Guest Writer: Constance McGorry, my mother, 90 this January.
Connie and my father, Gerard, were married for 61 years, prior to his death in 2002. They parented eight children, and my mother is now grandmother to 19 and great-grandmother to 17. Recently, we sat together at her home in St. James, and, rubbing her hands together, she said: My hands hurt everyday. While we were growing up in Bayside, Queens, she worked, at times, evenings at St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital and at Bayside Gardens Nursing Home. Later, when we were all out working ourselves, she was a salesperson and then a benefits’ clerk at Gertz Department Store in Flushing.
The pieces below are some of her thoughts about those hands that now hurt everyday.
I always thought that no matter what your hands might have to do, where your hands might have to go, you could always wash them.
In the hospital, when they first bring your baby to you, you’re always curious to see if everything is okay. You open the blanket to look and touch but they shiver. So you wrap them back up, hold them, and then they quiet down.
One winter, four of our children came down with whooping cough at the same time. They would have to eat between spasms to get some nourishment as they would otherwise choke while coughing. I had to keep food at hand to give it to each one between coughing fits. It was a four-ring circus that lasted for six weeks. I was lucky to have four bunk beds to keep them in one bedroom, just off the kitchen, and these two hands to carry the chore out.
One day, on a trip to Rego Park with Mary holding onto the carriage, Carol in the carriage and Gerard on a seat across the carriage, we crossed 63rd Drive when Mary let go of the carriage to run ahead just as a truck was racing around the corner. I was able to grab her arm just in time to keep her from getting run over.
At St Mary’s Children’s Hospital, I took care of the infants overnight, actually babies born pre-maturely. They didn’t have two parents, an unwed mother or a father that left, and I bottle fed them, kept them dry, held them, and laid their clothes out. My sons had a lot of comic books at home, and, one time, rather than throw them out, I brought them in. When the morning came, and the children woke, I gave them the comic books. One boy was so excited; he wanted to put his arms around me. I thought he just wanted a hug, and so I stooped over but one of the nurse’s stopped him and said to me, “Back away. He’s on his way to bite you. He won’t kiss you; he bites instead.”
Then I worked nights at Bayside Gardens Nursing Home. I remember one patient in particular who had a severe case of Parkinson’s. On a Saturday evening after he had some company, his tremors acted up, and his muscles grew rigid. He was in pain and couldn’t get to sleep and wasn’t able to get comfortable. With the aid of a few small pillows, placed strategically behind his head, one under his legs and another under his feet, the nerves and muscles settled down and he was so happy to be able to get some rest.
For the incontinent patients, when I came on, I would turn them on their side, put a pillow and a rubber sheet at their back. I figured it was good if you turned people, kept them on their side, then only one side gets wet. It kept them from breaking down, because if you lay too long on a wet bed, are old and have poor circulation, you get bed sores.
The sores are like pudding. I would take the sulfur powder, spread it on the sore and cover it with gauze and eventually it would heal. But they’d have two or three. A bedsore has an odor you can’t get out of your nose. When I got home, I would take all the clothes that I wore that day and wash them, and my hands were so dry from the rubbing alcohol.
My daughter Mary remembers a morning when I came home from my night shift, around 7:30. She says I told her that someone had died in my arms that night. Apparently, I had held someone in the throes of death, and I had scratches on my hands and arms. She says I asked her to stay home from high school that day to take care of the rest of the kids. I don’t remember this, but usually people did die at night between 2 and 4 am.
One time, I was asked to go to Flushing Hospital to sit with a dying man. He had been a patient at the nursing home but they took him to the hospital…the truth is, they didn’t want him to die in the nursing home. The man’s daughter had been at the hospital with her father for 24 hours and didn’t want to leave him. I knew him, and he knew me. The head of the nursing home called me and asked me if I would go sit with him in the hospital, and the daughter would trust me to sit with him and let her go home. I was there four hours when he came out of a semi-coma and wanted a drink. I went down to where they had the crushed ice, brought some back to him to moisten his lips, when he sat up and took his last breath.
I went down the hall to get a doctor to come in, and they pronounced him dead, but now I had to go home. It was early in the morning, and I didn’t have any money with me for a taxi, so I had to walk to the bus terminal. The Q13 to Bayside wasn’t running yet so I had to take the Little Neck bus which left me off on Northern Boulevard, to walk about 15 blocks along Bell Boulevard, home.
I was still in shock; it happened so quickly.
Up until you retire, your decisions are apparent. You just keep doing what you’re doing. Once you’re retired, you wake up and ask, what day is it, what month is it, what should I do today…you have to make decisions.
This week, my grandson James came running in and, from across the room, tossed me a Styrofoam cooler top. I tried to catch it but it bounced, and I dropped it. “Nice grip you have there,” he said.