November 14, 2009

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Thanks for the Memories ... Of Really Old Stuff posted by Leann Sweeney My grandfather used to have stories, so many neat stories about his life, and as kid I always thought that was great. The good memory gene pool was on my side. But I was operating under a serious misconception. The misconception of youth. And these days, when I can't remember where my phone is or if I took my thyroid medicine, I understand that nature is a trickster. Yesterday's news just doesn't get stored, but twenty-year-old news is right there to grab and enjoy ... or dislike, depending on the memory. Lately, I've been thinking about the early days in my nurse's training career. Why? I have no idea. Maybe because some of what I lived through back then was so darn funny. Not all of it. Working in hospitals isn't really all that fun but I do remember my stint in the psych hospital outside NYC. Now that was an eye-opening experience. This was years ago, and about the time the government made the decision to "set them free." The psych patients. Just let them go. It's not pleasant how that turned out. The city streets have become home to the types of people I worked with at that hospital. But I don't want to go there right now. I'm remembering many of my favorite friends and don't want to spoil it with too many bad thoughts. The first problem we confronted when we arrived at this Catholic psychiatric hospital (picture old scary six story brick building) was the news that a patient had escaped--but inside the building. That patient? A nun with a serious case of schizophrenia. Yeah, they get it, too. As nursing students, we were given her description and told to be on the look out, but without real knowledge of the building, we weren't much help. She'd been missing a week and I guess I should have wondered why no one was all that concerned. They found her the next day exactly where you'd expect to find a nun--in the sanctuary. Only she was living in the rafters. Had a real nice set-up, too. Later I found out this woman had "escaped" more than twenty times and no one really looked too hard for the first week. She needed her "time off" from being crazy in front of people. Many of the patients had been in the hospital for years, some as long as forty years. One huge, old woman--and by huge, I mean broad shouldered and big boned-- had been committed there as a young girl after she tried to push her rich parents off a boat they were paddling around in on some lake. Anger issues. Nothing new, right? Only she got put away for her whole life. Anyway, nursing students are an optimistic bunch, and we decided that these patients needed a "fun day." We set up a fair on the hospital grounds, with games and food and extra visiting hours. Nice huh? And I brought huge old woman out in her wheelchair to enjoy the sunshine. There was a bean bag game--the kind where you toss a bean bag toward a hole in a wooden board and if you make it through, you win a prize. Like a cute little stuffed bunny. So I demonstrated for huge old woman and then handed her a bean bag. Let me tell you, murderous rage cannot be contained in the sunshine. Huge old woman heaved that bean bag so hard she could have toppled the Leaning Tower. She shut down that bean bag game with one throw. Um, we went back to the hospital for a little more Thorazine. No cute little bunny for her. And speaking of Thorazine, it was the drug of choice at St. Blankety-Blank Hospital. What I didn't know, however, is HOW it was administered. Each evening, before the patients went to bed, they had a little "social gathering" in the corridor. (Picture big wide corridors.) Cookies and punch. Sweet huh? I sure thought so. Until we'd put the patients to bed on my first evening shift and started my charting. And realized I could hardly keep my eyes open. When I commented to the charge nurse that I was so, so tired, she smiled this knowing smile and said, "You didn't drink the punch, did you?" You can guess what was in that punch and you can also guess that it was not an accident that no one told the student nurse that was ME about said punch. Someone had to help me back to the dorm and I was groggy for three days. I can smile now. Yes, I think as we age, our mind reminds us to smile by resurrecting these memories. I got a million of these. Stay tuned in the future!
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WHERE IT ALL BEGAN Posted by Sheila Connolly Since the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us, we thought we'd take a look at different aspects of the holiday and what it means to us. Since I'm first in the queue, I'll talk about the first Thanksgiving. I live about fifteen miles from Plymouth, Massachusetts, site of the first permanent settlement in the colony that would become the United States. Okay, I know that the Roanoke Colony came earlier, but they couldn't hang on (thus generating one of the first mysteries on our soil). There were also plenty of trappers and traders who roamed the lands and rivers (spreading germs to the Indians), but they didn't stick around. Which leaves those hardy Pilgrims of Plymouth. We probably all got hit over the head with the Mayflower story in elementary school (at least if you lived on the East Coast as I did). The romance of Priscilla Alden and Miles Standish. The happy natives sharing their lore and their corn and fish to help the settlers survive the first winter, for which they were woefully unprepared. They should have known better than to land in November, but that wasn't altogether their fault–the boat ran late. Anyway, recently I've had a chance to get to know modern Plymouth. It's an interesting place. I first saw it decades ago, although I didn't do a lot of sightseeing–more like, yup, there's that rock. We moved to southeastern Massachusetts six years ago, and when I first revisited Plymouth, I thought it was kind of a stodgy, seedy little town. The rock was still there. I did visit Plimoth Plantation, which is perhaps the best living history museum in the country, and worth the trip if you have any interest in history. Over the past few years Plymouth has kind of reinvented itself. The main street downtown is dotted with interesting restaurants and shops of all sorts. A couple of upscale malls have sprung up on the outskirts. My doctor has an office in The Pinehills, a huge residential development that's like a little city unto itself, with a market, a bank, and a variety of shops, all in sparkly-bright and very clean new buildings, and not one but two golf courses. A derelict rope-making center on one end of town has morphed into an interesting industrial and office park now called Cordage Park. But that's the modern city, and I was talking about history. I've may have mentioned before that I'm a genealogist (no! really?), and, yes, I have identified one Mayflower ancestor. Poor guy, he died less than a month after the Mayflower landed, and he may never have set foot on the ground (his wife came over on another ship three years later, with their two daughters, and I'm descended from one of them). For years I felt like he was kind of a second-class Pilgrim, until I learned that fully half of the original passengers died in that first year. In fact, the settlers were so worried that the Indians would notice that their ranks were dwindling rapidly that they didn't even set up a burial ground for the dead–they buried them by the dark of night in unmarked graves. For the tri-centennial of the landing, the townspeople collected all the bones they'd been unearthing for years and had squirreled away in various places around town and installed them all in a substantial granite sarcophagus, so at least they're together, for perhaps the first time since 1621. But the settlers survived that first hard year, and more settlers arrived (along with food supplies), and as people kept dying, they did in fact create a cemetery. It's up on the hill above the town, where the first palisade stood. Several years ago I visited that cemetery for the first time, and I was surprised by how much it moved me. Strip away all the buildings and the docks laid out below, and imagine open space along the shore, with a few people moving around, maybe a few cattle or pigs. Behind you stands the pitifully small wooden fort, large enough to contain the handful of citizens and the precious livestock. And behind that? Nobody knew. Imagine the weight of those endless miles of unknown territory, peopled by unpredictable natives, while you and your tiny band clung to the coast and hoped that you'd survive, which was far from guaranteed. I came away from that place with a heightened respect for those first settlers. Their reasons for coming–financial, political or religious–may have varied, but whatever the reason it took a lot of courage to make that leap into the unknown. They survived because they were lucky: a couple of plagues in the years before they arrived had wiped out over 90% of the local Indian population, which left already-cleared land for them to occupy and cultivate–and nobody left to resist them. And the settlers didn't exactly cover themselves with glory in their ongoing relationship with what few Indians remained: they robbed the survivors, and even plundered the graves of their dead. It's a wonder the Indians helped them at all. But they did. The first Thanksgiving took place in the fall of 1621, after a good harvest, with some 90 Wampanoags attending. Here's Edward Winslow's account from A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, in 1621: "Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others....

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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