The Most Unlikely Discovery

Anyone who has ever moved from here to there understands the challenges of upending a life or otherwise turning it upside down for a defined and usually unpleasant period of time.  The longer you are in one place, the greater the likelihood that your stuff outplays, outweighs and overwhelms.  Paring down and packing it up is not for the faint of heart. Reinforcements are often required.

My move from a house of 20+ years was months in the making.  More trips to Goodwill than I cared to count, dusty disposals in droves.  And yet there always seemed to be another room to prune or box to plunder.  That’s when I called Gloria, the undisputed master of the discard.  I had reached my limit.  To her credit, she knew this.  “Gallagher, I got you,” she’d say before shoo-ing me from my home and, like a modern-day samurai, then ruthlessly used her weapons to jettison the clutter.

When she was ready, she would call me back to the house allowing me to see with wonder how she had magically eliminated whole rooms of stuff.  I didn’t ask what she did or where it went.  She’d then instruct me to review the contents of certain places or boxes and I always did as instructed.  “Those boxes over there Gallagher,” she said as she pointed to an area in the basement.  “Those you need to go through before we throw them out.”

It was a tedious chore, sorting through pictures or clothes that no longer fit or papers you’d just “hold-on-to-because” or reminders of life-gone-by.  Gloria had the unique ability to only present me with the pertinent things; which along the way eased the emotions of letting go of things and taking only the necessary parts for a new life.

And, then, there it was.  A yellowed paper in a nondescript folder among mismatched things.  “Attending Physician’s Statement,” it read in simple typeface, dated 3-9-1965. My hand shook ever so slightly.  This was impossible.  I had searched for documents related to my burns for years.  St. Vincent Hospital told me they had destroyed the original records related from 1964-1965.  Dr. Lynn and Dr. von Heimburg’s offices had long since closed and disposed of the old records.  It was only from the office of Dr. Hoops, who took over my care around 1966 after Dr. Lynn’s death, that I received any sort medical records.  But never, never anything from the original incident.

I was looking at a document that shouldn’t have existed.  One that in all these years, and throughout this search, I had never seen much less known was in my possession.  Could it be that when my brothers and sisters and I cleaned out my parents’ home in 1997 after their deaths that this document was simply put in a box assigned to me?

I was dumbfounded and spellbound at the same time.

“Third degree burn of the right leg and buttock, involving 12% of the body surface area,” it read and then listed nine various procedures from December 2, 1964 through January 12, 1965, and six more office visits through March 9, 1965, conveniently offered at “no charge”.

“Patient is still under Dr.’s care,” it concluded.

This was Dr. von Heimburg’s invoice to the insurance company, Sun life Assurance Company of Canada.

Sometimes when you are not looking, you find the very thing you need.

This yellowed document confirmed the stories I’d heard and the memories I’d had.  It’s one thing to believe something is true because you are told that, even when you can touch your own scars. It’s another to see and touch the documentation of it.

A blurry baby’s memory is true.

“Gloria,” I called out.  “You are not going to believe what you found for me…….”.

Imagine if my modern-day samurai of disposal had thrown it out?  Instead, she saved something-I-didn’t-know-I-had for me.  God bless Gloria.

Next up:  Dr. Lehman tells me my pediatric burn survival rate.

 

 

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The Fire of an MBA

Jim Gallagher graduates with honors with an MBA from Marquette.  Pictured here with the Dean of the Graduate School of Management

Jim Gallagher graduates with honors with an MBA from Marquette. Pictured here with the Dean of the Graduate School of Management

Founded in 1871 as a steel-making center, Birmingham exploded almost overnight, quickly growing into Alabama’s largest city and earning the nickname “The Magic City.”   When I got the call that my brother was injured in a serious motorcycle accident there, mostly  I saw the medical center not the burgeoning culture.  Jim is a motorcycle aficionado with  more bikes than I imagined — Harley, Ducati and who knows what other brands — who did track days and raced at speeds that made me nervous.   That he wiped out on the Birmingham track didn’t completely surprise me but scared me.  At the emergency room, they cut his leathers off to tend to his broken elbow, ankle and assorted other injuries.  It must have been an ugly scene because his wife called me that day to tell me she needed my help.  It was a Monday night and I was watching a Packer-Bear game.  I booked my ticked to Alabama at half-time.

When I reached the medical center in Birmingham, Jim was hooked up to a variety of tubes, his elbow and ankle immobilized.  He was angry I was there, which didn’t make it easier.  “I didn’t ask for you to come,” he hissed.  “Go away.”  Within a couple of days of my arrival, his boss called and fired him.

I talked to the doctors and nurses about his situation.  As a diabetic, Jim was experiencing swelling that prevented some of the surgeries he needed.  They advised me that the best course of action was to get him back to his home in Milwaukee and conduct the surgeries there.  Medical transport to Milwaukee was crazy expensive.  So I did what any sister would do.  I called my other brother Michael.  “Get down here.  I need you,” I  begged.  Mike and I rented a mini-van and retrofitted it to carry our patient home.  The drive was about 18 hours and we traded time at the wheel to drive straight-through.

Injured.  Unemployed.  In a precarious marriage.  Jim’s life had been unceremoniously stripped from him.

And then, little by little I stood by him as he reclaimed it.  He applied for his dream job at Harley Davidson.  He got it.  He bade his bad marriage goodbye and I served as counsel to him and his divorce attorney.  He recovered from his injuries, slowly.  I went to his house and helped him clean it out.  He applied to Marquette University‘s Graduate School of Business for an MBA, accepted on academic probation.  He went to school on nights and weekends, while working a full-time job and traveling the world for work.

When he asked me to help him write a speech as the prospective graduation speaker, I did.  “Graduating from Marquette was my dream as a boy but it took my becoming a man to realize it,” he wrote.  He made it to the top three finalists.  Another guy was selected as the graduation speaker but when I heard him, I knew Jim’s speech was better.    But of course I was biased.

He wrote:

“I was not a good student growing up.  You might  have called me complacent because I didn’t apply myself academically.  There were number of other challenges in my life – being diagnosed with diabetes in my late teens, addressing my father’s long and debilitating illness and ultimately his death when I was in my 20s, followed by my mother’s untimely death, and the challenge of handling my strong drive for success but not knowing how to execute it. You might say I had my hands full.  But it was the critical time when I realized how much I needed guiding principles in my life.  I just couldn’t find them then. You see, when I graduated with my undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee more than 20 years ago, I thought that was enough for me.  Of course it wasn’t and I began to understand that the quest for knowledge lives hand-in-hand with the desire for excellence.  We are all given gifts, but sometimes we can’t see them clearly even when we need them most and so we explore different paths  until we finally understand what these gifts are and how we can use them to our advantage.”

There we were.  At Jim’s MBA graduation on Sunday.  Tears flowed down my face.  I felt like I was watching a miracle.  I was watching a miracle.  I saw a man’s transformation and I was part of it.

Our Aunt Mary — my deceased mother’s only sister — hosted a private lunch following graduation.  Jim had written of her in his speech, “Over the years, I learned to have faith in myself.  More importantly, I realized that to truly succeed,  I needed to embrace the faith others had in me.  My fellow alum Aunt Mary provided this foundation for me and I feel partially responsible for her recent knee replacement procedure – Aunt Mary – I know  you have worn out your rosary beads and bruised your knees praying for me through St. Jude.  Thank you for your unwavering belief in me, and your love and guidance.  Through your example, you have been one of many people who taught me the meaning of faith, service and leadership.  Not just once but over many years of always believing in me.  You embody the excellence of Marquette every day.  At 85 years old, I know that is no small feat.

It was a good day.  I write about fire and how it shapes our lives.  I had just watched the fire develop in my own brother.  It was a good day.  It is there for all of us.