I've Landed!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Long of it and The Short of it

The question is.......should I write about it?

I don't really think many people want to know about it....
................................................certainly few want to focus on it.
Not the long of it & the short of it.
It is almost too much.

I'm old, you know.
But not old-old.
Once in conflict with one of my sons, I said in exasperation, "I didn't just fall off the turnip truck yesterday, you know!"
It took all the fight right out of him.  He smiled.  He had hit paydirt.
"Just when DID you fall off the turnip truck, Mom?"

Being old, I fell off the turnip truck back when TB sanatoriums still existed.  We student nurses had to take a bus for miles and miles and miles to reach one, but tour one we did!  Wow.

Our nursing education was designed to expose us to it all.

As I have walked through life since all that early exposure and education, I have actually been astounded at the length and breadth of my nursing education and experience.

This post is the Long and the Short of it......two vastly different educational experiences that touched me to the core, changing my world view forever.

Warning:   disturbing graphic material.  Enter at your own risk.

Let's start with the Long of it.  The last outpost of human life.

When I was on my psychiatric affiliation in Kentucky at Central State Hospital, an 1800 bed psychiatric hospital housing over 1400 patients (census already dropping as better meds were being introduced to allow the dumping of patients onto the streets), there was a building deemed not worthy to enter for our psychiatric nursing education.
That building was the Organic Brain Syndrome Building.
Our leaders explained that these mostly old  patients were not psych patients, but were housed there because nobody knew what else to do with them.  Not to worry.  We would not have anything to do with them, as their brains were basically gone.
Except for learning (poorly) what Organic Brain Syndrome means, I never gave them or their building another thought.

Fast forward to a dark cold autumn night.  Flashlights in our dormitory, loud banging on our door, yelling adults screaming, "Get up!  Get up!  We need your help!  You are ALL needed quickly at the Organic Brain Building!!!  Get dressed!  Now!!  Hurry!"
Glancing at our clocks we saw it was after 1am.
Hurrying outside without proper grooming, still half asleep, we felt the spitting snow.  We raced over the hillside to the building we were unfamiliar with and found we were assigned the duty of evacuating a building full of "brainless" people, most of whom could walk.

Fire drill?
We would never find out.

To say we didn't know what we were doing would be an understatement.

That night remains at top of the list for primal fear I have known.

The stairs were extremely wide, allowing at least four humans to walk abreast, but somebody at the  floor above the stairs I was assigned was shoving five patients onto the stairs at a time and since the humans themselves coming down the stairs did not know directions, there were major jams as some went left, some went right, some went forward and some went backward.
Periodically there was a young student nurse with a flashlight (and lack of education OR direction) to "guide" the herd down the stairs and out the doors.

My fear came when I was pinned against a stair wall by a moving pressing wall of old humanity whose eyes were blank, whose language was gone, whose response was never appropriate...beings who towered over me because I was a small young woman.  I was being suffocated and squashed.
I has helpless against the tide of flesh.

The arrival of firetrucks with strong firemen saved me.  Help at the bottom of the particular stair I was on came as two or more firemen roughly pulled at humans to unjam the herd.
It was not easy for them but stair by stair they untangled the mess, literally shoving beings down and away, away from me.

I was of no further use that night.
Talk about needing psychiatric help!!
I drifted outside, still shaking from my ordeal.

The multitude of beings  were all now sitting or lying on the snowy ground in their white thin nightclothes, oblivious to the continued lightly falling snow. Mercifully there was no wind, and thin white hair  on many remained tossled from bed without "grooming" by wind.

I walked around the yards, the gently rolling knolls (this was hillbilly Kentucky, not flatlander Kansas).
I didn't know what to do for the ghostly beings.
I wasn't even aware of being cold myself or having no coat.
One of the other student nurses came up to me and said, "I guess we can go now.  They said we can go now."
We never even knew who "they" were.
We students walked back across the hill to the dorm.
We were silent and exhausted, overwhelmed by the scenes of the last outpost of life.

Skirting that cliff of the last outpost of life, I forgot my fear of dying as I became, for the first time in my young life, afraid of living.

Next day we tried to get some information and all we were ever told was, "Heads are going to roll."

If I thought the last outpost of life was frightening, I can tell you that in no way did it prepare me for the far-off land of Welcome to Earth.    The Short of it.

We had to tour the West Virginia State Training School for the Retarded at St. Mary's.  Back then, the word retarded was not derogatory.  Retarded meant "developmentally delayed".  It would be at least another decade before laws began to be enacted on behalf of these individuals to ensure their human rights.

But back then, even I, with my bleeding heart compassion, was clueless that developmentally delayed individuals could be mainstreamed into public schools,
educating those around them,
and breaking the spell of isolation.

The training school at St. Mary's was a world of isolation.

The tour would take hours.

Of course from the outside it looked warm and inviting.  The grounds were green, shade trees were abundant and the front building had many windows.  A truly  inviting place.
And on that first floor we entered a school....desks, teachers, students.  So many Down Syndrome students all of whom seemed happy.  The vibes were good.
People with Down Syndrome usually exude love and acceptance and inclusion of others.  We felt that welcome in that wonderful classroom and I, for one, thought This isn't so bad!  I could teach school here.  We all relaxed.

And the tour continued.

We descended into the  bowels of St. Mary's.
As we progressed through doors, and halls, and rooms the good vibes disappeared and in the dim light we witnessed suffering.

The upstairs school was forgotten as we surveyed scenes we did not know existed.

Diminished light.
Fewer care givers.  In fact I saw exactly none.
Maimed people without names.
Grosteque humans.
Groping humans who did not reach out to touch us, but reached out for ....what?  A stable world?  A chair?  God?......or reaching out because that is what we humans do.
That is a vivid visual memory I have of that day.  A shadowy arm reaching out for nothing.
Image result for images of a shadowy arm

Incomprehensible noises.

But there were beds....and linens.....and some sad semblance of the world  we  live in.

And the tour continued.

Our guide stopped us before we entered the crib ward to explain we must not freak, since all these people are being cared for by loving care-givers, and  we should focus, not on the person we are looking at, but at the medical condition that caused this.

Look and Learn.

We were told that these people are not babies, but some are old indeed.
We entered the crib room and there is where I began to lose it.
This crib ward was huge with many cribs.  At least it had windows!  It was light, airy and clean.
The forty or so cribs were filled with babies....shriveled up babies,  babies with heads so large it took two adult people to even turn them in the crib....one with a head elongated beyond belief, stretching a little face to its limit and then leaving the face behind to look like a trapped monkey....babies who did not move or blink, their blue eyes staring.......a baby with staring blue eyes with long long eyelashes on a baby face framed with long wavy black hair.....seizing babies...
I don't care how old they were, these were all babies and I have a special relationship with babies.  I think babies are the closest avenue to Heaven ....except for the Holy Spirit and face it, you need to be sort of good, or at least repentent to commune with the Holy Spirit....but babies are the innocents and are all so connected to Heaven and they are at our mercies.
I began to cry for the babies.
I was not alone in my tears.  We students were freaking.

There were no baby sounds in the large arena.  It was a silent arena.

Two loving care-givers for about 40 babies.  Not a ratio for interaction.

And the tour continued.

Now we had landed.
The first outpost for some of humanity.  The Shortest Short of it.

Look and Learn.

This was the crucible.  This was the land of no escape.
This was a land of cement, rails, gutters to receive the human waste flushed from an arena where clothes were not worn.
This was the place where to Look was to Learn nothing, but to be assaulted with questions that screamed for answers that did not exist.
"What are these?!  Are they human?"
Certainly there was nothing animalistic about them.  Animals make sense.
Nothing in this arena made sense.
Where is God?
Do these living things have souls?

One of them was in constant motion, rubbing the skin off the body as cement and body  met again and again. This living entity appeared to be round, as rolling forward without well formed legs was how locomotion occurred.   Actually many were in motion, but I focused on the one  and although it was a horror to watch, I could see there was freedom.  Caged, yes, but a cage so big as to be obscure.  Like the dome above our heads that "keeps us in"  but does not feel restrictive because it is life-sustaining and huge.


Products of horrifically flawed human conception who made the leap to land-life from the watery womb and survived.

Sunshine was coming through some small high windows on the east side of the cement arena, and the smell of vanilla cake baking wafted through the air.

The lone RN on duty was like an angel.  Dressed in white, with a tiny little cap atop her hair, she was not much older than we......but she was someone more evolved than we.  She loved her job.
"No, it isn't hard," she said.  "They deserve to be loved and I am able to do that.  That is about all we can do for them, and I do think that makes a difference."

She carried a tube of antibiotic ointment to put on their abrasions.

She was baking them a vanilla cake. Yes, they do eat.

If you suffered your way through this post, thanks.

Grateful I am, that at a young age, I was privileged to see, and survive seeing, the full spectrum of living humanity, from the Long of it to the Short of it.    

I am made different by those things I  witnessed.


Unanswered questions galore, but on tour I did learn two, only two, things:

1.  Help others.  Not because of who they are, but because of who we are.
We are helpers not destroyers.

2.  Love makes a difference.