Her Name was Maggie and She was my Nurse

Her name was Maggie and I remember her being stout with short, tight curly black hair.  As far as I know, she was my nurse and protector while I was in St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay for 3 months with a burned leg.  The only photo I have of her is on the day of my discharge as she stood watch while I was being wheeled out of the hospital.  I remember her always being there with me, reading to me, patting my head gently, crying soft tears when I was in pain.  As with all thing from the era of the burned leg, I’m not sure if this is my real memory or a created memory, so I’ve made a couple efforts to seek her out.

When I was 18 — 15 years after my accident — I went back to St. Vincent Hospital to visit my friend John.  John was the quarterback of the high school football team senior year.  He took a bad hit and punctured a lung during a game.  We’d been friends since first grade.  After school one day, I walked over to the hospital to visit.  When the elevator opened on the pediatric ward and I walked up to the nurse’s station to double-check the room number, she ran out from behind the desk and gave me a massive bear hug.  I wasn’t sure who she was or why she held me so tightly.  “You’ve come back Annie, you’re back,” she said, shaking me so hard it almost hurt.  “It’s me, it’s Maggie.”    

How she could have recognized me 15 years later has always been a mystery to me, though I was sporting my St. Joseph’s Academy blue shirt and knee highs, so she could have seen my burns peeking out.  But I knew that wasn’t it.  When you spend every day with someone for three intense months, you never forget and she didn’t.

Trying to find her today is a lot more art than science.  I called the hospital and they can’t give out any information on current or former employees due to privacy/confidentiality laws.  I don’t even know her last name.  She may not be alive.  I thought about taking out an ad in the local Green Bay newspaper but am not sure that would bear fruit — what would I say exactly?

My best shot right now is my high school friend Peggy who offered to help.  Her mom worked at St. Vincent’s for many years, though her memory isn’t what it used to be.  Peg’s going to ask her mom if she remembers the nurse named Maggie.

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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. 

Secrets of First-Class Flyers

A newer model American Airlines Airbus A300-60...

Returning from some work in New York, the client booked me and my colleague Mr. B in First Class on American Airlines for the return flight to Chicago.  Considering I ended up in the last row (the one that doesn’t recline might I add) on the outbound flight on United, I felt ridiculously justified in my First Class seat.  As the flight prepared for take-off, the flight attendants repeatedly called for Ms. D to report for her upgrade to First Class.  How odd, I thought.  This must be a really important person since airlines typically leave lesser-level fliers (even those with basic status like me) back in coach. 

In the moments before Ms. D arrived to her seat, I imagined she was a harried global traveler, likely a literary agent negotiating deals around the world.  When she did sit down, I noticed her casual clothes (jeans) and stylish red briefcase bag.  As is my usual practice on airplanes, I chose not to ask her if my intuitive sense was correct — that is, I don’t like to talk on airplanes.  Neither apparently did she and we settled into the flight in blissful silence.

Midway through he flight however, I noticed that my colleague Mr. B in the seats directly behind us was still yapping on and on to his seatmate in his normal animated fashion.  That was when Ms. D casually remarked to me that the gentlemen behind us were quite the conversationalists.  I sheepishly admitted to Mr. B being my colleague, explaining that he had previously hosted a talk-show for many years and well, old habits die-hard.

Our conversation could have ended there with a little laugh shared between us.  Yet we continued on.  After exchanging pleasantries and the like, I shared with her my little reverie about what she might do for a living and asked if she indeed was of the literary ilk.  The short answer was no.  Ms. D. was in fact a super-powered IT executive for a global corporation who traveled the world managing a large staff and seemingly even larger responsibilities.  She traveled 200,000 or more miles a year, which explained the airline’s desire to re-seat her in First Class.  Then, quietly she told me, “It’s funny you mention writing because I do write a little.”  There unfolded the fact that every year she conducts a short-story contest with her family.  They self-impose a 30-day deadline and then share with each other the fruits of their creative efforts.  She had other writing stories as well, which simply made me happy to hear.  Ms. D. was, after all, a writer at heart.

It made me wonder:  Does everyone have a secret desire to write?   Or, on the same note, does everyone have a secret aspiration?

When I floated this thought to K, my literary writing coach, she explained, “Most people who want to write aren’t sure how to do it and that’s what stops them from writing.”

Do you think it’s true?  Do we all house a secret writer within us? Or, a secret aspiration?   I’d be grateful if you could share your story.

Are You as Happy as You Make Your Mind Up to Be?

I read the following passage the other day and wondered, “Where did the author get this crazy idea?” and “What’s this wacky idea about resigning yourself to your fate? I disagree.” What do you think? Here it is:

Abe Lincoln once remarked that ‘most folks are about as happy as they make their minds to be’. He was right. I saw a vivid illustration of that truth as I was walking up the stairs of the Long Island Railroad station in New York. Directly in front of me thirty or forty crippled boys on canes and crutches were struggling up the stairs. One boy had to be carried up. I was astonished at their laughter and gaiety. I spoke about it to one of the men in charge of the boys. “Oh yes,” he said, “when a boy realizes that he is going to be a cripple for life, he is shocked at first; but after he gets over the shock, he usually resigns himself to his fate and then becomes as happy as normal boys.” I felt like taking my hat off to those boys. They taught me a lesson I hope I shall never forget.” Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, 1936. Reissued in 1964. 

    

Medical Records – Poof! They Are Gone

looking for  medical records

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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.

Should I Wear Shorts at this Resort?

I’ve worked with this particular company for about five years and this weekend was invited to a retreat with them at a lovely Miami resort, The Doral. After the work this morning, the company sponsored golf, tennis and swimming and I was flumoxxed. I really wanted to join the tennis tournament. But tennis would require shorts and for as many relationships as I’ve built, I wasn’t ready to show the burned leg. Swimming? Not so much. Too many explanations required. And that is the paradox of it all for me. It takes a lot of energy to explain the burns. If I don’t explain them, people stare and politely don’t ask. Which in many ways is worse. Trust me, I’ve dealt with it my whole life. I wonder a lot whether it makes the other people more uncomfortable or me more uncomfortable. I always feel that I am responsible to lead the discussion and put people at ease, which is in so many ways is exhausting for me. In any event, I always see it as a choice to make — do I share or don’t I? Does it put me too much in the spotlight instead of taking the time to focus on everyone else, which is largely easier? So, I opted for the facial. Private room, spa setting. No one is the wiser. It makes me feel disingenuous in a way — shouldn’t I just lay everything on the table and wear a swimsuit or pair of shorts? Just be confident and throw others’ opinions to the wind! But that would bring unwanted attention and possibly sympathy to me, sympathy that simply makes me uncomfortable. I have worked my entire life to NOT be defined by my burns. In the final analysis, I wasn’t ready to do it today. I wonder if other people here at Doral hide something of interest? I feel paranoid. I shouldn’t have to overthink like this. What lays below the surface. Has anyone ever felt the same?

Time-and-Space Leg-Look-Lag, or How About Some Denial?

Well, I finally did it. I actually opened and read the medical records I’d ordered about 18 months ago. I know this sounds strange. When they arrived in separate, non-descript manilla envelopes last March 2009, I quickly ripped opened one packet. Doing a quick flip through, I saw the unthinkable: My leg. I was 7 years old and the plastic surgeon took a full leg picture from various angles. While it was thankfully taken in black and white, the sight was such a shock to me that I put the package back in its envelope. Unbelieveable as it was, I had never seen a photo of my own leg. Truth be told, it looked awful and made me feel that way too. Good god that must have hurt, I thought realizing at the same time that I was starting to detach me from myself. That’s a long way of saying, I wanted to forget about the picture for a while. And so I did. It’s one of the many ways that this “project” of mine continues to surprise even me. More on what was in the two packages later.