So what does it mean?

“The body has memory.  The physical carriage hauls more than its weight.  The body is the threshold across which each objectionable call passes into consciousness — all the unintimidated, unblinking, and unflappable resilience does not erase the moments lived through, even as we are eternally stupid or everlastingly optimistic.”  Claudia Rankine, poetess

Finding Dr. von Heimburg’s document about my burn history was a stunner.  For months after, I racked my feeble brain, wondering how that document could have appeared in a basement box I’d long since forgotten. Just how did a critical document I had never seen before GET in that box?  Even more incredible was its likely fate — it was headed for the garbage had my god-sent friend Gloria not mysteriously saved it from extinction.

To my my way thinking, it was a miracle document.

After paying it due homage and digesting the very fact of its existence, I began to wonder what exactly it meant. First, in terms of my very survival as a pediatric burn patient. Second, in the memories it filled in and the gaps it left.

I turned to Dr. Robert Lehman, a noted St. Louis surgeon.  “Bob, can you help me interpret this report?” I asked, as I looked at its menu of debridement, dressing changes and skin grafting. “Oh, this was serious,” he replied with a knowing tilt of the head.  It was a classic Dr. Bob gesture.

The most medieval of the menu is, of course, debridement, a surgical procedure using forceps, scissors and other implements (of torture, I might add) to remove dead (or what they perhaps lovingly refer to as ‘necrotic’) tissue.  Skins grafts are then transplanted to the debrided site.  In reflex, I rubbed my thighs thinking about that — my thighs and rear end are my donor skin sites and still carry the precision scars of the scalpel, which cut perfect rectangles of skin from them.  Thinking about it made me queasy.

I asked then what was possibly the more interesting question, “Reading this, how do you assess my survival rate at the time?”

Of course, in the interim, I’d looked up the various measures of burn survival, like the R-Baux score which measures mortality in adult burn victims or the P-Baux score which measures mortality in pediatric cases.  These various measures include some combination of the percent of body surface burned + the patient’s age and often including a smoke inhalation component as well as sepsis status. It’s all sort of compellingly macabre and all, according to Dr. Bob, irrelevant for me.  In his pleasantly dead-pan manner he said, “I think, that at the time you were burned, the thinking was burn plus age.  Looks like there’s all sorts of analysis being done today that would never have applied back then.  I should say that the new analyses weren’t done then.”  Hmmm.

This is understandable.  Not only am I old (!) but at the time I was burned, 911 was not even in existence.  It was something of a cowboy world for burn care.  There were no burn units, no Baux scores, no longitudinal studies.  I didn’t even get to the hospital by ambulance.  By all accounts, my parents drove me to the hospital, hours after the accident.  That was standard operating procedure in the day.

Taking Dr. von Heimburg’s report, my survival score was 12% total body surface area burned (TBSA) + age of 2 = 14% mortality.  To me, those were fighting chances.  And then, there was always contradictory information out there — “In the 1960’s, the likelihood of survival was only 50% in children with burns covering 35 – 44% of the total body surface area (TBSA), and few patients with burn sizes exceeding 45% TBSA survived.  The average length of stay for the acutely burned child was 103 days,” writes Dr. David Herndon of Shriners Hospitals for Children.

It made me think about my length of stay — somewhere past the 60 day mark — as well as my other doctor, Dr. Thomas Lynn. There were no records available from him.  He died young, a stroke or heart attack according to his daughter and my high school friend Julie. Within two years of my accident, he was gone and I was referred to plastic surgeon Harold Hoops.  By the time I developed interest in finding records, Dr. Lynn’s clinic was long since closed, the records destroyed.

So here were the gaps again.  Confirmation on nine procedures.  But the story I remember put the count at about 20.  Dr. von Heimburg listed only one skin graft.  Looking at my leg, I know there were others. I see the cuts and feel the ridges It had to be the handiwork of Dr. Lynn, whose records are gone forever.  “The body has memory,” Claudia Rankine says. I know it to be true.

 

 

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.

 

 

Finding Maggie and So Much More

Maggie Ready for Work

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.

Maggie Conard Memory CardIt 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.

Drumroll Please……It’s Published

Jumping off a cliff

True to her word, reporter Dian Page published an Article in the Green Bay Press-Gazette today that has my palms sweating. “Daughters Take the Literary World by Storm,” reads the headline.

It’s a cliffhanger.

Will anyone read it?  Will anyone have information?  Will the daughters really take the literary world by storm?

Stay tuned.

Calling Crivitz

Crivitz, Wisconsin

It started with my high school friend Peggy.  She read about my search for Maggie, the nurse who cared for me at St. Vincent’s Hospital when I burned my leg.  Her mother, she reminded me, was also a nurse at St. Vincent’s and she planned to grill her for information.  Grilling complete, she discovered that her mother didn’t remember Maggie — a result of failing memory or perhaps being on a different floor of the hospital during those years.  But her mother gave her a lead — call Anne, another nurse now retired and living in Crivitz, WI, who might have a better recollection.  (Crivitz, WI, of course, is the home of the annual summer bluegrass festival — www.flatrockbluegrass.com — among its other outdoor recreational delights.)

Cold calling has never been my strong suit, but I had nothing to lose and dialed the number.  “Hello,” squeaked a man with a distinct Wisconsin accent, the kind that started low, sounded nasal and ended on a higher note all in a three-syllable-beat as in “Hellll-oooo-ooo.”  Anne, the former nurse was out, but expected back shortly and I should sure call back. 

People in my native Wisconsin always amaze and inspire me.  I didn’t explain who I was or much about why I was calling, other than that Mrs. so-and-so suggested I give Anne a call and yet I was welcomed to call back.

A couple of days later I did call back and Anne warmly welcomed me, “I’m so glad you called back.  My husband said you called and I was so curious to hear back from you,” she said and I could hear the smile in her voice.  “Now, Maggie.  Maggie,” she mused.  “I am so sorry but I don’t remember her.  One of the problems at St. Vincent’s is that we didn’t get to know the nurses on the other floors.  I wasn’t on pediatrics and I have to tell you I just don’t remember her.”

I thanked Anne for her time and generosity to give it some thought when she piped up.  “Now, I just thought of an idea for you.  Why don’t you take out an ad in the Green Bay Press-Gazette?  Everyone reads it and I’m sure someone would see it.  I’m just so sorry I can’t help you myself.”

Taking out an ad had crossed my mind but I hadn’t done anything.  “Anne, I think you are right.  I’d thought of that and maybe you are helping me by confirming I should do it.”  She clucked.  “That would be nice,” she said, “You should do it.  And if you find her, would you call me back?  I’d just love to know.”

Have I said that I just love people in Wisconsin? 

Next step?  Call the classified ads department at the Green Bay Press Gazette. 

Now, how should I word that ad?

Saved by an Angel: Book Review

18th century rendition of a guardian angel.

Image via Wikipedia

The light in the bedroom flickered and roused me from sleep.  It must have been 3:00 a.m.  I closed my eyes, hoping to fall back sleep.  Zzzzt.  The lights flickered on again but I defiantly kept my eyes closed.  Annoying, I thought and rolled over, confident I could find sleep and avoid the flickering lights for the rest of the night.  And then, the thought that completely woke me up flitted through my weary noggin:  “As you read Saved by an Angel, you’ll likely notice more of the interactions you have with your own guardian angels,” author Doreen Virtue (www.angeltherapy.com) wrote in the book’s preface.

Just a week earlier I started reading Saved by an Angel, somewhat sure it would be a quick read.  I was wrong.  Fourteen chapters are packed with individual, real life stories of people who, explains Virtue, have been saved or changed by angelic intervention.  Although I’d heard a great deal about Doreen Virtue and knew she was as much as of an “angel expert”  as any one could be — with a trove of angel-centered books to her credit — I had yet to personally read any of her material.  Although I consider myself a student of metaphysical books, angels had really not been my thing.

But there was beauty in starting my angel reading with more than a hundred stories from “real” people.  These first-person accounts span the gamut — from healing messages to help from mysterious strangers, from visions of deceased loved ones to answered prayers — and are tend short (a page or so in most cases) and simply written.  For example, in a story called Illumination, a young woman sees an ongoing car headed straight at her and then sees the car illuminate in a “glorious light” and knows her life will be spared.  It is.  As she tells her story, she relays, “Not that I don’t believe in angels, but nothing like that had ever happened to me!  I know now that my vision helped me more than I can understand…..” Sincere stories like this are not easy reads.  After I’d read a story or two, I put the book down to think about them.  What was the author’s motivation?  Why would they submit the story for publication?  In nearly every case, a single angel intervention changed someone’s life.  The compiled stories are compelling and inspirational, not at all what I expected when I considered reading the book.

Following the many stories, Part II of the book includes Virtue’s plan for readers to see their own angels.  At just 32 pages (of 253), it is the smallest section of the book and provides strategies for angel-viewing enhancement — Virtue says many of the same techniques she teaches in her popular seminars and programs.  Her seven-day plan includes stocking up on “earthly supplies and shop for foods that will enhance your psychic ability” including fruits and vegetables as well as specific meditations, journal writing, chanting and the like.  As someone who’s life was saved by an angel during an armed carjacking in 1995, Virtue has dedicated her life to researching and teaching about these sorts of experiences.  As she notes, when Baylor University conducted a survey of 1,700 American adults (many of whom didn’t consider themselves religious) in 2008, 55% reported that they have been “protected from harm by a guardian angel.”

Statistics aside, I enjoyed reading the real-life stories and felt a connection to each of them.

And so there I lay watching lights flicker in the middle of the night, half-wondering if an angel was going to appear or some other strange hijinx might ensue.  Slowly I folded the comforter back and crept over to the light switch.  Here I discovered that someone had left the dimmer switch on just a tad, which more than likely create the electrical charges from the lights.  Or had it?

When you read a book about angels, it’s important to keep your mind open.

Saved by an Angel by Doreen Virtue is available for purchase via Hay House (http://www.hayhouse.com/details.php?id=5614) and at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.

 From time to time, I review books from Hay House authors.  www.hayhouse.com   I received the book from Hay House for review purposes and was not financially compensated for this post. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

Perspective From the Newspapers

The first roll of microfilm threaded through the library’s reader as if it were on a mission to be viewed.  I smiled, hopeful that with a new set of film covering five months of the 1965 Green Bay Press-Gazette from there would be some clue about my childhood accident — was there even a fire call?

I’d already viewed a year of Green Bay Press-Gazettes from 1964 and found absolutely nothing.  This didn’t completely discourage me since my mother had made entries in my baby book about the accident’s dates as both November 1964 and 1965.  Other than those baby book entries, the stories I’d heard and the whispers behind cupped hands, the only empirical verification I had of my burned leg accident was the leg itself.

“Annie, why are you looking for this stuff?” my friend Mr. Baum asked me in his endearing but quizzical manner.  “Are you not quite right in the head?” he chided.   As a reporter, Mr. Baum asked questions for a living for more than 40 years.  They were questions worth posing.

Even though I felt confident that the stories I’d heard about burning my leg on a stove at age two were probably right-on-the-money accurate, I couldn’t help but look for some verification outside of the pool of relatives who served as my sources.

“There are some things a person just wants to know.”  It wasn’t the most scientific of answers but it seemed to quiet Mr. Baum, at least for the time being.

The microfilm reader hummed as I paged through images of the newspaper from 40 some years ago.  My mother’s entries in my baby book said that in August I put my hand to the stove and burned it, a spooky foreshadowing of the larger injury to come.  But the August newspapers didn’t carry a fire call and it was more likely than not that this burn was treated at home or the doctor’s office.

As the November dates approached, I felt tension.  Would it matter one way or the other if there was a news item or fire call on Tuesday, November 23rd?  I knew it wouldn’t but kept paging through the microfilm just to check.  “Clearing and cold tonight.  Low near 23 degrees,” was the weather report for that day.

An annual solar eclipse occurred November 23, 1965. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, thereby totally or partially obscuring the image of the Sun for a viewer on Earth.   Depending on which literature you read, “eclipses are dramatic tools the universe uses to create change (http://www.astrologyzone.com/eclipses/).  A solar eclipse is always a new moon and in astrology tends to mark new beginnings,” explains the astrologer Susan Miller.

Solar eclipse of November 23, 1965
SE1965Nov23A.png

Any news of my accident was eclipsed as well.  There was no mention.  Not on the November 23rd, not on the 24th and not on the 25th, which was Thanksgiving Day.

For a moment I felt sad and stared ahead at the microfilm reader, only half-reading the Thanksgiving Day editorial.  “On Thanksgiving Day, Americans need to give thanks for weathering national perils, and for the victories we have achieved over disease, hunger and the inhumanity of war.  America has come a long way since that landing day in 1629…..Be not therefore anxious for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient onto the day is the evil thereof.”  If you took the 1965 date off the editorial, it would have been just as relevant today.

In my case, the morrow indeed took care of itself.  I’ve been blessed with good health, good work and good friends.  My accident shaped me but never defined me.  I couldn’t say the same for my parents, gone since the 1990s.  From everything I learned, the accident changed them and their relationship for the rest of their days.  I was oblivious to it until I started searching around for clues in the last couple years.

I thought of what their Thanksgiving Day 1965 would have been like, with a child in the hospital and no assurance she would live.    I couldn’t imagine it.  I didn’t want to imagine it.  When I started searching microfilm, I was looking for my own perspective.  But the newspapers found a way to give me theirs.

It didn’t seem to matter much that I hadn’t found a news item or fire call in the newspapers.  In fact, now I was kind of glad none appeared.  My heart ached for my parents.