Remembering Doris

I submitted this essay to the Jersey City Medial Center School of Nursing Alumni Association Newsletter for the Fall publication. Limit: 500 words.

Remembering Doris Dolan

(December 31, 1926 – January 10, 2021)

Class of 1947

I met Doris back in 1965 when we both worked at Pollack Hospital in Jersey City. We became friends immediately. It was easy to like Doris: she was warm, gracious, non-judgmental, caring and a great nurse. 

Doris worked at the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry’s Cardiac Cath lab at Pollack and moved with the College when they set up shop at Newark Hospital. She stayed with the Department of Cardiology until her retirement. 

Although I hadn’t seen Doris over the years, we exchanged Christmas cards. 

In 1994, my husband, Ernie, and I reunited with Doris and Bud at a wedding. The next few years, we, Doris and Bud and another couple, Mary Ann and Bill Owens, vacationed together. (Mary Ann worked with Doris at Pollack, too). “Bud and I always wonder why you include us old timers in your travels,” Doris would ask. We always had the same answer: “we enjoy your company.” 

The last time I spoke to Doris was before the Pandemic. She and Bud lived in a CCRC. She had had a couple of falls and suffered a subdural hematoma. Surgery released the pressure. She recovered well but had some short-term memory loss. 

Soon after that phone call, I was invited to speak at the JCMC Nursing Alumni Association at the Spring Luncheon in April 2020. I would talk about gerontological nursing: I was one of the first GNPs in the 1980s and wrote a book about my experiences: “Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic.” 

I planned to ask Doris to join me. 

What a great reunion it would be! 

But it never happened. 

The Spring conference was cancelled due to the pandemic. 

When I next called Doris, a caregiver answered the phone and told me that Doris couldn’t talk to me. Bud couldn’t articulate how Doris was doing. I called a few times after that—always told by the caregiver that Doris was either eating or napping. 

I wanted to thank Doris for sharing her “expert” cardiac knowledge from back in the 60s—the time frame of the nursing stories I had been writing for publication. She had mailed me reprints of studies and news clippings that filled the gaps in my memory. My essays were richer because of her input. 

I wanted to reminisce again about our talk at the Jug, a Greek restaurant not far from Pollack Hospital. I was 23 years old and afraid of marriage. I couldn’t decide to accept Ernie’s proposal. Doris was happily married to a loving, compatible husband. Thankfully, I listened to her. I think she felt delight for the longevity of my marriage. 

This past March, on a hunch, I looked up Doris’ name on Legacy.com. She had died on January 10th. The obituary was brief with one comment written by Doris’ only relative, a nephew. 

I hastily added mine:

So sorry to hear of Doris’ passing. She and I met back in the 60s when we worked together as nurses at Pollack Hospital in Jersey City. We also traveled with Doris and Bud and kept in touch over the years after we moved out of state.
She was the most generous, caring and kind person I ever knew. 
I will miss her.

Doris & Bud Dolan October 2010
(Bud died November 9, 2020)

Alphabet Challenge: L

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

L: Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant

One day back in the 80’s, Lois, my good friend, and I stood in line waiting to be seated at Lou Mitchell’s restaurant on Jackson Boulevard in Chicago. As the crowd moved inside, Lou Mitchell, a white haired older man in a dark suit, handed out small boxes of Milk Duds to each patron. Lois and I were lucky to snag a booth close to the door. Although sitting at the long communal table in the center of the restaurant would be fun, we tended to talk non-stop whenever we got together, so a booth was best. 

Lou Mitchell’s diner, founded in 1923, is a Chicago icon. It’s open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and noted for its hearty breakfasts. Passing out Milk Duds is a long tradition. 

That day Lois and I had come for lunch. After we left Lou Mitchell’s we planned to stroll along the city streets, window shop and end up at Marshall Fields’ Crystal Palace for hot fudge sundaes. 

Lois and I continued gabbing after we finished lunch. Finally, we stopped talking long enough to notice the silence. We were the only customers in the place. Behind us, the waitress was mopping the floor. It was past the 2 pm closing time. We quickly stood, grabbed our coats, left a generous tip and signaled the waitress to open the locked door and let us out.   

Since that day, I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for Lou Mitchell’s. 

Update on Tom and Helen

There are many good things about getting older but unfortunately our society holds aging as an inevitable downward spiral. That’s why I like to post about the positive when I find it. Tom and Helen are wonderful examples of a happy circumstance.

I have written two posts about them. After the excerpts below, I will give you an update.

 

 

 

1/10/2018

Dream Deferred

My friend, Helen (not her real name), called me a few weeks ago. Without salutation she said, “I am in love.” I knew she was taking about Tom, a friend of more than 30 years.

Helen and her husband, and Tom and his wife, were friends back in California. After Helen and her husband moved to North Carolina, both couples sent Christmas letters over the years. Tom and Helen were the scribes. Helen called to give her condolences after Tom’s Christmas letter noted the tragic loss of his beloved wife after a brutal battle against Alzheimer’s. Soon the two were reconnecting and updating their lives. They found they had much in common.

“I’m going to tell him that I am not interested in a relationship,” she had told me. And then her phone call.

Their frequent phone calls and messages erupted into deep emotions. Tom flew from California to North Carolina for Christmas, leaving two days after the New Year. He stayed with Helen in her one-bedroom apartment. They laughed constantly. Sang familiar songs. Finished each other’s sentences. Fell into a routine as if they had co-habited for years!

And the sex was great!

Helen will visit Tom the end of this month. Both in their seventies, they are investigating on which coast they will live—together.

 

 

8/15/2018

New Love in Old Age

. . . Then there is my writing friend I call Helen who found true love with Tom. Longtime friends, they both lost their spouses and reconnected to find a “spark” that ignited “true love.”

I have heard from Helen recently. She and Tom are now living together in California.

“Tom and I have ten children and stepchildren between us. His live on the west coast, mine on the east coast. And he has a fulltime job in California. We haven’t figured out how to navigate these difficulties yet.”

Recently, they traveled to the east coast to attend one of Helen’s grandchildren’s graduations. “Thanks for making my Nana so happy,” her fifteen-year-old grandson told Tom during that trip.

“Our love is truly a miracle for us both,” Helen writes. “Tom is one of the nicest people I have ever known, and there is an ease and flow to our days.”

They work out at a gym several evenings a week and they both swim a quarter of a mile most nights. Both have lost weight—fifteen pounds each–and leave the gym “energized and with a sense of relaxed well-being. Not bad for almost seventy-nine.”

Helen ended her email by writing, “We have trouble letting go of the evening and going to bed, like two little kids. I joked recently that we need a parent. But all is not lost — we do still brush our teeth.”

 

Tom and Helen now live in Florida. She turned 80 the week before we met. Tom is a few years younger and just recently retired. They came to Raleigh last week to see Helen’s daughter and granddaughter.

During their visit, I had lunch with Helen at a Thai restaurant. Tom dropped her off so we could have some “girl-friend” time together.

Helen filled me in on her life with Tom for the past two years as her vegan noodle dish cooled in front of her. Happiness lit up her face when she described their partnership filled with respect, trust and intimacy.

As impressed as I was over the psychosocial gains their relationship provided, the gerontological nurse practitioner side of me rejoiced in the physical gains, too.

They continue to swim three times a week, reaching a mile at least twice a month. With the exercise routine that Tom developed and a new interest in ping-pong—they bought a table and take private lessons—both have lost weight. Helen no longer needs to take blood pressure medication.

Sitting next to them on a park bench near the Thai restaurant after lunch, I observed the obvious affection they hold for each other.

Getting older isn’t always a bummer. There are truly magical moments. I have witnessed one.

PF-Elderlybridge_1201447c

 It Takes a Village or a City Block

This is my 262nd Blog post. It’s a significant number for me. I spent the first twenty years of my life in a two-bedroom apartment in a three-story brick building in Jersey City, New Jersey: 262 Summit Avenue.

Most of the buildings on the block were three stories with an apartment on each floor. I could name everyone who lived on the block. Few people moved. Multigenerational families stayed in close proximity. My grandparents’ place was a two-block walk away.

2009 visit. The gates are new.

We children couldn’t do anything wrong without a neighbor correcting us or telling our parents. In the summers we played outside until evening darkened the skies and the streetlights came on. In the colder weather, when the chill kept folks indoors, the older women sat by their windows as if afraid they would miss something.

Across the street, taking up most of the block, sat the massive New Jersey National Guard  Armory. The National Guard soldiers came for weekend training. Blaring brass bands cut above the street traffic. It was only when I reached my teens that seeing all the young men in uniform kept me close to home.

In summers, the Armory hosted the Rodeo and big-name performers: Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante. My friends and I, probably around ten or eleven years old, had managed to sneak through a side door and wander around before the Rodeo started, watching the workers set up the stands for the audience and the pens for the animals. During the show, we edged up so close to the action that we could hear the cowboys’ grunts, as they desperately tried to stay on the backs of the bucking horses or angry bulls.

Unknown

We listened to Frank Sinatra from the shadows along the walls. A spotlight followed his lanky body on the stage as he crooned into a microphone. We felt invincible.

In retrospect, it seemed easy for my friends and I to slip into the Armory. I don’t remember ever once getting kicked out. Perhaps the workers chose to look the other way.

My best friend, Carol, lived at one end of the block and I lived on the other. I’ve written about her in a post: Taking the Bus. We met when we were four or five years old, attended the same grammar school and high school. After she married, she and her husband moved to south Jersey. Two years later, I married. We moved to Newark, then near DC, making other moves until we eventually settled down in North Carolina.

After many years of exchanging Christmas cards, Carol and I now live 20 miles from one another. When we get together, we rehash our childhood memories on the 200 block of Summit Avenue. The city street that was the Village that raised us.

Book tour in Chicago

Saturday, June 1, 2019

I am scheduling this post to publish on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. That day, I will be in Chicago talking about my book to the Advanced Practice Nurses at Rush University. I have three other venues scheduled before I head home on Monday. In between events, I will spend time with old friends. I’m having lunch with one woman that I haven’t seen in over 20 years!

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Oak Park, Illinois

On Sunday, I will be reading at the Oak Park Library, Oak Park, Illinois. My daughter and 15-year-old grandson will have flown from Raleigh to join me. Afterwards, my daughter will show her son where she grew up. Maybe we’ll visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio where, to get a change from nursing, I volunteered in the gift shop. I learned so much about Frank in particular and architecture in general. I always wondered if my involvement with the FLW Foundation had any influence on my daughter’s choice of a career—architecture.

So, think of me in the Windy City as you read this.

 

 Bedbugs and Friendships

My husband and I went to Charleston last week and came home with bed bugs—maybe. A lovely city, we have been there many times joining friends at the same hotel. This time, after a hiatus of a couple of years, the hotel was looking a bit rough around the edges. Our first room was quite dirty and we had 30 minutes of dumpster noise at 3:00 a.m. We asked for another room.

The next morning my husband came out of the shower complaining of a terrible itch.

“Stop taking daily showers,” I told him. Our usual battle over dry skin and aging.

The next two mornings, after his shower, he had the same rash and extreme itch. During the day both would subside. While driving home, he showed me the “hives.” What was he allergic to?

I had been too preoccupied with my friend’s behavior to be concerned about my husband’s “allergy.” Her short-term memory loss had side tracked my delight in sharing our mini-vacation with our two longtime friends. Sue, I will call her, and I met while working at the same hospital before either of us married. Over the years we shared family vacations, grew older and retired but continued seeing each other at least once a year. Infrequent phone conversations didn’t reveal her problem. However, at dinner that first night, after Sue asked me for the third time if I had heard from a mutual friend, and then forgot where we were going to dinner the following evening after she accompanied me to that restaurant to make the reservation, I became worried.

Conflicted as how to proceed, addressing or not addressing, Sue’s memory issues, my husband and I spent the late evening hours weighing appropriate responses. I had to call attention to my concerns. How could I ignore symptoms that maybe could be reversible?  Sue’s husband seemed untroubled. The last day, Sue didn’t join us to visit the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens due to the unseasonably cold weather. While walking with her husband past the flowering azaleas, I learned how worried he was about his wife. The short-term memory loss started just six months ago. Any concern expressed by him was met with denial and anger from Sue. Would I speak with her? He was grateful.

silhouette-two-elderly-women-who-450w-464229824That last night after dinner, I took Sue’s arm in mine and we navigated the narrow cobblestone sidewalk toward the hotel. “I’m concerned,” I said, pulling her close and looking into her eyes. How often had I had to discuss uncomfortable topics with my patients over the years; how to talk of hopeless scenarios while still giving hope? But this was not a patient-nurse interaction. Would Sue lash out at me for saying she had memory issues, deny any problems or sever our friendship? My words bypassed any resistance. Sue agreed to see her primary provider when she arrived home. If her primary dismissed her concerns, Sue would seek help from a geriatrician who knew to look for changes not necessarily related to aging.

With hugs and tears, we said our good-byes at the end of the evening after I repeated my suggestions to both Sue and her husband. They had to leave earlier than we did the following morning.

After congratulating myself on my successful intervention, I slept soundly.

My daughter came to visit the day we came home. After she listened to her father’s story of his “allergies” and “rash,” she said, “Sounds like bed bugs.”

Yippes. We immediately went into action: suitcases packed in plastic bags and put it the garage, clothes washed in hot water, emailing a friend who I knew had a recent exposure to bed bugs.

I found out that a dirty environment does not always have to be part of the bed bug scenario. They are bugs of opportunity and settle in upholstery like beds and sofas and rugs and chairs.

And the “rash” that still pops up on my husband’s arms and legs can be residual of the first exposure. It can take up to a week for the sites to subside. In the meantime, I have been spared. I am on the lookout for telltale signs of infestation: blood droplets and brown spots on the bed sheets.

I texted Sue to alert her of the bedbugs. When she didn’t respond, I called her. Her voice flat, and her words curt, she cut me off before I was finished with my story.

I sat for a long time with the silent phone in my hand.

Growing Older – On Turning 77

My friend, Lois, turns 77 and shares her thoughts on celebrating her birthday without her husband, Marv, and cooking a dinner for her family.

Write Along with Me

“Can I help you?“ a butcher yelled from a packaged meat display.

A few feet away, I was standing, clueless, in front of an impressive array of glass-encased chunks of red meat. “Yes, I guess,” I bellowed back. When he was situated across from me, I asked, “How many pounds of a chuck roast do I need to serve six adults?”

“About three and a half.”

“How long would I have to bake it in the oven?”

After he outlined exact hours and temperatures, I gushed my thanks. “It will be the first roast I’ve made in forty-seven years; I want to impress my family.” After no response, I added, “I’ll take about four pounds; I’ll want left overs.”

As excited as I was to purchase this $25.00 piece of thick, marbled and bladed meat, his bland facial expression told me he was not interested in why it was the…

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Marv Roelofs and Apple Sauce

Making applesauce sort of represents living life to the fullest. I think prayer is sometimes about asking God to let us do what we can and enjoy ourselves. Picking apples and making applesauce has made me do that.

—Marv Roelofs

 

I called Marv soon after he received the diagnosis of Stage IV Small Cell Lung Cancer this past January. I don’t recall if I have ever called him in all the 40 plus years his wife, Lois, and I have been friends. Now in the past few months, I had called him twice.

 

After his diagnosis there was a sense of urgency. The doctors had told him the cancer was very aggressive so when Marv declined treatment, I figured I better talk to him right away. How long would he be around? I needed to tell him how I appreciated his encouragement and support of my friendship with Lois.

 

Lois and I met in Chicago. Two nurses with two young children each: a boy and a girl, and both ready to break out of the stay-at-home-mom mode. Together, in the late 70s and early 80s, we completed undergraduate and graduate nursing degrees. In 1992 I moved from Chicago.

 

We didn’t need to get permission from our husbands to spend time away from home or to spend money on plane tickets when we rendezvoused over the years. But it was Marv’s encouragement and support of our long-distance friendship and warm reception and hospitality during my visits that I wanted to acknowledge. Since Lois didn’t cook, or wash dishes for that matter, it was Marv who made the dinners, baked the banana bread, and served Lois and I as we continued deep into our conversation—as women are inclined to do.

 

That phone call melted into tears for both of us. Maybe the rawness of Marv’s diagnosis and the awareness of impending death were too close to the surface. I was glad I had called to say thank you.

 

After that first phone call and when Marv didn’t die in a matter of days or weeks as the doctors had suggested, I called him a second time. It was about six months after the first phone call. He had written a book of his life and made fifty-five copies to pass along to family and friends. I read it almost all in one evening. I knew some of Marv’s stories already, but his life on the farm and the details of his self-started business was new to me. I was especially taken with the way he wrote—as if we were sitting in his living room in Sioux Falls, or back in Chicago, just sharing his recollections.

 

That second phone call was more uplifting. We laughed more. Cried less. I told him how much I liked the book, especially the story about him making applesauce.

The first Fall after Marv and Lois moved from Chicago to Sioux Falls, he noticed that many people didn’t pick the apples from their trees. The apples just fell and rotted on the ground. He knocked on doors asking to harvest the apples, not for profit, but to donate them to the homeless and churches, and to make applesauce.

 

It was right around apple picking season that I visited Lois and Marv in Sioux Falls. With a refrigerator and freezer stuffed with applesauce in zip-lock bags, Marv sent Lois and me into the neighborhood to give away the first samplings of his culinary concoction to neighbors that Marv and Lois had barely met. The friendly neighbors graciously accepted our offering.

 

Marv was a successful business person, a loving husband, dad, and grandfather. Like all of us he was also a complicated human. But it was Marv, the person who picked the apples and made applesauce, whose memory is the warmest in my heart.

 

Marv died at 4:10 a.m. on July 25.

 

Lois’ Blog “Write along with me” chronicles their journey with a terminal illness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perks of Serving on the Board

 

I have served on the Family Patient Advisory Council at my local hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina since it’s inception a little over two years ago. I became the first Chair and now I am the Senior Chair.

This last week, the hospital funded my travel to Chicago to attend the Patient Experience Conference 2018 where the Chief Nursing Officer, Manager of Service Excellence, also a nurse, and I gave a presentation: Operationalizing Patient Advisory Council: Going Beyond the Boundaries.

 

I felt privileged to discuss the successes and challenges of our group and pleased, as a retired nurse, that I am using my background in health care services to facilitate change. In this case, to promote and improve the patient experience.

 

Patient Experience

Patient experience encompasses the range of interactions that patients have with the health care system, including their care from health plans, and from doctors, nurses, and staff in hospitals, physician practices, and other health care facilities. As an integral component of health care quality, patient experience includes several aspects of health care delivery that patients value highly when they seek and receive care, such as getting timely appointments, easy access to information, and good communication with health care providers.

Understanding patient experience is a key step in moving toward patient-centered care. By looking at various aspects of patient experience, one can assess the extent to which patients are receiving care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs and values. Evaluating patient experience along with other components such as effectiveness and safety of care is essential to providing a complete picture of health care quality. – Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

At the conference, not only did I learn about the patient experience movement and its growing numbers of supporters, I came away excited about the direction of health care.

After the conference, I met my friend Lois. Our friendship spans 40 years. We had one day of sleet and one day of sun in our quest to revisit old haunts and discover renovations to Chicago’s old buildings. At Navy Pier we asked a mother and daughter to take our picture. It turned out the daughter was starting nursing school with the intent to become a nurse practitioner. At this serendipitous meeting, Lois and I shared sage advice about the rewarding aspects of a nursing career.

Back home in temperate North Carolina, I look back at my time in Chicago and feel privileged to have attended the conference and had the added perk to have spent time with Lois.

Nurse at the Switchboard

Ten of us from a class of 44 traveled to Cape May, New Jersey to attend our 55th nursing reunion. We first met as young Catholic teens in the late ’50s enrolled in the diploma program at Saint Peter’s School of Nursing in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Hard to believe we are now in our mid-70s.

At our luncheon at the Inn of Cape May on a glorious sunny day this past September, we laughed and reminisced about the three years we lived together, when Connie mentioned that she had to man the switchboard at night during the psych rotation at a private psychiatric facility in a Maryland suburb.

Never heard of this we said. But one of us (can’t remember exactly who that was) chimed in to say she remembered at the time how glad she was that she never had to do this. So there was validation that Connie’s memory was intact. Imagine having to work at a telephone switchboard! What does this have to do with learning about psychiatric patients?

lady at switchboard

I found a picture of a telephone switchboard for you too young to remember this contraption that connected folks to each other via telephone lines. Or you could just watch the old movie: Bells Are Ringing with Judy Holiday and Dean Martin.

 

 

 

After hearing about the switchboard, we began outdoing each other with anecdotes about our early nursing days.

I wanted to take notes to capture these unique tales but decided I would rather just enjoy the fellowship. Later, I asked my classmates if I could call them, one by one, and document what they would want to share with current nurses about life in the “olden days.” They all consented.

So now I have a new project. I had been thinking about surveying my classmates about their nursing lives for quite a while. Since our 55th celebration is over, I realize it is now or never. We are dying off. Sad to say but true. Who will remember us? Or what nursing was like years ago? Who would believe that as part of the educational program to learn to be a psych nurse you had to know how to work a telephone switchboard?

You’ll be hearing more about my classmates.