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?
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“I just want to warn you not to be hopeful,” Terry in the Business Office of a medical practice said when I asked her about finding my medical records from the 1960s. That said, she said they would manually look through the ‘old books’ of records from the 1980s backwards to see if they could find mine. I saw Dr. Sullivan from the time I was a kid through college in the 1980s and despite the warning, am hopeful my medical records from the critical 1965-66 years still exist especially since I’ve hit so many dead ends. My original plastics surgeons are dead; their records destroyed. The hospital only had my records from the 1980s (and ironically, the woman assisting me in the medical records department was named “Bernie”). Dr. Hoops became my plastic surgeon in 1967, well after the original accident (and I do have all his records of me now). But my curiosity rests in the original records. Cross your fingers. Dousman Clinic may still come through.
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One of the most fascinating aspects of looking back in time is talking to my mother and father’s relatives. Memory is an interesting thing. So, apparently were the 1960s. Intuitively I think I knew that things were different for families in the 60s but mom’s cousin Verna told me today that ‘we dealt with the monkey rather than going to the organ grinder.” There was a hesitancy to most everything back then — whether it was the idea of calling someone long distance or doing things against the grain. I was trying to figure out how, after the accident, I actually got to the hospital. My sister told me that mom called dad and had him drive home from the office to take me. Cousin Verna confirmed this possibility, “If it were me, I would have called [my husband] to come home from work. Remember, we dealt with the monkey so we would have hesitated to call the hospital and there probably wasn’t 911 back then.”
Finding people after 40 years is something of a daunting task. Yes, there are some alive and well, and even willing to talk about what they remember of my accident. But then there are the ones I think of and only remember a first name — Maggie, my nurse in the hospital, or Audrey, the physical therapist. I talked to my friend Sue who works at the hospital where I was treated so many years ago and she confirmed that in our modern world, our modern human resources rules mean people can’t share much. So will I ever find these people I remember? And if I did, would they remember? Maggie the nurse would. When I was 18, I went to visit a friend at the hospital, St. Vincent’s. When I walked out of the elevator she ran toward me and hugged me. I had no idea who she was until she told me, tears in her eyes. How she remembered me then, 15 years after she had last seen me, still startles me.