Heirloom Stories from Bertram P. Husband




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Winter Travel 


Dad went to Wawota every week for mail and supplies. But we kids thought the most important thing about our closest town was that it was where candy came from.

Whenever Dad returned from Wawota, we asked for candy. Sometimes he had some. Mother didn’t want us to have it too often because it was bad for our teeth.

Dad’s youngest brother, Uncle Ernest, took over his parent’s farm, five miles from us. He bought candy every week – but by the time he got to his home, it was usually gone. Dad claimed that whenever he bought candy, he brought it all home to share with us. I always believed him.

Wawota is the Cree word for “pile of snow.” It’s very accurate in the winter. When Dad went there, he usually took the horses and a wagon. When the snow got deep, he used the sled instead.

Winter snow makes traveling by car slower and more dangerous, but it’s the opposite with a sled. A sled is quieter, smoother, safer, and easier for the horses to pull than a wagon. While a car may be more likely to break down in the winter, sleds rarely broke. They have no moving parts.

Traveling with horses is safer than with an automobile. If you point your car towards a brick wall or a steep drop and give it the signal to go fast, it will. A horse won’t. Horses have horse sense, which is better than our sense sometimes.

As soon as Dad loaded the cream in the sled, the horses knew they were going to town. Dad didn’t really need to drive them. He could have napped on the way and the horses would have gone to the right place. Don’t try that with a car!

The reason that driving a car is so much different than driving a horse is that you don’t really drive a car. You operate it, like any other piece of machinery.

When you drive an animal, you make it want to go where you want. You drive cattle by getting behind them and annoying them a little so they want to walk away from you. We always drove horses by just letting them know where we wanted them to go.

Our horses did what we wanted because they were trained so well. When we got ready to train a 3 or 4 year old horse, we put a halter on a trained horse and on the young horse and tied a rope between the 2 halters about 30 inches long.

We then put the same type of harness on each horse and also placed a bridle and bit over the halters previously placed. The long reins were attached to each horse’s bridle.

As we drove the team, the young horse would learn to be guided and controlled as the trained one.

This procedure was done day after day until the young horse was trained.

When the snow got deep enough to use the sled, it usually drifted around everything that stuck up from the ground. Snow is soft, so anything you could bump into was cushioned. Also, it was difficult to drive off the road because the snow got higher at the edges.

Sleds don’t have brakes, but horses don’t go very fast. The horses stopped the sled by slowing down. They knew not to bump into things. The combination of horse sense, roads that kept you on them, slow speeds, and cushioned obstacles made winter driving very safe.

There was no such thing as a heated sled. We had to bundle up when we used it. The cold weather didn’t bother the horses, though.

Dad kept the two most agile horses in the barn over the winter to pull the sled. He let the plow horses out, and they took care of themselves. They knew where to find grass. Instead of drinking water, they ate snow. Most of the time they stayed near a stand of poplars that blocked the wind.

Their coats grew long and shaggy over the winter. Dad sheared their necks before harnessing them in the spring. If he didn’t, the hair would bunch up under the yoke and irritate them until sores formed.

My aunt’s husband also went into town once a week for the mail. They lived ten miles from their town and didn’t have cream to sell. Instead of taking a sled and horses, her husband skied the twenty-mile round trip every week on cross-country skis. That really impressed me, especially after I tried skiing a short distance on them.

Twenty miles was about as far as a horse could pull a sled in a day. If you wanted to go further, you took the train. Trains could go 35 miles per hour, even on snowy tracks. That was very fast in the 20s and 30s.

In the winter, they put snowplows on the front of the steam engines. Some of the fancier trains had a rotary mechanism instead. It got its power from the engine and threw the snow off the track. It was fun to watch, but I don’t know if it did a better job than the plow.

When they raised the roads and paved them with asphalt, people started using cars and trucks instead of trains. Because the modern roads made car and truck travel more comfortable, people traveled further in them and used trains less. The trains didn’t need to stop as often, so the train company closed many of their stations. Often, that killed the towns they were in because so many businesses relied on the trains.

The high asphalt roads usually stayed free of snow because the winds blew it into the side ditches. That was great for cars, but bad for sleds.

As the weather warmed, the snow turned to muddy slush. The only way a horse could get traction in that was if they had special shoes with cleats screwed into them. So, in spring, the horses got “golf shoes.”

We never gave them the rest of the attire, though.


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School Days


You’d think farmers’ kids could get to school before 9:30 in the morning, but some days even 9:30 was too early.

Near the end of December, the sun didn’t come up until after 8, but Dad was up two hours earlier to put fuel in the heater and cook stove. About an hour later, Mother came down and made breakfast. By 8, we children were dressed and ready for breakfast.

Our one-room schoolhouse was a mile and a half away. We walked the distance in about a half hour when the roads were clear, but snow slowed us down. If the snow was deep, my sister and I might take the cutter.

The cutter was a small sled the Shetland pony pulled. Lavina always drove because she was three and a half years older than me. When we got to school, we put the pony in the barn and gave it the sheaf of oats we put under the seat before we left home. The pony made that sheaf last all day – first nibbling the heads, and then eating the straw.

Even more fun than taking the cutter to school was skating down the creek. The same creek that passed within a hundred yards of the school was also five hundred yards from our house. When it was frozen hard, I could skate to school faster than Lavina could drive. I usually came home with Lavina because skating uphill isn’t fun.

Later in the spring, when it stayed light longer but the ponds were still frozen, my friends and I used to skate on a pond near the school. When the ponds melted we played ball after school.

During the shortest days of winter, the sun set near 4, when school let out. We went straight home and put the pony in the barn before dark. Also, I always filled the water barrel with clean snow before dark.

Snow is mostly air, so filling the water barrel took more trips than you might expect. Sometimes I watched the snow melt after I dumped it into the barrel. While I put in a lot, it melted to just a little water. I kept bringing in buckets of clean snow until the barrel was close to full. On the days Mother did laundry, I was really quiet at supper.

Sometimes I got invited to a friend’s house for dinner when they had a birthday cake. My birthday was in July, so I usually didn’t invite friends to my birthday dinners. I did invite friends over when Grandfather Perry came to visit, though.

Grandfather was a politician, so he knew how to make people like him. Kids like candy. Grandfather brought lots of it. He never showed up without a ten-pound tin of hard candies.

I always looked forward to Grandfather’s visits, and my enthusiasm showed at school. The day after he arrived at our house, I usually arrived home from school with a few friends. He gave everyone candy. Some of my friends walked more than three miles out of their way for those few pieces of candy. I don’t know what Grandfather was running for, but he had our votes.

School wasn’t all fun. We learned a lot, too. One day, I decided to stay inside and read at recess as the other kids played outside in the snow. When the teacher rang the schoolbell all the kids lined up on the porch. Because I was already inside, I didn’t think I needed to go out there. I was wrong.

The teacher got angry with me and made me stay after school. Teachers were allowed to beat their students then, as long as they used the correct leather strap. She took out her two-inch wide strap and made me hold my palms up. Ouch, that hurt – but it didn’t work.

I still like reading.


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The High Cost of Education


There was a good bible school in Carman, Manitoba, near where my mother’s relatives lived. When Lynn and Pearl were 15 and 16 we moved there so they could attend.

We took the train to Carman, about 200 miles east. The animals used a boxcar and the people rode in coach. Shortly after arriving, we rented a small farm.

The land around Carman was flat and fertile. Mother’s relatives had been very successful growing potatoes, and Dad expected to do the same.

Apparently, many other farmers had the same idea as Dad, and there were too many potatoes the next year. The price dropped very low.

Dad and others shared the cost to rent a boxcar and ship their potatoes to where they could get a higher price for them.

They sent the potatoes to Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba. They couldn’t sell them there, so they sent the car on to Chicago. They had the same problem there.

Soon, the potatoes started to rot. They couldn’t just abandon them, though. They had to pay someone to clean out the boxcar.

We lost a lot of money that year, not just from the potatoes, but the hospital bills, too.

When the snow melted in the spring, the river got high and flooded its banks. Our farm had about six inches of water on it. While that’s great for the soil, it’s dangerous for people.

The floodwater was polluted with waste from the farms upstream. It contaminated our well and I came down with a bad case of typhoid. Everyone was glad I made it to my sixth birthday, but the hospital bills almost bankrupted the family.

Lynn and Pearl graduated after three years and passed their provincial exams that June. Mother wanted to stay near her relatives, but life was better for us in the Moose Mountains.

So, we returned to Pleasant View in the summer of 1924, poorer but wiser.


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Medical Decisions


When I was five years old, the whole family caught typhoid fever. I got it the worst. I was so sick, I had to stay in the Carman hospital for three and a half months.

Every day, Doctor Cunningham smiled at me and said, “You’ll be better tomorrow.” But when he spoke to my parents, he said, “I don’t think he’ll make it through the night.”

To protect the other patients, I was in a private room. After a couple of weeks, my mother convinced the doctor to let her move in with me. She slept on a cot next to mine in the hospital room for 3 months. I’m sure that had more to do with my getting better than the doctor’s smile.

Oh, yeah. There was that medicine. I wonder what was in it. Most medicines back then did more harm than good. – And this sure tasted like one of those.

I did everything I could to avoid taking the medicine, but the nurse wouldn’t give up. One time I decided to not open my mouth. I guess she’d dealt with kids like me before – or maybe the instructions were on the bottle. She just held my nose shut until I opened my mouth. - And she didn’t let go until I swallowed.

There was no way to convince her to let me skip a dose. She said the doctor told her to give it to me. If she didn’t follow the doctor’s orders, she could lose her job. 

That got me thinking… If I were a doctor, she’d have to listen to me. If I said, “No more medicine” she’d have to stop.

That’s when I decided to become a doctor. I know that doctors help lots of people and make good money. Those were considerations, but not the real reason. I just wanted nurses to listen to me.

…And, you know, since I’ve been a doctor, no one’s held my nose and made me swallow disgusting goop.

Stay in school, kids. It’s worth it!


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It Can’t Buy Happiness


I never met Grandfather Husband. He died three months before I was born in 1917. Each of his four children inherited enough money to buy a Model T, and they all did. My father was also able to hire a carpenter to build a two-story frame addition to our log cabin.

The money allowed us to be more comfortable, but I wonder how Grandmother Husband felt losing her husband and most of her savings at the same time. She had enough money to move into town and buy a house.

The same thing happened to Mother when Dad died in 1943. We children inherited most of the family assets, but Mother lived another 41 years. My wife informs me that this family tradition has ended.

The Model T wasn’t really a necessity, but it was fun to drive. When I was 12, Dad let me drive it from the house to the gate, about a quarter of a mile away. I couldn’t drive on the road until I turned 16 and got a license.

A Model T was very different from a modern car. The clutch was also the gearshift. It didn’t have a gas pedal, but it did have a pedal for reverse.

Usually Dad took a wagon or sled into town every week, but sometimes he used the Model T. The upholstered seats and soft rubber tires made the ride much more comfortable.

During the depression, no one could afford gas, so Dad turned our Model T into a Bennett wagon. That’s where you remove the engine and make it so horses pull the car. It was still as comfortable, but you didn’t need gas. Some Americans did the same thing with their cars, but called them Hoover Buggies.

I don’t know if Prime Minister Bennett or President Hoover caused the Depression, but blaming it on them made people feel better. Bennett didn’t help his image much when he visited the western provinces. He traveled in a luxury railroad car and stayed in the best CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) hotels. He never took side trips to see how the farmers were doing.

His most famous quote was, “I don’t see any hard times in the West.” That gave him a hard time in the next election. He lost. So did Hoover.

In 1935, some other folks rode the railway from British Columbia towards the nation’s capital, Ottawa. They weren’t riding in luxury Pullmans, though. They hopped freight cars. They were unemployed because of the Depression and wanted government help.

The group got pretty famous as other unemployed men joined them in the “On-to-Ottawa Trek.” By the time they got to Regina, the government wanted to arrest the leaders. When the police tried to do it, they created the “Regina Riot.”

I don’t know if you’d call us unemployed during the Depression. We were just as busy, but made much less money. The price of wheat dropped so low that it wasn’t worth harvesting. We had to keep planting it every year so the weeds wouldn’t take over the fields, though.

Even though we planted all the fields, we only harvested enough for our own use during the next year. Dad brought some to the mill in Arcola to have it ground into white flour and saved the rest for seed. Luckily, we didn’t have to pay money to mill the wheat into flour. The mill owner accepted wheat as payment.

We didn’t have much money to spend during those years. One thing we couldn’t afford was my high school education.

High school was free, but it was seven and a half miles away. I could ride my bicycle during the beginning and end of the school year, but not during the cold months. From about November through April, I’d have to board in town near the school. We didn’t have enough money for that during the Depression.

Most people stayed in school through the eighth grade. There were lots of schools for those grades, so they were close to everyone. Mine was only a mile and a half away. When I graduated, I knew the only way I could go to high school was by correspondence.

Correspondence courses are very difficult, but I managed to complete the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. Then, I got discouraged. I didn’t continue to the last grade 

By the time I was 22, the economy had recovered and we had enough money for me to board in town. So I graduated from 12th grade there. I was the oldest student, but at least I was younger than the teacher.

The Depression kept me on the farm a few extra years, but we didn’t suffer the hardships many people did during that time. The economy didn’t affect us strongly because we produced almost everything we needed.

We never had much money, so some people might call us poor. We always had everything we needed, so some might call us well off. No matter what we had, we were always happy.

That’s what matters.


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Learning Manners


Mother used to be a schoolteacher, so when she read to us at bedtime, it was more like teaching than entertainment.

Her favorite bedtime book was Emily Post’s book on manners. She started each evening’s reading with a quiz about the previous night’s lessons. Once we showed we understood them, she went on to new topics.

I’m glad Mother taught us manners so well. It’s important, but rarely taught in schools.

The first college I attended taught classes like that, though. It was the least academic school I attended, but the most valuable.

In 1939, my brother-in-law arranged for me to get a scholarship to his college in Tennessee, Freed-Hardeman Christian College. I was already a minister of the Church of Christ in Saskatchewan, but after attending the College for a year, I did a much better job.

Mr. Hardeman was an excellent public speaker and always drew large crowds at the annual meetings in Nashville. They held them in the country’s largest auditorium, the Ryman. It held 8,000 people. These days, they call it the Grand Ole Opry.

Mr. Hardeman spoke there four years in a row and always filled the auditorium. The fire marshals had to block as many as 2000 people from entering. They listened to him outside over loudspeakers.

His talks were polite and logical, full of down-to-earth wisdom. I felt lucky to be in a class he taught at the College.

One day, he told us about a minister of a midwestern town who resigned and went on to another job. The church elders were happy with his work, but later discovered that he’d left unpaid bills all over town. They paid the bills to preserve the church’s reputation.

“Now Boys,” Mr. Hardeman said. (This was how we knew something important was coming.) “It doesn’t matter how far the bird flies, the tail gets there.”

Most college professors were doctors, and we wanted to call Mr. Hardeman, “Dr. Hardeman,” but we knew better. Whenever anyone did that, he got a lecture about how his father was a doctor, but he only had a masters’ degree.

Just about everyone in the school was from the hills of Tennessee, so they thought I talked funny. I only needed correcting once.

Canadians, including me, always called Americans “Yankees.” I didn’t realize that rural southerners don’t appreciate Yankees – and especially being called one.

One day, after using that expression, I found myself surrounded by four large members of our basketball team. The biggest one said, “We’ve never heard of Yankees. We’ve heard of damn Yankees, though.”

That was the last time I ever called anyone a Yankee.


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A Fine Spring Day


I enrolled in the Regina’s teacher’s college in 1940. I looked forward to earning a teacher’s salary starting the next school year. I was surprised that I didn’t have to wait that long.

One fine spring day, the principal of the college called me to his office. He said he knew I’d pass the exam in June. Rather than make me finish the term, he offered to give me my credential and a teaching position immediately. Yes, that was a fine spring day. There may have been a blizzard going on outside.

I got a fortunate break because the war factories were paying such high wages. Teachers could make much more money in the factories, so many of them quit teaching. Many schools in the province were without teachers.

I was sent to replace a young woman who had just quit her job in a one-room school. She was a qualified teacher but was having disciplinary problems with three of her students.

Canadian law at that time required all students to stand by their desks every morning and do the opening exercises. That consisted of reciting the Lord’s Prayer and singing God Save the Queen.

These days, it would be illegal to require anything like that. The law was probably changed by some students who did what the three Jehovah’s Witnesses did in my predecessor’s class. They refused to participate.

There are several ways to deal with a situation like that. She chose to notify the school board. Three of the members, farmers, came into the class, pulled the kids out of their seats, and forced them to stand during the opening exercise.

The kids still didn’t say anything. The teacher tried that tactic one more time, then quit – two months before the end of the term.

On my first morning teaching, I said, “I understand there have been problems with people not willing to participate. I will not try to get three people to do what their conscience doesn’t want them to do, but you have to stand by the side of the desk.” Everything went smoothly.

The Manpower Board operated during the war years to increase the efficiency of the war effort. One fine spring day, they decided to fix the teacher shortage with a new law. It forbade anyone teaching on April 18th to leave teaching without permission from the Board.

I think the military is an honorable profession, and I appreciate the people who serve, but the Manpower Board's decision meant that I wouldn't be one of them.

During summer vacations, I took science classes at the university. I always had to assure the Manpower Board that the classes would improve my teaching credential by allowing me to teach more classes. By the time the war ended in Europe, I had completed all of my premed requirements.

During the 1944-45 school year, I was principal of a small high school. When the janitor quit, I took his job as well. I appreciated the extra money, and I didn’t mind sweeping up after everyone went home.

After sweeping up, I went home to the hotel, where I boarded. I ate my meals downstairs in the restaurant.

Restaurants in small town hotels weren’t like city restaurants. You ate whatever they cooked. It was like being a guest in someone’s home.

Israel Hoefer often ate at the restaurant with his host family. Israel was a nice gentleman, and a member of the Jewish Colonization Organization. The Organization had about 7 members in our area, all farmers who hosted Jewish families from Eastern Europe.

The Europeans learned to farm as they learned English. When they got their own farms, the hosts accepted new families.

Farming is hard work, and everyone ate lots of food. The restaurant served pork roast one day. No one realized it until people were getting seconds. One of the farmers shouted, “Isreal, you can’t eat pork!”

Israel just smiled, pointed to the roast, and said, “Pass the chicken."

You’d think a family from Europe wouldn’t like the cold remote country in Saskatchewan, but Israel’s guest family thought they were in heaven.

The immigrant couple stopped by my office once a month to see how their children were doing. In Eastern Europe at that time, the Jewish kids weren’t even allowed to go to school, so they really appreciated the education we provided.

They told me about a Jewish expression that said you have to teach your sons either a profession or a trade. Otherwise, you’re teaching them to be a robber.

The parents wanted to make sure their children were learning in school, not just going there. I never met other parents so interested in their childrens’ education.

My year as a principal ended on June 25,1945. I had been accepted at a medical school in Los Angeles and wanted to start there in the fall. It wasn’t that easy, though.

I had to go to the Manpower Board in person to apply to quit teaching. Because the war had already ended in Europe, they let me go.

They also let me take some of the money I had saved – enough for the first year’s tuition and books. The bank could send the rest of my money to me in Los Angeles in monthly checks of $14.27.

That didn’t go very far, even in 1945, so I had to work as I attended medical school. That was OK. Compared to the weather in Saskatchewan, every day in Los Angeles was a fine spring day.


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Starving Student


I started medical school with money in the bank – and that’s where most of it stayed. The Canadian government only allowed the bank to send me $14.27 per month while I was in the United States. It was hard making ends meet those first few months.

By Christmas, I had a job at the school using my farming experience. Instead of taking care of cows and horses, I took care of rabbits and white rats in the lab. It paid 75 cents an hour. I kept that job for my entire four years of medical school.

The lab was really a two-bedroom house adjacent to the school. Dr. Louisa Burns used the front bedroom as her office and the living room as the library. The animals stayed out back on the veranda.

Taking care of the animals wasn’t a full-time job, but I didn’t need much money. They let me sleep in the second bedroom in exchange for also being the security guard.

I made sure the animals had all the food and water they needed during the week, and I cleaned their cages on Saturday afternoons, after the lab class. I turned in my hours to personnel every week and got enough pay to take care of my needs.

Just about every day, I walked down the street to the bakery. They sold a shoebox of day-old pastries for only 25 cents. I stopped by the Safeway on the way home for a quart of milk. That’s mostly what I ate for the first year or so. I never got tired of it. It would have been difficult to eat other foods because there was no refrigerator in the lab.

During my second year at medical school, we did lab work on ourselves. I was surprised to discover I was anemic. I hadn’t been getting enough protein and iron.

About that time, the school put a refrigerator in the lab for the professor. She didn’t use it much, but encouraged me to. I never thought that refrigerator had anything to do with my anemia, but now I’m not so sure.

It always feels good to do something nice for another person. When that person has no idea they’re being helped, it makes you feel even better. Maybe Dr. Burns requested that refrigerator for me.

I ate a lot better after getting the refrigerator. I also started using the log gas burner in the lab to cook potatoes and sausages. I never cooked anything fancy, but my anemia went away.

Also, during my second year, I started working as a male nurse. The agency sent me out on 12-hour shifts, from 7 pm to 7 am. I always got back in time for my 8 am classes. When you’re young, missing a night’s sleep now and then is OK. I considered it training for residency.

The animals didn’t go hungry when I nursed. I had set up the cages so I only had to fill the food and water once every day or two. The groundskeeper showed me how to set up a clock so its minute hand pulled up a gate once an hour that caused food to drain into a bowl, allowing the animals to access the food.

By that time, I felt financially secure. I didn’t pay rent; I didn’t need transportation; I had two part-time jobs; and – regular as clockwork – $14.27 each month.


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Night Shift


The male nursing registry sent me to Beverly Hills one night in 1947 to take care of a 27 year-old man.

His father, a retired surgeon, met me at the door and said, “You may not want to take this job at all. I will not be angry if you leave because there have been two men here today already and he chased both of them out.”

He paused for a few seconds, maybe to see if I’d leave – but I didn’t. Then he explained the situation.

He and his wife had very successful careers and retired to Beverly Hills. They converted one of their garages into an apartment for their son. He was out there.

The son was an aspiring actor, but never got the lead roles he hoped for. Sometimes that depressed him and he got drunk. Very drunk. This was one of those days.

They were worried because they hadn’t heard anything from him since he threw out the second male nurse. At that time he was very drunk and talking hesitatingly. They didn’t know if he had more alcohol in the apartment, but if he drank more, it could be fatal.

The son had blocked the apartment door with furniture and wouldn’t answer the phone. They didn’t know if he was still alive.

“I’ll look at the apartment,” I said to the father, so he brought me out back.

We looked around carefully and noticed the bathroom window was down, but not locked. We took off the screen and pushed up the window. He brought a stepladder over and said, “If you’re not afraid, you can crawl in.”

He probably knew he was manipulating me with a dare, but I didn’t catch it. Even if I had, it wouldn’t have made a difference. I was curious.

I crawled through the window and into the bathroom. I got onto my feet, opened the bathroom door, and entered the living room.

The young man was sleeping on the couch. I confirmed he was breathing, and then went back to the bathroom window to tell the father his son was O.K.

This was about 9 or 10 at night. I sat on a chair and watched the young man until he woke up, about 4 am.

“Who are you?” he asked.

I said, “Your father called the male nursing registry and they sent me up here.”

“I know they did,” he said. “I ran two of them out, and I’m going to run you out too.”

“Try if you want to,” I said. I was pretty muscular at that time. But my real advantage was that I hadn’t been drinking.

He got up and said, “Help me get this furniture away from the door.” When we finished, he turned to me and said, “Get out of here.”

“I’m not going,” I responded.

“I’ll put you out.”


We stared at each other for a few seconds. Then he broke into a big smile and said, “I like you.”

I offered to make breakfast, and he said O.K. He ate a little even though he was miserable from the hangover. My shift was over at 7 am, but he asked me to come back that evening.

That evening, he slept in the bedroom. I slept on the couch. He woke feeling good and took me out to breakfast. He said he was going to tell his father to call the registry and ask for me the next time this happened.

– And it did. Every four to six weeks the registry sent me to that house in Beverly Hills. I should have named my first car after him. His nursing fees paid for it.


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Hazardous Duty


In all my years of practice, I only had one patient I was afraid of.

In 1947, during my last year of medical school, the male nursing registry sent me to a job in a mental institution for the evening. One man had been extraordinarily agitated that day and the superintendent of nurses wanted a male nurse to watch him that night.

My patient had a tumor in his brain caused by advanced syphilis. It made him aggressive and violent. I’m sure he was a nice man. The disease made him act that way.

He was about 30 years old and had been a soldier in World War II. He was large, strong, and in excellent condition.

When the superintendent of nurses brought me to his room, he was facing away from us and didn't know we were there. We saw him happily sitting on his bed, pointing his imaginary rifle at imaginary people in an imaginary Sears store.

“I got that one,” he chortled. Then he took aim at another part of the room. His finger tightened and his arms jerked.

“That one I missed,” he sighed. Then he took aim again.

The nurse gave him a pill, and an hour later he was sleeping peacefully. My job was to watch him for the night.

He woke about two in the morning and said, “Who are you?”

“The nurse wanted me to watch you,” I explained.

“I don’t need the nurse and I don’t need you,” he yelled.

He said, “I’m going to get you” as he swung his legs over the side of the bed.

By this time, I was on my feet and moving towards the door.

My patient had a wide leather belt around his waist that was connected to the frame of his bed. He couldn’t get too far from his bed, so I felt I was safe standing a few feet away.

I was wrong.

He came running at me until the strap tightened – then the bed started moving towards me as well. I don’t think it even slowed him down.

I headed for the door as fast as I could run. He followed me into the hallway and stopped abruptly when the bed jammed in the doorway.

The nurse heard the racket and came over to where I was – just out reach of my patient’s thrashing arm.

She had a hypodermic needle filled with a sedative and wanted me to hold his arm still so she could inject the medicine.

“Don’t let him get a hold of you because he’s very strong and dangerous,” she said. She told me to grab his wrist with both hands the next time he reached for me and she’d get a shot in him.

After she got the medicine in, he started to relax. He fell asleep on his bed at the doorway.

We waited another 15 minutes before rolling his bed back to its place.

I watched him until 7 in the morning, the end of my shift. Normally, when you watch a sleeping patient, you can relax or read a book as long as you stay aware of the noises coming from the bed.

I never watched a patient more closely than I watched him that night.

I know from my medical studies that we all blink several times each minute. I didn’t blink once in those last four hours.  – And I was ready to dash for the door at a moment’s notice


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