When I called Dian Page at the Green Bay Press Gazette a couple of weeks ago, my hope was to connect the memories in my mind. For so many years, I have had pictures of my little self at the time of my burn accident but I’ve never been sure if these are real or “created” memories. It can be-devil anyone to wonder about these things — did this really happen to me or have I made it up? In my case, I need only look at the scars on my leg to know it did indeed happen. But how and why do I remember (or think I remember) certain pieces of the experience.
That was my motivation for searching for Maggie, the Nurse. I had no idea what I would find. I was ready for anything.
Except perhaps for the fact that I found Maggie and a great deal more.
I didn’t set out to find someone’s Nana, someone’s mother, someone’s son, someone’s sister, someone’s friend. And yet all these people found me and there was a quite a story to tell.
Maggie Glaser Conard was a pediatrics nurse at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay for some 30 years until her retirement in 1987. She did not recover from the massive stroke she suffered in 1988 and died at just 60. “I just wanted to let tell you that your vivid description of her (Maggie) brought her back to life for me. She was exactly as you described in everyday life; not just in work. She was crazy about her grandchildren and she made each and every one of us feel the way you felt. I thank you for this. You have made my night, my week, my year,” Maggie’s granddaughter Jessi Guenther wrote me from Seattle, Washington. Something amazing was happening.
It continued when I spoke to Maggie’s sister, Shirley Warpinski, a retired nurse who still lives in Green Bay. “Maggie had a gift. Everybody loved her. She was happy-go-lucky and always optimistic. She was just the sweetest person,” Shirley said, telling me that Maggie was valedictorian of her high school in Luxemburg. “Whenever she had free time at the hospital, she would go playroom and be with the children. And oh, did she love to read. She read to the children all time.”
There is was. During my three-month hospitalization, I learned to read and at 3 years old, became something of a freaky genius for that day and age. It came back to me now that Maggie had been the one by my bedside, reading to me, teaching me the letters, encouraging me on during those long days when I was confined to a crib, secured with netting so I couldn’t get out and harm my recovery. Whether it was 15 surgeries or 20, I knew my treatment was painful and grueling.
“Yes, I remember those nets. We had to cover the cribs for safety reasons,” shared retired Green Bay nurse Carol Mangin, who worked with Maggie for a “long, long time” at St. Vincent’s. We talked about my third-degree burns. “Burns are so painful. You were lucky yours were third-degree because the nerve endings died and it would not have been as painful as first- or second-degree burns.”
“My mother cared for people for the better part of her working life,” her son Ted Conard told me. “Caring was in our gene pool I guess since I went into that field and others in our family did too.” After 35 years of working at Green Bay’s Curative Workshop, Ted recently retired and still lives in Green Bay. After my discharge from St. Vincent’s, I attended therapy at the Curative Workshop for many long months, regaining flexibility in both my legs after months of inactivity and re-learning how to walk. “You probably worked with Gloria, a therapist there,” Ted said. “She was there forever.”
Suddenly, my memories were expanding, connecting. They were real.
“My mom Maggie had crazy love for children. She would come home and talk about her patients especially the ones she became close to and I’m sure she talked about you. She would have grown really attached and her heart would have been breaking for what you were going through,” Maggie’s daughter Julie said. “She would have thought of you like you were one of her children.”
“Maggie would be so pleased to know that you are pursuing this,” retired Green Bay nurse Mary Thomas explained when I spoke with her. “As nurses, you touch people’s lives and then they go their own ways. To know that you remembered, that she touched you and it meant something to you, well, that means something to all of us.”
My sister Susie, a nurse herself and professor of nursing at UWGB elaborated on that thought. “Nurses do so many things but the human caring is what makes the difference. This nurse cared for you, she transformed a difficult experience for a child. In her caring for you, you were no longer alone in that room.”
Once again, what I set out to find wasn’t at all what was there. Instead I found something deeper and richer. Yes, I found Maggie and the memories the beautiful memories she gave me. But now I understand the life she brought to so many people — her patients, her colleagues and friends, and her family.
Her granddaughter Jessi told me about her brother’s reaction to this unfolding story and she included it on her blog as well:
“The first thing that came to mind…is how loved ones have a way of letting us know that they’re still there, they never left to begin with. What an awesome gift” ~Nathan Kofler
There’s also a comment from “Carrie” following Jessi’s blog post that makes a great deal of sense to me:
“…..We have named those, God-incidences because its too perfect just to be a coincidence…..” – Carrie
These “God-incidences”/coincidences have brought me this far and at every turn of this journey I’ve found something immensely beautiful. For anyone who has gone through a fire of any kind, be it physical or psychological, we know we would never want to go through it again. And still there are great lessons and great love to be found. “It meant the world to me and my family to know that Maggie was loved by so many people,” her daughter Julie told me. “What a legacy she has left.”
A legacy indeed.
Thank you Maggie Conard. You have left behind an incredible legacy of healing and helping for so many of us. I am grateful to be a part of it.