Monday, April 28, 2014

We had an L.P.N. named Joan, working in the emergency room. She was a tall, dark haired Italian woman who frequently got into trouble when she scolded parents for allowing their children to be dirty. It wasn’t the everyday play dirty that would upset her; it was when the child was wearing layers of built up dirt and grime. She would give the child a bath and instruct the parent on how to keep a child clean. Sometimes she was very blunt and candid. She once told the parents of a beautiful little girl “If you can’t take better care of a child than this, you ought to consider giving her up for adoption.” Needless to say, this offended the parents and they picked up the child and headed for the exit. Joan, the L.P.N., crawled after them on her knees begging them to stay. They were insulted and left, taking their half washed, dirty child with them.
Joan would have given Mr. Kleen a run for his money any day of the week. She rarely took a vacation because her life was defined by the regularly scheduled cleaning days in her house. She also scrubbed her basement floor seams with a toothbrush. She cleaned her house with a routine of doing certain chores on certain days of the week.
An example of her obsession for cleaning came when her husband bought her a full length, white leather coat as a Christmas present. She wore it all winter, but when spring came, she decided that it was dirty. Did she take it to the dry cleaners? No!
Into the washing machine it went. The leather absorbed a huge amount of water. The coat became engorged and water logged. It filled the tub of her washer. Jean tried to remove it, but it had become so large she couldn’t budge it. “What am I going to do?” she thought.  She was afraid to tell her husband what she had done. She climbed onto the top of the washing machine and straddled the opening. She began to tug and pull. Slowly it yielded. She managed to wiggle it out, bit by bit. Now what to do?
She double bagged the water logged mess and put it out on the curb for the trash men to collect. I can just imagine what was going through the garbage man’s head as he hefted the bag into the truck. I’m sure that he wanted to look for a dead body inside.

Friday, April 25, 2014


One of my friends, Ron, is another connoisseur of ties, like me. I say this, tongue-in-cheek. Quantity and variety doesn’t mean quality.  Ron just likes all types of ties and as a nursing supervisor I had a large number as well, especially ones for the different holidays. I wore them to brighten the day of fellow employees, patients, and visitors.
I suggested that we combine our inventory of ties and rent them out, calling it a tie-brary.
Ron’s ties ran to the Looney Tune genre, with Bugs Bunny, Pepe Le pew, Foghorn Leghorn, etc. He also had ties that came from the “way-back” machine; wide with bold stripes and prints. They were the classic ties from the yesteryear.
My tie collection totaled about seventy-five. That included narrow ones, wide classic ones, and various ones that I had to buy for weddings, etc.  I had some that were handmade, some that were given to me, and very special. My ties range from a narrow olive drab tie to wide ties of stars and stripes. The ties I had the most difficulty finding were for Easter and Thanksgiving. My Easter tie was done with a myriad of colored eggs in bright pink, blue, green, and yellow. The closest ties that I could find for Thanksgiving were one tie of wheat sheaves, one with harvest vegetables, one with sunflowers, and two with autumn leaves.
I had a Halloween tie covered with black cats and jack o lanterns, but I only wore it once. I had such a horrible night. I considered it to be bad luck and gave it away. After that, I wore a pumpkin orange shirt and a plain black tie.
I have twenty Christmas ties; one with a Grinch wearing a Santa hat, one with colored light bulbs, several with Santa, one with reindeer,  one with the twelve days of Christmas, one with Christmas trees, and one with carolers on it. I have one with Christmas ornaments, one with holly, and one with wrapped gift boxes, and one with teddy bears in stockings I have several with snowmen, snowflakes, and one with pine boughs and cones.
The one I hold mast precious is one that was handmade for me. The reason it is so special is the story behind it. Nancy was one of the switchboard operators and I would often stop in their area to use the telephone. Sometimes it was the phone closest for me to use.
When I stepped in, I said to Nancy, “That’s a nice blouse. It was black with bright abstract designs on it.
Nancy said, “This old rag.”
I said, “I just thought it looked nice.”
“If you want it I’ll give it to you. I was thinking about throwing it away.”
“I meant it has such bright colors and looks good on you.”
She didn’t say anymore.
The next Christmas, I got a present. She had it made into a tie. It really made me laugh. I decided to wear it for New Year’s Eve, because of its vivid colors. When I walked into the switchboard office, Nancy was there. She looked up and said, “Dang, it made a better tie than it did a blouse.”
Nancy has passed away now. I only wear the blouse/tie for New Year’s Eve as a tribute to a special friend.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Good-bye Mr. Chirps

At one time, the “IN” thing was to have a chirping bird ornament to hang in among the boughs of a Christmas tree. Most people would hang this gold or silver plastic filigree-like ball where they could reach the on-off switch and entertain visitors when they visited their home during the holidays. It was battery powered and played a recording of a bird song. Well, not actually a song but a series of a single note monotonous chirp. CHIRP. CHIRP. CHIRP.
I was so glad when the Christmas season was over and the mechanical birds were laid to rest in storage boxes for at least a year. I would be free from the freaky phantom-feathered friends but sadly, it was not be.
My wife, Cindy and I were shopping in Connellsville, Pennsylvania and climbed the back steps into the McCrory’s five and dime store. As I neared the top of the stairway I was greeted by the gloriously annoying twitter of a bird ball that had somehow escaped interment until the next Christmas holiday season.
I clenched my teeth and finished the climb into the sales floor. I began to hunt down the canary-like Caruso. Through the maze of merchandise laden aisles, I followed the siren’s song. I was on a seek-and-destroy mission, but I knew if I shut it off, it would provide only temporary relief. I was sure some diligent employee would notice the silence. I changed my mission slightly.
My wife had just gotten here and was sure there was at least another half hour for her to shop. I couldn’t stand being cooped up for so long with the screeching songbird.
When I found it, the silver egg was perched on a pyramid of plastic bird seed sacks. It proudly announced that there were seeds for his wild companions on sale. I circled the display. Nonchalantly, I meandered around it in ever narrowing circles, watching for employees that might be eyeballing me. One more pass-by and I lowered the boom. Actually, I lifted a bag of seed and then lowered the boom. In one swift movement, I dropped a plastic bag of seed on top of it, smothering it between the layers of seed. The loud, offending opera went from a Chirp, Chirp, Chirp, to a chirp, chirp, chirp that could barely be heard a yard away.

Monday, April 21, 2014

As I Age

As I age, I look back remembering many things of my past; cars with fender skirts and girls with poodle skirts. Then the cars had clutches. Women had clutch purses. Movies had lines like, “I have you in my clutches” and a lot of clutching went on in the back seat of the family’s car. Girls wore bobby socks on their feet and bobby pins in their hair.
We had hula hoops to play with and hula dancers that swayed and competed for space on the dashboard with plastic saints. Behind many homes still had outhouses and smoke houses, one, people hid their smoking and in the other people flavored and preserved their meats.
We had no drive-through, only drive-in restaurants and drive-in movies. We played baseball with calls of balls and strikes and some grown up relatives smoked Chesterfields and Lucky Strikes. The idea of the Marlboro man hadn’t been born yet.
Doors had either porcelain or glass knobs and our cars sported steering wheel knobs. We “smoked” candy cigarettes and bubble gum cigars, no one worried. We had ball caps, cap guns, B. B. guns and sling shots and played from sunrise to sunset.
Felix, the cat, Tom Terrific and His Mighty Wonder Dog, Manfred graced our black and white televisions. Kids wore Keds. Our skates were adjustable, had metal wheels, and fastened to our shoes with a key. Our games weren’t electric requiring adaptors, all we needed an empty field, places to hide, or a can to have fun. Our games were powered by imagination, not with batteries.
Little boys kept garter snakes and grown-up girls used garter belts to keep up their nylon stockings.
Boys bought comic books were a dime and men collected match books. Girls played with dolls and women used make-up to look like dolls for men.
Telephones hung on the wall and had a crank on the side. They were connected on a party line and we had to listen and count for our ring tones of longs and shorts. There was no texting, no Google, no computers. The fanciest things we had were typewriters.
We fought with our best friends one day and did a sleep-over the next night. Bullies were a part of life and fights, even at school the combatants were separated and sent in different directions. If it was a recurring theme, the gym teacher might put boxing gloves of the two and allowed the feud to come to a close.
Kids brought guns and knives to school. No one was shot or stabbed. We were taught right from wrong and the value of life. We were controlled by our parents and teachers, not the government and inflexible laws and rules. Things were simpler and handled at a local level; parents, teachers, and local school boards made the decisions.
The money that went to schools was spent on teachers, books, and supplies. Now most of the money is spent to fulfill bureaucratic paperwork and comply with all of the laws that take the place of common sense. The lack of common sense sends five year old children because they point a finger at another student.

Friday, April 18, 2014

When It’s Time

My grandfather would tell us tales of working in the coal mines in Southwestern Pennsylvania. One of the several stories that he shared was brought to mind while he was watching the news. The news story was about an airliner that had a door pop open during flight and a stewardess was sucked out and killed. At that time he said, “When it’s your time, it’s your time.” Then went on to tell, “We had just started a new mine and were still close to the surface. We were so often underground; we went outside when we could. It was lunch time and we went out to eat our food in the fresh air. We had just sat down and began to eat, when one of the miners cocked his head as if someone had called his name. The man laid aside his sandwich and walked back into the entrance of the mine. He had barely stepped inside, when the ceiling of the mine collapsed and buried him. It was as though God had called his name and told him to come into the mine.
Granddad always chewed Cutty Pipe tobacco, one of the cheapest shredded tobacco that the stores sold. Granddad picked up the habit in the coal mines. There were no such things as masks or respirators and to keep him from swallowing the coal dust that would collect in his mouth, he chewed the tobacco and would spit the juice out. If he swallowed the tobacco juice, it would make him sick. It became a habit and he chewed Cutty Pipe even after he’d retired from the mines.
The veins of coal were low and even though my granddad was a short man, he either had to stoop or crawl to swing a pick and shovel it out for the mine carts to haul to the surface. He worked the night shift with my uncle. What I didn’t know until after the death of my granddad and my uncle was that my uncle was lazy and slept during the night and my granddad would have to do double duty, shoveling and loading the coal for two. My granddad worked a farm during the day. I doubt if my uncle helped on the farm either.
My granddad died at the age of seventy-six, diagnosed with  hardening of the arteries, but I think that much of the problem was he was worn out from burning the candle at both ends. Although my grandfather was short in stature and quiet, he stood tall in my eyes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In Times of Dreams

When I hold you in my dreams, only my dreams seem real.

Memories of you, are the reality, I feel.

Today’s pain, into the past pleasantries disappear

Realities pale, while memories grow strong and clear.

When I retreat to the past, I seek comfort and more.

The present fades. I’m drawn by the past’s strengthening lure.

With freedom found in my dreams, I find you still please me.

Present times wane when to the past, thoughts of you tease me.

Hold me in your arms where I feel sheltered from life’s storm.

Dreams of you press close, where I am comforted and warm.

Wipe away my tears, my love, where they’ve coursed down my face.

Let me escape each day when past memories I chose.

Grief grasps and strangles. Thoughts of you, loosens those fingers

Allowing me to breathe, memories of you linger.

The sweetness of your eyes still draw me into the past.

How can I move forward when my eyes are backward cast?
Going through my old notes and papers, I found this poem I had written sometime
after the passing of my wife. I typed it in, saving it and decided to share it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Passing It Forward
Several truths I learned over the years, I tried to pass along to anyone who oriented to the supervising position. One of the first and foremost was “to never let someone see that they have upset you. Excuse yourself and go somewhere private. (Like our office, it was separate from most of the hospital.)
“Go inside and close the door. Then you can scream, cry, or kick the furniture, but do it in private. If they see what buttons to push to upset you, they will repeatedly do it just to frustrate and anger you.” I explained.
The other was not to get comfortable either at lunch, on break, or with the job of supervising in general.
It never seemed to fail; I would no sooner get my lunch heated and sit down ready to eat, than I would get a page or a telephone call. Many of the times it would mean leaving my food and going somewhere to handle a problem or situation.
I would return later to cold, dried out food or because the situation took so much time, putting it away to take home. (Have you ever tried to eat Tater Tots after they had been reheated three times?)
Another time, I was distracted when I planned to reheat the food I'd brought. I had to do something. When I came back, I stuck a bowl in the microwave to reheat. I started to smell onion. The item that I wanted to reheat didn't have onion. Have you ever tried to eat a wilted, hot salad.
The other part about getting comfortable is thinking you knew all there is to being a supervisor. Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost every day the supervisor is called upon to do something new. They can involve complaints, staffing, bed assignments, or those things that fall outside of the normal policies and procedures.
Believe me, after twenty-eight years supervising and dealing with complaints, call offs, and unusual happenings, I was happy to hang up my spurs before I poked a hole in the water bed.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sausage and Buckwheat Cakes

Ohiopyle Pennsylvania has a buckwheat and sausage festival every autumn. It is the second full Friday and Saturday October. The volunteer fire department gets much of its needed funds for operations for the year. They serve all the buckwheat and pancakes that you can eat for one price. They give two sausage patties, apple sauce, fried potatoes, and a drink.
I started out there while dating my wife, Cindy. I hand washed dishes for several years, then got recruited frying sausage since. The sausage is whole hog and that includes the hams. It is very meaty and tasty as well.
The sausage used to be fried in iron skillets over gas burners, but as the years passed the department has graduated to large gas fired grills. They’re approximately eighteen inches by thirty inches and get really hot for the fryers.
The cakes are baked in two locations. The first is in the top of the firehouse and the other is in the next door old school house. The cakes are fresh and hot, served shortly after they’re removed from the griddles.
Recently they have started a second festival in the spring. I was conned into helping for this one in 2014. People aren’t shy asking for help when you’re retired. So I am going today and give it a try.
People come from Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. We’ve had politicians, and why not. They’re always looking to be in the public eye, shaking hands. There is a television star that makes the pilgrimage every fall. I’m hoping to see him this year.
WQED made a T.V. program based on volunteerism and the fire department is on it.
The friendships made are the reason many help, even though they aren’t a member of the fire department. Many have been there longer than my almost forty years of helping.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Manicure Anyone?
An elderly man came to the emergency room complaining of abdominal cramping, pain, and constipation. The man’s complaints were confirmed by the doctor. The man was definitely constipated. Dr. Vandyk decided that it was time for someone to digitally manipulate and dislodge the impacted fecal blockage.
He came out from behind the cubicle’s curtain and walked into the nursing station saying, “Hand check.”
We looked at each other with a puzzled look in our eyes, but we held out our hands for him to inspect.
“You!” Dr. Vandyk called out, pointing with his pen. “You with the long fingernails, there’s an old man who needs assistance with his impaction.”
The nurse he picked out was a very prim and neat person. She had nails that were almost three quarter of an inch long. They were buffed and coated with several layers of clear fingernail polish. She was a nurse that dressed neatly and her make-up always perfect. With a sigh and a disgusted look, she disappeared behind the curtain to do her duty.
Later, she revealed she had doubled her exam gloves. She was afraid her nails might push through just one pair and that “just wouldn’t be good.” The patient left the emergency room happy, leaving behind several pounds of feces and one disgruntled nurse.
When she arrived at the hospital the next day, her nails were again impeccable, but they were only a quarter of an inch long. She had trimmed them.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Compassion to Last a Lifetime
We had an older gentleman admitted overnight. When I came on in the morning as a supervisor, the nurses in the unit told me that he was to have a fiftieth wedding anniversary party with his family that night. He wasn’t well and we knew he wouldn’t be able to attend. As a matter of fact, his condition was poor and he would be blessed if he left the hospital alive.
The wheels started to churn in my creative brain. I asked the staff to call the dietary department and ask for plastic martini looking glasses and a cake usually reserved for birthdays. I thought that we could have some celebration ready for the family when they came in to visit.
Making a “Happy 50th Anniversary” banner from computer paper and markers, we hung it above his bed. We borrowed a Polaroid camera from the security department and waited. When the family came in, we waived the two visitor rule and the family gathered around the bed. They were impressed that we’d taken the time to make a banner, but could hardly hold back the tears when we brought the cake and ginger ale in glasses for their impromptu party. Snapping a few pictures of the family around their father and husband finished out gesture of compassion and good will. The family had celebrated the anniversary and had photos of that moment in time.
I wish I could say the man recovered and was able to rejoin his family, but it was not to be. He died several days later, but the family had the memories and the pictures to keep.

Friday, April 4, 2014

While working as a corpsman in the emergency department in Orlando, Florida, we had a slightly past middle aged woman who was brought by ambulance for a drug overdose. She had taken an overdose of Darvocet. The bottle the ambulance crew brought in was empty and the date on the label showed that she had refilled it only a few days before.
We managed to start an intravenous access line and push fluids into her. We inserted a naso-gastric tube through her nose and down into her stomach. We continued to push massive amounts of fluids in through the tube and suction them back out in an attempt to remove any remaining pills.
The doctor told me to give an ampoule of Narcan I. V. push. “It can’t hurt.” he said.  “Let’s see what it does.”
We kept lavaging her by pushing the water in and pulling it back out and waited to see if the Narcan had any effect. It seemed to stabilize her blood pressure and her color seemed to improve. The doctor said, “Go ahead and give a second dose of Narcan to her.”
After pushing the medication intravenously, I turned to discard the syringe, I heard a noise behind me as the mattress on the bed squeaked. I turned and saw the woman as she sat up in the bed. It was an “all in one motion” and she quivered as she reached the sitting position. She seemed to vibrate just like the cartoon character of the road runner does when he stops and says, "Beep. Beep."
She said, “My, that coffee was good.” and she lay back down. She was admitted to the intensive care unit pending her stabilization and then to be transferred to the psychiatric unit to finish her care.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lost and Found
It seemed that Dr. Vandyk was a lightning rod for unusual visits to the emergency department. A couple came to the triage area with a unique story. They were in the midst of a sex act, playing “hiding the Maraschino cherries” when they lost count. She wanted checked to be sure one hadn’t gotten lost. She wanted to be absolutely sure.
She was taken back to the obstetrics/gynecology room, placed on the table, and into the stirrups to be examined. Dr. Vandyk sat on the stool, lubricated it, and  slipped the vaginal speculum inside of her. After a seek and destroy mission, it was decided that it was all was clear. The doctor retorted as he extracted the speculum and pulled off his gloves. “The next time, leave the stems on.”