GREAT DANE

My mother was four feet eleven and one half inches tall.  That half inch was always important to her.  Dad was five foot six.  So, I was always near the front of the size places line in elementary school. I’m pretty sure I came after Charles, Elissa, Esther and Susie.  It was the way things were done at PS9 in those days.  I don’t suppose we do this to children anymore.

Mom’s stature was enhanced by high heels of course, but she remained shorter than dad.  I passed early on, though I could not tell you when.

Mom had many friends, Florence was taller, Peggy was taller, Harold was a big man.  Her sisters, one taller and one shorter, were Eleanor and Lillian respectively.  The closest great aunts on dad’s side were little.  And of course there was big Aunt Molly and Little Aunt Molly (I don’t know where they fit in).

pdpicsBut the height story I remember most clearly occurred after dad’s death.  The players were mom and me and her friend Bob and the great dane he brought along to visit at 222.  Bob was an old  boyfriend; a big man who raised big dogs.  The one he brought along to this visit was tan in color and drooled and, he could dance.

This all played out in the living room in 9E.  The stereo was turned on and the dog stood up on his hind legs, put one paw on each of mom’s shoulders, leaving his head  significantly above hers and danced with her.  Funny picture (I wish  I had one) of a fun time.  

We never had a pet when I was young.  I only remember September the cat I had for a while at 18.  You may recall her as part of the draft story.  The scars on my wrists (noted on my draft card), which were really on my hands, were made by September when she forgot to let go.

The other Kenny in the building and his sister Susan had a dog.  I don’t remember any others in the building belonging to my peers.  But I do remember a family, I knew well in my teens who had cats, a wonderful dark yellow labrador retriever, guinea pigs, field mice and at least one snake.  As you might imagine there are a lot of heart warming and not so heart warming stories from that house.

COLLEGE COMMUTER

Living on West 83rd Street made higher education convenient.  Like my father before me  I chose CCNY for my college.  While he had been the class of 1930, I would be the class of 1970.  As you will learn, like so many others I took more than four years and graduated with the class of June 1971.

There are so many facets to college life, even urban college life as a commuter from home.  Whether the social, the academic, or the travel, there are stories to be told.

My usual method to college was the #1 train to 137th Street and the hike up the long hill to Convent Avenue.  This was easy due to the training provided by the three trains required to get to Stuyvesant, the 1, the BMT and the Canarsie line.  

This all changed after Ron started using his car to go to school, a little pale blue Opel, and frequently picked me up.

And there was always the amazing M104 Bus, the scenic route, which turned East on 125th Street, but that walk resulted in the mugging I have written about previously.

Too, there was Roy’s blue Chevy Biscayne with the three speed stick on the column and the dayglow paint on the dashboard, a true hippy mobile.

**INTERIOR R21 SUBWAY CAR, CIRCA 1968, NYC TRANSIT MUSEUM

No matter how I got to City College, north campus or south there was my ever changing campus life.  That first semester, Fall 1966, I had german at eight in the morning and a class I have forgotten at 4 at least 3 days a week.  That first class was in one of the southernmost buildings on the south campus leaving me a long walk from most methods of transportation.  At least one day a week, I had nothing between those two classes.

That first semester was so unsuccessful that I dropped out of the academic life in the second semester.  I did take the upper class advisor training in January 1967 in spite of my failure to be a registered student.  

It was so easy to get to campus, as a commuter, that I could stay in the social life.  I also spent most of that semester refining my hearts game in the inter-fraternity council office.  I dropped out of my pledge class in a fraternity that season; it was not the life for me, being bossed around and reciting the Greek alphabet, and being expected to participate when I didn’t particularly want to do so.

The House Plan Association became my base of operations later in 1967.  I even held the position of lower class representative on its board.  I made lots of friends, all but their memories lost to the ages.

I pursued Bobbi for at least two years.  She was never interested and I refused to give up.  She repeatedly let me down gently.  I can still see her when I try hard.  More than anything I remember her braids.

During my house plan years I had a spot on a window sill in Finley Hall that served as my office.  Like Lucy, I provided cheap counseling for any of my friends or acquaintances in need.  What I didn’t realize until years later was that nobody provided similar service for me.

However I got there, train or car or bus, when I graduated in 1971 (41 years after my dad) I was part of the class that had survived the anti-war movement, the demonstrations against the so-called temporary huts being built on the south campus lawn and the takeover of the south campus by Black students during the open enrollment crisis which resulted in the resignation of the college’s president.

At my graduation, the last to be held in Lewisohn Stadium, there was a standing ovation and tears in my eyes when former President Buell G. Gallagher* was seen in the procession of dignitaries.  He had led the college with dignity and had my great respect.  He had been way ahead of his time in the 40s.  

Today, the campus is very different.  But, there is still the Morris Raphael Cohen Library wherein reside my father’s collected papers, loaned long term to his alma mater.  My dad talked about having Cohen as a professor who once collected an assignment and explained that after class he would head to the pool.  Those that floated would fail and those that sank would pass.

 

*Gallagher’s 1946 book Color and Conscience was among the most critically antiracist books written by any white person in the 1940s. It interrogated Jim Crow and other forms of racism in light of the history of slavery and growing anti-colonial movements. In the book he wrote that “Our racial caste system has its historical roots in slavery, but thrusts its contemporary tentacles into every crevice and cranny of the social structure throughout the nation. Slavery as ownership of chattel is gone: as a caste system, it remains.”  In this book he went so far as to criticize the ban on interracial marriage, something that was downplayed by antiracist activists in the era.

 

 

The Fishing Trip

This story starts and ends at 222 West 83rd like so many others.  It is one of those rare memories of doing something with my dad.  I know it was before 1960 because that is when he sold Jasper the pontiac, so I was nine or ten.

We took Jasper and left early and headed somewhere I do not recall to climb aboard a day charter to go fishing for what, I also do not recall.  I learned a lot on that charter.

First order of business was to find out who was in on the “gambling,” biggest fish got the money. While the captain steered outbound the crew set us up with fishing poles and bait and some basic lessons about charter etiquette.  This included waiting to drop your line until you’re told to and pulling up when you’re told to; and how not to get tangled with other guys’ lines.

On that charter, yes, it was all guys.

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We were ready to fish in no time at all. And then I got sea sick, very, very sea sick. After I stopped throwing up they installed me in the cabin and took turns keeping an eye on me. 

I had caught nothing before nausea struck and during the rest of the voyage dad caught one six inch fish.  If there was a smallest catch reward he would have won it.

When we pulled back into the slip everybody had a bag of fish to take home.  We did too.  Yup, every guy on the trip contributed a fish for the poor sick kid.

We got home with our bag and Helen took one look and said something like “you don’t really think I’m cleaning all those, do you?”  

A long time later, dad’s little fish was still in the freezer.

And after that sometime, we were walking into Riverside (the funeral home), to attend a funeral I have since forgotten, and the man on the door, took one look at us, and we at him, and it was a fisherman’s reunion.  Many more times this man greeted us with a knowing smile of comradery and a secret shared.

It was many, many years later when history sort of repeated itself.  My son and I, as the guests of his grandfather, went deep sea fishing off Puerto Rico.  Just the two of  us.  We didn’t get far before sickness struck my son and we had to turn back.  A bit different;  we came back completely empty handed.

Still later, my son and I spent many happy hours fishing off the beach for fluke which I learned to filet and we had for supper more than once.  He gave up fishing before I did but it had been father/son time like I had so long ago.

 

*Photo by Veit Hammer on Unsplash

RIVERSIDE

One of the fixtures in family life on the upper west side is the Riverside, funeral home that is.  We have all been there, touched by the sadness and the formality and the dark suits and black hearses and limousines.

When my father died in 1970 I was not quite 21 and dealt with tragedy as a smart ass kid.  Riverside was the place to go and I went with my father’s cousin Richard (Dick) who was now the father figure.  Richard would later become my father-in-law but in 1970 he was cousin Richard.

The picture below is of the two of them as children in their world war one costumes.  It is a treasured family memento.

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At Riverside we met with someone and then rode an elevator to the basement which housed the coffin displays.  On the elevator I recall asking the operator if I could drive; it was just like the one at 222 and I knew what to do.  He said no.  

When we exited the elevator we were confronted with Riverside’s most expensive offerings.  Here again, the smart ass emerged and asked where are the cheaper ones?  We wended our way through several rooms and the boxes got less and less fancy and, of course, less expensive.

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In the last room, in the back of the room, stood the plain pine box.  It is a Jewish tradition to go with the pine.  I could not do it.  My dad deserved better I thought.  Next up was a beautiful pine box with some curves and a Star of  David on the lid.  That was it.  Done.

Well, not quite.  Now there was the choosing of the room for the service.  Here, I was not a smart ass; I knew what I wanted, the biggest room they had.  Richard and the Riverside guy tried to talk me out of it.  It’s August they said, so many people out of town; a waste of money.  I insisted.

There was an obituary in the NYTimes, it was way too small for a man of such accomplishment but it was the NYTimes. 

As was the custom, the attendees were in the chapel and the family, what there was, came in last.  At first, I was afraid to look but after we were seated I turned and found a standing room only crowd.  Heat of August be damned, vacation season be damned; my dad was honored and remembered by many.

As I wrote that last paragraph I teared up again, as I did then, and as I have whenever I think of that room and all those people who had come to remember who and what my dad had been.  The bad stuff was put aside. He was a good man, an accomplished man.  

The Rabbi who officiated at his funeral was Ira Eisenstein.  He had performed the wedding of my parents.  In a manner of speaking the circle of life was completed when, many years later, Ira died in the hospital at which my sister was Chaplain.  

Sports in 9E

We were big baseball fans in apartment 9E; the NY Giants to be precise.  My hero was  Willie Mays (centerfielder), my sister if I recall correctly liked Whitey Lockman (first baseman).  We all thought the world of Alvin Dark (shortstop).  These were exciting times.  New York City had three baseball teams, our beloved Giants, the National League enemy Brooklyn Dodgers and the American League enemy the New York Yankees.

One of the saddest days in my life before the age of ten was learning that the Giants would be taking Willie Mays to San Francisco.  The owners voted in May 1957 and the team moved from the POLO Grounds in 1958.

Willie Mays was an amazing athlete, famous for his basket catch among other things. I knew him not only for his stardom but for the season he played with a fracture of the glove hand.  (Today, a twisted pinky puts a player on the disabled list).  I also remember reading about the gold hardware supposedly to be found in his bathroom in California. 

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I only saw the amazing Willie play live one more time after the NY departure.  In 1958 or 1959 they came east to play the Philadelphia Phillies in a weekend doubleheader (either Saturday or Sunday).  We went on the train.  I don’t remember if it was all of us or some of us, but dad and I were there at the Connie Mack Stadium.*  

Baseball was by far the favorite sport in our apartment but not the only one followed.  The NY Giants was also the name of our professional football team.  I say professional because we rooted for Navy every year; big fans of Joe Bellino, 1960 Heisman Trophy winner, an extraordinary halfback.

The football Giants gave our family Y.A.Tittle who was also a star in the early 60’s leading the Giants to three NFL titles.

It was the loss of the baseball Giants that resulted in my loss of interest in professional baseball and eventually other professional sports as well.  Years later I would follow the NY Apples Tennis Team and eventually World Cup Soccer.  

* Cornelius McGillicuddy, better known as Connie Mack, was an American professional baseball catcher, manager, and team owner. The longest-serving manager in Major League Baseball history, he holds records for wins, losses, and games managed, with his victory total being almost 1,000 more than any other manager.

A New Journey Three

When mom died I had not lived at 222 for fifteen years.  When dad passed at the age of 60 I was almost 21 and still on 83rd Street.  Dad died in a hospital, returning there after some time being miserable at home.  Mom died in a nursing home after a considerable and unhappy stay.  She died in an accident when someone left the bedrail down.  The details are horrifying and will not be exposited here.

Mom’s death, I did not realize until my hospitalization and my confinement at rehab, left me with a sensitivity to bedrails and their use for my own safety.

 

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The trip to rehab was carried out in a crappy old ambulance from a private company.  Jean had worked for this company for many years on Sundays and one of the emts remembered her.  So, when we arrived at the skilled nursing facility (SNF) that specialized in short term rehabilitation and Jean was waiting for me, there was a reunion of sorts.

The rehab experience was mixed.  My first night, a Monday, I was pretty miserable but the wonderful night shift RN spent an hour with me and got me calm enough to sleep.  The rehab professionals, OT and PT showed the next morning to conduct initial assessments. 

The medical doctor was a consultant and finally appeared late on Wednesday afternoon after much consternation and family intervention.  It was later explained that the consultant model was in use and that an institution such as this had days to evaluate medically.

My only problem with this was that the MD was relying on the medicine orders from the hospital which were wrong.  He also had to order lab work because none was shared for the transfer.  How dumb is that?

My roomy and I could not have been more different.  He was older, Italian and Catholic.  I, well you readers know. We did not discuss politics. My liberal west side of manhattan political leanings and his conservative trump liking inclination did not mix and we agreed not to examine our differences.  To say we took care of each other would be an understatement.  Louis constantly encouraging me, his wife getting things, and me calling the front desk on my cell phone for help when he was ignored for so long that he was yelling “help”.  

The OT and PT services varied by assigned worker.  But they were helpful no matter who delivered them.  

Nursing services were different.  In the SNF like the hospital, staffing was spread very thin and assigned inconsistently as to patients;  the CNA that worked with Louis and I one day, would be across the hall the next. We were also living in a place were medications were “passed” by LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurses) for whom you waited for a considerable amount of time if you wanted something outside of their medication administering schedule.  So, for pain medicine you could wait.

The regulations permit very few RNs.  This is unfortunate in many ways, particularly because in the late afternoon, through the night and weekends they are in charge and there are at most two for a 100 bed facility.  Complaints were handled at this level.

I was trouble.  Besides making a scene about not seeing the doctor who was writing orders for my care, I experienced numerous medication “near misses” as they were called and one medication error I was sure occurred.  These troubles upset me not only for myself but for the numerous other “residents” who did not have my experience in health care or were unable to speak for themselves.  

I do have to mention the food.  They had a new food service director I was told more than once.  But just like in the hospital the food was institutional and errors were frequent.

The focus was rehab and as I said above it was good.  They wanted me to stay longer but my mental state was deteriorating and we believed I could continue to improve with home based services.  The care plan/discharge meeting was not going the way I wanted it to go until Jean called in.  She helped make it very clear that I needed to go home and in the end the family rules.  The irony was that medicare cut me off the day I was to leave.

I’m still using a walker but moving toward the cane.  It’s hard.

There is more of course, but, dear readers, I owe those of you who stuck with me a return to stories of growing up on the west side.  Thanks for reading.

A New Journey Two

In Part One you read about my ambulance and emergency department experiences.  I look upon the next chapter as my going beyond the healthcare experiences of my youth.  My pediatrician is the only medical doctor I recall from my childhood.  It was the era of awe and house calls.  Everybody respected the doctor and when he arrived in Apt. 9E we were no different.  My mother and father tripped over each other making sure Dr. E was comfortable and we always followed his instructions to the letter.

NYPresbyterian Queens is a teaching hospital, that is always interesting. Difficult to adapt to is the replacement of doctors with physician’s assistants (PAs) to make moment to moment decisions and pop in like they own place.  Some of the interactions with PAs were great. And then there is also the arrogance of the PAs who are actually doctors from other countries who either chose to not do what was necessary or were unable to complete the requirements.

One PA in particular, a young woman, came to my bedside more than once to find out what was going on or explain things.  Unfortunately, she was atypical.

Staffing was a significant issue.  There was a day when RNs had ten patients each on a post op unit.  There was a day Nursing Assistants had 12.  Professionals and Paraprofessionals cannot provide good care under these conditions.  At one point I complained to my surgeon’s partner about the nursing staffing and he acknowledged it and said he had written about it.  The next day, the RNs had six patients.

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What struck me as troubling and fixable was the assignment of nurses and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to patients.  Part of the problem is the three twelve hour shifts the RNs work.  It would be nice if nurses were assigned for their three shifts to the same patients.  A reduction in errors would no doubt be accompanied by more comfortable patients.  Consistent assignment of CNAs who do the most intimate things to and with patients would also be of comfort to patients.

Nursing is a profession with which I am quite familiar.  My professional career brought me in contact with “staff nurses,” nursing supervisors and nurse managers.  Some of my best friends were the latter over 12 years in one hospital.  To say the job is difficult in an inner city hospital is an understatement. In addition to the staffing issues the work requires focus and precision when passing meds, compassion when speaking to and listening to patients, and decision making prowess when squeezed between patients and PAs and doctors.  These men and women, on the frontlines, truly carry lives in their hands.

While the times have changed the medical profession has been slow to move forward.  Patients’ privacy seems more of a concern (there is law) than listening to what they say.  If I answered the question about back pain once, it must have been at least 25 times in 10 days.  My answer was always the same, “I don’t have back pain, I never did, the pain was in my legs, that’s why I couldn’t walk.”  

The biggest exception to this difficulty was the surgeon I chose; calm, soft spoken, patient, attentive and skilled, this physician was not at all like any surgeon I have ever encountered.  It was wonderful to be heard.  He was kind like Dr. E the pediatrician had been.  He exuded an air of confidence and one of kindness that was of inexplicable value to this patient.

The anesthesiologist, the person whose job it was to keep me alive during surgery, was another kind person He was concerned about my wellbeing and was able to smile and laugh and give me confidence in a total stranger in minutes.

When they got me up the morning after my surgery, barely 16 hours later, I stood without any pain for the first time in so many months; I mean no pain.

Walking in a walker was not how I saw myself but the PT and my supportive family got me going in spite of my fear.

So now it was on to rehab.