THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 4
The siege of being hospitalized and on the critical list for three and a half months was over. Had it not been for the advice of Bobby Riggins when I was fifteen years old, well... I am sure that I would never have had the strength to walk out on the kindly Dr. Aaron-Smith and his white coat, to defy his orders and to fly on my own. Had I waited until Four o'clock in the afternoon as Dr. Aaron-Smith requested, the chances are that our little one would no longer be with us.
So here we are... home once again. Gitty had beaten the odds... She was alive. We were ever so grateful to all of the Doctors and staff at Children's Hospital. What an incredible team? There is no way to thank someone enough in such circumstances but perhaps the recounting of the tale will help someone else someday.. Out little family was together and beginning life anew and not at all sure just what that would be. We walked on eggs, watching "Pretty-Gitty" like a hawk. Checking and rechecking for any returning symptoms of her illness. Great care was give to keeping and extremely clean house and always wondering if I had been the cause of her illness.
What next? Now begins: "The Great Year of The Scrub." Everything needed to be washed, bleach-washed and scrubbed before entering Gitty's room and clothing was removed before leaving her room. This forced regimen of bleaching and scrubbing became a way of life for the next seven months. There was no choice here. The work had to be done without let up. Every minute of every day was scheduled....seven days a week. I stayed awake as long as possible to make sure that there would be no mistakes in Gitty's care. No chances could be taken.
Both children thrived in the Maryland sunshine but we were afraid to let our guard down. As the months slipped by, little by little the fear of another attack subsided and life did in fact return to normal. During this time, I was determined to keep Gitty close to me. I spoke to her every day just as if she could hear me and see me...just like a normal child...But was she? We couldn't tell. She was so lovely to look at and almost always had a smile on her face, but her left side was still very much weakened by the disease.
We could see no improvement. Her left eye still wandered aimlessly. It was impossible to assess the damage done to her physically or mentally. No one knew how much of our child would be left when all was said and done. We were so glad to have her home again, that we didn't care, nor did we notice her disabilities or slow development progress...or perhaps when we did we just ignored it. I took her with me everywhere and talked to her constantly. She could not sit up in a chair, so I strapped her tp my back in a child's seat or harnessed her up in her high-chair so that she would not fall forward.
Gitty was a very beautiful child with a cheerful disposition. She got lots of hugs and lots of cuddling. Her brother seemed to recognize her limitations and was invariably kind and gentle with her. He loved and cared for his little sister. Perhaps because we spoke to her all the time, he did too. Mckay would draw pictures and present them to her. He would bring to her, his fuzzy animals and hold them up close so that she could feel their fur against her cheeks. Sometimes I would hear him sharing his favorite bedtime stories.
Somewhere along the way we moved away from Edmonston to a neighboring village in Brentwood, Maryland. This somewhat larger house made of red brick, had a fine patch of green for a front lawn. it was a very happy time for all of us. Bowie was making great progress with his Masters Degree and was very happy to be back in a collegiate setting. I loved being a mother and was very involved with the raising of the children and keeping house. I could not make sculpture during this period, but I could paint murals. It was easy to keep a box of non-toxic water paints available. So, I painted jungle scenes with every animal I could think of. Elephants, Zebra, Lions, Tigers and Bears wandered through a landscape of giant flowers, brilliantly colored and mixed with huge broad-leafed palms. A bright sun was shining beside an eclipsed moon. McKay would point out the animals to Gitty and try to teach her their names. It was a sight to see. In the late spring, we took our first trip to the Washington Zoo. The excitement was high when the children saw the animals on their walls at home, actually come to life!
As with the raising of all children, childhood illnesses do come along, and one fine day, along came a nasty Strep-Throat, which grabbed hold of McKay. Then.... it got Gitty. Along with the Strep-Throat, she developed a whopping case Erysipelas. (Erysipelas is a systemic allergic reaction to the toxin produced by the Streptococcus bacteria.) The result being, that the skin itself becomes infected and a raging fever ensues. Her little body just boiled over, erupting and large yellow blister five and six inches in circumference that covered her entire body.....and I do mean all of it...inside nd out! The yellow blister were interrupted with black patches of necrotic tissues. it appeared as though she had been in a fire.
Another long hard fight in the medical department was just beginning.. but this time we had our Dr. Ross to steer us through. And so he did. Our little Gitty made it through once again. At the same time, McKay was ill, with multiple colds, sore throats and ear infections. He ended up with a tonsillectomy, two adenoid operations and ear tubes were placed in both ears. Thank goodness for DR. Ross. Back on track one again, life was busy, happy and in and out of the doctor's office. By this time, we had come to know Dr. Ross's Family and we have remained friends over the years.
Gitty was now fourteen months old. One evening, at the dinner table, The children were finishing up a desert of Raspberry Jell-O. She was still strapped up in her high chair to keep her from falling forward. You must remember here, that up to this point in time, Gitty had never uttered a word. No "Mama," No "Papa."
Just bubbling, gurgling sounds could be heard. On this special night...Out of the blue, Gitty lifted up her head for the first time since her illness had begun, more than a year ago.... and then...Low and behold Gitty spoke a complete sentence! "I-wan-sum-more," These words were quickly followed by: I-wanna-git-down." It was breath taking! How could this be? Carefully I unstrapped the harness which held her in the high-chair and placed her on the floor...Next...Gitty pronounced: I-wan-sum-unnner-pants." and That was that! We had before us, a da-gone miracle! At sixteen months of age, Gitty stood up and walked. There was no crawling. All of a sudden one day, she just stood up and walked. There was no stopping her now. she wanted to get back into life in a big way and do everything her big brother could and this....she did!
The battle had been won in life's game of chance. We grabbed hold and held fast to that once chance in a hundred. Dr. Rober C.K. Riggins, Dr. Sydney Ross, Lab Technician, Al Godfrey and beautiful Nurse Florence on the third floor...The Doctors, Nurses and Staff Members at Children's Hospital, Mummy and Daddy, my dear and supportive husband, Bowie and modern medicine, all came together to save the life of this happy little spirit. Both children have grown up to be healthy, happy, productive citizens. Gitty has never once exhibited any traces of her battle against the dreaded Salmonella-D. She and her brother have remained close fiends and both, are now artists in their own rite, although they know better. i have warned them that being an artist is not on Harvard's list of preferred financial activities... Never the less...If it is what you do...It is what you do!
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 5
At sixteen months of age, with the danger of life and death threats, now a thing of the past, I found myself to be completely exhausted. At this time, I remember going to sleep... I had an awful time trying to stay awake and could only do so, just long enough to get the basics done. Every time the children napped and slept....so did I. Catching up on all those lost hours of the past year was just not possible in one or two nights. The ensuing sleep was sweet, deep, dark and dreamless. Sleep was welcome...O so very welcome! At that time I could not know what all of this very deep sleep meant, but I was about to find out.
Life in the tiny village of Brentwood was of a fairly short duration. One beautiful Sunday, we decided to take a drive out into the countryside. We started at the University of Maryland's Campus, and soon found ourselves heading northward on New Hampshire Avenue... arriving in beautiful down town "Sunshine."
In 1969, Sunshine consisted of a somewhat funky corner gas station which sold Coke-a-Cola, Hostess Cupcakes, Newspapers, gas and motor oil. Sunshine itself is in heaven.... It is to me, one of the most beautiful places on earth with softly rolling hills that slope downward into deep streamlined valleys. At the bottom of every hillside, a spring fed river or stream wanders cold and sparkling through the meadows. Honeysuckle laces the wide board fences, which border the fields. which are often inhabited by chickens, pigs, sheep cattle goats and horses. There are wild deer, pheasant, fox and all sorts of living creatures roaming about in this emerald paradise... When the Honeysuckle is in bloom. the airs are as intoxicating to humans as is catnip to cats! We loved Maryland and began to search about for a place to live in the country. Bowie would have another two or three years before finishing up his doctorate in American Studies and we were determined to do it in Sunshine.
P.S. Just to make sure that you can find Sunshine one day for yourselves, draw co-ordinates between Baltimore, Washington and Fredrick Maryland you they will intersect in Sunshine.
THE ANGEL'S STORY CONTINUES:
There are more Chapters. If you would like to have them.. Please send to me your email address and I can forward them to you as: "Word Documents" through Chapter 25
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 1
It was not what you might expect. I had attended the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island and completed four years, graduating in 1964 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Sculpture..... but even this highly prized degree does not make you a sculptor. A Fine Arts Degree is rather like finishing up the eighth grade in an elementary school, when hopefully, you have learned a bit of English grammar. You can read and write, but you are a long way from becoming a writer, let alone finding a publisher for your own works! This takes years of dedication and more education in your chosen field, good timing and good luck. It is this same process for the fine art of sculpture. First, you have to learn the rudiments of your chosen field and then along with the gifts of good timing and good luck....you must teach yourself to speak sculpture, master that language and then, hang in there and hope like anything, that you will be able to survive. Sculpture is decidedly not on Harvard's list of preferred financial activities!
In my case, before becoming a true artist, Death would have to walk beside me, hand in hand for more than a year before all of the education acquired at The Rhode Island School of Design would be free to kick in and start the process of speaking this new language. I had good timing, good luck and a good education, thanks to my beloved Grandmother, Elise Simmons Gillet Boyce, who paid the RISD tuition. In addition, I had exactly the right set parents which are of an incalculable value and in the end perhaps, the greatest gift of all.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 2
The year was 1966. We were living just outside of Springfield, in the sleepy little hamlet of Wilbraham, Massachusetts, where my husband, Bowie Duncan held his first teaching position. He taught English at the Wilbraham Academy, an excellent preparatory school for boys. On November 2,1966 James McKay Duncan II arrived on the scene: 7 lbs. 8 oz. Strong and healthy. On March 19,1968 and well into our second year on campus, our second child arrived safely at a healthy 7lbs. 2oz. Her brother McKay was delighted with the arrival of his little sister and promptly christened her "Gitty," a name with which she would be permanently tagged. Gitty's birthday was happy and thankfully uneventful. In those days, young mothers spent at least five days in the hospital after each birth, with plenty of time to recuperate and ..... plenty of time to pick up an infection from the hospital environs as well.
It was during those postpartum days in the Springfield Hospital that our tiny treasure picked up a little sniffle. That little sniffle turned out to be a very stubborn head cold which would follow her home to Wilbraham. These sniffles refused to go away and would cling to her, day after day, week after week. The severity of her cold caused the hospital's pediatrician to hold off on her early childhood vaccinations. "As soon as this cold clears up," her doctor assured us, "we will catch her up on her regimen of vaccinations." Excepting for the sniffles, Gitty seemed to be very healthy and her doctor did not think that a short delay in the administration of the vaccines would be something for us to worry about. Gitty was a happy, healthy, rosy-cheeked child and excepting for the persistent sniffle, her appetite and weight gain were good Her checkups were fine too and our little angel thrived despite the head cold which continued to linger.... I mean it just hung in there and would not let go.
After six weeks off being told that there was nothing to worry about, I switched doctors. Dr. H.H. Schumann of Springfield, Massachusetts was now on the case. He too preferred to hold off on her vaccinations until the last traces of the virus had left her body. The cold, although not an apparent problems to Gitty, in and of itself worried me.... Not because Gitty seemed to be sick, to the contrary, she was thriving. It was just the fact that it would not let go of her and because of the cold we could not administer any of her vaccinations. In May of 1968, my husband's parents, ViVi and Cameron Duncan, invited us to visit them in San Antonio Texas. The Wilbraham Academy would be closed for the summer months. I asked Dr. Schumann for his opinion and he assured us that such a trip would be fine for Gitty. He felt that the Texas sunshine would most likely kill off the virus and that we could catch her up on her vaccinations when we returned. Traveling by by car was recommended as the congestion from the head cold could conceivably case a severe and painful ear condition while in flight. And so, the trip to Texas was planned and we were off without a care in the world, touring southward, purring over the asphalt ribbons of Route #66. This was our first major outing since Gitty's birthday.
Dr. Schumann was right, and as soon as we hit the Texas sunshine, Gitty's cold vanished altogether. The weather was perfect. it was a joyous occasions with many of the Texas relatives stopping by to welcome "Pretty Gitty" into the world. All of San Antonio seemed to welcome us. It was a lovely holiday together. We spent most of our time at the Duncan's summer home in Port Aransas, close to the seaside on the Gulf of Mexico. Mckay caught his first fish with his grandfather "Big Cam," a three inch special, all caught on camera of course. We! met many family friends and neighbors at the luncheons and Bar-B-Qs. ( Bar-B-Qs are are a big part of the Texas culture! ) The swimming, fishing and walks on the beach, all made for a beautiful and very welcome vacation. ViVi and Cameron were both from old Texas families. They lived in a world of ranchers, cowboys cattle and cotton, oil and gas. The land portrayed in the movie, "Giant" with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor came to life right before my eyes. Yes, it was real. They were true Texans, in every sense of the world, because they had lived through the tough times of building and developing the ranchlands in the "early" days of Texas. Ranch properties are huge in Texas and spreading across the state. Every things in Texas is big, big and open with tremendous skies, sweeping the heavens in a glory of ever changing colors.
The days passed quickly. The holiday over, it was time to head home. After many good byes, hugs and kisses, we were off once again taking a new route home for the sake of adventure. This time we headed north, winding our way toward the Blue Ridge Mountains and toward the tiny town of Edmonston Maryland. We Would not be returning to Springfield and the happy days at the Academy. My husband would now be studying for a Masters Degree in American Studies, which he felt he would need, if he were to continue his career in education. While at the Academy for the past two years, Bowie's discovered that he loved teaching and that the young men he taught, loved him. Teaching for my husband was becoming a career choice. Career choices however, have many requirements and one of them is to keep up with the demand of the profession... in others words: more schooling! A four-year, Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College was no longer enough these days, Consequently, Bowie decided to go for a
Masters Degree and a PhD Degree in American Studies at the University of Maryland.
On the third day of our return trip, The Blue Ridge Mountains appeared in the distance. Rising upwards, all around us and longing for a poet's voice to do them justice, the landscapes were magnificent, all hand painted by Mother Nature herself. Across the horizon, broad rivers sparkled, splitting the valley's floors. This was the very same view that had given rise to the beloved folk tune "Oh Shenandoah." It was easy for us to imagine perhaps a ten-year-stop-over and never ever again moving on. The Shenandoah Valley is like to other. it looks like, smells like, and emotionally in every way, modifies the word "Home" If it were not for the fact that Bowie was beginning to work on his degrees at the University in the fall...well.... I suppose that both of us would have been quite happy to set up shop somewhere, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Gazing over the summer meadows and lush forests, we were surely close to heaven...Close enough to speak to God in person.
We stopped along the way at a charming country inn and had a fine breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and hot coffee. After breakfast we were off once again. The children settled down for a nap. Time slipped by and soon we were high up in the hills..... about a days drive from our new home in Edmonston Maryland. It was shortly after breakfast that I first noticed that our baby girl was unusually quiet. She had been sleeping deeply for some time. Rosy-cheeked and very lovely, I leaned over to kiss her on the forehead. A mother's kiss is ever so sensitive to temperature changes and the gentle kiss, told me that all was not as it should be I awakened Gitty to breast feed her and checked her temperature, and sure enough she had spiked a low-grade fever of ninety-nine degrees. A certain uneasiness began to creep over me I gave her a time-honored Saint Joseph's orange baby aspirin and although I did not know it it at the time, we were beginning a dreadful journey which would last for more than a year.
Two hours later, a fever check revealed that Gitty's fever had not responded to the baby aspirin. "Something in the way of a response should have happened by now. " I said to Bowie. "Hmmm...Why? Why is she not responding to the aspirin? Maybe I should give her another one." An uneasiness which all mothers know at some time or other when they are raising a child....began metastasizing deep within me. "Something is up. I am not sure what it is. But Something is definitely up. Let's not spend the night in the mountains. I think we should drive straight through to Maryland tonight, even if we have to drive all night. Something is just not quite right with this aspirin business... nor right at all....I can just feel it... I know it. " I gave her another bay aspirin and we drove on. Another hour passed. Still there was no response. Her temperature was holding steady at ninety-nine degrees. The up and down roads which entertained the Valley's guests and were so celebrated by them, now challenged us in a very different way. The silent unfamiliar roads were twisting and turning into the darkness of a West Virginia night. We drove on through the darkness, pulling into Edmonston, at about six o'clock in the morning and had breakfast at the local I-HOP ( International House of Pancakes ) which was within walking distance of our new home. While Bowie cared for McKay and Gitty, I cornered a waitress and asked her if she had the name of a pediatrician. I explained that we were new in town and did not yet have a family doctor to go to. "Here-ya-go-Honey" she said, as she wrote down the names of Dr. Aaron-Smith. "You're gonna-love-him. Give him a hug for me and tell him that Arabella sent you."
After digging around in my purse, I was able to reach the office of Dr. Aaron-Smith and to make an appointment for Gitty in the early afternoon. We finished breakfast at the I-HOP and headed home. The movers had already shipped our belongings to Edmonston, a low rent district close by the University of Maryland. Our pots, and pans and beds and dishes awaited our arrival. Vacation was over and now we were looking forward to settling into out new home, setting up shop and preparing for the coming Fall semester. Although the neighborhood was pretty rundown, our little three-room house had been freshly painted and was clean and tidy. Setting up the crib was the first priority and then it was off with Gitty to the Doctor's office in the near by town of Bladensburg.
Quietly and gently, Dr. Aaron-Smith, carefully examined Gitty from head to toe. "Ah, this little one is a real cutie," Dr. Aaron-Smith declared. "You can get her dressed now Mrs. Duncan, I think your daughter has a mild respiratory infection and because I have not seen your little one before and do not know her history, I am going to give her an injection of a non-allergic antibiotic called Lincomycin, and we will just have to watch her closely and see how she does. Come see me tomorrow at four in the afternoon, here in my office and we will keep a close eye on her. She will be just fine....and by the way Mrs. Duncan, welcome to out neighborhood. The people here are very friendly. I do hope you will be as happy as are my wife and family. Call me if I can be of further help to you or if you have any further concerns about your daughter. I will be here if you need me Dear, but I am sure she will be just fine. See you tomorrow." Feeling ever so much better about the diagnosis, I bundled Gitty up and trundled her off to our new home.
The day was spent unpacking moving cartons... setting up beds and finding the needed pots and pans, lamps and dishes. Mckay was diving in on out of the packing bubbles and Gitty was quiet and sleeping comfortably..... However...temperature checks, throughout the afternoon, showed me that her temperature was not responding to this new medication either. By ten o'clock in the evening, the nasty fear feeling returned. Gitty's temperature zeroed in at a steady ninety-nine degrees. Not high, but worrisome. I knew that it was not high, but I could not understand why her temperature did not respond to either the aspirin or to the Lincomycin. I check up on her throughout the night. She slept soundly. By 6 AM, when I kissed her good morning, her temperature was still holding steady. At this time, I noticed that her pupils were dilated. Gitty was very quiet and lay very, very still in her crib. Instinct told me that I had to get her into a Hospital and to do it now. The little voice in my head insisted: "Sterett, Do it now... .don't wait" We had been in Edmonston for less than twenty four hours and knew no one, Wit no telephone or telephone books...Where in the hell is a hospital around here?
It was back to I-HOP with Gitty in tow. At this point, I-HOP was my only contact with civilization. Pushing through the entrance door and in a steady and determined voice, loud enough for all to hear, I said: "Someone? Anyone? Hello! Hello!! Please help me. My baby is very sick. Where is the nearest hospital? Anyone? Please help us." The I-HOP chef stepped forward and pointed in in a South Easterly direction. "Take her to Saint Georges ... It is only a few miles away. Turn right out of the parking lot and follow the signs. You will see it on the right hand side of the road. You can't miss it. It's a big red brick complex. Good Luck Mam." I thanked him and headed for the emergency room in Prince George's County Hospital. It was 7:45 Am. Looking up from her desk work, I was greeted by the attending nurse on duty. "Good Morning Mam. May I have your name please?" I gave her my name. "Has a doctor seen this child before?" Fumbling through my pocketbook, I found Dr. Aaron-Smith's card... "Yes Mam," I replied. "Yesterday morning , in his office in Bladensburg. His name is Dr. Aaron-Smith. Here...here is his card with his name and telephone number." I handed the card to the nurse. " Will you please call him for me, " I asked. "My baby needs to see him right away" "Now Mrs. Duncan, if your baby has already been seen by Dr. Aaron-Smith, then you will have to wait until his office opens at 9 O'clock. It is still rather early you know...We will be glad to call him for you then. Her eyes dropped downward as she returned to her tasks at hand.
The warning signs, which only mothers seem to know, would not let me accept her words... and Yes! I was rude to the nurse... and Yes... I insisted that the doctor be called. "Please call him on an emergency basis. You can call him on an emergency basis can't you?" " I am sorry.... You will just have to wait Mrs. Duncan. I am sorry... So if you will please take a seat in the waiting room, I am sure Dr. Aaron-Smith will be in his office shortly. It is almost eight o'clock now and Doctor is usually in his office by nine. Peering up at me from behind her steel rimmed glasses, the nurse said, " You said that your baby is already on Lincomycin? She will be alright. So just calm yourself down Mrs. Duncan. Doctor will be in soon" "Excuse me please," ( At this point I thought I was speaking directly to Nurse Ratchet ) "Nurse... Please... You will call Dr. Aaron-Smith now or I will get another doctor. " The nurse gave in and in a rather nasty tone, called the doctor at his home. " Good Morning Doctor, I am so sorry to call you so early this morning but there is an overly anxious mother here who insisted that I call you. I told her that you would be in your office by nine but....Yes....Yes " There was a long pause.... and then.... " Yes...Yes Doctor....Yes. I understand, Mrs. Duncan? Dr. Aaron-smith will speak with you now:" The attending nurse extended the the receiver to me. Good Morning Dr. Aaron-Smith, I am here in the emergency room I don't like what I am seeing in my child. Please, I want you to come in and see her now, I know something is wrong. I am sure of it. Please.. Please come see her." "I will see her as soon as I can Dear. She is already on Lincomycin and she will be just fine. Now don't worry, Mrs. Duncan. I suggest," Dr. Aaron-Smith spoke firmly and with great deliberation, " that we have her admitted into the hospital this morning and I promise you, I will put her at the top of my list. She will be my very first patient at four o'clock this afternoon." I thanked Dr. Aaron-Smith and returned the receiver to the nurse. Then I heard her laugh and say: "Yes,,, I understand... Don't worry Doctor. We will take care of it. Mrs. Duncan, will you please come over her with your child to the admitting desk. Doctor wants your child admitted now, and he will see her at four o'clock this afternoon. I went through the admitting process and shortly thereafter, Gitty was tucked away in an immaculate, sun-yellow nursery... sleeping soundly. The admitting process and the hospital noises had not disturbed her sleep in anyway.
I thanked the nurses and while Gitty lay sleeping, I slipped out of her room, into the hallway and down the stairs. I decided to scoot home to pick up some personal things and give my husband an update.... but by the time I had reached the parking lot, the once quiet questions in my head were now loud and noisy! "Why... Why? Why?.... Why the stubborn fever? Why the stiffness in her body? Why did she not cry? Why did she sleep so much? Why were the pupils dilated? These questions flashed about my brain like a pinball.... and were now yelling back at me...demanding to be heard...demanding answers.
Sitting in our truck, I found myself recounting a vivid conversation in the summer of 1956 with a dear family friend: Robert Riggins, who was at the time, attending medical school at the Columbia School of Physicians and Surgeons In New York City. When growing up, medical school was my my goal in life. I wanted to become a Doctor! All conversations regarding doctors, hospitals, operations, blood, guts and any medically related television shows , were absolutely fascinating to me. Remember Doctor Wellby, Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare ?
I spent many hours with Bobby Riggins that summer. We listened to the classical music station WQXR, sang Yale's Wiffenpoof songs together and went to the movies to see The Bridges of Tokerie with William Holden. In general we solved all the problems of the world. I loved the company of grown-ups because they were interested in the same things I was, unlike most kids my age. I remembered, one of our conversations was about hospital care. Bobby's words of warning that summer, now replayed loud and clear. "If ever you get into real trouble Sweetheart, get yourself to a teaching hospital. It will most likely save your life. in a private hospital, they will make you wait for your doctor or you might have to wait for them to locate a doctor and call him in. In a teaching hospital, it may not seem as clean and fancy as a private hospital but you will be swarmed over by a whole slew of doctors and one of them is bound to come up with the correct diagnosis and solution. You will have a far better chance of survival in a public situation than a private one.
Now, while standing on the hot black tars of the Hospital's parking lot, this summertime chat, which happened so long ago, would be the key to saving our daughter's life. On the spot, I decided that this was just such a time to put Bobby's words into action. " I just can't wait until four o'clock for Dr. Aaron-Smith to show up," I told myself. The next thing I remember, I was standing on Kenilworth Avenue, flagging down a Yellow Cab and asking the driver, if he had ever heard of a teaching hospital for children. "Yezum-dere-es-da-Chillun's-Ospital-away-down-nin D.C. Eyes-kin-gits yous-dere, eff'n-yous-likes. Tiz a goodly hike Mam, but it-es-dee-bess-en-Amurica." "Yes Sir," I replied. "I need to get there as soon as possible. Please stay right here. I have to go and get my baby. She is over there in the County Hospital. Please stay here. Please don't me leave me." Clutching my pocketbook and one spare diaper, I ran back to the hospital and up the stairs, walking slowly past the nurse's station, nodding a "hello" to those on the floor. Quietly and unobserved, I slipped into the nursery where Gitty lay sleeping. I lifted her gently from her bed and pressed her up against my shoulder and walked down the semi-lighted hospital hall-way with Gitty still sleeping.. We walked slowly, very slowly to the end of the hall and then ... quickly down the stairwell, marked Fire Exit, and outside into the fresh air, the parking lot and the waiting Yellow Cab. That beautiful Yellow Cab was waiting there for us. The driver, an older colored man with a soft southern drawl, helped me and the baby into his cab. "Diz-is-gonna-be a rough trip Mam. Alls-of-Washingtons-on-fire-done-cha-no. D'Colords- es-rioting-down-yonder, done-cha-no, but Chillun's-Ospital es-d-bess in da-worl. En-effen-yous-wans-ta-get-dere, I be-taken-yous-sho-nuff.! "Yes, Please. and God Bless you Mister! Thank you for your kindness. It will save her life."
The Race riots that started in Watts, California had spread across the nation and now Washington was ablaze. We drove right through the riots...Fire engines were everywhere.. Fires were everywhere... Police were everywhere. Sirens screamed and sounds of pop-pop-pop seemed to be everywhere too. God bless this gentle soul. He helped to save Gitty's life. We pulled into the Emergency Entrance and with in minutes just as bobby Riggins had predicted, a whole slew of doctors were working on her. At one point, I counted 17 White coats in the room. There were so many questions, from so many sources and all of them being asked, all at once. "Please give us her history Mrs. Duncan" Questions were being shot at me from all sides. Then I heard among the many voices in the room, the words: "We need to do a lumbar puncture."
At this point, I knew for sure, without question, that we were inn deep, deep, deep trouble!
Permission to do a Lumbar Puncture... on a four month old infant..... Good Grief! I knew enough to know that this was a dicey procedure on such a tiny patient. "What to do? What should I do? Call Dr. Schumann, Sterett. Do it now! Fortunately I was able to reach Dr. Schumann that morning. "Yes, " he said, "Sign the release forms Sterett. You are inn exactly the right place for this and yes, you are in trouble, but the Children's Hospital is the very best place for trouble. Stay close and call me Sterett....any time. I am here for you. Mrs. Schumann and I send our love. I am so sorry that I can't be with you now, but I can tell you this...You are in the very best place for little Gitty. Stay close" And so began what was to be an unending medical night mare.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 3
O-my-God I was scared! Dr. Schumann's words helped to hold back the tears....at least for a little while. The white coats which crowded around the examination table, obscured my baby from view, but the white coats did not hide her screams as the serum from the spine was drawn away from her little body. Time was standing still... I do not remember breathing. Had I covered all of the possibilities of those things which I could do to help her? What did I forget... What did I forget...What did I forget! Was there anything else I could do? I kept cross-examining myself, over and over and over again.
Several doctors approached me. "Are you the baby's mother....Yes? Then please come with us ....We need to ask you some questions now Mrs. Duncan." The next thing I remember....I was sitting in a small office.... Then the interrogations began..."When did you first notice that something was wrong Mrs. Duncan? " "Exactly where were you when you first noticed her temperature change?" "Can you give us an exact location?" "Where had you been in the twenty-four hours preceding the first time you noticed these changes?" "Do you own any pet turtles?" " Has she had anything to eat, other than breast milk and the baby aspirin?" "Has anyone in your family eaten powdered eggs...or reconstituted eggs of any kind?" "Who has handled the baby besides yourself?" "What were the conditions of the places in which you stayed over-night?" "Were the bathrooms clean?" "Are there any sewage problems in your home?" "Any sewage problems in the Grandparents home in Texas?" "Do you think that you can name the places where you stopped along the way?" Under this pressure, I admit that I did not do very well. It was difficult for me to recall even the most recent events, let alone tracing the events in chronological order...Every detail was needed...Even ones which seemed to be insignificant.... Geeeze! What if I missed something! O-God...What if I missed something? My clothes were soaked with perspiration and I shivered in the air-conditioned rooms of the hospital... It was impossible to think clearly.
Small vials containing spinal fluids and blood were whisked away and then taken by lab-technician Al Godfrey, to his lab for examination. Later that day, I met Al Godfrey again. He was kind enough to recount all the happenings down in the lab where the research was being done on Gitty's blood work. Over the coming months, we would end up as "cup-of-coffee-friends." I looked forward to our time together each day, for his reports about lab reports. The need to understand what was happening to Gitty, allowed me to keep up the fight for her life. I wanted to learn as much as I could and if possible, not screw anything up! I purchased a layman's Medical encyclopedia at the local grocery store in Edmonston and struggled through all fifteen volumes. Understanding brings hope and hope keeps you going.
You really can't tell about the passage of time in a hospital because it does not relate to the real, outside world. You just hang in there, suspended, thinking and re-thinking past events and hoping like anything, that you go it all right.... and then you wait...and wait ... and wait for some news....not sure whether or not you want to hear it. A different doctor spoke to me at every meeting. I could not keep their input organized in any sort of meaningful way. Thinking straight was all but impossible as each doctor brought to me a different perspective. My mind was somewhere in the middle-distance of the Twilight Zone, when a white coat stepped in to the waiting room area and called out my name..."Mrs. Duncan? Over here please.... Thank you. Please sit down Mrs. Duncan." We sat in the far corner of the waiting room, away from the other patients.
"This is what we have so far Mrs. Duncan... I am afraid that your little one is a very sick child. Fortunately, Gilly...is that her name?" "No," I replied, "It is Gitty" "So sorry, I meant Gitty. We know that your daughter, Gitty has some form of Spinal Meningitis because of the symptoms she is exhibiting. She is so quiet and sleepy. Her pupils are dilated and her body is rigid. She has a low-grade persistent fever of ninety-nine degrees. These symptoms, when coupled with a high white count in her CSF (cerebral spinal fluid) tells us that we are dealing with some form of Spinal Meningitis..... but we do not know which specific bug is causing the condition called Meningitis." (I had heard this tag before and immediately recognized it as deadly stuff!) "Fortunately," the doctor continued, "The Lincomycin which she received the day before was highly effective and has either wiped out... or suppressed any trace of what ever it was that made your daughter so sick. The bad news is, that now... We cannot readily identify a specific cause. We do know however, that we are dealing with a bacterial infection, because the LIncomycin was so effective against it. Had it been a viral Meningitis, the antibiotics would have been ineffective. Right now, her white cell count is sky high in her blood work, which further indicates a severe bacterial infection remains in her system, so we are treating your daughter prophylactively, with a broad based antibiotic called Ampicillin. We are just going to go on our instincts here and our experience Mrs. Duncan."
Patiently the doctor explained that a sack surrounds the brain. This sack made of living tissues is filled with a watery substance in which the brain floats. Floating in this fluid acts as a protectant and shock absorber. In your daughter's case, the sack itself, which is called the Meninges, has become infected. Like all infected tissues, it has become inflamed and swollen. This is all well and good if the infection is on a leg or perhaps on an arm because when there is swelling , the tissues just bulge outward, away from the body.... but when the Meninges becomes infected and inflamed and starts to swell... We have a major problem, because the affected tissues cannot swell outward, away from the brain, It is prevented from doing so by being encased within the skull. Instead of swelling outward.... the only direction for the tissues to expand, is inward. These swollen tissues can build tremendous pressures on the brain. It can close off the blood supply to the brain resulting in paralysis and death. We think we know, symptomatically speaking of course,
what we are dealing with here.. We want to start you child on intravenous antibiotics around the clock Mrs. Duncan. We only have two effective drugs which we can use against Bacterial Meningitis. You see, Mother Nature has provided each one of us with an excellent filtration system called the " blood brain barrier." Its function is to filter out impurities before they reach the brain. This protective system is so efficient that it filters out most drugs as well.
"We are choosing to use Ampicillin for Gitty because Ampicillin is an highly effective agent against these bacterial infections Mrs. Duncan. Fortunately it is also able to pass right through the blood brain barrier, which then, allows the drug to do its work. We are going to fight this infection with everything we've got. Ampicillin is our best shot. We will go after it aggressively and hope to keep the swelling down, while the drug kills off the infection Mrs. Duncan....We don't have much time. We need to get started now." A Pen was pressed gently into my hand. "You will need to sign off on these release forms...right here... at the bottom of page one...fine... and now sign again over here.... and once more on the bottom of page five. Thank you. We need to get started. it is the right thing to do and we are looking forward to a favorable outcome. We should know by the end of the week just exactly which bug we are dealing with....By that time, the lab will have back-cultured the samples which were taken from your daughter this morning. Al Godfrey, your Lab technician, will keep you informed. This research will take some time....but we can...and will...decisively identify the culprit which is causing this sickness. I will speak with you tomorrow Mrs. Duncan." With a shaking hand and Dr. Schumann's words in mind, I signed the papers giving the doctors permission to treat our child and to do whatever would be necessary to save her life. Making these decisions is an awesome responsibility. The doctors disappeared behind closed doors. Hot tears burned my cheeks as I found my way to the pay phone banks to call my husband with an update and to ask him to pick up the pickup truck at I-Hop.
Sometime later that night, I remember being with Gitty, who was now ensconced in the enteric isolation ward.... This is a unit of care reserved for highly infectious diseases... Everyone on this floor was dressed in white flannel gowns, gloved and masked...including myself.
Within four or five days, we were to see a rapid improvement in her condition, which indicated that the antibiotic was performing as we hoped it would. We were on track for a full recovery. Gitty seemed to be back to her old self. Her appetite returned, her fever normal, and the doctors and nurses were happy with her progress. By the end of the week, we had been given a specific bacterial identification from the lab. Al Godfrey faithfully kept me up to date. He was a tall handsome man, about 40 years old, I guessed. He was a soft spoken man who had a quiet and gentle way about him. "This bug we are dealing with," said Al, "is a bacterium called Salmonella-D. It usually causes God-awful cases of diarrhea but rarely does it get out of the gastro-intestinal tract and into the blood stream, past the blood brain barrier and into the meninges as it has with your daughter. Salmonella-D is very rare. Contact with powdered eggs, turtles and human waste are all possible sources for this infection. In one sense Sterett, this is good news. The enemy has been identified and we have a good chance of beating it with antibiotics. On the other hand, Salmonella-D is a particularly virulent sort of bug and is hard as hell to knock out!" All pulled out a pen from his white lab coat and started drawing on a paper napkin, to demonstrate just why this bug was so dangerous. "Most pockets of infections are shallow....like this..." He drew two parallel lines with a slightly enlarged separation of the the middle of his drawing.. ( It looked to me as if someone had slipped a flat penny between the two lines.) "but Salmonella breeds in very deep pockets which are shaped like a tear drop....like this." Salmonella-D is a Typhoid related infection and this variety, is the same disease which infected Typhoid-Mary-Mallon in 1907. That's why the lab is so interested in your daughter's case. Have you ever heard of "Typhoid-Mary?" I swallowed hard and nodded "Yes. Mary-Mallon was a carrier of typhoid and did not get sick herself but while working as a cook in private homes, she managed to spread the infection to many people."
Where on earth did Gitty pick this thing up? Why had she contracted it. Was it because her immune system was low...or perhaps because she had not yet received her childhood vaccinations? Maybe we should not have gone to Texas... Maybe I had caused this illness.. I wondered if I had been responsible for the contraction of this deadly disease. Al Godfrey assured me that most likely that I had not been the cause. Never the less, self-accusations would spin and flash like a pinball, batting them back and forth in my head.
One evening, after a long day by Gitty's side in the hospital, I arrived home to find a team of public health officials dressed in Haz-Mat outfits, wearing masks and swarming over our house, trying to find the source of the infection. Everything was tested...including us. They tested the toilet, the tub, the sink and sink drains, dishes and garbage cans...even the door handles. The results were negative. This would indicate that somewhere on the road trip home, Gitty had come in contact with the Salmonella bacteria. Perhaps a spoon had not been thoroughly washed? Perhaps she had gotten hold of a little bit of the scrambled eggs which we had eaten for breakfast at the road-side inn along the way.....
I could not remember if the eggs had been fresh eggs or reconstituted from powder. Powdered eggs are a possible source of Salmonella poisoning. Turtles of course were out of the question. Absolutely no turtles were to be found in our house or down on the ranch in Texas. But perhaps
the children of the owners of the restaurant, had a pet box turtle. We were never able to pinpoint the source of Gitty's infection. We counted off the days in the hospital. Bowie and I traded off on visiting hours, trying to cover all the bases at home and the hospital at once. I hated being split between the two children and worried that McKay would feel abandoned and resentful. Would he understand? How could he possibly understand? Would Gitty? She needed us too.
The massive doses of intravenous Ampicillin apparently did the trick and O' Hallelujah! On day 21, Gitty's test for Salmonella-D proved negative and we could take her home and get started on our new life together in Edmonston, Maryland. It was wonderful to be home again and start life anew.
Within twenty-four hours, our little Gitty was once again dreadfully sick. The low-grade fever, dilated pupils and rigid body returned. I knew that it was the same thing all over again and put in a call to Children's Hospital "Bring her in immediately Mrs. Duncan....We need to get to work. Bring her in Now...Right Now....No time to loose! A team will be ready for her when you arrive......and Mrs. Duncan... Leave as soon as possible."
It was back to The Children's Hospital in D.C. and back up to the third floor's enteric isolation unit and back onto Ampicillin... this time for another stint of twenty--one days. During this period of time, while Gitty slept, I spent time with lab technician Al Godfrey. "You will be glad to know that your child's case is extra special to the research department in this hospital.." he said. "Several research doctors are working exclusively on your daughter's sickness." It was during one of these chats that I learned from Al, that Salmonella was just one of the causes of Meningitis and that
Salmonella Meningitis in infants between three and six months of age, causes ninety percent of its victims to die..... and that of the ten percent that manage to survive ....ninety percent of the ten percent are vegetables through-out their lives. One chance in one hundred is what we would have for a normal child. The recognition of the enormity of the fight before us was just coming into view.
Parents time in the enteric isolation wards was strictly limited. In order to have more time with her, I took up a paint brush during my stay and painted the wards with cheerful cartoon characters for the children. This allowed me to stay a little longer and spend more time with Gitty. By extending my hours on the ward, I was able to continue to breast feed her and to oversee her care first hand. Once again, on day 21, we received good news. Gitty's system was clear and we could take her home again.
Our joy was short lived and once again, less than twenty-four hours would go by before we were in trouble again. This time, her left eye seemed to be crossed out of position and out of focus. Gitty's left leg and arm now hung limply by her side. She was not able to grasp with her left hand or to kick her chubby little leg about. She could not sit up. The adjective "floppy" was a good description at this point. The fever was returning and her pupils dilated. Tears splashed down both our cheeks...knowing full well the consequences of this infection by now, we rushed our tiny treasure back to The Children's Hospital for the third time.
We were immediately taken into a small green room on the third floor at the end of the hall. A doctor explained that: ""We have very few options left Mrs. Duncan. The breeding patterns of this particularly virulent bug, are still happening in a very few, very small, but very deep pockets within the meninges tissues." (Al Godfrey's napkin drawings of teardrop shaped pockets of infection could happen, Flashed through my mind.) Although the Ampicillin has been very effective in getting past the blood brain barrier, it has not been able to clean out every single pocket. If it misses even one pocket...well.... It is just a matter of time before the bug will replicate and we have to begin all over again. We have given her the best shot we have. We have tried twice now, without success. The swelling of the meninges has returned and has already begun to cause some damage. The damage can be seen in the wandering eye and the loss of movement on her left side. We do not know if this loss is permanent or if it will repair itself. We are going to try a last ditch effort here. We want to put her on another drug called Chloramphenicol. Chloramphenicol Mrs. Duncan, it our most effective agent in our arsenal for getting past the blood brain barrier and at killing of Salmonella-D."
"So why didn't we use this agent sooner, " I asked. "Because Mrs. Duncan, there are some nasty side effects which sometimes accompany this drug. Chloramphenicol has been known to occasionally cause a condition called Aplastic Anemia. This means that the drug could possibly wipe out the body's ability to produce new red blood cells within the bone marrow. Should a bone marrow wipe out occur, death would follow in roughly twenty-one days ... this is why we have been reluctant to use it.'
"We do have one other possibility: One other route we might take. A special meeting has been called for this afternoon, when we will discuss the feasibility of this option.....We are also reluctant to use this option and would only do so.... as a last resort. It involves inserting a needle into the brain at different locations and into those regions of the brain that we know to be, the most likely places to hold pockets of infection..... and if we are lucky.... to drain off the infection. The problem is this...That if we do get lucky and hit the pockets we are looking for, well then.... the sterile needle we used when entering the infected area will no longer be sterile because it would then be contaminated with the Salmonella bacteria.. This would then mean, that we have a new possibility, that when the needle is withdrawn, the contaminated needle will then "seed" the entire brain with the Salmonella. This is one of our options but not a treatment we want to use. We have a nationwide telephone call going out for Gitty, in order to collect all of the recorded cases histories of Salmonella-D Meningitis in the United States. As you know, Mrs. Duncan...She needs to start the Chloramphenicol as soon as possible...You do understand the risk involved don't you?" Any Questions?....No? I will meet with you here in one hour with the results of our telephone research and you will have to sign another release form allowing us to proceed. We are running our of time. I am so very sorry." The door closed.
Tears followed. A decision had to be made...What the hell to do! No one was on the floor. I couldn't find anyone to advise us. I managed to get a phone call through to my child hood friend Bobby Riggins, who now headed up a Cardiology unit in Seattle Washington. He echoed Dr. Schumann's words. He said that he would be in Washington D.C. in two weeks time and promised to stop by and go over Gitty's case with us. Bowie had to go back to relieve the person who was baby-sitting our son. We hugged good-bye and I promised to call with any news or decisions. Left alone, it was now seven thirty in the morning. I saw a doctor outside of another patient's room He was reading the patient's charts hanging on the door. I walked up to him and asked him if he would read my daughter's charts.... That I had to make a big decision and I really needed some help. His name was Dr. Sydney Ross, whose speciallity just happen to be communicable diseases. Without hesitation, he walked into the enteric isolation ward, took up Gitty's charts and began to review her case. He advised me in a low and steady voice to, Begin the Chloramphenicol immediately, at this point , we really have no other option....but we will hold of on the third possibility of treatment: The roulette game of searching for pockets of infection. Don't worry.... I will go down to this meeting this afternoon and sit in on it. I will follow her case for you, every day that she is here." And this he did. He came to see Gitty every morning at seven thirty AM...Seven days a week for the next three months He did this on a voluntary basis and never missed a day or, finding time in his busy schedule to get in touch with us and see how we were doing.
The release forms were signed. 'Cut-downs,' were recommended and performed on both legs. I-V needles were sewn up inside her legs. This operation would reduce the possibility of the baby accidentally kicking out one of needles, which would now have to be left in place for along time...perhaps two months or more. Already looking like a pincushion, Gitty was in the fight for her life.
I was not allowed to stay with her, when the cut-downs were performed. They tied down her arms and legs and strapped her head to the table. As I left the operating room, I could hear her cries through the cloudy panes of glass... I knew that they were hurting her. She was Crying for her Mommy and I was walking away. At this point, a very low point, and I hate to even remember that my thinking had been so scrambled...Yes...Yes....It was true... At that time... deep down inside myself, I made a firm decision, that if our baby girl had to face a lifetime of pain and misery, that I would some how, find a way to kill her. I did not know how or even at what point I would take this action....Awash in tears, I just knew that I would not let her continue in such pain forever. Then...a nurse, and angel, appeared. Her name was Florence; a large colored woman of tremendous strength. She wrapped me up in her arms and said that she knew what the diagnosis was as soon as the doctors had taken us into the little green room and the end of the hall. "I knows how you are feeling my Sweetheart, but you must never, never , never give up. God will get you through this...Just you wait and see...She will be all right my darling.... She will be all right." Those blackest thoughts dissolved , disappeared and never again returned. I was ashamed of myself for having had such thoughts, but the truth is...I did. Thank goodness I never had to make this choice or take such an action.
Gitty remained on Chloramphenicol for a course of twenty-one days around the clock Her care was on a serious regimen, day after day, with military precision. One early morning we received a call to: " Come down to the hospital for a conference, regarding the treatments for your child." It sounded ominous.. We met once again in the dreaded little green room on the third floor at the end of the hall. "Good Morning ...Mrs. Duncan...Mr. Duncan....Please... do sit down. I am so very sorry to tell you...that sadly, your child has experienced a serious reaction to the Chloramphenicol and she does in fact have Aplastic Anemia. We explained to you that this was one of the possible reactions to this drug. We are so very sorry...so very sorry... We have done everything we can. I am so very sorry." We were shaken, exhausted and speechless.
Then..... There was a knocking at the door. A nurse interrupted the meeting and asked to speak to the doctors. She said that it was urgent. Stepping into the room, she handed one of the doctors, another clipboard. There had been a mix-up in the lab and we had been given the wrong report. Gitty did not have Aplastic Anemia after all....We were torn apart at this point with tears of happiness. The sadness of it was, that now, the error corrected, the doctors would have to tell another family the bad news for their child. Our hearts would break for them.
The chloramphenicol regimen had been successful. By now. the results of the national telephone call were in. The recommendation was to follow up with a repeated regimen of Ampicillin for two months.... and hope that it would kill off any remaining pockets of infection.
I continued on with the wall murals, spending as much time with Gitty as possible, settling into daily hospital life. By the time I got home in the late afternoon, It was a mad dash to get to the grocery store. (All stores closed at five o'clock in those days. The late shopping hours we now enjoy, had not yet come on the the scene) Cooking the meals and spending make up time with McKay, reading bedtime stories and prayers before bed, rounded out the end of a long, long day. Bowie's schedule was just as busy as was mine during this period. We started off each day at 5:30 in the morning. After doing the laundry, the housework and getting things ready for the day, Bowie would leave for work at school and I would get the baby sitter for McKay and then drive to Washington to meet with Dr. Ross at 8:30 AM. After his updates, I would breast feed my child at: 9:30 12:30 and 3:30 and then..... home again by four o'clock
In between the feedings, I continued to paint the wall murals...Painting murals was great therapy and very relaxing. Painting eased the stress. Then it was home again and regimen would begin all over again...This would go on seven days a week. For the first time in my life...Every minute of every day was scheduled. It was a forced regimen. I stayed awake as long as I could, to get in as much as possible, into every minute of every day... Trying to hold things together...The weeks trudged by, one...two...three...four...five weeks.. six weeks seven weeks...One more week passed and Dr. Ross announced, "You can take her home. I think we have beaten it this time. Take her home. We will have to watch her closely Sterett. I want to see her three times a week in my office. We brought Gitty home one more time.....this time..... to stay.
Sterett-Gittings Kelsey was born in 1941 and was graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a B.F.A. in Sculpture in 1964. It has taken several generations to produce a "New Master of Movement." Today, Kelsey is widely regarded as the leading Sculptor of Dance in the world. You can read the in-depth comparative treatise on the Kelsey Bronzes by the leading Fine Art Appraiser, Fine Art Historian, Curator and Artnet Founder: Peter Hastings Falk on this website. (See Falk Treatise above) Working primarily in bronze, the sculptures range in height from a few inches to fifteen feet in height. The Kelsey Bronzes are owned by collectors and connoisseurs of investment-level fine art around the world. These masterworks in bronze are found in more than 300 public and private collections. To date: 2021. There are 300 finished original sculptures in bronze and porcelain ! Visit: Kelsey Sculpture Garden Roxbury Connecticut 06783 U.S.A. Telephone: 860-350-4938 Email: Kelsey@BronzeDanceSculpture.com