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.

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Book Review — Maps, Frogs, Artists: What’s Right for You?

As a new feature on Anne on Fire, I am now reviewing books from Hay House authors.  www.hayhouse.com   I was not financially compensated for this post. I received the book from Hay House for review purposes. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.

The Map: Finding the Magic and Meaning in the Story of our Life
Colette Baron-Reid

 The Map: Finding the Magic and Meaning in the Story of Your Life

“We change the world from the inside out, and that’s why I’ve written this book,” explains Colette Baron-Reid in the introduction to her book, The Map:  Finding the Magic and Meaning in the Story of Your Life.  It’s a theme that has resonated with me since the early 1980s when my sister Susie gave me a copy of Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming by Richard Bandler (Paperback – June 1979).  The theme reappeared in the 1990s when I began reading Sonia Choquette’s (www.soniachoquette.com) work about spirit and the way we can consciously raise our vibrations. The theme returned to my desk again a couple of years ago when I finally read and followed the daily writing instructions in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (www.theartistsway.com). 

That the confluence of all the thoughts and theories from these other books flowed forward while reading The Map made it a truly integrated and enjoyable experience, even if I doubt I’ll follow the exercises to the letter of the law like I did with The Artist’s Way.  The beauty of books like Baron-Reid’s for me is partly in gaining a peek inside someone else’s creativity and ways of coping.

In The Map, Baron-Reid suggests we become our own oracles and traverse through a metaphorical map of life’s archetypical characters and situations to find personal peace and meaning.  Her magic lands, wands and companions remind me that there is no one best way to do anything; but that finding a talisman that works to put life in context at the different points of our lives is something valuable.  

Neuro-linguistic programming co-founders, Richard Bandler and linguist John Grinder, believed that NLP would be useful in “finding ways to help people have better, fuller and richer lives.  They advocated the potential for self-determination through overcoming learned limitations and emphasized well-being and healthy functioning. Artist’s Way author Julia Camera challenged the label of being a called creativity expert, explaining, “My books are not creative theory,” she explains. “They spring straight out of my own creative practice. In a sense, I am the floor sample of my own tool kit. When we are unblocked we can have remarkable and diverse adventures.”

In the same way, Baron-Reid is her own magic wand, sharing how the techniques in the book brought together the threads of her own story and gave them meaning.  An addict, the daughter of a closet Holocaust survivor, a bulimic and an intuitive, she says she sought out her own way to heal her life.  Her hybrid approach to doing so is The Map and by her own words, it was a process that transformed her.

Both Cameron and Baron-Reid are alcoholics and I was struck by how they both have created worlds of somewhat strict context for themselves and for the price of the books, for others.  Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has sold more than 2 million copies so certainly her disciplined approach to bringing out the artist within can work.  While I agree that creating a framework is useful, I personally like to hop between approaches and try out any number of them, not getting too fixed on any one for too long.  I prefer being more of a self-awareness dabbler and that is why I liked Baron-Reid’s book.  It seemed that she too has dabbled and in The Map, brings together her favored outcomes to guide her life.

For any student of self-awareness, that is the challenge:  How to find the kernels of both structure and meaning so that you feel good in your own skin and confident on your journey.  To my way of thinking, it doesn’t matter whether you follow a map or NLP or an artist’s way – and they may actually be the same things just packaged in different ways.  What matters is the self-awareness and for that, The Map may just be your key.

The Map is available for purchase on the Hay House website http://www.hayhouse.com/details.php?id=5286 as well as at www.amazon.com  and www.barnesandnoble.com.

Intra-Library Loan Time

9th level of the Harold Washington Library (Ch...

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Most of my research for Anne on Fire is now complete.  I’ve spoken with willing relatives and friends who knew details from my burn accident years ago or who knew my parents at the time.  I’ve requested as many medical records as possible, learning that there are some that simply are gone.  I’ve contacted doctors who worked on my case.  All in all, it’s been a fabulous and enlightening process where I’ve tried to cover the proverbial waterfront of information for clues and insight.  I was going over my findings with my friend Gloria when she said, “Gallagher, have you looked in the newspapers from that time to see if anything was published?  You know, a fire call, a news item.”

I hadn’t.  It was a great idea and prompted my call to the Brown County library (pictured here as is the interior of the Harold Washington Library), where of course they have old editions of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.  In our techno-driven age, most newspapers before the mid-1990s are not searchable online but preserved on micro-film.  Another call to the Harold Washington Library to request an intra-library loan…..and a stash of micro-film is on its way to Chicago.

My gut tells me there will be nothing useful for me in these newspapers.  At the same time, I can’t wait to wade through them on the micro-film machine.  You never know what you might find unless you look.  The process also brings about a sweet sense of closure to my search for information.  It motivates me to get back to the business of writing up the story. 

Shot Karma

Injections are one of many ways to administer ...

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My husband Brian likes to remind me that life is like a karma credit card — it’s far better to add as many credits as you can to your card of life because the debits will inevitably come along.  Having been the recipient of thousands of injections through many years of surgeries, medical check-ups and blood draws, I knew what it was like to get a shot, to feel the anticipation of a needle prick.  As time went on, I’d become queasy at the very thought of a needle and grew accustomed to looking away while some kind nurse or practitioner went about their business of sticking me.  It takes practice to be the patient and I thought I’d become quite good at it.  I never wanted to be on the other side.

But this week, Brian told me that he had a procedure on the horizon and as a part of it, had to have twice daily injections.  He pulled out a plastic bag of pre-filled syringes and handed it to me, intimating that I become chief injector.   My stomach turned somersaults.   There was no way I could do this.

As my yoga teacher Cynthia has told me, life has a way of touching you on the shoulder when it’s your turn.  As I examined every angle of how to get out of giving Brian his shots, I realized there was no way out.  The karma of shots had come my way.    For many years I had taken them, adding debits to my karma credit card.  Now it seemed, it was time to add some credits to that card.

As the moment approached,I over-thought my new role.  Then, I remembered a passage from the book, Surfing the Himalayas:  A Spiritual Adventure  (www.himalayas.com), “Thoughts should have a place in your life of course, but it should be a very small place.  To really  know something, in order to see its perfection and to become part of that perfection, you must become the action that you seek to perfect.”

Brian handed me the needle.   As if I’d done it all my life, I took it, flicked the tip and watched droplets of fluid fall out, then plunged it into the folds of stomach Brian gathered with his hand and depressed the plunger, feeling the tension of liquid pouring into his body and out of the syringe.  We both exhaled. 

From nursed to nurse.  Karma isn’t always supposed to come full circle in a single lifetime but it felt that way.  I’d repeat the same anticipation, the same motion for three more days.  I didn’t want to perfect this action by any means.  Still, I found a way to become one with it.  If nothing else, I felt it was my turn to do it.

The Power of Validation

Yesterday my sister Kathleen, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, won the coveted and prestigious Pulitzer Prize for reportinghttp://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/120091754.html).  It was a triumph on many levels and today when we talked, the conversation turned to the power of validation.  Early in her reporting career, she was told she didn’t have the chops to be a reporter.  It was a comment that stayed with her.  I remember some of her early struggles to get a toe-hold in this competitive field, all of which made her award more tender and meaningful to me.  We laughed about how it only took her 20 years to be an overnight success. 

While the award is wonderful and hopefully opens doors for Kathleen, she is the same sister I’ve always known.  We joked about that as well.  She was the prototypical bohemian college student who wore her hair in cornrows and shopped at Ragstock on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin.  I was the preppy overachiever who joined all the clubs.  Yet she was determined (we might have called it stubborn back in the day), smart and sassy then and is now. 

But there is something about getting the professional validation that the person knew was there all along.  Suddenly people pay attention and as Kathleen said to me, “They listen now.” 

I ain’t no Pulitzer Prize winner to be sure but I get “validation” in a way I didn’t anticipate from writing this blog and working (albeit slowly) on my book.  None of the stories I’ve told about myself are revelations to me.  I feel like I’ve told these same yarns for years to different people in different ways at different times.  Compiled together they have a power that they didn’t have separately and spoken stories.  “I love reading your blog,” or “This must be cathartic for you,” or “I never knew you felt that way” or “Do you think you need therapy?” — are all variations of comments I’ve received and appreciated. 

What I’ve learned is that there is a power in compilation, in written synthesis, in telling personal truths that are essentially, variations on the same personal truths that everyone thinks about, feels or chooses not to think about.  It’s more enjoyable than I might have thought and the little blog posts here and there motivate me to continue on in what is the somewhat laborious process of taking life’s story and turning it into readable literary arc.

Meaning in the Limbs

Depending on your spiritual orientation, you might see meaning in everything, nothing or a smattering of things of your choosing.  I tend to see meaning in nearly everything.  That doesn’t mean I agree with everything whole cloth however.  You have to take what works for you and discard the rest.  As I thought about this, Louise Hay‘s Heal Your Life yellow book caught my eye perched on the bookshelf as it was.  Ah yes, I thought, Louise Hay believes that dis-ease is the result of our mental patterns.  “I believe we live in a ‘yes’ Universe.  No matter what we choose to believe or think, the Universe always says ‘yes’ to us.  If we think poverty, the Universe says yes to that.  If we think prosperity, the Universe says yes to that,” she writes, explaining how we are co-creators of our own reality.  I thumbed through the book again, drawn toward her list of life’s problems and their probable mental cause.  “Leg(s),” it read.  “Probably Cause:  Carries us through life.  New Thought Pattern:  Life is for me.”

I never thought life was against me at any time.  But I could certainly affirm more often I guess that “life is for me.”  Simple. 

Many years ago, I went to a psychic with a couple of girlfriends.  I didn’t have a burning question at the time but I did ask, “What lessons should I have learned from burning my leg?”  “There are some,” the psychic replied, “such as personal humility and compassion for others.  But have you come to understand that the accident did not happen for your purposes?  The accident was for your mother and the lessons she had to learn in her life.”

I was stunned.  In all the years since the accident, I had never thought there might be a message or learning for anyone else than me.

And that’s what I mean about meaning.  There are so many ways to look at nearly everything (if you are interested in the exploration of course).  What it has meant for me ever since that day is that I look for meaning in different ways and different levels.  More importantly, every time I think I’m just doing things for my independent self, I have to remember how inter-connected we all are.

Lessons on Beauty

When Shanna came to work at the office, she was the tan, cute, blond Southern belle or so we thought at the time. 

Southern Belle

 Like peeling layers of the onion skin, we get to know other people in slivers and slices.  Just the same way we get to know ourselves.  When I found out Shanna and I shared the same birthday, I got to know her better.  When Shanna offered to help out with my books, a little better still and so it went until we formed a bond of shared experiences and ways of thinking.  She was only in her late 20s when she came into the office one day to tell us she had a rare form of cancer.  Diagnosis.  Surgery.  Radiation.  Chemotherapy.  If you’ve ever been through it, you know it’s like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or simply put, a call for personal transformation.  Shanna lost her hair, that beautiful blond hair that so complimented her tan, that made her feel cute.  “The old Shanna doesn’t exist anymore,” she said.  “I was spending time on upkeep for crap that didn’t matter.  There are gorgeous people out there who are ugly inside.  Inner beauty lasts and that’s what I look for in people these days.”  Shanna’s hair grew back and she left bookkeeping and is just a semester shy of becoming a nurse.  I have no doubt that she will be a great one. 

Years ago when I was in college, a medical student looked at my burned leg and said to me, “You know, you can have plastic surgery to make that look better.” I nodded but didn’t say anything.  Words weren’t needed.  I’d  already had a dozen plus plastic surgeries by then. There was some wry delight in knowing that if that medical student couldn’t make even that assessment after years of medical training, then he wasn’t going to have a very successful career. What you see on the outside often has nothing to do with what’s on the inside.