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.

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“The Records…..Have Likely Been Destroyed….”

“I’m sorry I don’t have any personal recollection of the burn incident details although I do recall that there was such an incident,” Dr. Kaftan wrote to me the other day, in answer to my query.  Not only had my mother listed Dr. Kaftan, a pediatrician in Green Bay who is now retired, in my baby book as part of the team when I was burned but we’d known the Kaftan family as long as I could remember.  It was my Aunt Janet who recently encouraged me to call or write Dr. Kaftan — she had done the advance work for me and chatted with him about my contacting him.  I was excited to do so not only because the thought that he would have some recollections loomed large but because he was now the last remaining member of my team of doctors.  Drs. Lynn, von Heimburg and Hoops have all since passed away. 

“I am sure you are correct that the records of the Webster Clinic doctors have likely been destroyed……although I would be glad to inquire if you would like me to,” he helpfully offered. 

Ah yes, paper records.   An email that you or I send today lives on ad infinitum in cyberspace.  Paper medical records from before the 1980s are subject to records retention policies and typically destroyed on a schedule or shortly after a doctor retires.  Oddly, in our technology oriented world, they tend not to be converted into electronic records, the belief being that no one is interested in them any more. 

Medical records policies aside, I have to say this new information just sucks.  Dead ends and I do not get along.  When news of this ilk comes my way, I want to yell out, “Hey, I was seriously burned.  I’m not making this up.  I have scars to prove it.  Why don’t you people remember anything about it because I sure do!”  But that is how this particular ball bounces.   I will make yet another effort to contact the Clinic/s and see if anything remains.  Beyond that, there are a couple of people still on my list to interview about their recollections.  After that, my story moves ahead. 

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I eventually received my resolution on all this.  It’s that resolution that lead me to explore the accident and early records.  Whatever I find or don’t find from days gone by will be what it will be.  It would just be nice to have a complete picture though the reality is that all our stories are somewhat imperfect.

Rain on the Scarecrow

Scarecrow (John Mellencamp album)

Image via Wikipedia

Saturday night we went to the John Mellencamp concert at the Chicago Theater and when he sang, “Rain on the Scarecrow”*, I remember us playing that song after my dad’s funeral in December 1993.  When the funeral ended, we drove aimlessly around the Green Bay farmland.  The snow barely covered the ground and you could see the fallow dirt.  The crops were long gone and what remained looked sad and straggly, drained of moisture and color.  It was fitting for that day.  During his entire life, my father never once mentioned my accident.  He was doggedly supportive of me; never turned down a good idea if I had a plan to go with it.  He became ill when I was only 17 , and when that happened the focus shifted to caring for him as his health and mental acuity diminished.  I wish now I had the courage to ask him about the accident, to understand his thoughts and feelings.  When I heard that song Saturday night, I remembered the aimless farmland drive as well as all the things I hadn’t had time to ask him before he died.  I wondered then if he ever wanted to talk to me about it.  Many years later, I got my answer by going to a woman who channelled guides.  Out of the blue, she told me she had a message from him and I got the answers I had been wanting.  It felt like a miracle.  When the universe has a plan for you, there is no stopping it.  Have you ever felt that?

Rain on the Scarecrow

Scarecrow on a wooden cross, blackbird in the barn

Four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm

I grew up like my daddy did, my grandpa cleared his land

When I was five, I walked a fence while grandpa held my hand

Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the land……….

Why I Want Those 1965-1966 Medical Records

My research thus far has included requesting medical records (from doctors, hospitals and rehab centers in Green Bay), talking with brothers/sisters/relatives, friends of my parents (who died in the 1990s) and even a smattering my own friends about their thoughts, remembrances, perceptions, misconceptions. “Didn’t you get burned on Halloween when the lantern you were carrying dropped and you caught on fire?” one relative queried. “No, not at all,” I responded. And that is the most exasperating thing — trying to prove out what I thought happened with all the other red herrings. This is why I so want to see the 1965 medical records. In my mind, they will confirm the story imprinted on me since youth or they will enlighten me with new information. Thus far, the most complete written record of the story has been found in my blue baby book when my mother wrote out an account of some of the details she chose to share in an eerily upbeat way. I’d like something a little more evidence-based but I understand that may be something that never comes my way. I also understand that whatever I may find may not answer some of the questions I have — like how did I get from home to the hospital? Or, how many “debridement” procedures (peeling off of the dead, burned skin) did I have before the plastic surgeries? My questions do indeed range from the basic to the macabre. Does anyone out there have additional ideas on who, what or where I should invest some of my research efforts?