As recounted in the spring of 1991, this memoir ran in the Anderson Valley Advertiser in five installments. –Fred Gardner
My father was a tailor –a beautiful, beautiful tailor. And my mother was a finisher. They came to America early on, I guess about nineteen hundred and one. They lived in Philadelphia, and papa worked and mama worked and grandma lived with them –my mother’s mother. Then they moved to Pittsburgh, because papa thought there might be better opportunities. But Pittsburgh proved to be a terrible disappointment because the air was so bad. Papa said his lungs were going to give out. By that time he had become a citizen, so he decided he would go and see what the west was like. So he came as far as Denver, where everybody went if they were consumptive. And he said if he stayed there, everybody would die of tuberculosis.
He heard from somebody about the homesteaders out in Wyoming, in Goshen County. So he came to the nearest town, which was Mitchell, and set up a tailor’s shop, and became established. And then he sent for Grandma –and by that time there were two kids– and he homesteaded, 11 miles away from Mitchell. So Grandma and mama and the kids ran the homestead. It wasn’t a paying proposition, but they had 160 acres. And he worked in town and had a horse and buggy and came out Saturday night. He would bring supplies for the week.
Everything he did he had built. First, he had no building talents; and second, he wanted them to be of good quality. Some local man who knew all about sod houses built a magnificent sod house for us. It was the nicest sod house you could imagine. It was spacious, it had very thick walls, it was built inside of a hill, it had a very good chimney, and a porch. That’s where I was born, in 1913, in the sod house. I had an older sister who was also born in the sod house, but she died of influenza in the 1918 epidemic. We had a very very nice garden. There wasn’t very much of our land that was arable. Part of it was badlands, I guess about 40 acres. They were called badlands, but not in the ordinary sense of badlands. They were like small, concrete hillocks made of granite, with very little space between them. I’ve never seen a geological formation like that, and I’m no geologist, so I can’t make any comparison. But they were fun to run around in.
This had been Sioux country –the Oglala Sioux lived there. And buffalo country. And there were still lots and lots of buffalo chips. When I was a child we used to gather them up and we burnt them in the kitchen stove. We had a very nice kitchen stove and a nice parlor stove –one of the ones that sort of bulged out. The sod house was warm in the winter and cool in the summer –it was a great house.
Then later on, when Papa was making money in town, he built a frame house next to it. So we had a very large frame house with two bedrooms. We also had a very nice barn and a wonderful windmill. And we raised cattle –that’s all we did. Our cash crop consisted entirely of cream. We had a De Lavalle cream separator. Part of my job was to put all the cups back numerically –if they weren’t in the right order it wouldn’t spin.
When I was a very small child Papa decided that we would leave the farm and move to Geary, which was the county seat, and he would set up a tailor shop there –which he did. And we lived in Geary until 1919 when the influenza epidemic killed my grandmother and my sister Molly, and Mama said she didn’t want to stay there another minute. So we moved back to the homestead. And when I was old enough to go to school, I went to the nearest country school.
I could tell you lots of stories about my papa. One of the funniest was about the boy next door whose name was Cliff Wood. Cliff and his family ran the Mitchell Cafe. Everyday papa would go and have coffee there, and sometimes breakfast, because he was an early riser. So one day I went with papa to have coffee and pancakes at the Mitchell Cafe. And Cliff said to papa, “Simon, I’ve been watching you for years and you stand by your dining room window every morning and you put on that shawl and those things you wrap around your hands and you pray. What do you pray for?” And papa said, “Well, I pray for it should be a nice day, and people should do good by each other and that everybody in the world should have enough to eat.” And Cliff said to him, “Don’t you ever pray that you should have enough to eat.” Papa looked at him and said, “Oh Cliff, don’t be a child. If everybody in the world has enough to eat, I surely wouldn’t go hungry.”
That was my papa all over.
The Mexicans would come into town on Saturday, particularly the elderly men, and they’d have no place to go during the winter. So papa had four or five chairs and a table and then he had the big stove that heated the shop, and on top he had a big percolator with coffee. And then he would go to the bakery and buy cinammon rolls. Our baker was understanding and he would keep yesterday’s cinammon rolls to sell to papa for half price. So then papa would trudge back with all of this stuff and make the coffee and everything, and pretty soon these old Mexcian men would drift in and they would have coffee and cinammon rolls and it was very very sociable. Mama said to papa one day, “Everytime I come in here there are all these little old Mexican men, it surely isn’t good for business.” Papa laughed and said, “Is there another tailor in town? Besides,” he said, “I do good work and they know it.” He would make a suit for somebody they’d be married in it, they would use it for special occasions, and when they died they’d be buried in it.
That’s how it was.
There was a young Mexican man who was interested in becoming a tailor. Papa took him on and taught him. He became a super-duper tailor –and papa was learning Spanish! One day I came in and there was papa carrying on an amiable conversation in Spanish with these five little old guys. Well, the young man, whose name was Jose, was ever so nice and he learned to be the best tailor in the world. When Jose got married papa made him a splendid new suit and gave him something really nice for the house. Jose looked on him as a second father. It worked out swell all around. Looking back on my life, I must confess I consider my father one of the most important influences. We used to go for long walks in the country on Sunday mornings. We went by the river. We lived only a mile or so from the north Platte. We used to watch the beavers, the muskrats…
The interesting thing about our youth in Wyoming, is that we were all Jews. It was a Jewish colony. And some of the people were helped by the Baron de Hirsch, who was a philanthropist and started colonies in South Dakota and outside of Cheyenne. I heard about the South Dakota one from a book someone had written.
We had the first seder at our house. The Jews came from all over the valley and stayed the whole eight days of Pasach. They slept on the floor in the living room, on quilts. We would get matzos and all that stuff from Denver on the train. We had Pasach dishes. They were all schlepped up from the basement –service for 12 and all the pots and pans. Some of them mama had brought from Europe. The menus were always the same. She made gefilte fish. She’d be supplied with carp by someone from the valley. She would take this fish and gut it and cut out all the meat. Then she would cut up pieces of pike and would grind it and put in matzoh meal and beaten eggs and grated onions. Then she would stuff it all back into the carp and sew the carp up and cook it in chicken broth in an enormous pan with carrots and celery leaves and parsley and salt and pepper. Then she would serve it in slices and serve it with her own horse radish, which we grew in the garden and grated along with beets, and then she’d put in vinegar and a little salt. Then she made a chicken soup with two big chickens in an enormous pot. Then she would roast a couple of great big chickens. Then she would serve tsimis made of carrots. And there was always potato kugel and matzoh kugel. And for desert we’d have compote from all the dried fruits and raisins cooked with lemon, and then she’d make a special sponge cake. Mama didn’t have a recipe that didn’t begin with: “take 12 eggs and a pound of butter…” Papa made wine in the basement –there was plenty of it and it was strong.
We moved back to Mitchell in 1922 and Papa set up a shop. By that time I was in 4th grade –they had skipped a grade for me in the country school. The country school is as I described in the how-I-learned-to-read story, Mendele’s Method. Since then I have taught other people to read –it’s a method that works. I also wrote a story about the librarian in our town, Anna B.S. Lord. Everybody should have their own librarian. I had mine.
We lived in Mitchell, for the most part, but for a while we lived in Cheyenne, because my sister wanted to have a better high school education than Mitchell offered. Mitchell offered an almost classical high school education. They had almost no business courses at all. Latin and mathematics and English and history and physics and chemistry and biology. But they did not offer typing or business methods at that time. So we stayed in Cheyenne until both the older girls had gotten their education and then my older sister married and both my older sisters moved to California and we moved back to Mitchell. By that time Mitchell had business courses, but they also had an excellent science program.
One of the people who did awfully well was Dr. Watson. He graduated from the University of Kentucky and came out and settled in Mitchell. He was very poor. He had one suit and papa cleaned it for him and brought it back to his hotel room so he could get dressed. It was falling apart. Finally one day after cleaning it, papa said I’ll make you a couple of suits and you can pay me when you get the money. He was a marvelous physician. I used to work in his establishment on Saturdays my junior and senior year; he and his nurse taught me a lot of stuff. By that time he had a suite of offices with nine rooms. We did tonsilectomies, we did surgery there. He used to go out on calls with Margaret and I’d take care of the shop. He delievered babies all over town. Some people paid him, some people didn’t pay him, but what the hell, it was okay with him…
He did all his own x-rays. He dealt with traumas. People fell off tractors and got kicked in the head by horses. And the Mexicans would come in town on Saturday night and stab each other. They used to work in the sugar beet fields; and in winter there were houses for them by the sugar beet factory. Sometimes on Saturdays all the other kids were going to parties and picnics and I was in the office passing the sutures. It was fun, and it was very educational. Both Margaret and the Doc were generous teachers… One of the local girls went away and cbecame a nurse at our nearby hospital; and when she graduated she went to work for Doc Watson and was still working for him when he died. I thought she had the best job in the world. They were really a great team.
I decided I wanted to be a nurse very early on. I’d had a ruptured appendix, I was in the hospital in Cheyenne and I had the most excellent super-duper nurses and I loved them to pieces. Then I decided that I would like to go to medical school. Papa said okay. Times were quite good, and he began a savings account for me. But then the bank folded up in 1930 and took all of my first-year science money with it.
Well, okay. I was the valedictorian, so I did get a scholarship. But it was a scholarsahip to a teacher’s college, and I did not want to be a teacher. I wanted to be a nurse or a doctor. So my sister said ‘Why didn’t I come out to California and take nursing here?’ She found out what she thought were the best schools at that time: Mt. Zion had a school and Children’s Hospital had a school and UC had a school. I was accepted at UC and came out here. I was 18 years old.
At that time the University of California had a three-year nursing school. (I think a couple of years later they began the five year program.) In 1934 I graduated and passed the state boards and became a registered nurse and went to work at the old UC Hospital. For a while I did staff duty and then I did private duty. The staff duty was totally exploitative. I remember I had a very bad sore throat and was coming down with an awful cold, and I called in and said I was sick and they said I had to come to work anyway. So I came to work and I came on the floor and there wasn’t a nurse in sight. I went through the unit checking up on the patients, and one of them was on the floor. She had fallen out of bed and there wasn’t anybody in the place at all. So I pressed the general alarm and got everybody up there and we got her back into bed. There was something horrible about that. She was a young woman who had done a self-abortion and she had a general septicemia and bacteremia, and she died. In any event, I couldn’t talk and I had a fever, so I finally got other people there and got the ward under control and went down to the nursing office and said, “I have to go home.” And the supervisor said, “If you do that, you’re out of a job.” I said ‘Fine.” So I went home and I was sick for two weeks, and then I went on duty at the registry and worked.
I was very good at neurological nursing, so I had enough work to survive. It was very bad times. I worked with post-operative brain tumor cases. At that time they had three neurosurgeons on the ward: Howard Naffzinger, O.W. Jones, and Howard Fleming. They were terrific; and I took care of their patients after surgery. They’d call me if I was on call, and that gave me enough work to survive.
I shared an apartment on 2nd Ave. with one of the dieticians –a woman who’d been my teacher in dietetics and then became a friend. It was great. I worked when I could. I read. I walked through the park and to the museum almost every day, as had been my custom when I was a student. And I learned a lot about old things. I went to every concert I could go to if I wasn’t on call or on duty. I heard Marian Anderson at the Opera House. I had lots of friends –students and others.
In 1936 I applied to the United States Public Health Service for a post, passed their exam and late in 1936 I went to work at the Marine Hospital in San Francisco.
On the Line
The 1934 strike on the waterfront was pretty terrible. Everybody took up sides pretty sharply, and I’m sure you can figure out whose side I was on. As a matter of fact, one of the things I did was cook up huge pots of spaghetti sauce and somebody came by and picked them up to feed the people on the picket line. When I went to the U.S. Hospital in 1936 –the Mooney hospital at 14th Avenue and Lake Street– we had a nice nurses’ home and I stayed in the nurses’ home. There had been an epidemic of influenza and I opened up a ward for the influenza patients.
I must confess that the boys politicized me. I was already on the line for it, but they convinced me that the whole idea of the way they were treated, and how hard they worked for how little, and the fact that they had this contract for two years –1934 to 1936– and then the ship-owners broke the contract, they had to go on strike again. All the things they had won –the hiring hall and the regular hours and the safety measures– everything they had fought for would be taken away from them. So they went out on the line.
At that time the United States Public Health Service took care of the ship workers. The Marine Cooks & Stewards, the Masters Mates & Pilots, the Engineers and the Sailors Union –the sailors of the Pacific. We also took care of all the foreign shipworkers who got sick in the harbor.
There was a very strict rule that you couldn’t date the patients; but there were several that I did. We’d meet outside the gates. And one of the guys I dated for a while was an Englishman from Bristol.
At that time the Spanish war was going on. It started in July of ’36. And there was set up in San Francisco an organization called Medical Aid For Spanish Democracy. A friend of mine who was very active socially –a nurse I’d met at a meeting of the California Nurses Association– asked if I knew that they were recruiting nurses for Spain. In the meantime the boys were all hot about Spain. They had this map where they were putting the pins up every day, as I described [in a play, Wars I Have Seen]. So I went down and talked to them and I felt strongly that this was something I should do. So I enlisted, and then I had to go through a series of tests. And the tests were very interesting. There was a World War nurse whose name I can’t remember –she was a very prominent member of the CNA, and one of the heroines. She set up a committee to see if I was just an adventuress or whether I was a Florence Nightingale.
I passed her inspection and then they sent me off to a very famous doctor who had agreed to do the physicals for them. I knew him. His name was Dr. Thomas Addis, and he was a nephrologist [kidney specialist] at Stanford-Lane Hospital. I went to see Dr. Addis and we had a very pleasant chat. I had met him before, because part of my training was an advanced course in psychiatry at Stanford-Lane Hospital. I really wasn’t that interested in psychiatry but the two ladies who ran the two hospitals [UCSF and Stanford-Lane] were friends, and they decided on this exchange of students, and I was the one that Miss Waterman thought should go. I liked Miss Waterman, and if that’s what she wanted me to do, I would do it. So I moved over to Stanford for five months. And it was a very good department, very small with a very highly educated and liberal man who presented us the idea in 1934 that schizophrenia was probably organic, and that almost all of the major psychiatric problems were organic, including mannic depressive psychosis and schizophrenia. And he was right. My medical student friends who were Freudians thought he was nuts, but I believed him. Anyway, I went to see Dr. Addis and he said he thought it was a good idea and that I was physically okay.
Now don’t forget, I’m Jewish. By this time we knew that things were going very badly for the Jews in Germany. And we also knew that it was Germany and Italy that were fighting along with Franco. So I was passed, accepted, measured for uniforms and they sent the measurements on to New York. I packed my gear, closed up shop and resigned from the U.S. Public Health Service. I went on a famous train, the City of San Francisco. We stopped in Chicago and picked up a bunch of people, and then we picked up the rest in New York. I think, all together, there were 19 of us. And early in May we set out for France on the Normandie.
The Normandie was the most wonderful ship. I won the ping pong tournament for my side of the ship. I danced all night and ran around all day. It was absolutely marvelous. I met a very nice young guy from Brooklyn who was going to Europe to travel. He said that if I was nice and lovey and stuff we could marry in Paris. I said thanks but no thanks.
There was somebody else I met on the boat. I can’t remember his name, but he was a very famous surrealist. He was very nice and he was willing to talk about his stuff and I was willing to listen. And I learned a lot about surrealism.
We got to Paris and went to the big meeting I described [in Wars I have Seen]. I’d gotten this bucket of mail from my boys in San Francisco, and each one had money in it. All together they’d sent me fifty dollars in one-dollar bills, telling me to do a good job and they were proud of me and not to get seasick on that big sea-going hotel. Anyway, when I got to the meeting, I threw it all in –fifty whole American dollars in one-dollar bills. Flutter, flutter, flutter, flutter.
We got on a train and we headed out for Spain, all 19 of us. And we finally got to the border and at the border we were picked up in buses and taken to Valencia, where we stayed at the Hotel Ingles. Then we were taken to a place called Albacete, which was the headquarters of the International Brigades. When we got to Albacete it was taken for granted that we would go to the American Hospital in Villa Paz. And I said “Why?” And he said, “Well, it’s understood that all the American nurses go to the hospital in Villa Paz.” And I said, and my friend Irene Golden said: “We didn’t come to work for the Americans. We want to be sent where we are needed.
Irene was one of the nurses. She came from Hartford, Connecticut, and we were together the whole time we were in Spain. She married one of the vets and now lives in Vienna, Austria. I just talked to her on the telephone the other day!
Irene spoke French very well. I spoke German pretty well, but I didn’t think that was going to help me out. But I was very busy learning Spanish.
The head of the Sanitary Corps, Dr. Oscar Telge, looked very pleased when we told him we wanted to go where we were needed. He was actually very friendly. We slept in stretchers under his desk the night we got there. He said, “Well, we well send you to the Czech Hospital on the Navacerada front, because they really need help up there.” So we got all ready to go, and then he came back and said, “No, they have a much more urgent request from the British Hospital at a place called Huete. Their hospital has suddenly been overloaded with patients from the Navacerada front.”
So we packed up our stuff and on our wasy to Huete we passed through Villa Paz, the American hospital, and I was so glad I didn’t go there: it was overstaffed.
Huete was very interesting. We were in an old monastery alongside a church that had been broken into in 1934 and completely shattered. But the monastery had been restored, and the large refectory [dining room] was the ward where I was assigned. Irene worked in the ward at night and I worked in the ward in the daytime.
They thought there was going to be a battle on the front near Madrid. So they took Irene away. And then, after a week, they came and got me. And I was permanently assigned to the 35th International Division Sanitary Corps. We had a group of 74 persons from 48 different countries. We were in a place near Madrid. There was a very famous offensive that the Republicans started at a place called Brunete. And it was quite successful.
We had a lot of patients. For a while I worked, as I’ve described [in the play “Wars I Have Seen”] in the triage, and then I went to work in one of the big units. It was an enormous convent that we were in, very close to the Escorial, in a pear orchard. During the first part of the offensive I did everything there. And then, during the second part of the offensive, I was assigned to the operating room of a Spanish surgeon named Moses Broggi Vales He came from a very prominent Barcelona family –he was a Catalan. He came up on the ward and I thought he was a boy scout from the village. He was 28 years old and he was wearing shorts. No insignia –he was a major. And I assumed he was just a visitor. I went to work with Broggi; we had a team that stayed together almost till the end.
Over a period of time I accumulated a series of diseases. Malaria. Undulant fever. And amoebic dysentery. I only had one severe malaria attack, but I was constantly plagued by this low grade fever that came and went. I didn’t know what it was, and neither did anybody else. I had dysentery all the time, more or less. So they shipped me out of the country to France.
I was in Paris and I began to get stronger and better, and one of the things I did was to do dressings for a group of American volunteers who had been wounded in Spain. They would come for me every day and I would go and do the dressings for all of these men. So I sort of kept up with the brigade.
Then I began to get really strong, so they said, “We’ll ship you to London to get new uniforms.” All of my uniforms had been burned up when we’d had a fire in our ambulatory ambulance surgical unit, which we didn’t use as much –it was too small to do surgery in it– but used for sterilization and storage. Our unit was mobile, and we used to set up in barracks or in the field or wherever was possible.It was hit by a bomb and our chaufeur was killed. His name was Bob Webster and he was from New York.
In London the British committee took good care of me. And then, on a Sunday, I developed a very very high fever –it was up to 106. I was in this hotel –a pension– and one of the people I met there, an art director for Alexander Korda, went around the corner and got the local doctor to come and see me. He was a tropical disease expert and he put me on doses of quinine. I went to see another specialist at the University College Hospital and they got my medical history and held a conclave over me and said, “Well, dear, we will put you in the hospital for six months and get you built up and get you over all this stuff, and then, if the war is still going on, we will send you back.”
And I said, “No, I’d better go home.” So they got in touch by cable with the American committee and they shipped me back. I was sick all the way across. In New York I began to get better. I met two Americans who had come back from Spain –one was a nurse and one was an administrator. They had a car and we drove across the country and I got back to California, where I immediately went to see my old physician. He sent a blood sample to the Hooper Foundation. They had been doing ungulent fever research for some years and they diagnosed it without any trouble at all. I had the kind that’s carried by goats. I’ts called brucilosis melitensis. I knew about that, too, because two of our researchers had come down with it and I had nursed them. But there wasn’t any treatment for it, and there wasn’t any cure. They killed the dissentery at that time with something called Emetine, and I recovered. But I didn’t get over the undulant fever until nineteen hundred and forty-four.
At this point my life took a strange turn.
The War Years
As soon as I could I went back to work doing private duty, and then I got a job directing a small orphanage for Chinese children that was run by the Community Chest. I did all kinds of things and the children got on fine and they all grew and prospered. In the fall of ’39 I found out about a job at the Berkeley General Hospital, working in the emergency room. You can believe that after my work in the triage and my work in Spain, there wasn’t anything in an emergency room that was going to faze me. It was a part-time job, and I was able to go to school. At that time, tuition was $27.50 a semester, and that included health care. [Esther was still recovering from the effects of undulant fever.]
So I cheerfully resigned from my job as orphanage director and moved over to Berkeley and went to school for a year and a half. And while I was there I met Richard, who was studying genetics, and we were married in January, 1941. He took his doctor’s orals on the day we got married –don’t ask me why. In the spring of 1942, he was finishing up and I went to work in a place where they were building drydocks. I was called the camp nurse, and I learned a lot about industrial nursing, which I knew very little about before.
We had 2,500 or 3,000 people there, men and women. I was the first aid station. People would get things in their eyes, or the women would be having menstrual cramps. The first day there were three people who had stepped on nails on boards. The second day I had four people who stepped on nails. So I called a conference with the foreman of the whole outfit and said, “I want you to hire a couple of people and all they’re going to do is walk around the camp and pick up boards with nails and take out the nails and put them in a box and stack the planks.” So the incidence of people stepping on nails went down to practically nothing. That was easy.
One Sunday I went to a conference and heard Agnes Fay Morgan, a very famous nutritionist, head of the department at UC Berkeley. She wanted us to help people understand about nutrition and what they should put in their lunchboxes. So I went out during the lunch hour and on the horn I talked about whole wheat bread and what you should put in your lunchbox besides white-bread sandwiches –like hardboiled eggs and pieces of cheese and pieces of leftover meat and green peppers and onions and apples and oranges and tomatoes and celery. After a while they started bringing oranges and apples, and some people were quite innovative. They not only brought hardboiled eggs, they deviled them. Some of them didn’t just bring celery, they stuffed it with cheese. But it was still white bread sandwiches. Then one of my patients –a lady who was from the south, as a lot of our workers were– told me, “We’ve been living on corn pone for so long, and we’ve got sliced white bread now, and you ain’t gonna take it away from us.” I said “Okay, that’s fine, just buy the best quality white bread that you can find… Have you tried French bread?”
Richard got a post-doc fellowship at Yale, so in the spring of ’43 we went to New Haven. When I got there, I didn’t have a Connecticut license. Richard’s new boss, the head of the department of genetics, said “Why don’t you come to work for us? We can certainly use someone who’s trained in sterile technique.” And so I went to work for the Osborne Zoological Laboratory, taking care of the drosophila stock. I cooked their food and raised them and selected them under a low-power microscope with ether as an anesthetic. It was no problem at all.
I did something else, too. There was an epidemic of polio, and they sent out an SOS for all nurses. I went down to the Yale Hospital and said, “Look I don’t have a license.” They said “We don’t give a hoot.” I had a full-time job and couldn’t start till 7, but from 7 till 11 I toiled manfully applying kennypacks –they used to wrap people up in hot, wet blankets. It was great, because it stopped the pain. Then I got polio myself. It’s a painful disease, by the way; it’s like having the flu, only 20 times compounded. And I said, “Do I want to go into the hospital and have kennypacks?” And the answer was “No.” We were living in this very nice apartment, and there was an enormous bathtub, so I just stayed home and kennypacked myself. When I began to hurt too badly I just stayed in the tub until I got washerwoman’s wrinkles, and then I got out and dried myself off and took aspirin.
Then we moved to Rochester and I got assignments from the Visiting Nurses Association. I took care of a lot of old people, and young mothers. One of my patients was a lady who ran a boarding house for men. Mrs. Gray, my immediate supervisor –I adored her, she had been a public health nurse– said, “the lady you are going to take care of used to run a cat house. You know, a brothel. But she finally got too old for that, so what she runs now is this boarding house for retired men. They pay her their social security less five dollars a month and two of them don’t pay at all because they do the work –one cleans and shops, and the other cooks.”
The first time I came I was greeted by this little old gent who said he was the cook and invited me into the kitchen to have a cup of coffee. I said, “Thanks, I’ll go take care of my patient and come back.” I found my client a very nice woman, very pleasant and friendly; obviously good at public relations. She was an arthritic; I used to go an massage her knees and help her in and out of the bathtub and things like that. And the men were delightful. This place was a great big old Victorian house and it had been set up very comfortably with all the nice furniture left over from the brothel. They had a very nice large dining room table, which was never uncovered. It always had food on it in case anybody got hungry –peanut butter and jelly and coffee and tea.
There were lots of rooms upstairs, where the eight little old men lived. The rest of the large living room/dining room combination had game tables where people could play pinochle and there were nice comfortable big chairs to read in and good lights everywhere and it was warm all the time because there was a very good furnace. And not only that, but they had the biggest kitchen stove I’d ever seen, with eight holes and a hot-water jacket on one side and a warmer up above. And there was always something cooking –large quantities of stew with all kinds of vegetables.
I became acquainted with these little old darlings and I sort of checked up on them. One day when I came, one of them had developed a very bad bronchial pneumonia. The doctor had come and he was going away to the hospital. He had tears in his eyes, and was asking if we would please keep his room open, and if he died, we could give it away. My little old client had waddled out of her room–she was obese– and she was leaning over him and saying, “Don’t worry, Joe, you’ll be taken care of. Just get well and come home.” Then the ambulance came and took him away.
I went to see him in the hospital several times. He made very good progress and came home, but we were afraid that the upstairs rooms were too cold, so they brought down the bed and he stayed in the big room for a while until he had totally convalesced.
At Christmas they gave me an envelope and I was not to look at it till I got home. You cannot believe: it had lots and lots of red points [to buy meat, which was rationed during World War Two], enough to buy the biggest roast beef in the world. It was a very thoughtful gift, and I appreciated it a lot.
In January, 1945, President Roosevelt asked that anybody who could go in the Army as a nurse would be appreciated. We had no children, so I talked it over with Richard and on the fourth of January I went down and enlisted. I had to resign from the Visiting Nurses Association and they said, “Hell no, we’ll give you a leave of absence.” They had a big party and bought me my lieutenant’s bars in sterling silver. One of my patients in the VNA, a very sincere and ardent Catholic lady, gave me a blessed Virgin Mary medal and a St. Christopher medal blessed by the bishop and on a silver chain. I promised to wear it and not take it off till the end of the war. And I headed out for basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
After all those years in Wyoming, pitching a tent wasn’t any trouble for me; and neither was close order drill. All you had to do was tell your feet what to do. I was 32 –the oldest member in my barrack– and everybody minded what I said. We were so well organized and used to do our work so fast –remember, I was an organizer from way back. The girls listened to what I said, but they said I was a frump. They said “Look at your hair. It’s long and you wear it in a bun. It looks terrible.” So one night they cut my hair off and gave me a perm so that my hair would go over my cap. They also initiated me into the music they thought people should listen to, and so I learned about Spike Jones. Then 40 of us were assigned to a hospital in Utica, New York and I was put in charge of getting 40 young ladies from Fort Dix, New Jersey, to Utica, New York. I even lost a few in Grand Central Station. However, we found an MP and he put us on the loudspeaker system, and I said, “Girls, please get back here, our train is about to leave…”
So we went to work in this huge hospital, built of barracks, in Utica, New York. It was called Rhodes General Hospital, and it had 67 hundred beds. It was that ward, with the returned POWs, that I eventually described (in Wars I Have Seen). Eventually I shifted from there to be in charge of the isolation section. And then I was shipped from the ground forces to the air forces, and I went off to Wright Patterson Field in Dayton, Ohio. My first job was running a ward for polio patients –setting up kennypack systems and all that. Then I was sent to manage a ramp. That was really tough. They were patients who really didn’t fit in anywhere else. I had some pretty tough babies in there.
One evening I was making rounds and I interrupted a crap game, and the kids were losing to these bastards who just wandered around the camp, finding the innocent and preying on them. I looked the situation over and I said, “All the money must be returned to the original player.” For some reason they did it. And I said to the boys, “Look, you’re being taken advantage of by these hustlers.” And I told the hustlers, “If you ever come back on my ramp I will have the MPs haul you away and throw you in the slammer. So get out of here while you can.”
The kids said to me afterwards, “Those were big guys, and tough. We were scared for you.” I said, “Yes, but I figured they were outnumbered and you kids would protect me.” And they said, “Yes, we would have, but you know, we’re sick.”
In the town where I lived we used to have the county fair for Scotts Bluff County Nebraska, and I loved county fairs very much. Can you imagine my pleasure when I found out that the Ohio state fair was going to be held near the camp? So I arranged to have the day off so I could go to the state fair.
Among my friends were three Jewish nurses from New York. I took a shower one day and of course I was wearing my medal, and one of them said to me as I came out, “What is that you have around your neck?” And I said very proudly, “That’s my Blessed Virgin Mary medal.” And she said, “You told us you were Jewish.” And I said, “I am. This was given me by a patient and she had it blessed by a bishop and I don’t take it off at any time until I get out of the army and go home.” She thought that was strange. Anyway, I invited them to come to the fair with me –I told them how great it was– and they said all right. So we all went into Dayton to the fair on the army bus.
It was divine. You should have seen the pigs. They were just beautiful. There were white ones and black ones and red ones. And there were piglets! I walked into the pig pen and the girls said, “My God, it doesn’t smell good.” And I said, “It just smells like nice, clean pigs. Perfectly okay. Come and look at this mother pig and her piglets.” Well, they said no. They said, “What on earth do you want to look at pigs for?” And I said, “Well, pigs are very important where I come from.”
You should have seen the horses! And the cows! And the chickens. It was divine. Ohio is a great agricultural state. After a while they said, “Goodbye, we’re going back. We don’t know what you see in all this. It doesn’t smell good. Goodbye.” So I said “Okay,” and I spent the rest of the day at the fair. You should have seen the quilts! And the canned fruits! And the embroidery and the crochet work and all the rest of the stuff that there is at a state fair. And I had a wonderful lunch at the local Episcopalian church booth –fried chicken and all the trimmings. I took the last bus out to the camp. It was absolutely one of the greatest days I’ve ever spent. And I still don’t understand how they didn’t like it. You talk about “cultural differences!” I guess I’m happy that I wasn’t born and raised in New York City.
Eventually the war ended and I was called into the office and made the following proposition: I was married and could go home immediately, but they would like to have me stay. I was eligible to be made a first lieutenant. They offered me a lot of goodies if I would stay in the Army, but I said, “Ladies, you don’t understand. My husband is a terrible housekeeper. He teaches school. He’s let me come here. I have got to get home as soon as I can.” So I went back to Rochester and immediately reported to the Visiting Nurses Association. By that time it was October. My supervisor said, “Esther, you know about the GI bill of rights. Now is the time to go and finish your education… If you’re still in Rochester, we’ll hire you immediately.” I came home and said, “Richard, guess what? I’m not going to work, I’m going to school.” He said, “Sure, why not? But the women’s campus has already been going since September.” I said “Poo on that stuff.” The men’s campus started much later. I went up to the men’s campus and I said “I am here and I would like to go to school and I don’t want to lose a semester.” They said, “No problem, you’ll be the only woman undergraduate and the first one at The University of Rochester.”
It was loads of fun. In every class I was the only woman. Some classes I didn’t think I was going to be so great at, like advanced chemistry. The men were good. They were on the V-12 program, and they were all going to go to medical school, but they had to maintain a B plus average. So we had an exchange: they helped me and I tutored the boys who weren’t very knowledgeable in literature and history. Not many of them had studied Shakespeare. The Shakespeare teacher had been a student of Kittredge’s from Harvard, so you can just imagine what they were up against. But I had no problem at all, because I could figure out by just reading Kittredge’s book and [attending] this guy’s lectures what the questions were going to be on the exam. He was totally faithful to Kittredge. I don’t think he had an original idea of his own. So we met in the library every morning at 7 o’clock. It was quite nice.
One day I was standing at the bus –Rochester has a miserable climate, it was cold– and this milkman stopped and he said, “Are you by any chance going to the campus?” And I said “Yes.” And he said, “I will take you.” So he dropped me off in front of my building and headed out for the place where he delivered the milk to the campus. And he said, “Look lady, I go there every morning. If the bus comes first, take the bus, and if I come first, I’ll take you.” So for a whole year I rode to campus on the milk truck. I got there at 7. We met in front of the big radiator on the ground floor and sat around and we did two courses: the history of Europe from 1815, and Shakespeare. I got everybody through the course, some with A’s and some with B’s, and they got me through chemistry. It was absolutely fair and square.
Richard got a job at the University of Oklahoma for the following year, and at the end of the summer I got my bachelor’s and headed out for Norman, Oklahoma. The question was: what was I going to do? I didn’t have an Oklahoma nurse’s license. I had to find out if there was reciprocity. Richard had a fairly good salary. We lived in a pre-fab that the university loaned us practically for free until we could find a house. And I decided that I would go into their master’s program. That was pretty nifty, and I was getting along just fine. I was politically active, because every block of these 500 pre-fab houses had a delegate. There were five blocks of 100 each, and the delegates chose me as their senior so I was the mayor of a town of 500 houses, right then and there.
The administration was not very rapid about the garbage and I was very distressed. It was terrible, there were sort of central garbage cans. One day I walked to the garbage cans and found a dead rat! Well, my professor of bacteriology when I was a student at UC was Dr. Karl Meyer. I was very fond of Dr. Meyer and I listened to every word he said –I liked bacteriology. He was one of the great plague researchers of the world. And what he told us was that a dead rat could mean plague. The flea lives and the rat dies. So I looked at this dead rat and I thought, “We could have plague in this place.”
So I did what Dr. Karl Meyer said. I went back to the house, put on a pair of rubber gloves, found a shoebox, sprayed it with Lysol or whatever spray I could think of to kill the fleas, and I go and I pick up the rat and put him in a paper bag, put the paper bag and the rat into the box, and put the lid on the box. I went to the office of the manager. We had been yelling about the garbage since I don’t know when –it was really terrible– and I said to him “Look, I know you’ve got the individual garbage cans for each house in storage, and you haven’t put them out, although we’ve been after you to do that.” He said, “What’s in the box?” I said, “A dead rat. I’m going to take the rat to the public health department and have them assess whether it has plague or not. And by the time I come back from delivering the rat and protesting about how you’ve been operating, I want a garbage can at every house. And furthermore, I want a system of steam cleaning the garbage cans when you empty them.”
So I went and delivered the rat to the public health service. The rat was not plague infested –somebody had given him poison. But by the time I came back, the garbage cans were out there behind every house.
Eventually we found a house of our own, and I got pregnant. I finished that semester as a graduate student and we had three kids in a row. Life in Oklahoma was extremely interesting. We had a brilliant faculty. It was after the war and most of the students were ex GIs. We had a great time there. Among our friends was Mendel Glickman, the chairman of the department of architecture, who was Frank Lloyd Wright’s engineer. And there were the Nielsens –a professor of physics from Denmark and his wife, our doctor. Jens Rude was the biographer of the great Danish physicist Neils Bohr; he was a pupil of Bohr’s. One of the biologists in Richard’s department was Paul David, a brilliant man from Johns Hopkins. People came and people left, but it was a terrific group of professors, intellectuals and writers. The University of Oklahoma Press is a very great press.
We were sorry to leave. We had a house of our own, which we’d bought on the GI Bill of Rights. But during the McCarthy period Richard was thrown out of the university. They accused him of having been in Spain, of having aided the Spanish Medical Aid Committee. Of course he hadn’t been in Spain –I had. He didn’t say a damn word. He just left. He said, “I don’t think I will go back to university teaching.” And he did not.
It was very clear to us that it if it could happen once, it could happen again. Richard said, “I don’t want to have to re-establish myself in some other place and move us around. And we already know California and have family in California…” So in 1952 we came back to California, and Richard became an actuarian for a large insurance organization.
In the Academic World
Life in San Francisco turned out to be very pleasant. We had a nice flat, and then we got this house [in the inner Sunset], and the ordinary things of life transpired –raising three kids, running a house.
In 1957 I went back to work at the University of California, in the department of Orthopedic Surgery– with Dr. Inman and his crew– doing research. I reorganized the human materials so they were more easily accessible; I edited papers for the residents; I did research in the library. But at the end of three years I realized that I was doing the same thing over and over again, and I can’t stand that.
Then an opportunity came up –to go to San Francisco State University on a government fellowship and complete my masters in psychiatric nursing. So I went off for a year and got my masters. And then Dr. Helen Nahm, the dean of the nursing school, said, “Why don’t you get a PhD?” And I said “Fine, I’d like one in English.” I had taken creative writing from a man in Berkeley named George Hand, and he urged me at that time to seriously consider a career in writing. But she said, “No, there isn’t any money for that, it’s not part of nursing.” And she suggested that I try anthropology.
So I went over to Berkeley, and I took anthropology for a year, and at the end of the year a professor called me in and said very sweetly, “Where would you like to do your field work, Mrs. Blanc? Could we suggest Africa?”
I said “Yes.”
And he said, “If you were to go to Africa, what would you do?”
I said, “I would study tribal health customs. How do they handle their problems? What do they do? Do they dance and play drums? Do they feed native herbs? Do they isolate the patient? There are a million ways that a tribal culture could handle sickness. What do the medicine men actually do? Are they women or men? What do they know? “
He thought my plan was absolutely wonderful, but I said, “Except I can’t go. I have three small children. Why don’t you let me do a study of the culture in a mental hospital. I’m a psychiatric nurse, and I know what I’d be looking at.”
He said no, the department would not approve of applied anthropology. So I came back over and talked to Helen Namm, and she said, “There’s a very intresting program we’ve just started. It won’t begin till next year, but if you go and see the boys, maybe they’ll take you. It’s in medical research sociology.” So I went over to see Dr. Schatzman and we had a nice visit and he said, “Great, we’ll take you a year in advance.”
I went over to City and County [San Francisco General Hospital] and for two years I worked with the Spanish speaking patients. My purpose was to see what happens when the therapists and the patients have different languages. If therapy is supposed to be based on oral interchange, what happens to the process when they can’t do that? And I found that what actually happens is nuttin’.
From 1964 to 1967 I was an assistant professor in the School of Nursing. I taught a course called “Psychosomatic Nursing.” I developed it myself. I reviewed the literature thoroughly and came to the inevitable scientific conclusion that the theories in psychosomatic medicine as they existed at that time were specious. My approach to the problem was: “How does the nurse develop a nursing role with a patient who is labeled ‘psychosomatic’?” What should she do? If she were going to develop a role based on patient-centered care, then she had to not play the role of a psychiatrist at all, but a totally different role that encompassed nursing care. I read all the literature that came off the line –it was all distorted, and the results for the patient were sometimes fatal. The patient was cut off psychologically and sociologically. He lost his humanity in the process, because his problem was labeled all his fault.
For three years I struggled with this. I was trying to teach ladies who were all psychiatric nurse specialists. But what we were doing for the psychosomatic patient was wrong. It wasn’t possible that conditions all the way from warts to ulcerated colitis could be labeled “psychosomatic illness.” There had to be something wrong with that. And so I said, “We will leave it alone.” My theory about science is, never try to explain what you don’t understand. I didn’t understand any of this and I certainly wasn’t about to try to explain it. That’s fatal.
In the middle of all this, warts were found to be due to a virus. And there was a lot of data coming in about ulcerative colitis –there was an inherited disease called Crohn’s disease which was responsible for part of it. And then there were such things as milk allergies…
So the role of the nurse becomes one of supporting the patient in every possible way. Don’t blame the patient. Take as good physical care of him as you conceivably can. Be his friend. If he’s allowed an apple, bring him an apple. If he’s a good reader, see that he has books. If he has ulcertative colitis, see that his bedpan is always clean and that he’s always clean and that he doesn’t smell and that his hands and face are washed. And when you walk in, never ever talk to him about his mother. That’s because the doctors frequently said that a patient had ulcerative colitis because he was getting rid of his mother through his bowels. If that hadn’t been so serious and sad it would have made me laugh.
Half my students were receptive to my ideas, and half of them thought I was out of my mind. What they wanted to do was actually talk to the patient about his mother and play junior psychiatrist, which I forbade. One time I had eight students and four left. This went on for three solid years, and then I went to see Miss Kaufman, whom I dearly adored –she was the chairman of my department — and said that I didn’t see any future in this.
At this time something very interesting happened. Dr. John Saunders lost his job as chancellor. There was a big fight, and as I understand what the fight was about, it was because he said that a medical school needed adequate clinicians, not just researchers. You weren’t going to train good doctors without good other doctors. And therefore the clinicians had to have a prominent place. And the researchers had him fired. I may not have this exactly right, but I think that’s about the way it was.
In order to make Dr. Saunders feel better — he was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and knew just about everything. He built the library from nothing. The great collections they have in the library now, which are worth millions, are all due to Dr. Saunders, who purchased them before the prices of books went up. I don’t know how many people know that. He was quite a fellow, and he was a brilliant, internationally known anatomist. He became chairman of the department of anatomy, and then chairman of the medical school, and then provost and then chancellor. Anyway, in order to make him feel better, because they must have felt disgraceful over what they did, they gave him a new department called the history of health sciences…. I used to see a lot of Dr. Saunders because he used to come down and have lunch with us everyday in the basement in the old medical school building with the clock on the tower. He knew me quite well, and my interests… He told me he wanted me to be his first student in the department. I said “For real?” And he said, “Absolutely!” . So I resigned from the School of Nursing, and in September 1967 I went into the history program.
The Macy Foundation at that time was interested in historical stuff, and I got a fellowship. There was $7,500 for five years, tax free. It paid all of my tuition. It had a book buying fund and a travel fund. In addition, Dr. Saunders got a Patton fellowship for me so I could have secretarial help if I needed it –microfilm, copying, etc. I graduated in the spring of ’72.
My research was about a doctor in the Victorian age named James Hinton. My dissertation is in the library. Hinton interested me because he was a many-faceted person. He was a philosopher as well as a brilliant ear specialist. He was the first man in England to do a successful mastoidectomy. He translated very good stuff from the German ear workers into English. He died young, unfortunately. But he kept his manuscripts. His first set –four volumes– was published at his own expense and the University of California has a copy. Then I found out where all the Hinton material was in New York. And then I went to London and worked at the British Museum and I went to several other places looking for the second set of manuscripts. I automatically thought that they would be in the British Museum but they were not. So in addition to finding out what I could –at Guy’s hospital, for instance, where Hinton was the first ear specialist on staff– I kept looking for the manuscripts.
Hinton’s father was a Baptist minister and worked in London. He had gone to Cambridge, but he didn’t have much money. He had a large but poor congregation. James Hinton didn’t have the kind of education his father had, he was self taught, but he was very bright. And then somebody, I think it was the family physician, because James was going through a depression, suggested that he go to medical school. And he went to Bart’s [St. Bartholomew’s], and his career was absolutely marvelous.
His family, after his death, befriended a young man who had come from Australia to go to medical school, and his name was Havelock Ellis. And Ellis became fascinated with Hinton and his work, and wrote a book about it.
I figured that the Baptist minister might have left some papers at the Williams theological library. So one morning, just before Easter, I called the library and a very nice young man, Mr. Creasy, the assistant librarian, answered and I told him I wanted to come and find out if the Hinton papers were there. He said, “This library was built in Victorian times and it has four basements, one on top of the other. But I remember seeing once some papers that said ‘Hinton.’ I’ll call you back in half an hour.”
So I’m sitting there, I figure this is my last chance. I’ve been everywhere and done everything. He calls back and says, “Oh, they’re here all right. We have about five pounds worth of papers wrapped up with an old army belt around them and it says ‘Hinton’ on them.” I said, “I’m coming right over.” He said, “No, don’t, this place is going to be closed for 10 days for Easter vacation.”I couldn’t do a thing for 10 days. I went to hear the St. John’s Passion in four different places. I saw all of my old friends from Spain. I went for millions of walks. I went to the Wallace collection. I just kept going. I could not settle down to any work. Finally, at the end of 10 days, I was on the steps before the place opened up. And Mr. Creasy takes me in and sits me down and we open up the package. The first date says April something, 1870-whatever-the-date was. I have to tell you, Hinton had the world’s worst handwriting. You can’t believe how awful it was.
So I got them all on microfilm and I came home and I was in great shape. But there was one thing that was missing –a book that was mentioned frequently. I had the library here contact the UCLA library, thinking it might be among the papers that Ellis left.
They did and the librarian said No, it wasn’t there. So I gave up on that.
So I finish my dissertation and I graduate in the spring of ’72. It’s a great time. The university gives Dr. Saunders an honorary doctorate in science. We have a champagne reception. I have a tea party for all the students and everyone in the department, and here I am, all set with my PhD! At this time my son Paul was in Los Angeles, and he went to see the Ellis papers, and he calls to say, “Your book is here.” I said, “Tell them to microfilm it.” By that time I was all complete. And in the fall of ’73 I went to work for my own department as a lecturer.
I did it until 1982. I did it without pay, as did other people who could afford to, because we all knew John Saunders and loved him dearly. I don’t have anything to do with it now because the new chairman –I can’t remember his name– called me up and said, “If you wish to continue in your role as lecturer in this department, you have to give me your bona fides.”
And I said, “Why?”
And he said, “I don’t take anybody I don’t know anything about.”
And I said, “Well, that’s too bad. I wish you well.” And that’s all the contact I had with him. I just left the department. And I’d been teaching there all those years! And my students had all done very well.
Family Values (Or, how to create a therapeutic environment)
Richard was a book collector and a graphics collector, and highly respected in his work. They paid him very well and they traveled him first class. He always looked very natty, and he enjoyed life. We were married for 45 years and we really were each other’s best friends. It’s astonishing how much fun we had. We went to garage sales and we went to auctions –almost everything in this house came from Butterfield’s or garage sales. We raised three nice boys. One is a physician at UC in the department of occupational health –Paul Blanc. My middle one is a brilliant mathematician who can do almost anything with computers. Part of the time he consults and part of the time he holds down a regular job. My older one runs a small trucking business in Vacaville.
He was an interesting little kid. At the age of four he asked me, “Does everybody have to work inside?” And I said, “No.” And he said, “You mean you can find work that keeps you outside all the time?” And I said, “Yes.” At that time our little subdivision was being built up, and one night he didn’t come home for supper. So I waited till Richard came home, and then I went out to look for him. And there he was by this great big piece of earth-moving equipment and I gathered him up and said, “Bob, why didn’t you come home?” And he said, “I couldn’t. When the man said goodbye, he said, ‘Bobby, take care of the machine till I come back.” And he said, “When is he coming back? I’m getting tired.” And I said, “He was just making a joke.”
So I took him home.
He went to the university and he got his degree in the history of science. He got a part-time job his senior year in a machine shop where they were taking care of big rigs, and then after he graduated he said he was going to go and become a trucker. He earned enough money to put a down payment on his own truck and he has never looked back. He’s in his mid-40s. He has married a lady who has two girls of her own. They both work very hard but it seems to agree with them. We’re each other’s best friends.
I have three very good friends in my boys. I’m glad to say that I like them and they like me. I never did treat them as if they weren’t people… I taught Paul to cook because he was interested in cookery. He said he would rather stay home with me and learn things than go to the nursery school. He never went to nursery school. One or two days a week we’d go down to the Crystal Palace market and shop for beans and dried apricots and leeks and all the stuff that was there. They had a bread stall and they made bread in the shape of alligators and we always bought some. On the way out we’d always have an ice cream cone from that place where they were making fresh ice cream, and then we would ride the bus home and unpack everything. He learned all about vegetables and fruits and how you bought ’em.
I had Paul when I was 38. I didn’t wait –I just thought I couldn’t have children. We had fun being parents, and I think it was useful being real grown up. All those years of nursing and experience and stuff. Developing my ideas about how you relate to people… I developed the idea that if you could create a therapeutic environment around yourself, you were the greatest beneficiary, because you lived in it. This worked on a psychiatric ward. It worked in any place I ever worked. It worked in the orphanage. It worked in my house, in my marriage, and in my life. And it’s so simple. There are eight rules.
The first four have to do with how you deal with other people. You treat everyone you meet with respect and esteem and regard and normal affection. And if they don’t respond to this, you don’t want them in your life and so you don’t gather them up. You avoid them.
The next one has to do with genuineness. You definitely have to be for real. You can’t phony anything up. You have to say what you mean and mean what you say and keep your promises. This is tremendously important.
The most important of all is egalitarianism. You really have to believe that all men are created equal. They may have deficiencies in some areas, and they’re all different, and we all have different genes. But on the basis of race, creed, color or God knows what, you ain’t got any right to look on anybody as lower than you or higher than you.
Next is empathy. In yourself you are empathetic, which is not the same as sympathetic. Sympathetic doesn’t do anybody any good. But empathetic says “I’m going to do my best to feel as you feel, and I will act accordingly.”
The last one is desperately important, too. It says: the only kind of love you’re allowed is non-possessive. You don’t own anybody. This precludes jealousy from your life. Ethically, you don’t have the right to be jealous.
You can embody all these principles if you work at it –because it takes work. Now if I disobey one I can feel the hair on the back of my neck rising and it says, “Esther, what are you doing?” You have to work at it and practice. It keeps you from saying nasty things. It keeps you from making people uncomfortable. It keeps you from all kinds of gross errors.
What happens when you practice these principles on a psychiatric ward is that you are a therapeutic tool. You have honed your surface to a purpose. And if you can teach everybody around you to do the same, then you will make a whole lot of people very comfortable. And once the patients are comforable and they’re relaxed in your presence, and they trust you, and you begin to get some insight into how terrible they feel all the time, and how confused and how distressed and how alone, you won’t say anything that’s wrong and you won’t do anything that’s wrong. This method keeps you from hurting other people. It keeps you looking at their insides instead of their outsides. And creating adequate responses from yourself which produce adequate responses from the patients.
This method also works very well in a family, because nobody’s doing things to other people that they should not be doing. And you can teach people to do research by using it, too. I had one student who was a graduate student at UCSF. She did the most brilliant study of her patients at the Stockton State Hospital by putting on a patient’s dress and sitting in a rocking chair on one of the wards and just shutting up and watching.