Things I Never Told Nana

I

My father and I never bonded, hell sometimes I wondered if he even knew who I was. From the time I was born until age 15 when he died, he only actually communicated to me twice. Oh yeah, once in a great while he told me to do things, but that’s talking, not communicating. My bad, I forgot, he taught me the difference in spelling lavatory and laboratory when I was about eight, but that was it for father/son bonding. I can remember as a young kid how I wanted to badly for my dad to notice me the way he seemed to notice my two older brothers, especially the older one, Ronnie. But he didn’t: as a matter of fact neither did Ronnie.

I first began to notice this when we moved from our house in Camden, a suburb of Minneapolis to an apartment over the “dairy store” my parents bought at 1119 East Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. In the front room, which was over the front part of the store, my parents had their bed set up in a closet area. Next was the living room with an inside staircase to the store, then my brothers’ room (I had two brothers) was next to the dining area where the space heater was. At the back wall of the dining area was a door into the kitchen, bathroom and my room sort of behind the refrigerator (a Kelvinator, in case you wanted to know). My room was the darkest as it only had one window which had a large tree overhanging it. I always wanted to climb that tree but never did because I was afraid of heights: the fact is heights still bother me but not as bad as when I was a kid.

The kitchen had a door leading out to a very scary old set of wooden stairs leading down to the dirt parking lot in back of the store. About halfway down, there was a small landing then where they made a left angle (if you were ascending) turn and ran adjacent to the “bottle shed” where we stored all the empty refundable bottles. Everything was refundable back then, well not exactly everything, I wasn’t, but then that was my fate. Almost from the time I could walk, it was my job to sort the empty bottles by make, size and what they were used for. I learned to hate Grain Belt and Hamm’s beer bottles cause their labels were always sticky.

Constructed of corrugated tin panels over the wood frame on a dirt floor, the “bottle shed” had no heat in winter and no air conditioning in summer. Winter wasn’t so bad, but summer was a killer with the heat, humidity, and bugs. Come to think of it, we had those same three problems in the apartment, the bugs especially in my room because it was almost right over the shed. I can remember having a lot of those sticky fly traps things hanging over my window and the doorway. The spiders never had to weave webs in our home, the fly traps provided their meals.

My room was the coldest one in our apartment, but I got used to it. Guess that’s why I can’t sleep well when it gets too warm in my bedroom now. Thank God for central air conditioning, back then we cooled at night by setting a block of ice in a large bucket then having a fan blow over it. If that didn’t work, we soaked our sheets, then got as much water out of them as possible before wrapping ourselves in them to lay down in front of the ice block. I’m surprised I never wet the bed, then or now.

I don’t recall my mother ever coming into my room at bedtime for anything other than to tell me to put the book down and go to sleep. My dad didn’t even come in to do that. Nope, I never heard: “Did you brush your teeth? Did you go to the bathroom? Did you say your prayers? I wasn’t subjected to any of those ridiculous practices. To this day, I don’t know if my brothers were either because they slept near mom and dad; I didn’t have to.

I was lonely at times, but I had my good friend Teddy with me. Yep, you guessed it, I had a real Teddy Bear. Nana gave him to me, and I named him Teddy; I was talented even as a child. Nana told me that Teddy was named after President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt so I should be proud; I was, and still am.

I told Teddy everything – all my hidden stuff and more. Even things I tried talking to Nana about, but they might hurt her to know. I don’t know why I felt that way other than the fact that I never, ever wanted to hurt her in any way. I guess I was afraid of losing her love yet knew Teddy would always love me: he was the brother I never had.

For awhile, I wanted to call Nana and tell her everything, but I didn’t dare. Back in the 1950s, we didn’t have cell phones, and long distances calls were expensive. There was no way I could hide calling on our phone, and I didn’t have money to use the pay phone on the corner. I think I once tried to call her on the police call phone next to the pay phone, but the operator told me to hang up. It was ok though, I probably could not have heard Nana with all the buses and streetcars making noise. I liked the streetcars but the buses always coughed black, smelly smoke when they started to more.

My older (by 3 years) brother David hated Teddy, but I think he hated me even more because he would do things to hurt me. He would think it funny to steal from me, lie about me and even harm Teddy. Once, he even cut Teddy’s neck so bad I had to suture it up. That’s when I learned how to sew, not real well but I did suture my Teddy until Nana could show me how to do it properly. She said I did a good job of basting it then gave me a curved needle and heavier thread to “heal your Teddy.”  I actually enjoyed hand sewing for many years and later in life when I began getting arthritis, I started to do satin stitch embroidery. I figured that is Rosie Greer could do needlepoint, so could I.

“Be sure you sew the cloth, not the fingers!” was Nana’s credo. Funny, even now, some sixty odd years since last we spoke, I can still hear Nana’s voice. She was a born teacher; one that never stood at the head of a class but she was always at the head of my class.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nana and Henry

Don’t you love those nostalgic memories that seem to pop up at the oddest times?

When I was in the first grade at Adams Elementary School on Franklin Avenue at Bloomington Avenue, four long city blocks from where we lived above our little store at 1119 East. Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN., I had to walk to school every day.

Now don’t start ragging on me about it being only four blocks from home. It was in Minnesota where winter starts right after Labor day and ends just before Mother’s day (sometimes), and I was only five years old. Between the street cars, the diesel buses, the other cars, and trucks spewing gasses and dust filling my lungs with all kinds of stuff I didn’t need, it was a challenge just walking down the sidewalk. Winter wasn’t so bad because the snowplows piled the snow up on the sidewalk so tall I couldn’t see over them. If the store owners got out early and shoveled, then it was relatively smooth sliding along on the ice because the wall of snow sent the smog above us. The sad part was that we always had black and brown snow because of all the crap in the air.

So, I would walk to school on the South side of Franklin Avenue and return home on the North side so where the Old Dutch Potato Chip company had a plant. Oh my god, if you haven’t smelled fresh potato chips on a cold winter’s day, you haven’t lived. We, my buddy Henry who walked to and from school with me, would stand in front of the big window and watch the chips being bagged by the machine. I think the imprint of our lips and drool are still on that window if it’s there.

Even today, 68 years later, when I smell fresh potato chips I think of Henry, one of the best friends I ever had, but he was a Negro. That seemed to be important to people sometimes cause when we would be walking home from school, they would make nasty comments about a white boy and a nigger walking together.

I once asked my Nana why people, especially my mom didn’t like Henry and she said it was only because he “is a knee-grow” and “those people were wrong because they don’t use the brains God gave them. Your friend is no different than anyone else, in fact, he’s better than most cause he let you be his friend.”

But Nana,  his mom is white, and his dad is black!

“So, what does that prove? Do they take good care of your friend? Do they love him? Are they nice people?”

I think so, yes.

“Then, their skin color makes no difference, does it?

But Nana, how can he be black like that when his momma is white, and his dad is black – shouldn’t he be like a zebra?

I think Nana, and maybe Henry too is still laughing about that one.

I never did see his knee grow, but that’s ok, because he was then, and remains in my heart as Henry, my bestest friend ever.

Nana said I was a gifted little boy because I saw people “through the eyes of a blind man” and heard their words “with deaf ear.”

“When you look at Henry, you don’t see his skin, you know his heart.”

Nana, though you are gone, yet remain. Your words still echo in my mind.

I miss you both.

The Wisdom of My Nana

As a child, I often sat with my grandmother beneath her grape arbor in Mankato, MN, there to talk and listen to her stories of nature. She was not a learned person in the sense of a formal education, but she was a sagacious woman in the ways of the world. Tragically for me, and the world I lost her when I was fifteen.

Before she died, she had to have one of her legs removed because diabetes had shut down the circulation and she was developing gangrene. I lived in Minneapolis, MN, at the time so I went to Mankato, (90 miles) and stayed at the hospital with her from the night before surgery, during surgery and most of the day after, when I had to leave. That was the last time I saw her or heard her voice. Her last words were, “we will share our love of nature under the arbor again one day.” I miss her wisdom.

Starting yesterday, and continuing throughout the night and into today, St. Louis, MO is experiencing severe storms. The thunder rages like the sounds millions of buffalo stomping over the plains in the days that were. Lightning, the arrows of Father Sky, piercing the darkness,   illuminating their way while torrents of rain assail their path. These were the visions my grandmother gave to me. She made me understand that nature is not science, nature is alive.

When I would ask her why storms came, she would tell me about how she had to do the spring cleaning of her house and that Mother Nature was no different.

“Mother Nature’s house is much bigger than ours.”, she would say. “She has more work to do, so she tells Father Sky he has to help her.”

“Make the Sky Buffalo run over the cloud prairies to warn all the creatures that we are going to clean. Wake them with the light of your arrows that they may prepare and seek shelter.”

But Nana, the wind blows so hard it shakes my brain to pieces!

“Child, pay attention, it is rare that the wind begins by blowing that hard but if it should then you best hide down in the root cellar cause a tornado may be coming. You don’t recall cause you were only two, but a big twister came through the town in 1946  killing eleven people and injuring a hundred or so more. They are very dangerous.”

Does Father Sky send tornadoes to hurt people?

“I don’t think so. I’m not sure what causes twisters but, like everything else in nature, they serve a purpose. Perhaps it’s a way for nature to make sure humans know who is really in charge. An old Lakota lady once told me that twisters were nature’s way of cleaning out the weak and cutting new paths for the strong. Heard tell on the radio that cold and warm air crashing together cause them. I just do not know.”

What happens to the animals when a tornado comes?

“Sadly, many animals are killed by twisters because they have nowhere to hide from them. Humans, at least the smart ones know enough to find shelter when they can.”

Nana, does the Sky Father always send twisters when he sends the winds?

“No darling, sometimes he just sends the big winds to clean out the old nests and dead branches from trees so there can be new ones.”

But Nana, if he does that, he might hit me on the head with a big branch or nest!

“That is possible, yes but most of the time the Sky Father will send warnings such as gusts of wind, thunder and many times the temperature will suddenly drop just before the storm to warn us. Course, nowadays, we have the weather guessers who might be able to predict a coming storm.”

So the Sky Father makes the wind blow and the rain fall to help the Earth Mother clean her trees and stuff?

“That’s right hon, he washes out old branches, nests, leaves and even dead animals then rinses the trees to wash away the dust.”

And the Earth Mother likes for him to do this?

“I believe she does for aren’t we all a part of her? Don’t the minerals contained in decaying branches, leaves, and animals return to the soil to help fertilize it?

But Nana, if it rains really, really, really hard all that water will fill up the creeks and rivers to flood stuff!

“Yes, that is true but what happens when there is flooding?”

I dunno know.

“Just like the trees, when Father Sky sends his rain down upon Mother Earth, the water washes away natural debris and vegetations into our streams and rivers. There, the debris-filled water will carry its burden to larger rivers such as the Mankato River which in turn, flows into the Mississippi River. As the rivers fill with water and debris, they will overflow their banks and fill the land. When the water recedes, it leaves the sediment which is a natural fertilizer. I heard that this happens every year in the Nile river in Egypt and it may happen in your lifetime. “ (Nana, if you’re listening, it occurred in 1993 – worst flood in history.)

Nana, does the Earth Mother have a big dumpster or trash can to put stuff in?

“She certainly does, she has seven of them – the Seven Seas.”

But Nana, what happens to all that sediment stuff that goes into the seas?

“That which can be recycled by Mother Nature will be. That which cannot becomes deltas such as we saw down in New Orleans.”

I remember, but we saw stuff like soda bottles, and glass and stuff down in the delta place.

“Sadly, you are right. There are things that even Mother Nature cannot rapidly fix. It is a tragic mistake of human greed and indifference that produces the filth and poisons we see on our Mother Earth every day. Perhaps one day people will wake up before it’s too late and realize what they have done.”

Nana, I miss you and love you more now than ever before.

Mother’s Day

This is a rewrite of an event I was involved in many years ago.

Sunday, three A.M. a full moon illuminates a forest alive with night creatures. Their eyes aglow as if in wonderment as our emergency beacons pierced their world. Only the sounds of our engine broke the silence as we raced through the night. No need for the siren. We were ten miles from the nearest major road, fifteen from any community and hadn’t seen another vehicle since leaving the hospital garage.

My partner, a trainee, scanned the road ahead for a sign of our contact while I wondered what we were rushing into.  Our only information was a call received by the dispatcher requesting an ambulance to an isolated rural area. The caller did not reveal the nature of the emergency and his location directions were vague. He said someone would meet us on the main highway. That made me nervous! I decided to radio the dispatcher for police assist. Unfortunately for us, that meant a town constable at home in bed twenty miles away. On the plus side, the dispatcher at the time was my wife.  As she still liked me back then, she decided to request assistance from the Sheriff’s office and two other police departments from adjacent jurisdictions.

Suddenly, headlights flashed in front of us. A large, dark car pulled out from the shoulder of the road, its driver waving frantically as he turned onto a narrow, gravel township road forming a dust cloud between us.

Maintaining a safe distance back, we followed the dust cloud at a slower speed allowing my partner time to note any landmarks he could radio to the dispatcher.

Abruptly, the dust dissipated revealing the dark car with its mysterious driver stopped next to an open grassy area.  A dirt drive wound its way up to what appeared to be an old basement dwelling set good eighty yards from the main road.  We stopped a few feet behind him.  As I exited our rig in an attempt to approach and question the driver he silently pointed toward the dwelling then sped off down the gravel road.

My attention turned to the house. It was built on a low knoll, had large front windows and, thankfully, was well lit both inside and out.

“Something is missing!” I whispered. “No vehicles, people, dogs or movement.”

Slowly we inched our way up the drive. When almost parallel to the dwelling, it made a sharp right to an exterior wood frame, enclosed stairway atop the knoll. There, in the glare of our floodlights lay the body of a woman. Dressed in a blood-stained, pale green nightgown, her head turned away from us; she appeared to be sleeping,  but it was an illusion. An obvious gunshot entry wound to the back of her head told a different story.

Immediately, my instincts and training took control.

“Shut off all our lights, give me the radio and get your ass out of this rig now!” I yelled to my partner. “Hide in the woods beyond the tree line!” Next thing I knew he was running fast and low towards a large pine tree.

I radioed the dispatcher, “We have a D.O.A with G.S.W.!  We need help fast!”  *

Now, what do I do?  Sitting in a darkened ambulance, on a small rise next to an illuminated earth home, I was a sitting duck. If the shooter was still there, one well-aimed bullet could have hit me or the large oxygen tank and I am history.

What if there are more victims inside? What if they are still alive? Call it brave or insane; I had to know. It was my job to save lives.

Flashlight in hand, I made my way through the shadows to the stairwell. Standing to one side, I held it high above my head to disguise my position and exact size as I peered through the door. Looking down inside, I saw a single, bare bulb ceiling light, a child’s bicycle in a corner and a second body at the foot of the stairs. As the woman’s, it was face down in a pool of dark, clotted blood. It was a man with a gunshot exit wound in the back of his head.

The bicycle – is there a child here?

Against all policy, I descended the stairs, stepped over the man’s body and entered the living room to a scene of rage and anger. Furniture overturned, appliances were broken, dishes shattered and personal items everywhere but no child.

Cautiously I searched the remaining rooms. I saw a lifestyle of modest income and means but no child or other bodies. I was relieved.

Retracing my path, I exited the house to call in what I’d seen. As I reached the radio to give the dispatcher update, the dark car returned. As if in slow motion, it appeared on the gravel road and turned onto the grassy area in front of the dwelling.

Cutting my report short, I waited and watched. The car stopped, and the headlights went dark. The only light was from the house and beautiful, setting full moon.

I could hear the radio in the ambulance as the dispatcher is telling me the closest police unit it still fifteen minutes from our location.

Estimating the distance from my position to the car at forty yards, I realized I did not have many options.

I saw one person, the driver sitting behind the wheel staring at the house seemingly ignoring me.

Was this a neighbor, friend, relative, curiosity seeker or…?

I had to know! I could not be out here in the middle of the wilderness trapped by my fears.

Heart in throat, I walked to the car while keeping my flashlight trained directly on his face.  I got within ten feet when he suddenly turned on the interior dome light and looked at me. He was young, late teens, early twenties, long black hair, average size and scruffy appearing. He had a strange, peaceful look on his face, a calm as though his burdens were gone.

As I attempted to talk to him, I visually searched the interior of the car with my flashlight. He had no less than eight guns and what appeared to be hundreds of rounds of ammunition scattered over the seats.

He asked me, “Are they dead?”

I believe so.” I replied.

“Good!” he yelled as he slammed his foot onto the gas pedal and sped through the grass to disappear down the gravel road.

There was a return to silence as a soft glow in the east announce\d the rising of the sun.

It was going to be a beautiful Mother’s Day – for most.

G.S.W. = Gunshot Wound

D.O.A. = Dead on arrival

 

Accident

2-Feb-16

My Quarter Million Dollar Arm

 

    One morning, in spring 2008, I agreed to take a friend to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Driver’s License Examination office so he could take the behind-the-wheel exam. As he had a permit, I allowed him to drive my car, “Priscilla”, a Chevrolet Prizm, four- door in good mechanical shape but dinged some to use for the exam. I rode shotgun with my window down and arm resting on the door.

    We picked a good day – weather was clear, warm and dry. As we were headed out south bound Hanley Boulevard, traffic was steady but moving at a pretty good clip. We were in the outside lane going with the flow of traffic, doing about 38 mph in the 35 mph speed zone when all of a sudden a north bound car attempted to make a left turn directly in front of us. My friend barely had time to say “Oh shit” before we T-boned the car in the front passenger’s door, and column. Obviously things came to a crashing halt (pun intended).    

    We were both shaken up, and when I looked at him, I saw a minor laceration above his right eyebrow. As I asked if he was ok, I attempted to reach over with my right arm, but noticed only my shoulder seemed to want to cooperate. I looked at my arm, and noticed that from the hand to the shoulder is looked about the size of an adult elephant’s leg, and almost the same color. Now I’m a good size man with substantial biceps but this was ridiculous.

When I attempted to open my door to check the other driver, I discovered that despite my best efforts, my arm decided it had a mind of its own. Needless to say, I conceded that match, and waited for help to arrive. While waiting, the other driver got out of her mother’s brand new Volvo station wagon, sat down on the curb and started shaking like a leaf in a gale. Luckily some people had stopped to help – they cared for her until the police, and rescue squad arrived, which didn’t take long as the cop shop and fire department garages were less than four blocks away.

When the rescue squad crew got to me, they took one look at my arm, and decided to have a conference on how to get me out of the car. I’ll throw in the technical complications here to make understanding the situation a lot easier.

I’m 6’1″ tall, and at that time weight around 250 lbs. As I said previously, my arm had swelled to the size of an adult elephant’s leg from shoulder thru hand, and I had no control over it. Subsequent MRI at the hospital disclosed that I had sustained a comminuted fracture of the humerus (upper arm). What was once a solid bone had become nine separate pieces amidst muscle and sundry tissue, and I didn’t feel a thing.

When the rescue crew got back to me, the first thing they wanted to know was if I wanted morphine – “We’re qualified and approved to give you morphine.” My response was, what for? I have no pain, and even if I did have pain morphine would only deaden it – pain is a symptom!

    So, no morphine, but now getting me out of the car becomes an issue. They want to put an air splint on my arm before they help me out of the car. There’s just one problem, air splints are designed to stabilize a fracture between two similar joints, no can do with a shoulder joint.

    Second conference needed to discuss what to do about the arm. I stopped them by asking if they had an “IV board.” OK, I’m old, get over it.

    For those not in the know, and IV board is a small board, usually made of simple plywood and cover with gauze that was historically used to immobilize an arm while the patient was receiving intravenous fluids, etc. Nothing fancy, but functional for the times.

    At first, the younger medic didn’t know what I was referring to but one of the older guys did. Lo and behold, the only piece of equipment needed to treat me on this huge, and very expensive ambulance are the gurney and a simple IV board. I cringe when I think of my taxes.

    “Do you want morphine before we move you?”

    NO! I’ll move myself. So I did, I held the IV board below my lower arm to stabilize it against my body, then got out of the car, and laid down on the gurney, which three strong men then lifted up, and put into the ambulance.

    “Do you need morphine?”

    NO, but they might.

    Now for my favorite part. The young paramedic radios into the emergency room to give details about me, my injuries and my refusal for morphine. As he’s doing so, I hear him say, “Patient has a fracture of the right femur.”

    “Femur?” Umm, no, I don’t think I was born with a femur attached to my shoulder.

    “Excuse me doc (facetious), but I think my humerus is injured, not my femur.”

    “Huh?” he says.

    You told the ER it was my femur, and while I’m not orthopedic specialist I’m pretty sure it’s my humerus.

    “Umm, excuse me,” He called back and tried to correct himself. It didn’t work, he said femur again.

    I let it go this time. Thought the ER nurse could deal with it without my help.

    Halfway to the hospital, the ride in the huge, very expensive ambulance is feeling like I’m riding in a coal cart on a very rough road.

    “If you’re having a lot of pain, I can give you morphine for it.”

    I’m beginning to think this kid is a pusher for a Mexican cartel.

    No, thank you!

    We get to the hospital where an ER nurse climbs into the back of the ambulance ready to give me a shot of – wait for it – Morphine!!

    About now I’m feeling I’m still unconscious in my car, and having a sick dream.

    No morphine thanks.

    “That’s a humerus!” I hear whispered.

    Well doh, I think.

    Into the ER, cut my shirt off, one of my best of course, and off to Radiology where another nurse asks me if I want Morphine.

    No thank you.

    Throughout all of this, I have no pain, even in Radiology where they bend, twist and turn me, and my arm into exotic positions for the MRI. That done, and I’m back in the ER where the nurse asked me. “Do you need any pain medications?” At least she didn’t say Morphine.

    So I’m lying on the gurney in the ER for an hour before the Doctor finally arrives.

    “Hi, I’m Dr. So n So, your arm has a bad fracture, and I’m giving you this morphine while I splint it.” Zap, I get dosed without another word, and he walks out.

    After about fifteen minutes a “Orthopedic Technician” comes in to set up the materials for a plaster splint. When the doctor returns they begin to create a splint. It’s an artistic endeavor, but alas, not a functional one. (Please refer back to the air splint idea – two joints)

I had to return in two days to have it changed. Second one didn’t work either so I switched doctors. Second doctor decided some new device would work – it didn’t. What it did do was allowed by arm to swing 180 degrees to the back. I could shake hands with people following me, and not have to turn around, but forget trying to use a can opener – no luck there.

    The principle here is that in order for a splint to work, it must immobile, and realign the bone, fracture and all so that it can knit. The way they were splinting my arm was only protecting it. Thankfully, after weeks of no improvement, the second doctor realized his mistake, and referred me to a specialist at Barnes-Jewish-Children’s hospital.

    Went to the clinic to see the specialist, where x-ray orders were waiting for me. Across the hall to x-ray, two films taken and back to the specialist’s office, where I only had to wait 15 minutes to be examined. Doctor looked at x-rays, and said the bone will never knit without support, I’m putting in a titanium rod from shoulder to elbow – is tomorrow morning too soon?

    I loved this guy.

    So here I am, repaired with new parts, and having a blast when I go to the airport or courthouse, but have uncertainty about some rescue squad personnel.    

 

Meeting My Spirit

 We all have nightmares during our lives. For most, they’re simple boogeyman type scripts beginning in our childhood and most often ending in mid-teens. Some of us are more unfortunate, we may have a recurring nightmare for most of our lives – I did.

    My nightmare began in my pre-teens and consisted of a dark, unknown entity pursuing me through a misty gray forest. Regardless of how fast I ran or how hard I tried to hide it kept coming for me. At times I could feel the heat of its dark eyes on my back and moist breath on my neck. It’s breathing even and controlled while mine was tortured and drained. Yet not once did I think to stop and face my tormentor. My eyes sought only refuge, a sanctuary where malevolent creatures of the misty forest were forbidden entrance.

    In each nightmare, we run for hours neither one winning, nor losing ground. And in each I am tired and alone, my body drained, my spirit shattered and bled of the will to go on. I long to lie down on the moist gray moss and await the end then suddenly I wake and there is no end.

    Then one night, when in my early sixties the nightmare changed –

A cry breaks my sleep – mournful voice adrift on the air. What lurks beyond my door in the early morning dim? Is it the wind or a spirit transfixed to this realm by daggers of ice?

    Do I shiver from cold or dread; an unknown for both beset my body. I draw my robes close as a sense of foreboding arises within me clutching at my throat with skeletal fingers. My mouth dries yet I must find words of welcome to greet my unknown visitor.

    “Hau kola friend and be welcome in my poor home. Enter for I will build the morning fire to warm us this solstice dawn.” I call out to the unknown but only the rustle of a night bird replies.

 
 

With mind a raging river of thought and wonder I light the morning fire. Is he still there, do I hear his breath or does my mind play me? Alone in my hovel I must know if man or spirit awaits beyond. Do I throw wide the doorway to reveal my tormentor or wait approaching light of day?

    As if in answer to silent prayer, through my smoke stained window I see rays of the sun making small progress against the gray veil of night, forcing it slowly towards the western darkness.

    I call out to the emptiness, “Show yourself friend, that we may know one another. The fire warms and soon I will offer warm drink to chase the cold from you.” If silence has voice will I hear it calling me?

    A sound of rhythmic pounding draws near while beads of cold sweat drown my vision. I demand answers from the door but my voice falters – “Who are you!? What do you want of me?”

 
 

Drawn to my small window, I see the sun crowning the horizon sending warm arrows of light through the ice covered forest. Trees come alive with the glitter of billions of tiny fires bringing new hope and beauty to me.

I hear you beyond my door, I know you await but I no longer fear you. The drum of my heart has slowed, the strength of my mind returns, I will no longer cower in foolish fear of the unknown.

I throw open my door and you are there. Your eyes glisten as you slowly advance toward me throwing off the snow that concealed your spotted white coat. Your ears up, lips drawn back and fangs dripping like melting ice yet I feel no fear.

 
 

A sudden lunge, arching your sleek body towards me in graceful flight you strike knocking me into the snow. Atop me, great paws bear down on my shoulders and vile breath assails my face. I feel your eyes penetrate my very being as I await the death I know will come.

    A voice, powerful and resonant invades my mind.

“I am with your spirit old man, know that you are loved!”

I have not had a nightmare since.

The end finally arrived.

My Life in EMS

25-Jan-16

My Life in EMS – Chapter 4

    So many years have passed, it’s hard to remember when specific events actually happened. The emergency room was almost always busy with everything from kids with the flu to multiple gunshot victims. It was rare for me to not get off a shift without being covered in blood, and other nasty stuff. I was so happy when I got my first car – 1946 Chevy coupe, six cylinder, stick on column, hole in the floorboard about the size of a basketball right below the steering wheel. A little plywood covered with Masonite board, a non-slip mat and caulk sealed that baby up just right. I finally had my own wheels!

I think my boss thought my having a car was great too – she didn’t have to let me leave work on time to catch the bus.

Up until 1964, the ambulance    service was operated by my employer, Minneapolis General Hospital, and served only the city. When Hennepin County took over the hospital, they inherited the ambulance service, and expanded it to cover the entire county, except for some areas covered by North Memorial Hospital which operated its own service. It was at this time I began being asked to ride as an attendant on transfers when the service was short a person. It was kind of cool, and the ambulance personnel all knew me so it was easier me to help out.

I didn’t know it at the time, but George Nass, the ambulance service supervisor, and Kenny Eskedahl, assistant supervisor had been watching, and evaluating me as a potential ambulance driver. I started to suspect something was going on when I was suddenly required to take an Advanced Red Cross First Aid, and the new Red Cross Cardio-pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) courses offered at the hospital for ambulance, police and fire personnel. At that time, this was these were premiere rescue training programs for emergency personnel.

I have to admit, I had to struggle with CPR. I couldn’t seem to get the air volume in my lungs that I needed to meet the patient inflation criteria. At this time, we didn’t have the Resusi-Annie trainers yet, so we were using flow-meters to gauge how much air we could take in, and breath out into a patient. I passed the criteria for babies, children, and young adults but barely made it with adults. It was unnerving for me because I didn’t understand what was wrong. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that we discovered the problem. I was having recurring episodes of bilateral spontaneous Pneumo-thorax of unknown etiology. (Will cover this more later.)

Obviously, I finally passed the courses, and received my certification. At Kenny Eskedahl’s insistence, I then took the instructor’s training for both courses, which I also passed. I was the first, and only ER Orderly, Red Cross and CPR instructor in the county, and I wore the patches to prove it! I was proud!

On my 21st birthday, George Nass came to me, asked me if I was interested in becoming an ambulance driver. I, of course had to think about that for about, oh I guess a millisecond before saying YES! He laughed, then told me all I had to do was the Civil Service Examination and get a Chauffeur’s license, and he’s put me on. By the end of the week, I had taken the exam, gotten my Chauffeur’s license, and marched into his office ready to go.

I had to quit my orderly job, then be hired onto the ambulance service. Apparently, George was confident I’d make it because all the paperwork had already been signed by him and my old boss.

    Next on the agenda came, wait for it now, hold your breath – you ready? The uniform! I was sent to the uniform store down on Hennepin Avenue and North Third Street in downtown Minneapolis. When I get there, I’m expecting to get the ugly grey shirts and slacks, but turns out I was to be the poster boy for the new county uniform which was tan shirt with brown epaulets and pocket tabs. The pants were dark brown and we hat hate with badges.

This picture shows the majority of us in the new uniform. I’m in the back row, second from left in short sleeve shirt. George Nass is in the front row, far right in a suit.

As you can probably tell, I was the youngest man on the crew. They were a great bunch of guys.

Another interesting point about this picture is that we were posing in front of the old ambulance garage with the bi-fold doors. Wasn’t too long after this picture was taken, the county moved us to the old city morgue, three blocks away from the hospital while a new emergency room and garage were constructed. Ever sat down for a meal decked out on a post-mortem table? I have – it’s creepy at first.

This brings to mind a case I was involved with. I believe it was on a Saturday, around noon when we got a call to the Augsburg Publishing building on 4th and Portland, as I recall. As was usual for many calls, we didn’t really know what we were actually going to, but they wanted us Code 3 – lights and siren. As I was eating my lunch, tuna salad sandwich, I shoved the remainder of it in my mouth, and rushed out the door chewing as I went.

After a short few blocks, we arrived on scene to be met by the Fire Department Rescue Squad. As we started to grab our medical bag and stretcher, a firefighter stopped us saying, “DOA (Dead On Arrival), you won’t need those.” He then led us down to the basement, and into a room where there was blood all over the floor. The source of the blood appeared to be a machine attached to a chute from the floor above.

As we entered the room, a second firefighter looked at me, and asked what I was chewing, I said a tuna sandwich. He threw up – not sure whether it was the scene or the sandwich. I swallowed, and followed the other firefighter to the machine which turned out to be a baling machine. The chute carried paper trimmings from the printing shop on the first floor to the baler which baled it then, by use of claw like grabbers, the bale was forced out to be manually removed, and stacked.

Apparently, what had happened was the missing man became entangled in the baler, and baled. No one ever figured out how it happened but he was baled then torn to shreds by the claws which were trying to force “his” bale out when his body became stuck. Obviously, there was nothing we could do for the poor guy, and we couldn’t remove the body as it was a coroner’s case, so we left. We never did hear what caused this man’s death.

It’s important to remember that my experiences in EMS began in the 1960s – things were different back then. Training, equipment and support were almost stone age in comparison to 2016, but one thing will never change – humans. We are humans with emotions, strengths and weaknesses. We will see, and do things that will unsettle the average civilian, but what’s the alternative? Someone has to do it!

Papa Nyk