Tuesday, March 9, 2004

My Mother, the Doctor

“Shirley and Jane are very puny.” My parents often heard this remark when we arrived in America. I was too young to remember the scrutiny given to us by our hundreds of relatives. By this time, Shirley’s head was covered with soft blonde hair, after being shaved by my mother. During the time we were traveling, if any comment were made about her hair, she would respond with a beautific smile.

We did enjoy fresh milk, but viewed ice cream with suspicion. Grandma Hanson was constantly presenting us with wonderful sugar cookies. She loved us, even if we were puny.

One day she called Mother to come and see what Shirley was eating. There sat Shirley, surrounded by the large flock of chickens. She was shoveling handfuls of chicken feed into her mouth.

My Mother attended to our medical needs with bravery, prayer, and the meager health knowledge provided by the large home nursing volume that came with us from America, in which the following procedures were written up and illustrated.

It was not my parent’s fault if we did not look round and rosy. They had provided the best possible care. After I was born, there was a smallpox epidemic in Addis Alem. My father obtained vaccine and vacinnated mother and me. I am reminded of this whenever I look at the left side of my left leg, right below the knee. My vaccination left a scar the size of a silver dollar.

Then there was the time when Shirley received an injection of blood directly from my father. In those days no one knew about typing or cross matching blood.

Sore throats were treated with vigor. I can still remember the pantry in our Addis Abeba home, which seemed the most appropriate place for the throat swabbing. A large gob of cotton was twirled on the end of a stick, dipped generously in iodine, and placed deep into our protesting throats. After the throat swabbing came the throat compress. This consisted of a wet cloth wrapped around the throat covered by a piece of wool and oilcloth fastened with a safety pin. Mother was also adept at the mustard plasters applied to coughing chests.

Whenever we sprained our ankles, out came the square ten-gallon cans, formerly containing gasoline. We would be instructed to place our sprained ankles, first into the hot water, then into the cold. Frequent replenishing of boiling water into the hot can kept the Doctor Mom busy. She should win a prize for her practice of hydrotherapy.

My Mother was a marvel, not only as a seamstress, but also at knitting. She protected our legs with long wool stockings and did not hear our protests that they itched.

When I was three, my mother saw me through the whooping cough. Clyde Bergman, at age five, had given me the cough. We both survived.

When we lived in Kabana, Shirley came down with scarlet fever. I was escorted out of the house to spend time with Verena. Mother nursed Shirley with much love and cooling compresses. When I was allowed back into the bedroom, Shirley was as red as a beet, not from scarlet fever, but from the hot Lysol bath Mother had given her. For some reason, all the walls had been covered with sheets. I know now that Mother would have been a whiz in a CD unit.

Looking back, I have to admire the young father and mother who would take children to a place in the world so medically remote. In those days, there were not much better medical practices anywhere.

When our family went on furlough in 1930, it was my Father’s desire to study medicine. He knew the need for Doctors in Ethiopia. He had been forced to take care of many dental extractions, needle and thread stitching for injuries, and liberal applications of iodine to whatever was in question. At least he never put iodine in anyone’s eye, as did our teacher, Mae Matthews, when treating a schoolboy. He recovered from it, but it might have been due to all the prayers.

Castor oil must be universal. We had our share. I can still taste the horrible oily substance, followed by orange juice. Of course, we were standing in the pantry, our “torture room”. Since we always had agreed to our treatment and knew that there would be a special story afterward, we didn’t protest?

We both had our tonsils taken out by Dr. Bergman at the Filwoha Hospital. We were told that the deep breathing of ether would make us think we could see monkeys running in a circle.

There were the two small graves left in Africa, the tiny twins of Hedvig and Carl Jensen. Carl Jensen and my Father were trekking, and my Mother, at Hedvig’s side, watched the ravages of Typhus on the tiny bodies. Together they wept as the twins were buried, first one, then the second tiny body.

Aunt Esther Bergman died many years later. She was working as a nurse in the Filwoha Hospital and died of the improper administration of anesthesia.

During the war of 1935, a stray bullet killed Dr. Stadine’s wife as she lay sleeping.

Uncle Herbert Hanson is buried near Akai School.

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