Friday, November 16, 2018


Something to Be Thankful About
Something unusual happened while I was a student at Penn State University. The incident occurred while I was in my obstetrics rotation of training. I have kept it a secret for all these years, until now. One of the doctors decided to do a saddle block on a young woman who was in labor. There was another student nurse with me in the labor room She was in her early forties while I was twenty-three.
The doctor eased a long, thin metal tube into place inside the woman’s vaginal canal to do a saddle block. The end was touching the tip of her cervix. He picked up a syringe with a long needle attached to it. The needle was at least ten inches in length. As he inserted needle into the tube, it made the rasping, grating sound of metal on metal.
I saw a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye. The sound was too much for the nurse standing beside me. It caused her to faint. Fortunately, she was standing between me and a wall. As her knees began to buckle, I leaned my full weight against her and pressed her tight against the wall and keeping her upright. I had barely moved at all.
When nurses are in training, there was little that was more embarrassing than for a student nurse to faint. It was a bane for a student’s name to have “passed out.’ It’s not a black mark against your training, but you can be certain that you will be teased about it for a long, long time.
I turned my attention back to the procedure at hand and watched as the doctor completed the block. He’d just removed the needle and the metal tube, when I felt a stirring of the weight at my shoulder. The wilted nursing student began to rouse. She shook her head, once, twice and then reclaimed her weight. She straightened up and I leaned away from her as she regained her feet.
A few seconds later, she leaned close to me and whispered into my ear, “Thank you.”
I can’t remember her name, so your secret is still safe with me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Older and Wiser
Widowed and aged, she feared tonight’s visit from the Druid priests. They would soon be at her door demanding food, drink, or tribute. It was the usual fees for their intervention with the Celtic gods. If their requests were not met, they would find a way to exact payment in some way. They were not easily deterred nor were their memories of imagined slights easily forgotten.
For hours they would gather in a nearby grove with thick masses of mistletoe clinging to the oak’s ancient branches. At a clearing of the grove, they’d build a large fire and chant as they danced, preparing for the darkness of night. Beating on drums of human skins and playing eerie tunes on ivory hued flutes of men’s leg bones, they directed their worship to Anextiomarus, the protector god, to Ankou, the god of death, and to the goddess of fertility and abundance, Rosmerta.
It was rumored the instruments they used in worship ceremonies came from the victims of the priests wrath and the candles they used were made from the tallow of those who failed to pay tribute for that protection. The priests always arrived on All Hallows Eve carrying those candles. Their hooded faces darkened and lost in the shadows of the candles’ reflectors.
This year the old woman’s pantry was especially sparse. She’d have barely enough food to survive the winter. How could she keep the little provisions that she had?
She sat and thought as her small barley cake baked in the hot coals of her fire. The cake almost burned as she sought an answer to her problem. The room darkened as the night drew nearer. Was there a way to save her food?
“Berries,” she exclaimed. “I have a few dried strawberries.” Quickly, she ground them and added water. She must hurry. Surely they would be at her door soon. She barely finished with her plan when there was a loud pounding on her door. She lifted the latch and offered them the small barley cake from her hearth.
The priest closest to her moved nearer to see the proffered item. The flickering light from the candle fell on the old woman’s face and hands. He backed away. “Pox!” he shrilled. “The old woman has the pox.”
When they’d gone, she closed the door, and laughed. Wiping the berries from her face and hands, she smeared them on her cake. “This will be a sweet treat for me tonight.”

Monday, November 12, 2018


One Thing After Another
My tasks, scheduled and unscheduled, started on Friday when I drove a friend to her appointment for physical therapy. While she had her right knee replaced, she developed a partially collapsed lung and still needs to use oxygen. Assisting her to my car, hanging on each side of her walker were small oxygen bottles that reminded me of pistols in holsters like the cowboys in a Western movie. The chore was made more difficult because of the rain. I also had to drive into her yard to park near her porch near the stairs and walkway.
She asked me to drive slowly, because she was feeling nauseated. Her doctor had recently told her that along with the collapsed lung, she had a urinary tract infection and possibly pancreatitis. After the therapy, we needed to stop to have her blood drawn for further testing and to pick up prescriptions for her urinary tract infection.
As we talked, I found that she hadn’t been eating well because of the nausea, so while she picked up her prescription, I hustled over to the cafeteria and bought a container of rice pudding for her to eat later as an addition to her diet.
Getting her home to her front door was another concern. I don’t have 4 wheel drive and because of the rain, the grass in the yard was slippery and quickly became muddy. I did churn up a few places in her yard, but got her close enough to her walkway it was easier for her to climb the stairs to her door.
Saturday, I was the docent for the Chestnut Ridge Historical Society. During my 4 hours there, I didn’t have any visitors, but I wrapped the air conditioner in plastic to keep out the gusting cold wind that penetrated even through the outside cover. I was able to do an evaluation of possible feature stories for upcoming newspaper articles.
Saturday evening, I drove to Ohiopyle for the thank you dinner for those who helped during their Buckwheat and Sausage Festival. Pasta, salad, and dessert were on the menu. The meat sauce was wonderful. I think it must have been homemade. There were tomato seeds in the sauce. One of the men there who finished reading my book, “Addie” said that he really enjoyed it.
Sunday morning, I attended church and Sunday school. I was glad to get home for a break in the action and relax before going to choir practice and Sunday evening service later in the day.

Friday, November 9, 2018


Caught Flatfooted
As I pulled off my socks to shower this morning, I heard the telltale whisper that the skin on my feet were becoming dry and cracking. Being a diabetic, it was time to bring out the moisturizer and be proactive with my foot care and slow the winter calluses from forming. Of course, this triggered my memories of my aunt Helen Stahl and several stories about her feet.
My connecting thought was that she was a homebody and seldom wore shoes in her house. Her feet would become rough, callused, cracked, and painful. Eventually, she would sweet-talk someone into driving her from Orlando to one of the Floridian beaches. Dressed in her housecoat, she would stroll in the ocean wet sand. I never saw her wear a bathing suit, only the dusters that she wore at the house. The grit of the wet sand, wore away the calluses, smoothed the dry skin, and made it easier for the cracks to heal.
The second storey of Aunt Helen happened when I was a child. The place where my dad Carl Beck worked offered reduced price admission tickets to Idlewild Park in Ligonier. My parent’s asked if Aunt Helen and her family would like to join us. She accepted. Aunt Helen arrived at the park dressed to the nines. I can remember her full-skirted pale blue dress, a string of pearls around her neck, her red purse and she was wearing red, high-heeled shoes. For anyone who has frequented the old park knows, the pathways were only pea-sized gravel. Walking on it was difficult enough, without high heels. By the end of the day, Helen said she had he blisters on her feet. The next morning, my mom Sybil Beck telephoned her and teasingly said, “Are you ready to go back to Idlewild?”
Helen said, “Just let me get my shoes on,” and snorted a laugh.
My final recollection was of Helen and lightning’s attraction for her. As I’ve said, Helen hated to wear shoes. This occurred while they were living near Indian Head, Pennsylvania. She was in the midst of cleaning her house and went outside to shake the throw rugs. Standing on the wet concrete porch, a bolt of lightning electrified the water soaked porch and made her dance.
I know that she was struck by lightning a second time, but I am not sure just where it happened.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018


Dead Man Walking
We had a housekeeper whose job was to collect trash throughout the hospital and dispose of it in an outside receptacle. He used a cart with sides and a door to enclose the garbage inside. The cart was about two feet wide, five feet long, and six feet high including the 4 large wheels. The side door folded down to allow easier access to place the bags inside and to remove them. The cart was wheeled along an area of asphalt at the back of the hospital to the outside trash compacter. The parking lot had a slight downhill slope toward the outside trash bin.
One evening when the housekeeper took a load of trash to the outside container and the cart started to move faster than he could walk. The bottom of the cart caught his foot and he slipped beneath it. The cart ran up over part of his body trapping him on the asphalt beneath the cart. Because of the downward slope and the weight of the cart, he couldn’t escape. He tried calling for help, but he was outside at the back of the hospital and there was no one to hear him.
About forty-five minutes or so later, one of the hospital’s security guards was making his rounds. He saw the garbage cart sitting on the edge of the parking lot with no one near it. He thought that it was unusual and wandered over to investigate. He found the housekeeper trapped beneath the cart.
All he could see of the housekeeper was his head, his shoulder and part of his chest sticking out from under the cart. He helped to move the cart to allow the housekeeper to free himself. Once the guard made sure the housekeeper was okay, he helped to guide the cart to the compacter to unload. The housekeeper took a break to relax and then went back to work.
That night or the next day, someone used a piece of chalk to draw the outline of a person on the tarmac near where the housekeeper had fallen. It was just like the old time movies where the police would draw an outline of the murder victim. The image of the splayed arms, legs, torso, and head was there for all to see. The housekeeper and most of the employees thought it was funny, but not management. They were so upset that they threatened to fire the person who had drawn it and probably would have if they had known who drew it.

Monday, November 5, 2018


Into No-Man’s Land
Friday, an old friend of mine needed a ride to a temp hire agency to complete necessary paperwork and to view safety films for his new job. He was to start Monday. How could I say no? I picked him up at his home and we drove to Youngwood to the temp office. I brought a book to read while he did his thing. While we were there, I did meet one of the secretaries with whom I worked at Frick Hospital. That was a pleasant surprise.
This is the friend with whom I made a missionary trip through the northeast states, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland/Labrador many years ago. Since then, we’ve talked on the phone, but this was the first time I could actually help him. After his appointment, we went to lunch and talked a bit more, catching up on the past. At home, catching up on my laundry completed the day.
Saturday, I was lured into cleaning my refrigerator. Cleaning the fridge is a land no man wants to enter. It’s a rare occasion that I actually take things out, read the expiration date, wipe the shelves, and throw things out that are no longer edible. There was a saying at the hospital, “Anything found in the fridge that is green and shouldn’t be and anything brown that should be green, toss them out.” Nothing in the fridge was that bad, but I now have several scarcely populated shelves.
I also finished an experiment. For those who argue whether the proper way to hang a roll of toilet paper, over or under, I must share. I accidentally hung a roll the opposite of what I normally do and was too lazy to remove it and change its orientation. The tissue came off the roll in much the same manner from either position. The only disadvantage I found was locating the loose end when I needed to start unfurling some of the tissue. Other than that, both ways work. When my kids were still at home, I was just thankful that there was a spare roll in the same room as I was. I did hang the new roll correctly.
I’ve been picking at a crock-pot roasted chicken. I’ve made chicken and baked potato, chicken and gravy over crescent rolls, and chicken and gravy over homemade biscuits out of its carcass, and I still have half of a chicken breast. It may go into the freezer until I feel like indulging in chicken again, but that leads me into another no-man’s land… defrosting the freezer.

Friday, November 2, 2018


Are You Catholic
This incident occurred while I was still working in the emergency room. It was B.C. era…it was the days before computers. When a doctor ordered an x-ray, the nurses would have to write the patient’s name, birthday, cubicle number, what part of the body was to be x-rayed and why it needed an x-ray on a small chit of paper. Then the nurse would have to hand carry thr requisition to the radiology room and be given to the techs inside.
When I carried a request to the radiology room and turned to leave, one of the techs said, “If you see the priest, tell him to stop in and give us ashes on our foreheads. We also want him to bless the x-ray machine.” I recognized that it was Ash Wednesday.
Just as I reached the door, my odd sense of creativity and humor kicked in and I said, “You know, when the priest comes in, you guys could set up a confessional in the dark room. He can open the doors for exposed sins and the unexposed to give you your penance. As in all radiology rooms, there were film storage bins with doors marked as to whether the films were exposed or unexposed. My mind made the comparison to the Catholic confessional chamber with confessed and un-confessed sins.
I heard them laugh as I exited. Later in the day, I was carrying another chit for an x-ray to the techs. When I opened the door, the priest was already ensconced inside. The techs had ashes on their foreheads and one of the girls pointed at me and said, “There! That’s the one.” Apparently they’d told the priest what I had said about the darkroom.
The priest turned to me and asked, “Were you an altar boy?”.
“No.” I replied.
He tried again, “Are you Catholic?”
“No.” I answered again.
He tried one last time, “Do you want to be Catholic?”
My reply was again, “No!”
My response was almost lost in the two technicians’ loud laughter. The priest didn’t laugh, but I’m fairly sure that I saw a smile on his face.