Posts Tagged ‘Johns Hopkins Hospital’

Good Nurses

November 10, 2010

NOTE TO READERS: We’re off on a Secret Mission tomorrow, so there may not be a post on Thursday. You’ll hear all about it later, though!

I was looking through my 1967 Johns Hopkins records and especially looking over the nurse reports. The nurse reports make up over half of my total file – neat sheets with handwritten measurements gathered at certain times. This was long before electronic records and most monitoring equipment. Nursing was really a hands on profession, not that it isn’t now. I’ve been cared for by some awesome people over the years, and a lot of them are nurses. You see and interact with the nurse a lot more than you do with the doctor, so when you are assigned a really good nurse it is a Great Thing and a Big Deal.

A big part of the job is observation and reporting, and in the ’60’s you were doing this constantly. There weren’t many automatic alarms that would go off when something was wrong; it was the nurse’s job to almost see problems coming. You were looking, observing, and making notes on every patient, so a good nurse had her head on a swivel. The nurses reports in my file I’ve nicknamed my “pee and poop sheets” because that was a major part of what was recorded: My temperature, amount taken in (input), amount expelled (output), and what I was doing at the time. Remember I was five months old; at any time of day I might be “playing”, “sleeping”, or more than likely, “crying”. Hey, I was a baby, and you people had just cut my chest open and tinkered around in there. You’d cry, too!

The order of the day was “Observe the patient.” You can almost hear the nursing department answer OK… what are we looking for? Trouble is, Cardiac Surgery was only about 25 years old then – they knew they had to prevent Pneumonia but after that, no one was really sure what to expect. So the Surgical Department just told them to observe the patient closely.

I had a fever on my 3rd day post-op. Hopkins called in a doctor who specialized in combating fever. “We see this a lot,” he told my parents. “Many patients spike a fever on the third day after their surgery, we don’t know why. If this is a 3 day fever, it will last about 24 hours and then it will disappear. We don’t know why that happens, either.” And he was correct – it was a 3 day fever, and it was gone 24 hours later. But he also told the nurses to keep a close eye on me, just in case it wasn’t a 3 day fever.

How do I know? The nurses report for that 24 hour period is crammed with notes. The best I can figure, they were checking on me every fifteen minutes for almost 30 hours.

Good nurses are lifesavers – literally!

 

 

 

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The women who saved us: Abbott and Taussig

July 5, 2010

“Tonight I’ve seen someone with no legs stay standing, Dad, and someone with no voice keep shouting.”C.J. Cregg, The West Wing

From the late 1800’s until the 1950’s, the field of Pediatric Cardiology was dominated by women. In fact, women were working in Pediatric Cardiology before anyone had ever named the specialty. Because Pediatric Cardiology wasn’t really a medical specialty – it was where kids (and medical careers) went to die. And no one who had any sense wanted anything to do with it.

This was the state of medicine when Canadian Maude Abbott became a doctor in 1894. The number of female doctors at the time – in both Canada and America – could be counted on one hand. The male dominated medical profession viewed a female doctor as little more than a well-educated nurse. Even female patients were leery of a woman doctor.

Born in 1869, Abbott had decided on a medical career and graduated from Bishop’s College medical school in 1894. Abbott had gotten her undergraduate degree from McGill College and had applied to their medical school, only to find that they didn’t want her. McGill was one of the many medical schools that did not admit women.

Unable to find a job that suited her, Doctor Abbott toured Europe. She returned to Canada in 1987, opening a practice in Montreal. Before long, a fellow doctor (and her less than successful practice) had convinced her to take a research job at Royal Victoria Hospital. While at Royal Victoria, Abbott became interested in hearts and did ground breaking research on heart murmurs. The paper was good enough to be accepted by the Montreal Medical Society for presentation to the Society at their annual meeting. But Abbott would not be able to present it; the Society did not allow female membership.

If the work were to be presented, a male member of the Society would have to do it. Reluctantly, Abbott turned over her work and the paper was presented. But when the paper appeared in the Medical Society journal, it was assumed by readers that the gentleman was the author. Time passed and people forgot; it wasn’t until the early 1970’s that the M. E. Abbott, MD listed on the title sheet was recognized as the actual writer.

By late 1898 Maude Abbott was back at McGill. Stung by the fact that they had turned away someone who would eventually be recognized by the Montreal Medical Society (even if she was just a girl) McGill wanted her… but they didn’t have any job to give her. Finally they appointed Dr. Abbott as Assistant Curator of the Medical Museum with a promise to promote her when the Curator retired.

A 19th century medical museum was not what you might expect. Its primary job was to help doctors learn, and the museum was full of preserved body parts. Even with preservation, the “exhibits” would wear out and new items were constantly being sought out. A good museum also had any number of unusual or diseased specimens – things doctors might not see very often. These were very much desired as medical training of the day was more hands on, and a good museum would have plenty of normal and unusual items to study.

McGill was not a good medical museum. Things were misplaced, mislabeled, or had disappeared. There wasn’t even a catalogue and no one seemed to know where anything was. Even worse, the employees had no medical training; you could refer to something by its scientific name and no one knew what you were talking about. Obviously the first job would be the hardest – catalog and organize everything, give it some sense of order.

Abbott’s boss looked at the calender – three weeks to his retirement. No way did he want to get involved in a major project this close to leaving. But if you want to, go right ahead. So Maude got busy.

And that is when she found it.  A preserved heart in a glass jar. But was this thing really a heart – there were what looked like two Atriums, but only one Ventricle. A deeper study revealed a second Ventricle, one so small that it was barely noticable. Two of the valves drained into the larger Ventricle, and she couldn’t tell what fed the other Ventricle. The label on the container read Ulcerative Endocarditis, but that had to be the cause of death. Endocarditis could not do this to a heart.

As expected, no one knew anything about the heart. Abbott knew someone who might; Dr. William Osler was a McGill graduate and an old friend. Osler was living in the United States and building Johns Hopkins into the institution that it would become. Abbott wrote Dr. Osler, describing the heart and asking if he knew anything about it.

Osler did know – he gave details that Abbott hadn’t noticed and he called it the “Holmes Heart” – so called because it had been donated to the medical museum by Andrew Holmes, that Medical School Director in 1822. The heart was so grossly deformed that an article about it appeared in the Edinburgh Medical Journal. (Experts surmise that the Holmes Heart very well may have been a Cor Triloculare Biatriatum heart, a very rare defect indeed.)

Curious still, Abbott searched for the issue of the Edinburgh Medical Journal that contained the research paper about the heart. She was shocked to discover that the heart was removed from a 22-year-old man during his autopsy. This heart had worked for twenty-two years? HOW? With that thought in her head, Doctor Maude Abbott decided to try to find out exactly how a defective heart worked… and perhaps one day, fix them.

And in that moment Congenital Cardiology was born.

Fast forward in time…

The situation was almost the same for Dr. Helen Taussig. By 1930, there were still very few female doctors, and opinion of them had not improved. Taussig was about to get a job at Johns Hopkins Hospital because she had gone to medical school there – it would be a bit difficult for the Hopkins Administration to award Taussig an MD and then claim that she wasn’t good enough to do the job. Helen wasn’t doing anything to discourage that thinking, because she had a little known secret: Helen Taussig, MD was losing her hearing.

Hopkins put her in charge of the Cardiac Care Unit of the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children, the dreaded Pediatric Cardiology department. In the 1930’s children with heart problems fell into two categories. One group had hearts weakened by Rheumatic Fever; these children would often recover but be left weakened by the disease’s attack on the heart valves; and children with Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs). CHDs were incurable with very few treatment options. If you were lucky a heart defect let you live until you were a teenager, but it always won in the end. 100% fatality rate – with luck, you could slow it down, but that was it.

Taussig was a natural-born researcher and could see only one way to try to figure out how heart defects worked. Nearly every day she sat down with grieving parents and asked a terrible question: May I conduct an autopsy on your child? She wouldn’t leave the job to others, Taussig would do the autopsy herself, and often she would remove and preserve the heart. In a few years her office was an unofficial medical museum, made up almost exclusively of hearts. Word started getting around about what she was doing and other doctors started complaining. Taussig’s boss and former mentor in medical school, Dr. Edwards Park, had to tell her to try to be a little more discrete several times. Taussig could make a bad situation worse by wanting to slice up a child, and by now her hearing loss was obvious. But the Cardiac Clinic was also producing some results, and most of the new ideas came from Taussig. Heart Defects (“Congenital Malformations”, as Taussig always called them) still won all the battles, but they were helping the kids live longer and better. If your child has a heart problem, doctors around the country were telling parents, get them to Hopkins.

Taussig had overcome her hearing problem with a special stethoscope that worked with a hearing aid (it was huge, the amplifier case is visible IN THIS PHOTO. Look for the black box balanced on the edge of the wheelchair) and by teaching herself to feel a heartbeat with her fingertips (CLICK HERE for a close up photo of her fingertip technique). But despite all this, there was nothing she could do. Children were living a little longer, and that was it.

Taussig observed what she called the “Fallot Squat,” when children with Tetralogy of Fallot (ToF) would squat deeply, folding their knee joints as much as possible. After thinking about this activity Taussig was able to determine that the children with low blood oxygen were actually suffocating, despite breathing deeply. Further investigation and reasoning gave her an idea: Heart surgery had never been tried before, but what if the blood vessels near the heart were moved around? Rearrange them to deliver more blood to the lungs and oxygenate it better. Would that work? Taussig thought that it would – but she wasn’t a surgeon, and couldn’t convince any of the Hopkins surgeons to try it.

A new Chief of Surgery arrived in late 1942, a man named Blalock from Vanderbilt University. It wasn’t love at first sight; in fact, the two disliked each other. The new doctor… well, he was a typical surgeon, thought the entire world revolved around him. His way or the highway. She wouldn’t admit to it, but Taussig could be stubborn herself. You didn’t mess with her patients, even a little bit. Add to that the fact that her deafness robbed her of a lot of opportunities for human interaction, and Helen Taussig was a loner. Her clinic, her patients, her research, her world. And very few people were admitted to that world.

It finally came to a head in the Hopkins Cafeteria. Legend has it that Taussig barged into a conversation between Blalock and Parks and took over. Working fast because she knew she’d have only one chance, Taussig convinced Blalock that she knew what she was talking about: an operation to direct more blood to the lungs of kids with defective hearts might work.

An additional year of research was frustrating, but necessary. Blalock and his research assistant, Vivien Thomas, had considered a similar idea while at Vanderbilt but had never progressed to human testing. Meanwhile, Helen was still doing autopsies. She didn’t like it, but moving too fast could ruin the entire project.

On November 29, 1944 they still weren’t ready but they tried anyway. Eileen Saxon was near death and could not wait much longer. Entering through an incision in her side, Blalock clamped the Subclavian Artery, cut it, and sewed it into the Pulmonary Artery. When the clamps were removed the surgical team watched in amazement as her blue lips slowly turned pink.

Even though all three of them have passed, Taussig, Blalock, and Thomas live on. The Blalock-Taussig shunt is still used today, and the entire field of Congenital Cardiac Surgery exists because of  them. “These children are my crossword puzzles,” Helen Taussig once said. “And one day I shall solve them.”

Room 706

May 5, 2010

The first Congenital Heart Surgery occurred on November 29, 1944 in Room 706 of the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children, the facility for children at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Located in the East Wing of the 4th floor, most of Hopkins’ early heart operations took place there. While there had been heart surgeries before this (Dr. Robert Gross had been repairing PDAs since 1938) this with the first surgical procedure specifically designed to relieve the effects of a Congenital Heart Defect. The operation was later named the Blalock-Taussig Shunt and is still in use today.

Here is a photo of Room 706 taken February 3, 1945 during the second Blalock-Taussig Shunt. (You can click on this photo and enlarge it) Blalock and his team are hard at work and most of the people who participated in that first operation are in this photograph. Ever wonder who they are, and what happened to them?

The first patient, Eileen Saxon, survived but again became Cyanotic a few months later. A second operation – once again the Blalock-Taussig Shunt, but on the opposite side of the body this time – was performed but Eileen died just a few days before her third birthday. In fact, fourteen of the first seventy patients to undergo the Blalock-Taussig Shunt died as the operating team learned the proper techniques needed for Cardiac Surgery.

Alfred Blalock (Surgeon, leaning over patient): Already head of the Hopkins Surgical Department and a Professor of Surgery, Blalock held those positions until he retired in 1964. He died a few months later.

Vivien Thomas (behind Blalock, face partially obscured by operating room spotlight): Thomas continued in his job as Surgical laboratory Assistant to Dr. Blalock and was later named Director of Surgical Research Laboratories. In 1976 he received an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins. Thomas retired in 1979 and died in 1985.

Olive Berger (Nurse Anesthetist, standing at head of table): Miss Berger is in this photograph but did not participate in the November 29 operation.                Anesthesiologist Merel Harmel been on duty that day, and either Harmel or Berger usually worked with Blalock. Miss Berger died in 1981 and her notebooks, currently in the Hopkins Archives, are considered important historical records of the first heart operations.

Denton Cooley (Across Operating Room table from Blalock): Just an intern at the time, Cooley would go on to form the Texas Heart Institute in 1962 and is considered one of the best heart surgeons in the world.

William Longmire (to Blalock’s left): After medical school, Longmire had left the residency program to run his father’s medical practice until the older Longmire recovered. Returning to Hopkins, he was granted a temporary residency and assisted during the first Blalock-Taussig shunt. Feeling he had earned his way back into a regular surgical residency program but having almost nowhere to put him, Dr. Blalock made him the Chief of Plastic Surgery.  Longmire left Hopkins in 1948 to become Chairman of Surgery at UCLA. He continued as Chairman of Surgery until 1976 and passed away in 2003.

Helen Taussig (Not identifiable but most likely in room): Already head of the Cardiac Division of the Harriet Lane Home, the operation would also bring her to prominence. Her 1947 book Congenital Malformations of the Heart (along with a second volume dealing with specific Heart Defects) were the first modern textbooks outlining the diagnosis and treatment of Congenital Heart Defects. Considered the mother of Pediatric Cardiology, Taussig would retire in 1963 but never ceased researching. In addition to her work with young Cardiac Kids, she was instrumental in preventing the use of Thalidomide in pregnant women in the United States. Taussig died in an automobile collision in 1986. The two women at the foot of the table are not Taussig; neither is the woman standing to Denton Cooley’s right. Taussig wore glasses, none of these three women wear them.

Room 706 itself: The Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children closed in 1972 as the pediatric hospital moved into a more modern building. The old building was torn down in 1974.

Para Fuera: Dr. Richard J. Bing

April 4, 2010

Our post last Friday was about Dr. Richard J. Bing, who worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital during the 1940’s and was a colleague of Dr. Alfred Blalock and Dr. Helen Taussig. What follows is a short video about Dr. Bing, filmed on his 100th birthday.

The film centers more on the classical music that Dr. Bing has written and barely mentions his Cardiology accomplishments, but it still is a wonderful tribute to him.

Bing

April 2, 2010

He was born in Germany and composed many works of classical music. He graduated from medical school twice. He worked with Charles Lindburgh. And he started a Cardiac Catheterization program at the hospital where heart surgery was born. Not only did Dr. Richard Bing see history being made, he helped make it.

Hired in 1942 as an instructor in the Johns Hopkins University Department of Medicine, Bing traveled from New York to his new job in Baltimore. Crossing the Chesapeake Bay on a ferry, Bing noted no less than six people with Cyanosis. Their destination, he surmised, was probably the hospital. It was two years before Blalock and Taussig would attempt the first Congenital Heart Surgery, but Johns Hopkins already had a reputation. If your child has a bad heart, it was said, get them to Hopkins.

There wasn’t much at all that could be done, but Dr. Helen Taussig knew almost everything there was to know about the human heart. Taussig was a huge believer in research, and would spend hours examining defective hearts. Despite her best efforts – she often asked the parents of her deceased patients for permission to dissect the heart, and spent hours studying them in her lab – there was very little progress being made. Even after the first heart operation, very little was known. There was ONE operation, and it was designed to help relive only ONE defect. Everyone else was still out in the cold.

By 1945  Dr. Alfred Blalock asked Bing to set up a Cardiac Catheterization unit at the hospital. Dr. Helen Taussig, who had already been eyeing him suspiciously, hit the roof. Dr. Bing explained their constant disagreements:

She was very jealous and guarded her territory; she considered the sick children as her own, having no family herself. She was also deaf, which increased her suspicion of the world beyond.

(That link contains not only a good description of Taussig-Bing Anomaly, but an in-depth look at Johns Hopkins Hospital during the Blalock-Bing-Taussig years. I highly recommend reading it!)

Dr. Bing eventually left Johns Hopkins, continuing to do major research in the Cath Lab. While at Wayne State University he did some of the early work involving PET scans, using computers belonging to Ford Motor Company to run the scanner.

Dr. Bing retired and now lives comfortably in California, and last year celebrated his 100th birthday!

The Road to Baltimore

February 17, 2010

“You got how much snow?” I asked.

“About four inches,” my father said. My flight had left South Carolina about 9:00 AM Friday morning; and the snow had begun to fall about 4:00 PM. I called home Saturday morning like I usually do, and my father had told me about the unusual snowfall.

In just a few hours I was scheduled to speak to the members of the Broken Hearts of the Big Bend, and I planned to speak about my first heart operation. And now my dad is telling me about snow on the ground back home.

Deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra might say. I was getting ready to talk about how my parents drove from South Carolina to Baltimore, fought through the worst snowstorm in recent memory (Baltimore’s 24 hour snowfall total that night has been topped twice since then) to get me to Johns Hopkins Hospital for my first heart surgery. And my father is talking about snow on the ground. If there was ever a sign that I needed to say what I had planned, this was it.

My dad is a retired textile chemist who has worked in cotton mills and fabric manufacturers all his life. He occasionally calls himself a linthead, an old term left over from the days when cotton mills peppered the South Carolina landscape. My mom also worked in textiles, usually on the retail end.  But on one night in early 1967 these two Southerners went above and beyond the call and in the process became Heart Parents.

I won’t tell the story again; I posted the text of my presentation and also a video of my speech earlier. My audience was made up of Heart Parents, most of them young, just like my dad and mom were. They have the advantage of having the internet, overwhelming amounts of information, support groups, and instant communication. My parents were on their own and knew no one else who had ever been through anything like this.

You need a special kind of strength to dig your heels in and fight against Heart Defects. Two lintheads from the cotton mills found theirs on the road to Baltimore… and that same strength is in you.

Delay

January 12, 2010

The plan to get McKenzie to Johns Hopkins has hit a major roadblock. McKenzie can’t get a medical release to fly to Hopkins.

No problem, you’re thinking. Throw the surgeon on an airplane and fly him to McKenzie. If you can’t bring Mohammed to the mountain, as the old saying goes, bring the mountain to Mohammed.

It doesn’t work like that – apparently there is medical equipment available at Hopkins that is not available at McKenzie’s location. And while it could be done, most surgeons would not want to go into a major operation without their operating room staff. A good surgical unit is a team, and the best teams practice together, they work together, and they come to the point where everyone can almost read each other’s minds.  So it seems that McKenzie is back to square one.

CAN YOU HELP?

January 8, 2010

“All this has happened before, and it will happen again.”

This is almost like watching a movie and suddenly realizing it is about you. In February of 1967 my parents drove me from South Carolina to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland for life saving heart surgery. I was 5 months old at the time.

I quit watching the football game tonight and came down to my room. As usual, the first thing I did was check my e-mail.

My daughter has neonatal Marfan Syndrome which is extremely rare, and McKenzie is the rarest of the rare. If she does not have surgery to repair her heart, we will lose her. Currently we are needing to have her evaluated by the doctors at Johns Hopkins in Maryland.

Oh, shit.

And then I remembered something. I did a quick Google search to confirm my memory: One of the Marfan’s Syndrome experts at Johns Hopkins is Dr Vincent Gott… the man who operated on me back in ’67. I don’t know if he is still working or has retired, but that’s too much of a coincidence.

This is too spooky.

I am contacting numerous people to see if anyone has any connections to private air planes that would be able to accommodate our flight. Without the surgery, my baby will not be here…. surgery itself is risky.

So we would need to fly from Tallahassee to Baltimore, Maryland (Johns Hopkins Hospital). We would need a plane to fit 5-6 people and have access to use a AC adapter or Car Adapter to plug in her equipment. Ideally I would like to have a non stop flight and not have to switch planes..

I joke about having a private jet named Heart Force One but we all know that is not true. The plane is a gimmick – hopefully it makes you smile, and if you ever do see a red jet, you’ll think of the Funky Heart and how more and more people are living with a Heart Defect. If I had an airplane, it would already be heading to Florida to grab McKenzie and fly her to Hopkins.

So I am asking you – Do you have access to an aircraft and are you willing to transport a sick child? If the resource is available to you, do not contact me. Go directly to McKenzie’s Facebook page and offer your help there.

UPDATE January 9, 2010 11:30 PM Eastern:

Things are happening, and it looks like the flight may actually be coming together. A local CHD leader posted on McKenzie’s Facebook page that a plane and pilot are available and details are being worked out!

The Letter

October 27, 2009

As you may know, my grandmother passed away in early September. The shock has worn off and now we are knee deep in the difficult task of cleaning out her home.

Grandma kept everything. We really need to hire a Forensic Document team, because our most difficult task has been sorting through all of her Medicare/Medicaid paperwork, old claim forms and payment notices and trying to figure out what is important and what is not. We’re finding those government “THIS IS NOT A BILL” notices from the 1980’s – like I said, she kept everything.

Hiding in a drawer we found a yellowed envelope with my father’s handwriting. The return address was… Baltimore?

February 25, 1967

We have just returned from the hospital. We talked with one of our doctors and he seemed pleased with Steven’s progress…I am beginning to feel a little better about him now.

Written eight days after my first surgery, I’m not sure I can describe the wave of emotions I felt reading this letter. A Heart Dad for five months, my father had already done what was needed: driven me from South Carolina to Johns Hopkins, the best hospital in world, in the middle of a terrible snowstorm. Driving half way and stopping for the night, my parents got about an hour’s rest before momma woke up, looked out the window and saw that it was snowing. She woke daddy up and we were in the car in fifteen minutes. Cars were stuck in the snow all the way to Baltimore; and what could a lifelong Southerner know about driving in the snow? But they made it – three families were expected by the Cardiac Clinic that day, and we were the only ones who arrived.

The top doctor is Dr. Richard Rowe. He is a very small man about 50 years old, and Dr. Smith (my Pediatrician back in SC) says he is the best in the world. It is not hard to tell that he knows what he is talking about when he speaks… He sits down and talks with us in terms I can understand.

The Hopkins team examined me shortly after we arrived (at 10:30 PM on a Friday night; good hospitals have staff available around the clock) and Dr. Rowe came out to talk to my parents. “He is down to hours, we need to go to surgery right now.” What a decision to have to make after such a trip.

My parents spent the night in the hospital; later, a local boarding house was recommended to them. That house no longer exists. Hopkins has grown, the location of the house is now part of the Kennedy Krieger Institute. (look directly South of the Institute to see the world famous Hopkins Dome)

He will have to be operated on again… but it should be several years. That operation should cure him completely.

Rowe actually said that if there were problems, they would probably occur between my 10th and 12th year. He got it right; in February 1977 – ten years later – I started coughing up blood. That led to my second heart operation in March of 1977.

But he also got it wrong – the second operation did not cure me completely. In 1967, that was the thinking: if a child with a heart defect could make it through a corrective surgery they should do OK. Congenital Heart Surgery was only twenty years old and the oldest survivors were in their teens. No one as yet realized that a heart defect is a lifelong condition. Though I am doing great, I am not “cured.”

The letter is now in a keepsake box, along with my Rolling Stones ticket stubs, my grandfather’s 50 year employee ring, a drink coaster from London, and photographs of my nieces on the day they were born.

The Pepsi in the window

August 24, 2009

As I have related before, my parents rushed me to Johns Hopkins Hospital in the middle of a snowstorm. Finding a place to stay wasn’t a priority at first – they got me to the hospital very late, and the doctors examined me at 10:30 PM. Shortly after that Dr. Richard Rowe told them that I had hours to live and that surgery needed to be done as soon as possible. I was whisked off to surgery, and the folks weren’t leaving; our car remained parked in a parking lot where the Wilmer Eye Institute is today.

I came through the surgery, and the folks were able to find a boarding house nearby. An older man and his wife owned the place; perhaps at one time they had had a large family but the children had grown up and moved out. No matter how it happened, they were now two people living by themselves in a fairly large house close to the hospital. The place was recommended by the Hopkins staff.

Younger readers may not be familiar with the concept of a boarding house. This was 1967, after all. Probably the best description of a Boarding House is of a fairly large single owner home where the owner rents out the extra rooms. Rent could be paid by the day, week, or month. Meal policy was up to the owner; food may be included in the rental price and would be served at the usual meal times with something kept warm for those who came in later. Or a meal could cost an additional fee, with no menu choice: you ate whatever the owner was cooking that day.  Since this Boarding House was located close to the hospital, the owners were used to hosting long term residents who probably had a loved one in the hospital.

There was one phone, located on a table in the hall. Usually the wife of the homeowner answered the phone. There would be a long pause as she took the information from the caller.

“Funky Heart family! Telephone call from…,” She would shout. You did not want to receive a call from the hospital, especially at a strange hour. That was usually a sign of trouble. “… South Carolina!” Everyone would breathe a sigh of relief and one of my parents would bound down the steps to grab the phone. When your name was called you moved, because the clock was running. Three minutes from the time the telephone was answered, the operator would interrupt and ask if you wished to speak for another three minutes. She would remind you that if you said yes, an additional $1.35 would be charged to your home phone. If the phone rang and no name was shouted out, the phone call was intended for the owners.

The individual rooms did not have refrigerators, but there was a useful alternate: like most older homes, the windowsills were a little bit larger than usual. In the fall and winter you could leave perishable items on the windowsill to keep them cool. Daddy bought several glass bottles of Pepsi (the only way to get liquid products in those days) and left them on the windowsill. There was still an unopened bottle on the windowsill the day they packed up and brought me home. Not wanting to leave anything, he opened the window, grabbed it, and took it with him.

We still have that unopened bottle…. 42 years later.