
                 ----- pp 136 – 137, Stillwater by Mz Nicole Helget, y2014