Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Return to Kenya

When Val and I had come back from Africa the first time, in 2006, she knew she wanted to return some day. She left a part of her heart with the orphans from Brydges Orphanage in Nairobi and with the beautiful Maasai and with all the children at Pastor Joseph’s farm. She left part of herself behind on the Masai Mara with the cheetahs and the hippos and the thousands of homely wildebeest, relentlessly cantering across the wide plain. Ok, who am I kidding? I left part of myself behind too.

Last fall seemed so long ago, that day when I was sitting in this exact spot in the living room, when she made her announcement that she was going back to Kenya. She had found an organization on line where she could work with an orphanage for six months. I didn’t think that the day would actually arrive when she would get on that plane and fly into the adventure of a lifetime.

And now she is gone. The time will go quickly, I know that. She will come home changed, aged, like fine wine perhaps. She’ll come home with wonderful ideas for her future life. Maybe even a game plan for her future. Or if she just comes home with lots of pictures, a tan and good health; that would be fine with me too.

In the meantime, all we can do is pray for her, keep her in our thoughts and wait, somewhat impatiently, to hear some of her stories. And since I have been there already myself, I can go back to Africa in my mind, hear the Maasai singing their songs through the night to keep us safe from lions, smell the distinctly sour odors of poverty in Mathari Slums, feel the rough warm fingers of school children who have never touched a Muzungu (white person) before.

Sigh. I need to go back there again, don’t I?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I promise that tomorrow I will get back on track and start story-telling. For tonight, though, I am just still praying Val lands safely in Nairobi. I am sure she will, then her real adventure can begin, hopefully after she gets caught up on sleep. So, in the meantime, just more pictures.

Monday, March 29, 2010

De Plane

I first posted this six years today, when my daughter Val left for Kenya to volunteer for six months. She left that time out of our small local airport where only a few planes take off each day. My husband and I were able to watch her plane until it disappeared in the sky.

Today I dropped both Val and her brother Nick off at O'Hare. A much different experience. A bit more chaotic and I never got to see their plane. I was already nearly two hours closer to home before they took off. I will miss them while they are gone.
Val's plane comes in
Val's plane boarding
Val's plane leaving the gate
Val's plane waiting to take off
And there she goes

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Val bought a black hooded sweatshirt four or five years ago. It had a large patch stitched to the front of it, which after a few months she decided she didn’t like, so she took it off. Then she decided she didn’t like taking it on and off over her head, so she cut up the middle of the front of it. She promptly decided that she wanted a zipper put in it. I bought a zipper, but still managed to blow her off, eventually stitching up the ragged seams, but telling her that she wouldn’t zip it anyway, so why should I put one in.

It’s been hanging in her closet for quite some time. She found it tonight in her packing frenzy, trying to make sure that she has everything she might need for a six month stay in Kenya.

“This is the sweatshirt I want to wear on the plane,” she announced. Then handed it to me, “You need to put in the zipper.”

I hesitated. I’ve been sewing for years, nothing ever too fancy, but I think I do ok. But in all those years, I think I maybe sewed in one zipper, and it wasn’t pretty.

Here is Val, my almost 20-year old princess, flying off to volunteer for six months in Africa. Maybe she is a little bit afraid, but shouldn’t she be? Isn’t that normal?

So what is wrong with me that I am afraid to put in a zipper?

I sewed it, and it looks ok, and Val hasn’t taken the sweatshirt off yet since I gave it to her to try on a couple hours ago.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Yea, my last blog telling you how I got to where I am. I have just one last thought about where I am working right now. And it is going to take us way back in time. To spring of 1979.

I was a junior in high school, helping to decorate the gym for prom. I had told Ms. Herbison, the guidance counselor, that I wanted an after-school job. She called me into the office and told me that Mr. Dreger at Tomahawk Drug Store, downtown, was looking for a reliable high schooler to work weekends and a few evenings a week. I went down to the drug store that day, after working in the gym for a couple hours, with paint on my jeans and wearing my t-shirt of the ELO album cover of the wicked witch’s hands getting zapped by Dorothy’s ruby slippers. I kid you not, I remember that so clearly. (Look it up on line, the album was called Eldorado.) Mostly I remember thinking, this is not what you are supposed to wear to a job interview.

Mr. Dreger hired me on the spot. I worked there a year and a half until going off to college. This is significant, not only because it was my first job, but because of the circle of life.

All the things that happen in our life circle back to where they are supposed to be. Sometimes they circle back to the beginning and sometimes they don’t. But the circle keeps going. Mr. Dreger, who I call Bill now because he’s really not that much older than I am anymore, is still a pharmacist in Tomahawk, and he fills the prescriptions I call in. He’s at a different drug store now, but it is all still the same. 31 years ago who would have thought that I would still be working with him.

The circle of life.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Is it possible that I am finally to my present position? In May of 2000, a job opened up in Tomahawk to work with one of the family practice physicians. Dr. Sudbury had seen my kids a couple of times, and he seemed to be pretty reasonable, personable. When I interviewed with him, the only thing he asked me was if I could give injections. (For those of you who know him, is that a surprise?)

Wow, and then I completely draw a blank. Over a ten-year period of time you would think the stories would just be so backed up in me that I would want them to pour out. Maybe it’s just because I am still there or because I’m not, not emotionally anyway like I used to be.

Thinking about all the other jobs I’ve had, all the people I have worked with, things I’ve seen – it all just made me melancholy. And I don’t feel that way thinking about my current job. Why do you think that is?

There certainly have been changes over the years. We moved from our cramped, outdated building into a modern facility combining clinic and hospital. Providers joined the practice, providers left the practice. We went through what seems like a bunch of managers. We lost co-workers. We lost Kris Gass – but I promise I will not tell anymore sad stories.

The biggest change, I guess, is that since November, I no longer work with Dr. Sudbury. All the patient care staff works with all the providers now; they call it a pod. I am sure it was the brainstorm of some suit who has never worked in a medical clinic. On top of that, we have gone to the electronic medical record.

Maybe I am just too old for so much change. Or maybe it is just time to move on.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

In the fall of 1997, about the time I got re-married to a wonderful guy who goes by Himey, another opening came along at the clinic. There was a new nurse practitioner starting in women’s health. I don’t remember all the details, but I ended up working with the new provider as well as another nurse practitioner who had been there a while.

Barb and Sue were great to work with, and I thrived on the constant chaos of having two providers to answer to. On a regular basis they would travel to the satellite clinics in Crandon, Eagle River and Tomahawk to see patients. I can’t say that I enjoyed Crandon or Eagle River a whole lot, but the monthly stay in Tomahawk was always welcomed. It meant a short day and a short drive time. Overall, though, the long hours were not a lot of fun, so it did work out well for me when another assistant in the department became available to work with Barb.

Since leaving my first MA job in Colorado and moving to Wisconsin, it was the first time I worked one on one with a single provider. It was my daily personal challenge to always stay one step ahead of Sue, to anticipate her every request, to know her patients as well as she did. It was also the first time in many years that I got a regularly scheduled afternoon off.

I went through a lot in those two and a half years that I worked in women’s health. The best thing had to be marrying Himey. He’s a man, so of course, he is far from perfect, but if there is such a thing as a soul mate, he would be mine. On the downside, my sister Pat began to lose her valiant six year long battle with cancer. (I am soo sorry, Jenny, to have two sad ones in a row!) On June 18, 1999, she slipped off to be with Dad, to a place where there is no Alzheimer’s and no cancer, only endless days of sunshine and puppies and ice cream.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

But before I can move on, I need to tell you what was going on in my personal life between 1990 and 1997. It was pretty full, specifically 1993.

Sometime in February, Dan finally said he wanted a divorce. Our marriage had been – well – pretty much a joke for years, just two people living together. He contributed his paycheck, but not much else. He moved out sometime in March.

My dad had started showing signs of Alzheimer’s years before and by 1993 he was getting to be quite a handful for my mom. Finally the end of April she put him in the nursing home. It happened to be the same weekend that the state medical assistant’s convention was being held in Rhinelander and I was in charge of it. As usual, no stress in my life.

I went home from the convention Sunday afternoon, turned off the phone, and crawled in bed. I don’t remember where the kids were. Just as I had attained REM sleep, my sister Pat was suddenly at my bedside. “Get up. Dad’s not doing well and Mom’s freaking out.”

So, she and I took off for the nursing home, where Dad had choked on some food while eating the day before and had come down with aspiration pneumonia. The doctor was insisting that Mom consent to put in a feeding tube, stating that that was the only thing anyone could do for him. We all agreed with her that Dad would not like that and we just wanted to do what would keep him comfortable.

Thursday evening, shortly after I had gotten to the hospital after work, Dad gave in, with Mom and me at his side. When you get to the point where you aren’t able to live your life on this earth, when you don’t know who you are or who your family is or even how to swallow, it is time to go onto your next life.

But that wasn’t all for 1993. The end of August Pat went into the ER with bad abdominal pain. An ultrasound showed a large fibroid in her uterus and the doctors had to perform an emergency hysterectomy. A week later the pathology report came back showing that it was a cancer, leiomyosarcoma to be exact. Look that up on line – you won’t find much good news.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

After I had been working at the lab at the clinic in Tomahawk for less than a year, not one, but two of the local physicians turned in their resignation. It didn’t take long for it to become obvious that the lab certainly didn’t need two staff. The clinic in Rhinelander had a posting for a new position in the outpatient surgery department, and the lab manager there asked me if I might be interested in it.

Initially, the job was part-time for someone to monitor patients coming out of sedation following their procedures. It didn’t take me long to again wheedle myself into the position that I wanted, which was fulltime.

Oh, my goodness, the minor surgery that we performed. When I started there, we mostly did tubal ligations, D & C’s, vasectomies, and lots of cutting out of cysts and moles and toenails. Over time, though, we did a few hernia repairs, temporal artery biopsies, breast biopsies, deep, nasty laceration repairs. We even took out a few foreign bodies, such as a tooth that was embedded in a man’s hand when he hit the other guy.

We started out in a small, green-tiled room that was reminiscent of something from Marcus Welby. Eventually, though, as the clinic went from Rhinelander Medical Center to Rhinelander Regional Medical Group, a large addition was put on. Our little tiled room went to two surgical rooms, a four-bed recovery room, dirty utility room, clean utility room, office and locker room. One of the goals of the whole new suite was to bring in general anesthesia for the tubal ligations, which I sure saw as unnecessary as I had my tubal ligation in the old room in 1991 with a little IV sedation that knocked me completely out.

I worked in outpatient surgery for seven years, the longest time I had spent in any single job up to that point. I got along well with the nurses in charge, first Jeannette and then Marsha. I earned the respect of the surgeons and gynecologists who brought their patients to us. I laughed with some patients, particularly the men who talked way too much when they were sedated for their vasectomies. I cried with women who were getting D & C’s following a miscarriage. But as happens, things changed and it became time to move on.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

April 13, 1990, was not only Friday the 13th; it was Good Friday as well. Dan, Nick and I colored Easter eggs. The next morning, we had planned on going to Wausau for some reason, and I was at the kitchen table, talking to my mom on the phone, telling her we were getting ready to leave. I stood up to hang up the phone when my water broke all over the kitchen floor.

When we got to the hospital in Rhinelander, the doctor said I was only dilated to three centimeters and if I hadn’t had the baby by the following morning, she would start me on pitocin. I thought to myself, “I am not going to still be in this room by tomorrow morning.” Valerie was born four hours later.

Like her brother before her, she was born perfect, an angel. The day she arrived was a beautiful warm spring day; when we took her home Monday, there was three inches of snow on the ground. Typical Wisconsin weather.

I went back to work at the lab in Tomahawk six weeks later. Somewhere along the line, Dan had gotten a job as a meat cutter at Nelson’s Supermarket and we were feeling pretty confident in our finances. The mobile home was getting a little cramped. The dryer was in Val’s bedroom, and I used it as her changing table. We started looking for a house to buy.

I don’t remember how many places we looked at, but out for a ride one afternoon, we spied a “for sale” sign and turned up the long driveway. I instantly fell in love with the house I saw, but we also quickly turned around not thinking for a minute that we could afford it.

Well, we moved into that very house that September, and I have been here ever since.

Friday, March 19, 2010

As usually happens, once you have initials after your name you are no longer a peon and someone thinks you should be someone.

Shortly after passing my CMA certification exam, the lab manager felt I was wasting my time just drawing blood all day. She transferred me to the main lab, in the basement, where I occasionally drew blood, but mostly was the slave child to the lab techs. It wouldn’t have been too bad, but I missed my patients. If there was a single reason why I was drawn to the medical field it was to work with the public. I also was really not keen on working in the basement. Oh my gosh, with all the remodeling and the new building of clinics around here, you can not believe how old and rundown the lab was back then. The worst part was probably that the ceilings were so low, and for short little me to say that, they had to be low.

Dan and I finally had come to an agreement that it was time to have another baby. Nick was three years old, and I desperately did not want him to be any only child. I had insurance and was accruing sick time.

I lose track of time, but I know I was at least a few months pregnant when I managed to wheedle my way into the lab at the clinic in Tomahawk. The lab manager knew I was unhappy in my current position, so she asked, “What would make you happy?”

I answered pointblank, “Working in Tomahawk.” She said she would see what she could do. A few weeks later, I was working in the lab at the clinic in Tomahawk.

That was pretty sweet. Our little lab was right next to the x-ray department, and the other CMA I worked with, Sue, and I got along great with the x-ray techs. Being so close to home was an added perk. It wasn’t perfect (have I yet to find the perfect job?), but I was satisfied with where I was at.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In June of 1989, at the urging of several co-workers, I took the certification exam to become a certified medical assistant. At the time, you had to have either graduated from an accredited medical assistant program or have worked as a medical assistant for a year. It was at that time that I found out that the Colorado College of Medical and Dental Careers had led me astray, as they were not an accredited school. I was a little bit wild, but in the long run I guess it didn’t matter, because I had been working in the field long enough to still take the exam. Now, though, they have changed that policy, and you have to be a graduate of an accredited school to take the test. Again, this is a much longer story than that and it would require the insertion of my opinion on bureaucracy. And, well, as you should have already guessed, we aren’t going to go there.

The closest place they offered the exam was in Marshfield, but as luck would have it, I had a friend living there at the time. I drove down the night before and spent the night with her and her sister. So, of course, we had a little bit of wine and I stayed up too late, with my study guides unopened in my lap.

When I walked into the room at the technical school where they offered the test, it didn’t take long to realize that everyone else taking the exam had just graduated from the program at that school. And their instructor was the preceptor for the test.

“Oh, crap,” I thought. Then, when I was half-way done taking the test, the lights went out. I’m not kidding you. Of course, it didn’t bother too many of the others taking the test, because they were already done with it.

I still passed with flying colors. At the time, I was pretty pleased with myself. Now, however, I don’t know. I don’t know if “CMA” are the only initials I want after my name for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In May of 1988, Rhinelander Medical Center called me. They had an opening in the second floor mini-lab for a phlebotomist. I started there part-time for the first two weeks, still working nights at Wausau Hospital. The lease on our small house in Merrill was up the end of June. I drove the hour from Merrill to Rhinelander and back every day for a month. I think we left Nick at my parents’ during the week, as it was just too many hours in the day.

The end of June we bought a mobile home in a trailer court in Tomahawk. It was nice to have our own place, small and dumpy as it was, and the best part was we were right across the road from my aunt.

At work, I drew blood on patients all day. Besides taking blood from surgery, internal medicine and occasion pediatric patients, I saw a lot of the oncology patients. I got to know quite a few of them, and sadly, I watched a lot of them deteriorate until their cancer won out.

There were two retired firemen, both life-long smokers. They had worked together in the fire department for years and within months of each other, they were diagnosed with lung cancer. They both fought hard and long. And then, within weeks of each other, they were gone.

The saddest story, though, was the teenage girl with a rare form of leukemia. She attended prom with a completely bald head, with a satin ribbon wrapped round it. The last time I saw her, she was telling me about the Fourth of July parade a few days before and how it had been rather chilly and so many moms had their babies out without having their heads covered. She almost started to tell me how she would dress her own baby, but she stopped herself, knowing she would never have any babies.

She was put in the hospital a few days later, but then sent home to die peacefully and surrounded by family.

It’s amazing the advancements in cancer treatment since then. But so many lives continue to be affected by it. It is still probably the most dreaded diagnosis a person can hear.

Ten years ago, I got involved with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life (how I got there in my life is another whole story). Go to: to learn about the event in your area this year.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Even though it was really not what I went to school for, I liked working as an OB tech at the hospital in Wausau. I liked working only part-time and believe it or not, I really liked working the graveyard shift.

When I got the job, Dan was still working in Merrill, so we found a house to rent there, making it a short commute for me to buzz to Wausau. Nick turned two that January. He was at such a fun age – no terrible twos for him.

Either Dan or I would take him to the sitter’s first thing in the morning. I would sleep until noon or so while Dan was at work. Then I would pick up Nick and spend a couple hours alone with him each afternoon. When spring arrived, I would push him in his stroller all over town. We would spend so much time just hanging around outside, going to the grocery store or the park.

Of all the times I have spent with my kids, I remember those days with Nick as some of the best. Maybe it was because I didn’t have any friends and nothing else to do. Or maybe, for the first time, I just plain enjoyed being a mother. Maybe it was seeing all those babies coming into the world at work that made me appreciate Nick even more.

Maybe it was just that peaceful time before my life got all hectic again.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

While working at the nursing home, I continued looking for other employment. Finally the end of December 1987, Wausau Hospital called. They had an opening for an OB tech in their maternity department; would I be interested? Well, for starters I had no idea what an OB tech was, but I was certainly willing to give it a try.

Working mostly in labor and delivery, my duties were to assist the physicians and the RNs with women while they had their babies. I would set up the delivery room, making sure all necessary instruments and equipment were in place, and be there at the doctor’s side while he delivered the baby, handing him whatever he needed. After the delivery, I would clean up the room and instruments.

When there were no women in labor I would help out in the nursery, weighing, bathing, feeding babies or wheeling them to their mothers and back. When there were few babies in the nursery and nothing else going on, I would get sent to other departments to work as an aid.

It was usually fun, interesting and not a stressful amount of work. I was hired to work the night shift, 11 to 7, and only on part-time status. My biggest fear was that we delivered an unhealthy, or even still-born, baby. The most notable time that happened, luckily, I was off. A Hmong woman had arrived in early labor while I was still at work. Her blood pressure was extremely high (a condition known as pre-eclampsia and is potentially life threatening), so measures were taken to lower her blood pressure and deliver the baby as quickly as possible.

About that time, thank God, my morning replacement arrived and I got to leave. When I returned to work that night, though, I got the rest of the story. The woman’s blood pressure continued very high and the unborn baby’s heart rate started to decrease. The pitocin she was given to induce labor was not working as quickly as necessary. The obstetrician called for an emergency c-section. However, by this time, the entire male assembly of the woman’s Hmong clan had arrived. They refused to give consent; women in their family delivered babies without surgical intervention.

To shorten the long tragic story, the baby died before it could be delivered vaginally. It was a beautiful, perfect baby boy. All the leader of the tribe had to say was, “I made a mistake.”

And I have nothing more to say on that; you can form your own opinion on that whole incident.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Well, hopefully this isn't going to throw anybody off, but I'm not telling my usual story tonight. I actually am doing something this weekend; yes occasionally I have a life.
Val and I drove down to Platteville this morning to see Nick and his girlfriend and go to Galena and shop. We ran out of time again and the stores started closing before we got to all of them. Just like when we were down here a month ago. That was the whole reason why we came down here; ok, well, to see Nick and Megan too. There are just too many cool shops in Galena to hit them all in a couple hours.
In case any of you have never been to Galena, Illinois, or even heard of it, it is an awesome little tourist town. At one time, like in the mid-1800's it was bigger than Chicago. It was the place to be west of the east coast. All of the old buildings are still there and filled with artsy craftsy or antiguey or cool clothing things. We spent way too much time in the bead store!
Anyway, and now it is time to make something with my new beads, so will make it short tonight and get back to the story tomorrow.

Friday, March 12, 2010

There should be a list of jobs that every person needs to do for at least a couple of months before they settle into their life. One of those jobs would be working as an aid at a nursing home.

It is back-braking, thankless, smelly work. You are on your feet for your entire shift, cleaning up every body fluid imaginable. The only time you sit down is to shovel non-descript slop into the toothless mouths of wrinkled ladies staring off into space or into the tobacco-stained mouths of ornery old men.

We had been living back in Tomahawk for a couple weeks and none of the local clinics or hospitals had any openings for me. I knew that one of nursing homes would hire me, but did I want that? I finally decided that I didn’t have a choice. We were living with my parents and if we ever planned to get a place of our own, I had to supplement Dan’s income.

I worked mostly second shift at Riverview Nursing Home which sits along the Wisconsin River in Tomahawk. Shortly after arriving at work each afternoon, us aids would usher or wheel most of the residents to the dining room. Some had to be fed in their rooms, which wasn’t as bad as one would think because it was quiet and gave me time to spend one on one with the bedridden. I’d look into their faces, smoothing back what white hair they had left, wondering what was behind those rummy eyes, what stories they had to tell, if only their physical condition or their dementia wasn’t keeping them silent.

After dinner, someone always needed a shower and it wasn’t long before they all had to be gotten ready for bed. The last duty before leaving for the night was to do bed checks, making sure every one was where they should be and that no one had soiled themselves already.

I’d drive straight home after work and fall into bed. One night, I woke up at two am to find myself standing at Dan’s side of the bed, the covers thrown back. In my sleep, I was checking to see if he had wet the bed. He didn’t see the humor in that. Giggling, I shrugged, occupational hazard.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

As much as I enjoyed working at Parker Medical Clinic, I was starting to not like living in Castle Rock so much. By the summer of 1987, I had been in Colorado almost three years. Maybe I was just getting homesick and wanted to be by my mommy to help raise Nicholas. But more likely, I was becoming disillusioned about my marriage. I had lived in Colorado, Dan’s home state, for three years and told him that it was his turn to live in my state for three years. I don’t know how I thought that would help our relationship, but I needed to move back to Wisconsin.

As luck would have it, my roommate from college was getting married in Wisconsin that July. I hadn’t been that close to her, but it gave me an excuse to go back to Tomahawk on vacation.

We sent Nick home with my parents in June when they came to visit and that sealed the deal that we had to head north that summer to get him. When we were home, Dan put his application for a meat cutter in at the local grocery stores and meat markets. I applied at the clinics and hospitals.

We had just gotten back to Colorado when a meat market in Merrill called Dan up. “How soon can you start?” was about the only thing the owner asked him.

The next month was a whirlwind. We put the house up for sale. Dan quit his job in Denver, packed up his car and drove to Tomahawk. Two weeks later, his parents and I packed up the rest of our house, rented a U-haul trailer, and headed home.

The fall before we had gotten a small black kitten from a cat rescue place in a seedy neighborhood in Denver. Keshia, in a cat carrier on the front seat of my Chevrolet Citation, cried the entire 1200 miles. Nick mostly rode with grandma and grandpa in the truck.

When I pulled into my parent’s driveway, I wanted to fall on the ground and kiss the gravel. 23 years later, I wonder what was wrong with me. Why did I ever want to come back to Tomahawk?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Well, what can I say about working at Parker Medical Clinic? It was rarely dull.

I was about as fresh out of school as a person could be. I’ve always been told that I am pretty sharp and I guess I pick things up quickly – or at least I did when I was younger. I was kind of thrown into things at PMC, but it all worked out.

The doctor who owned the clinic also had a clinic in one of the ski resort towns, so he spent most of his time in the mountains. The physician’s assistant, Randy, saw all of the patients and Joan was the receptionist. I pretty much did everything else.

There was another clinic in the tiny little town of Parker, but ours was the only one on the main drag. Which meant we had people walking in the door with all sorts of emergencies.

One guy had dropped an engine or something on his foot. He didn’t know how bad it was until I took his boot off and his entire big toe peeled back, being held onto his foot only by the skin on the bottom. There was a young guy who had been spray –painting in a home under construction. He stepped outside to light up a cigarette, instead, with the paint fumes still clinging to him, he went up in flames.

The most blood I have ever seen in my life was from a teen-age girl who had had her tonsils out the day before. She started hemorrhaging from the incision site. By the time her mother got her to our clinic, the jacket she had cradled in her lap was full of blood. She came in carrying it and it was at least an ice cream bucket full of clotting bright red blood.

Luckily Randy thrived on these kinds of incidences. Joan just made sure she always had the number for the helicopter close at hand. We managed to have a lot of fun though, too.

There was this group of four or five school teachers who would come in after work once a month for a weigh-in. I would weigh them and Randy would spend 5 or 10 minutes talking about diet or exercise. If they lost weight or stayed the same, there was no charge. If any of them gained weight, they owed us $5. Instead of putting the money into the clinic funds, we put it in the donut fund. On slow days, when we had some extra money in the fund, I would run down to the grocery store and pick up a dozen assorted donuts. Kind of seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it?

Monday, March 8, 2010

In August of 1986, I started taking night classes to become a medical assistant. I was working full-time as a housekeeper at the Marriott Hotel with a six-month old at home. My in-laws would be making half of our house payment just until February, so the pressure was on for me to graduate and get a decent job right out of school.

I was up for it.

Taking classes at night meant there was an eclectic group of students in our program. We had a mother and daughter pair, a girl who had started out in nursing but I think it was too hard for her, a girl who had had half her arm eaten up by a machine in shop class in high school, a pregnant diabetic and Barry, who actually worked with me in housekeeping at the Marriott. I think we started out with close to 40 people in our class, but quite a few dropped out by the half-way point.

I got good grades, but Kristi, a blond bombshell, graduated top in our class. I wonder sometimes what happened to everyone.

The last month of the program we did our externship at an area clinic. Luckily they tried to match us up with facilities close to where we lived, so I was placed at the Parker Medical Clinic. Parker was a little town, even smaller than Castle Rock, and just up the road about 16 miles.

I can’t remember how long I had been there, a couple days or maybe a week, when Dr. Stevens told me that they had an opening, the medical assistant (I forget her name) who I had been working under was quitting and I could have her job. Wow, that was way easier than I had anticipated. The other gal quit, I worked her job for free til I finished my externship, and then – wow, I was getting a paycheck.

The hard part, believe it or not, was leaving behind the Marriott and their great benefits. It would be a long time before I accrued vacation time on any job and I still have never had insurance like theirs. Also, for many, many years I enjoyed working with the public, but sometimes when I come home from work these days, I think how sweet it would be to just be cleaning rooms and not have to deal with people.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sometime, in the summer of 1986, after Dan’s friend Allen and his wife Debbie had moved out of our house , Debbie called me up and asked if I would run up to Denver with her. She had found out about a school that offered a course in medical assisting; she had always wanted to be a medical assistant and was interested in checking it out.

At the time, I didn’t even know what a medical assistant was. Debbie explained to me that it was the person who worked in the doctor’s office, taking patient’s vital signs and medical history, assisting the doctor with procedures, giving shots, drawing blood and generally doing anything else that needed to be done in the doctor’s office.

“Oh, “ I said, “well, that is what my mom does.” But we never gave her a title; we just said she worked for Dr. Henderson.

I rode along with Debbie and took a tour of the Colorado College of Medical and Dental Assisting Careers. It was in an old run-down building in a questionable part of town. A railroad track ran next to the back of the structure. The woman we talked to, though, was cheery and bright and informative. It didn’t take much to convince me that I could do this.

On the way home, Debbie decided that it wasn’t really for her after all. To which I replied, “I think it’s for me, though.”

By August I started night classes there. The program was four hours a day, Monday through Friday, for six months. My classes ran from 6:00 to 10:00, but on Fridays we got out early. At the Marriott Hotel, we were expected to work every other weekend. I asked to work every weekend so that I could get two days off during the week. Not only did this keep me from losing my mind during the week, it also helped with babysitting.

I was way younger then than I am now. I can’t imagine putting in those kinds of hours now, and I don’t have any little kids at home.

So, that’s how I entered the medical field. But it’s not even close to the end of the story of how I got where I am in my life.

Friday, March 5, 2010

In February of 1986, I had a still fairly new husband, a new baby, and a new house. But, I didn’t even have a job. And Dan was only working as a meat cutter at a gourmet meat shop in Denver, for heaven’s sake. There was nothing wrong with his job, but it sure wasn’t going to make the over $700 a month house payment.

I hit the streets when Nick was six weeks old, applying for every job I thought I could muster working at. Within the first week of my search, the Marriott Hotel, on Hampton Avenue in Denver, hired me as a housekeeper. I could hardly turn it down. Actually the pay was reasonable and the benefits were excellent.

It wasn’t bad work and being fairly physical, it helped me lose the weight I gained while pregnant. After a few months I was able to breeze through my 18 rooms a day and have time to hide out and relax before punching out at the end of the day. I still didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with my life, but this would get me through for a little while.

Dan’s brilliant, and temporary, solution was to take in boarders. His friend Allen had been in Oregon since our wedding and was moving back to Colorado with his new pregnant wife and her three-year-old son. They had no place to live, so Dan offered them our spare room for a couple hundred dollars a month.

They weren’t bad people, but did I need that kind of stress at that time in my life? There are lists of stressors in our life, things you have gone through in the past 12 months and the more you have had happen to you, the greater your chances of having a heart attack or a nervous breakdown. Even good things can cause stress. Hmm? Well, in that year, at age 24, I could have had a heart attack and a nervous breakdown.

Things would get better. Allen and his wife Debbie and her son Corey would move out, and we would even manage to stay on friendly terms. But there is always a new stress to replace the old.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

January 20, 1986, I had lasagna for supper. How do I remember that? Because since then, I have heard an old wives’ tale that says spicy food can induce labor. So, when my contractions started a few hours after dinner, I made a note of it.

Nicholas came into this world, pink and perfect, about four o’clock the next morning. There is so much I could say about him, but that will wait until the day I write his life story. Sorry, Nick, but right now, this is about me.

I had held several jobs since I had quit both the donut shop and the 7-Eleven in the spring of 1985. The worst had to be working for the F.O.E., which is the Fraternal Order of the Eagles. Their membership headquarters was in Denver and somehow I got a job helping to keep track of their members nationwide. Wow, just try to imagine how exciting that would be. Again, remember this was before computers were widely used. And, well, it would probably have been sacrilegious for the Fraternal Order of the Eagles to use them anyway.

After that I worked at an ice cream parlor that a friend of mine, Nancy, opened in downtown Castle Rock. Never a good idea for a pregnant woman to work with that much ice cream. Unfortunately, they were only open a couple months when Nancy decided it just would never be lucrative.

The next place I worked for just a couple weeks was through a temp service making up files for some big corporation. It was pretty mundane work, but I had a good time. I worked with a motley crew of people – a retired woman, some big goofy kid just out of high school, I can’t remember who else anymore.

Basically, though, when Nick was born, I was unemployed. I also was very ready to move out of Dan’s parent’s house.

They came up with this wonderful idea. They would co-sign a loan for us to buy a house and pay half of the mortgage for the first year. Supposedly, the housing market around Castle Rock was so booming that we couldn’t lose. That would give me a year to get a real job. No pressure there.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I had been working at Daylight Donuts for five months, when Dan finally asked me out, the first part of February. The end of April he asked me to marry him. At the time, it didn’t feel like a whirl-wind romance, but it sure looks that way in print.

Brenda, having not found in Colorado what she was looking for, moved back home the end of May. That left me with the option of either staying in my apartment or moving in with Dan’s parents. Not a difficult decision to make. Dan, of course, took it upon himself to move in with me, which should have been a sign right off the bat because I resented losing my independence that suddenly.

We set the wedding date for July 27. As a kid, when I bothered to dream about my wedding, I always pictured it being at my childhood church with a reception at Beilke’s supper club (which is now the Big Moose Inn and at that time the only place other than Pine Tree which had a dance hall).

The church was plain, small, and kind of quaint, set where it was right at the base of the castle rock of Castle Rock. The reception, however, was nothing like we have in Wisconsin. Instead of renting an overpriced hall, we settled on Dan’s parent’s house, and my mother, my aunt and my new mother-in-law did the cooking. For entertainment? Well, there wasn’t any polka band; I don’t even remember if we had somebody’s stereo system set up in the yard.

It was all ok, but just nothing like the weddings I was used to in Wisconsin. The Colorado people all seemed to act like that was how they did it. Just a different culture I guess.

And not to get too far off track, but do you know what the biggest difference between Colorado and Wisconsin was? Fish Fry. No one in Colorado had ever even heard of Friday night fish fry. It blew my mind. There was no reason to ever go out to eat on a Friday night, coz they just had all the same stuff on the menu. It drove me nuts the entire three years that I lived out there!

Of course, after the wedding, the entire next six months I really did go crazy. We lived in my in-law’s basement. I don’t know what I was thinking; how I ever thought that was a good idea. They weren’t bad people and they certainly went out of their way to make me comfortable. Again, it just wasn’t what I planned on doing the first six months of my marriage.

But we had to do it to save money, because something I also never planned on was getting pregnant and since that happened the night that Dan asked me to marry him, well, that’s the start of another whole story.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In the fall of 1984 I found myself in Castle Rock, Colorado. At that time, nestled between Denver and Colorado Springs, it was a small friendly town, about the size of Tomahawk. Just like my hometown, everybody used to know everybody, but outsiders were already starting to move in. That was one of the draws for my friend Brenda and me; a growing town, close to the big city.

OK, so I just had to search for Castle Rock on the internet. In 1980, the population was 3,900 and now it is 42,000! That is crazy.

Anyway, back to my story.

I got a job at Daylight Donuts our second day there. Within a few days, we found a two bedroom apartment within walking distant. I worked Monday through Friday, from six am to around noon, at the counter of the donut shop. Within a month or so, I got a second job working two evenings a night at the 7-Eleven directly across the street from the apartment we rented.

Brenda and I settled in, bought a few dishes (I still have one of the yellow mixing bowls), and started exploring, tentatively finding our way to the closest mall in Denver, adventuring into the Rockies.

We were just two chicks from the sticks, having never been anywhere by ourselves. We drove all over the place in Brenda’s old blue Chevy Nova. We discovered lots of places to shop in both Denver and Colorado Springs. We also discovered some positively scary gravel roads going up and down the sides of the mountains.

And when we weren’t driving around, we were walking around Castle Rock. The city gets its name from a huge rock formation sitting on top of a hill next to town. The rock was shaped, I thought, more like a ship, but someone way back when must have thought it looked like a castle. There was a trail to the top from which there was a magnificent view of the Rockies.

Speaking of castles, there is an actual castle just down the road from where we lived. It was part of Cherokee Ranch and at the time I lived in Colorado, it was owned by Tweet Kimball. I could tell you all about it, but there are several articles on it on the internet. Our goal was always to visit the castle, but at that time, being privately owned, well, you had to have a lot of money to get invited to one of Tweet’s elaborate parties.

At some point in time that fall, though, this young man came into the donut shop, walking straight into the kitchen, like he owned the place. I thought, “who does he think he is, but who cares, coz he’s kind of cute”. I found out he had worked there before and had dated the owner. I do not want to even go there, but he would be the man I married the first time around.

Let me skip all that though and just share the happy memories. Ok, not all memories can be happy, but let’s only share the ones which further my story.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Let me start by telling you how I ended up where I am in my life.

I have wanted to write ever since I could write, starting about the time I was in third grade. I took an entire notebook and wrote a title on every page, things such as “My favorite animal” or “What would I do with a million dollars”. I intended to go back and write a story to go with every title, until my mom found out. She went wild and made me erase everything. “What were you thinking, wasting an entire notebook like that!”

Maybe that’s where this fear of broadcasting my writing came from. In any event, when I graduated from high school, I dutifully went off to college. I officially declared my major as undecided for the first two years, and then boldly announced I would major in mass communications. My dream was still to write, but mass communications made it sound like I planned on getting a day job to support myself. As it turned out, I dropped out after three and a half years, when I ran out of money and didn’t feel secure enough to take out a student loan.

I moved home, got a job at the deli at Nelson’s grocery store and eventually rented a mobile home with my friend Brenda. She was working the late shift at Hardees, when she came home at one am one morning and woke me up.

“We have got to get out of Tomahawk. Let’s just up and move somewhere.”

So I dragged myself out of bed and pulled out the atlas. We made a list of places we thought would be cool to live in and mailed letters to their chambers of commerce asking for information. This was 1984, way before the internet was in everybody’s home.

The place that came out the winner was Castle Rock, Colorado.

We packed up Brenda’s car the end of August and drove 1200 miles to a place we had never been before. We arrived around one o’clock on a Friday afternoon, checked into a hotel, and by noon the next day, we each had a job. Brenda at the McDonald’s, me at Daylight Donuts.

That night we went to Pizza Hut to celebrate. Being ever the klutz, I dropped a piece of pizza in my lap. We started to giggle, but right then the waiter came over and asked how we liked our pizza. We controlled our laughter and managed to tell him that it was fine. He promptly came back with, “Does that include the pizza in your lap?”

Oh, my goodness the things we remember from so long ago.