Monday, June 22, 2015

Shining Stars

My youngest great niece is graduating high school this month and will be heading off to college in the fall. Her new school's colors are navy and gold.

Juliette's a bit of a shining star herself.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Feel Sick

Recently my Facebook feed contained a friend's post about one of her subordinates at work. Said subordinate had taken two days off because of a misspelled illness, very close to the time she was to have completed an on-line course for an advanced degree. My friend posted because of incompatibility: either between a misspelled word and an advanced degree or because of the timing of the illness and the deadline for completion. In either case, the post generated some interesting comments. This happened around the same time that another friend spoke about a classic Nunzilla, this one the head of a Catholic school whose policy was that a doctor's note was required for any sick day and a funeral card must be produced to verify that sort of absence. Of course, I got to thinking.

On one occasion during my growing-up years, my mother let me miss school to go with her on a bus trip to New York City. I don't remember anything at all about the Big Apple day, but I've never forgotten this uncharacteristic behavior of my mother, who actually lied in writing an absence note for me, saying that I had been sick.

Perhaps this is why, when my kids got to be of high school age, I introduced them to the concept of Mental Health Days. I told them that in adulthood there were occasions when the stars were not in alignment, and a day off from work was in order. Throughout their three years of high school, I said, I would be willing to sign one absence note per semester with no questions asked. It could be because it was a Monday and they'd had too much weekend, the term paper was due and it was far from finished, a major test was coming up and much additional study time was needed, a broken heart from a break-up with a beloved, or anything else. To the best of my recall, my daughter was striving for a perfect attendance award and never partook; whereas, her brothers only ever completed their term papers due to this loophole (I think Tom claimed the broken heart option once). I figured they'd learn about time management/due dates when they were in college and hoped they'd land jobs where unscheduled paid time off didn't require six kinds of documentation. At the time I was working at a Quaker school where a very occasional Mental Health Day was a legitimate reason for an absence.

I've never had a job where I had to keep account of subordinates' absences, though I did have to read a lot of questionable "sick" notes when I worked at the school. My Facebook friend, I suspect, is the sort who would look the other way as far as the days off so close to the exam. The spelling -- well, that's between the candidate and the college.

In looking for a graphic to illustrate this post, I stumbled across this site. The spelling and grammar errors notwithstanding, it could be just the product you need if your sweetie broke your heart last night!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Two World Views

This lengthy quote -- erroneously attributed to the actress Meryl Streep -- has shown up in my Facebook feed a few times in the past couple of weeks. Turns out that Meryl never proclaimed this but rather it came from a Portuguese self-help guru, but that isn't why I'm sharing it.

The whole piece strikes me as oozing arrogance and self-importance. I'm astonished at the people who are posting it and implying that they share the sentiment. I'm imperfect; so is everyone else I know.

It is interesting that this seems to be shared as wisdom acquired by reaching a certain age. Perhaps this is so for some. My mileage has varied: As I've aged, I believe I've become [somewhat] more patient and have developed a bit more tolerance. I've tried to adopt a different mantra:

Some days, I'm  more successful than others!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Quilt for Emily

A few years ago when we learned that Star Flyer was cruising in Scandinavia, we knew we not only wanted to spend the week aboard our favorite ship, but we wanted to do more. We wanted to visit three Scandinavian capitals and see Carl Larsson's house. We wanted to spend a lot more than one week in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Joe thought we could probably make all of the arrangements on our own; I wasn't so sure. What if something went awry? Fortunately, my sweet cousin is a travel agent who was eager and happy to help us. We met with her the week before we left home and she presented us with a packet of information so detailed that we knew we'd be fine. Her confidence in us as European travelers was contagious: we headed out eagerly. The day we left, we sent Em a bouquet of flowers.

She's helped us with a few other trips since then, and we've continued to send those flowers. This year, though, in addition to our spring trip to the Caribbean, she's helping us with a couple of other things. We wanted to give her something that would last longer than a bouquet of flowers.

A month or so ago, we invited Emily's mom over to dinner. I dug out my finished flimsies for her perusal. Her assignment was to pick one to be finished for Emily. She chose my New York Beauty. The machinist finished it very quickly and I got it bound during the last episode of Mad Men. Last night Emily came over to talk about another trip we've got in the works and we gave her the quilt. It was well received.

Monday, June 08, 2015


I don't post much here about my work as a hospital chaplain. I have a real fear of committing any kind of a HIPPA violation. Sometimes I write about the work in a journal. Most of the time, when I leave the hospital, everything stays there.

I usually work from 3 p.m. one day until 3 p.m. the next day. There is an on-call room (not like the one where my son tells me the interns go to have sex on Gray's Anatomy) with a bunch of mismatched furniture, a great big window, and an uncomfortable bed. We are expected to get as many as eight hours of sleep, though there is certainly no hope that many of those will be consecutive, and I keep an old quilt that I made tucked away there so I have something familiar to cover me when I do attempt to sleep.

Our basic duties include:

  • purposeful rounding, where we visit the nursing stations at as many units as we can to see if there are referrals
  • follow-up on situations from the previous shift
  • visits to patients being followed by our service
  • random patient visits
  • attending a safety briefing
  • visiting suicidal patients identified at safety briefing
  • responding to all Level 2 and Level 1 traumas
  • responding to all cardiac arrests
  • attending deaths and assisting with viewings of deceased patients
  • supporting patients, families, and staff
  • performing emergency baptisms
  • checking patients with unknown religious preference and updating as appropriate
  • charting and recording, various other miscellaneous duties
Some patient visits are very brief, up to ten minutes. Others are longer. Some trauma situations can take an hour or two, even more. The same amount of time is usual for a failed cardiac arrest. Sometimes I don't get everything done.

A recent shift was among the hardest I've experienced. Looking back on it, I know it was God keeping me going because I do not believe I could have managed it alone. Interspersed with the routine events and tasks, there was one cardiac arrest that responded and two that did not; two families were devastated at the suddenness of their loss. There were two separate incidences of teenagers attacked and beaten up by peers -- and I must point out that both were from affluent parts of our area, not that this makes any difference at all. There was a baby born too soon to a woman who was really too young; she was all alone, coming from an orphanage and birthing a perfectly formed miniature person, far too young to survive. We don't baptize stillborns; we do offer a blessing and I sat silently with the young woman for a time, just holding her hand. There was an attempted suicide by a person just out of her teens -- the mom just kept shaking her head, uncomprehending -- and a horrible successful suicide by a desperate man who had had just one too many bad things happen to him. If my shift had been a television show, I would have turned it off, knowing it was a gross exaggeration.

At the end of my shift, I felt like a saturated sponge after soaking up all of this pain. 

My drive home is only five minutes. My bed and my shower were waiting and after a little nap and a big cleansing, I went over to my sister's for some pleasant company and a delicious meal. Blackberry and I had a quiet walk and then I slept. For nine hours. My friend Karla tells me often that she regularly prays for me in my work. There's not a shift that I'm not aware.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Pondering Hard Questions

When I was perhaps eleven years old, an older boy from the neighborhood began to molest one of my playmates. The girl -- we'll call her Janie -- was two or three years younger than I was. The boy -- perhaps Cole would be a good name -- was several years older; he must have been sixteen or older. It started with touching and progressed -- gradually -- over several months. At this point, I've no recollection at all of how I became the witness to this exploitation. I do remember Cole's telling us both not to tell anyone about the activity. We would get in trouble. I don't know if Cole touched other girls. I know he never tried to touch me. It was only Janie that he wanted. Neither Janie nor I understood what Cole was doing to her, but Janie didn't seem to mind it. And neither of us wanted to get in trouble.  Ultimately the molestation progressed all the way to intercourse. Cole gave us money; that, combined with the fear that we would get in trouble if we told, kept us quiet. We were children and thought like children. We didn't know he was a predator. We'd never heard the word, and this was decades before things like "Good Touch/Bad Touch."

When our parents finally did find out, Janie and her family no longer lived in the neighborhood. Our parents did not confront Cole directly. Neither did they approach his parents, nor did they report him to the authorities. Janie's dad called Cole on the telephone, pretending to be the Chief of Police. He told Cole he knew what he had done to Janie and said if this ever happened again, Cole would go to jail. That was the end of it.

Janie's and my parents protected us from the possibility that anyone else would ever know what had happened. They protected us from ever having to be interviewed by police officers or lawyers. They protected Janie from a physical examination. The episode was never discussed in our family; my older sister never knew until I told her forty years later. I never saw Janie again and I don't know if she received any kind of counseling; certainly I did not. In choosing to protect their daughters, the two sets of parents -- intentionally or unintentionally -- risked Cole's harming other children. Did they do the right thing? Was he frightened enough to never molest again? Those are questions that I'm not in a position to answer. By putting Janie's molestation in the past and not discussing it, I was able to move on. I was spared further, more difficult interrogation. Our parents protected us, their daughters.

This has all come back into my consciousness in the wake of the Josh Duggar story. Times are different; safeguards and mandated procedures are in place. His parents did not handle the situation well; no one, I think, can argue that. My hunch is that fear of losing their television show -- as some have suggested -- was not the motivation for their inaction. I think, instead, that perhaps they were -- in a misguided way -- trying to protect their children. Not just Josh, as has been the outcry, but also their daughters. Much the way my parents and Janie's tried to protect us.

I am not trying to excuse the Duggar parents. I am trying to understand how they made their decision on the best way to handle their son's revelation. I'm a Lutheran who has been taught to understand and explain everything in the kindest way. Perhaps they did the wrong things for the right reasons. Perhaps.

I am fortunate. I have a daughter whose childhood remained innocent, and I have two sons, neither of whom ever came to me with the kind of confession Josh Duggar brought to his parents. Honestly, I don't know what I would have done.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

When I Grow Up, Part Three

I graduated high school with a Business Education diploma. I had become an excellent typist (100 wpm on a manual machine, 105 on electric) and competent stenographer (dictation at up to 120 wpm). I entered the business world as a typing pool stenographer with the telephone company, and over the next five years worked as a secretary in several different settings. This was the "Mad Men" era, and I can affirm that the show wasn't at all far off from the way things really were!

In 1967 I married Joe, who was destined to spend the next four years in the U.S. Navy as an enlisted man. My parents had been right about one thing: Wherever we lived, I never had any trouble finding a job as a secretary. Civil Service work on the Navy base at the first duty station wasn't very interesting, but it was convenient and paid well. Later I worked in educational settings at Old Dominion University and The Citadel as we moved about at the Navy's whim.

After discharge, Joe resumed his college education and once again I quickly and easily found work in Akron at one of the rubber companies. After about a year, a unique position became available and I was fortunate to land it. We were living in Kent, Ohio, and a pair of long-haired attorneys were enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame by handling cases related to the tragic situation of May 4 and other hippie-related work. Their secretary was leaving, and I got the job. Howard and Bruce wore blue jeans to the office and tried to keep their weights the same so they would fit in the suit that was kept in the office closet in the event they had to go to court suddenly. They made their money through personal injury but the work they loved was defending hippies, drug cases, and the local branch of Hell's Angels. Sometimes they weren't paid with money but rather with a gun or a bag of marijuana.

With Joe studying late into the night, I had taken up two different ways of filling my evenings. Training and then serving as a help line (suicide prevention) volunteer was rewarding work. And I had my own typewriter at home, so I registered with the university to become a dissertation typist, which was interesting and lucrative. I continued this work after leaving Howard and Bruce to become a mother.

Somehow dissertation typing led to being an at-home medical transcriptionist where my middleman would drop off an envelope of tapes each day at noon and pick up the work I'd done in the previous twenty-four hours. By this time we'd moved back to my home town. I was earning a good living doing the transcription but missed being around people once the children started school, so I accepted an opportunity to serve as a volunteer in the local hospital's pastoral care department.

One thing led to another, as they do. It's been 53 years since high school graduation. I might have been a good librarian. I probably would have been a good nurse. I'm still a hell of a typist, though I don't know if I can do 105 wpm any more. I use my shorthand regularly in a variety of settings.

At fourteen, when the library called to me, I'd never heard of a hospital chaplain and probably would have turned up my nose at the thought of being one. My parents certainly would have had no part of such a thing. When my children were nearly grown, I finally went to college and then on to graduate school/seminary, and that's what I do now (whether I'm grown up or not!) and I love every minute of it. I'm back to caring for hurting people, listening to their anguish, responding to traumas, supporting those who have received terrible news.

And, yes, it is at that same hospital where I was a Candy Striper. Funny how things work out.

*Dear Mr. Jackson,

We have just decided to change the design of the letterhead we have used for more than ten years. It is our feeling that the present design is old-fashioned and does not create a favorable impression. We understand that you are a commercial artist and that you have designed letterheads for other organizations in this city. We wonder whether you would consider designing one for us. . . .

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

When I Grow Up, Part Two

At the start of tenth grade, I came to understand that the teacher option wasn't for me. That left secretary and nurse as my choices. A career test provided by the high school indicated that retail was a good possibility for me but I didn't like the sound of that and my parents were adamant.

I learned of a volunteer program at the local hospital: I could become a Candy Striper, going one afternoon each week to fill water pitchers, distribute dinner trays, run errands for nurses, and even feed patients too sick to feed themselves. I'd read all of the Cherry Ames books back in junior high school and thought this might be the right thing for me. I was excited when I went into the uniform store across from the hospital to buy my jumper, and was careful to remember to wear a white blouse to school on Mondays.

I loved being a Candy Striper. I thought perhaps becoming a nurse would be right; but my sister had become a secretary and that had worked out very well for her. When it was time to choose courses for eleventh grade, my parents kept my options open again: they signed me up for Spanish 3 and for Typing 2 and Shorthand 1. Nursing school would require chemistry, but they pointed out I could take that in twelfth grade. It made sense.

A few weeks before tenth grade ended, my father died suddenly and without warning. This was the beginning of a horrible year. Alone at home with a mother who had always found -- and taught -- me to be a disappointment, I was not allowed to visibly grieve. My father's death was all about her, the grieving widow with the naughty child. It was tough. No counseling or support was offered to me; I was told my job was to do my school work and not make life harder for my mother.

By the end of the summer, she -- who had been a housewife for over twenty-five years -- got an office job at the local hospital, the same place where I had been a successful Candy Striper. I hated the thought of sharing this place with her. But somehow it worked out. My work on the med-surg floors was nowhere near her office. During the eleventh grade year, any talk of my future held two possibilities: become a secretary or go to nursing school at the local hospital. There was no option of a different nursing school. Things between my mother and me deteriorated further; having no place to deal with my grief and no support from the school counselors, I began acting out. Though this only made things worse at home, I was powerless to stop.

When it was time to select courses for twelfth grade, I was the one who wanted to keep my options open if I still could. I was pretty sure that being a nurse was what I preferred. I loved being helpful to the nurses, I liked interacting with patients. Besides, this path held the added bonus of my living in the hospital's nursing school dormitory -- away from my mother, though still at the place where she worked. I wasn't sure if it would work. My three years of Spanish filled one college admission requirement; I had managed to complete the necessary math courses. Nursing school meant I needed chemistry. The secretarial field called for Shorthand 2 and Transcription; an option for that career was something called Office Practice. I signed up for Chemistry. I wanted to take Spanish 4 because I enjoyed the language, but something deep down told me to sign up for Shorthand 2 and Transcription, just in case. My mother and I were in full agreement about the selections.

Senior year began; Shorthand met first period, followed immediately by Transcription. At third period, when Office Practice began in the same classroom, I left and went down the hall to Chemistry where I was introduced to the Periodic Table. Chemistry was going to be hard, but I thought I would like it. During the second full week of school, my mother surprised me at dinner: "I have wonderful news! I spoke to the director of the school of nursing and she said that you didn't have to live in the dorm! You will have special permission to stay at home and go to the hospital with me in the mornings!" Thus she let me know that I was still completely under her thumb.

At school the next morning, I went straight to the guidance office and requested a drop/add form. I swallowed the tears when I returned my textbook to the chemistry teacher. I pretended to be excited when I told the Office Practice teacher, "I've decided for sure. I really want to be a secretary."

(to be continued)

Monday, June 01, 2015

When I Grow Up, Part One

My Facebook friend Victoria has been posting a lot of images about what was expected of young women back in the 1950s and 1960s. My particular vintage.

When this page from a 1956 issue of Seventeen magazine showed up, Victoria commented that because she was tall, she had been urged to become a model; however, she was not interested in any of the suggested careers for women. Physics was her thing.

I had fewer options than those listed in the Seventeen advertising section. My parents told me that I had three choices: I could become a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary. In the first year of high school, 9th grade, I told them I wanted to be a librarian. I had been a volunteer at the school library for a couple of years, the work appealed to me, and the librarian had taken a liking to me. I had always loved reading and at fourteen believed that being a librarian would be a wonderful job. My parents said no: secretary, teacher, or nurse. And they made me quit being a library volunteer.

When it was time to choose my courses for tenth grade, I had no idea which of those three jobs would be right for me. None held any appeal. My parents filled out my course selection card in a way that would keep my options open for a year: I was to take a second year of Spanish in case I was going for the nurse or teacher option; I was also to take first year typing in case I was to become a secretary. If the latter were to be the case, I would learn everything I would ever need right there in high school and they wouldn't send me to college.

Eight years earlier when my sister -- who had been pushed into the secretarial option -- was offered a full scholarship to college, they told her to turn it down: college was a waste for a girl. So it seemed they had made some progress by the time my turn came along.

(to be continued)