Rants from the Crib

An Ob/Gyn gone mad

Archive for the category “Louisiana”

Mighty White

The last few years of my father’s law school career, he decided it would be good to do some community work as well as his teaching.  He had been president of the BLSA (Black Law Students Association) for many years; coming from a disadvantaged home himself, he felt that extra attention to tutoring and other benefits might even the playing field, particularly for those who found the specific language and diction of the legal jargon to be difficult.

He began tutoring adults to help them prepare to pass their GED.  He worked through a group who would assign him a pupil and worked on teaching reading or prepping skills to pass their GED test.

His first student was an African-American man, let’s call him Micah, who had recently been released from prison, where he did his time for felony larceny.  Upon his release, his girlfriend was waiting for him and they had a little girl.  Micah wanted to fly straight and get out of the criminal life for his family.

He proved an apt pupil.  Daddy said he was very bright and he improved by leaps and bounds.  As Micah got to trust Daddy, he confided in him how difficult it was within his society to avoid crime and better himself.  The men especially harassed him, accusing him of “turning whitey”.  Daddy worked hard with him and had him prepped and ready for his GED.

At some time before the test, there was an article put out in the paper about the tutoring program and it featured a picture of Daddy and Micah working at a table.

A week before he was due to take his GED, Micah was taken by someone out to a local lake, laid on his stomach, and shot execution-style in the back of the head.

Mom called and told me and I asked to speak to Daddy.  By the time he came to the phone I was already crying, sobbing actually.  My dad’s voice was calm and even as he relayed the facts to me.  I cried and cried about how horrifying and unfair the tragedy was.  I haltingly tried to explain to Daddy how upset I was and how unjust the world was.

My dad has always been good with happy emotions, and love, but something about his past and his upbringing in the 1940’s had left him deeply convinced, I guess, that to cry or exhibit grief was unmanly and undignified.

I remember when I was 12, our little cat died.  My dad built him a coffin and the cat actually lay in state in the basement a bit before Daddy took him out and buried him in the woods.  Alone.  And then Daddy disappeared for the rest of the day.  I could occasionally could hear him sobbing.  And I hid too, feeling like I was witnessing something I shouldn’t.  Daddy’s emotions obviously ran deep; he was very tender-hearted, but he just couldn’t let anyone see.

To this day, I won’t let anyone see me cry.

As I grieved on the phone after Micah’s murder, my dad was very quiet.  After a short gap he said, ” Well, that’s mighty white of ya.”

What did I hear in his voice?  He was so restrained.  I hardly heard any grief.  A little anger?  A hint of, not derision, but a feeling on his part that I was railing against something that I never in my life would truly be able to understand.

He insisted on attending Micah’s funeral, and did for his family what he could.  He continued the tutoring program, with good success, but we never spoke of Micah again.

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Shrike

When I was in residency in New Orleans, I met a remarkable boy. We didn’t have a relationship, in the normal sense, but I was deeply intrigued and felt drawn to him.

He was apparently the orphan son of very wealthy parents, and had been allegedly left with a large inheritance, enough to make him more or less independently wealthy.

Despite this beginning, which usually results in fairly useless, undisciplined people, this guy had smarts, and had gotten himself through med school and into a residency in New Orleans, where he was doing very well. That is where I met him.

I actually met him in Houma, Louisiana, a little shrimping bayou town just on the far side of the Intercoastal Waterway. Our residents were required to spend half their time there, when they weren’t working in the New Orleans hospital.

The Houma situation was as far from the New Orleans situation as could possibly be imagined. We worked there at Chabert Hospital, since closed down, called Little Charity, as it was a branch of the Catholic Charity Hospital system in New Orleans. The town was poor, the inhabitants were poor, and the hospital was poor.

The residents stayed in free apartment housing during their rotations there. The apartments were located behind the hospital itself, within walking distance, so you could stay there when you were on call. The apartments were ancient, and notable on my part for the fact that the entire ceiling of my apartment once fell in without warning, and for the fact that they had pulled a six foot alligator out of the decrepit swimming pool.

This guy and I met at these apartments. He was single, and the single residents sort of gravitated toward each other. He and his best friend, also a member of his residency program, tended to gravitate more towards strippers than to fellow residents, but I lured him in with my fabulous video game system, bought more on the “If You Build It, They Will Come Theory” than to my predilection for video games.

I got a lot of single guys to come over and hang out for beers and video games. I am no idiot. He was one of those guys, and we got to know each other during late night beer and video-fueled chats.

He was a pretty remarkable guy. He was very very bright, and good at what he did. He was also a big birdwatcher, which is an adorably geeky pastime, and guaranteed to draw me in, as my father was always a big time birdwatcher too, which made this guy instantly appealing.

When we walked around outside, he was always showing me birds. He pointed out a shrike one day, on a barbed wire fence. He explained how the shrike would catch food, usually some kind of insect, and leave it impaled on the barbed wire or a twig for later consumption. I thought that was amazing.

We seemed so close to hooking up. He used to hang out in my apartment, lolling about on the carpet in a manner that seemed to me to invite me to join him, but I never did. He was too handsome, and too cool, and too rich, and I was terrified of rejection.

This guy had an amazing car. I am a sucker for awesome cars, always have been, probably due to the fact that my father revered antique Chevys, which he worked on himself. They were all V-8’s, and my first car ever was a V-8 Chevy, around 1960 vintage, The thrum thrum of that awesome engine and the amazing speed with which that immense car got off the block left me loving automotive power.

So, the guy had a brand new red Supercar (unusual and expensive enough that I will not name the model here). Even had he failed to have any of his many other charming attributes, this one fact alone would have drawn me in. He and his friend and I would cruise out to the few clubs in town, not as a date, but to go dancing, and, for them, hang out with strippers. The best part of this for me, besides the clubbing, which I enjoyed, was the fact that when he and his friend became too wasted to drive, they would let me drive the car home.

The most intimate evening we had together was, at best, an oddity; one of those strange things that happens, but I will remember it forever.

He was hanging out in my apartment, and we were listening to music and drinking beer, and he remarked that he desperately needed a haircut. “I have a Swiss Army knife,” I told him. “I can cut it.” For some strange reason, he was intrigued by that idea and thought that was a good plan. I sat on the floor with him, and cut his hair with the scissors on my good old knife, and amazingly, it turned out great. He thought that was the coolest thing ever, and told anyone who would listen at work the next day about his haircut.

I guess maybe he liked me. I was in a dark time then and had just been dumped by a 5-year emotional terrorist, and had no self-confidence to make an aggressive move. I have always regretted that I didn’t.

For years I remembered him, how handsome he was, and how smart, and his love for birds and medicine and fast cars and video games and dancing, and I wished things had turned out differently. I wish I had pushed just a little bit to see where things might go.

For just a little while, I was left pinned on the barbed wire, regretting letting of go of something that never even happened; a foolish grasshopper on a pin waiting for the return of the Shrike.

Houma

When I signed up to do my residency at Ochsner, which is in New Orleans, I signed up to spend half my time in a small town an hour south of New Orleans called Houma.  I wasn’t sure about this at first but Houma turned out to be the most delightful place ever!  Houma is right on the Intercoastal Waterway and they have shrimp boat festivals and other fun water activities.  The locals love to fish, and if you are very, very nice, they will share some of their favorite fishing holes with you.  You can actually see the oil rigs on the Gulf from the upper floors of Chabert Hospital, which is part of the Charity Hospital system, and which we called “Little Charity”.  Big Charity is in New Orleans.  It is not Ochsner and I did not have to work there, thank goodness.

Most of our patients came into Chabert Hospital straight out of the bayous.  Grand Cailloux bayou had a bridge over it that we drove into town on, but at one time there was no bridge; there was just a ferry as the only way into town.  There were many a tale about babies born on the ferry as their mothers tried to get over to Chabert to birth their babies.  There were many feuding families out there on the bayous, and you had to be careful who you put next to who in the hospital beds.

The drive to Houma from NOLA is about an hour, and it passes along sugar cane fields and factories, and numerous bayous.  In hurricane/rainy season the road floods and has sandbags along side of it.  You can frequently see alligators floating in the water when it covers the road.  We were expected to make the drive there whether the road was flooded or not.  They used to have a rule about driving back to New Orleans postcall because so many sleepy residents wound up in ditches along the way back.  There is a fabulous stop off on the road between Houma and NOLA:  an A-frame building called Frank’s Bloody Marys.  Frank makes the best bloodys I have ever had in my life.  They are topped off with homemade pickled string beans rather than celery, which I don’t like anyway.  You can even buy you a jar of those delicious tangy beans if you like.  Frank’s is a great stopoff if you are on the way back to New Orleans for the weekend.  You can sit out back along the bayou, watch the garfish roil the water and pirogues pass by, and sip your bloody. 

Houma itself boasts some of the most wonderful food – real down home Cajun cooking.  There was a restaurant called Geno’s across the street from the hospital where you could get low country boils with crawfish, potatoes, corn, sausage and onions, or if you were in the mood for something amazingly rich, Geno’s she-crab soup.  This was more like a bisque cram-packed with lump crabmeat straight out of their fresh she-crabs.  You can also order a plate of the crabs for cracking – they have a handy “pull tab” on their underside that opens them right up.  Don’t eat the yellow stuff. 

Next to Geno’s was a pub where the residents went after work to throw darts and blow off steam.  I spent many an enjoyable night in there tossing down beers and tossing out darts – of course, the more beers I had, the better I got.  They also had a couple pool tables and we enjoyed many an evening there shooting pool if the dart boards were occupied.  I have heard, tragically, that Geno’s and the next door pub are now closed, and the hospital is closing too.  The Charity hospital system is just flat running out of money, like every entity in the United States now it seems. 

We stayed in apartments out behind the hospital that were provided by Ochsner.  There was a pool back there and we used to have crab and shrimp and crawfish boils out there, swatting mosquitoes and jumping into the pool to get the dozens of biting bugs off of us.  We used to find little round silver dollar sized baby turtles in the pool drains, and one day they pulled a six foot gator out of the pool.

Houma was great for biking.  One day I rode all the way up to the airport and rode up a “road”, which turned out to be a runway.  A startled pilot in a small plane came in right over me and I threw my body and my bike to the ground.  That was very exciting and I felt real stupid.  I also did a lot of rollerblading, mostly in the flat empty parking lot out behind the hospital when I was on call.  It was in view of the window from labor and delivery, and the nurses used to hold up signs with scores on them evaluating my roller blading performance.  I fell on my butt a lot, once so hard that I went and had my tailbone x-rayed.  I don’t know what I would have done if the tailbone was broken, because you can’t cast a tailbone. 

Houma had myriad shave-ice stands, which were open most of the year, and offered the most flavor varieties of snow cones I’ve ever seen.  I used to get those to cool off in the afternoons, and my tongue would turn blue or green or orange according to my current flavor of choice.  They even had sugar-free flavors! 

There was even a nightclub in Houma where we could go out dancing.  Weekend nights, groups of us headed there.  I had a friend who was an opthalmology resident who came from a family that was rich as stink, and he had an Acura NSX.  I made sure to be around him when it got late in the evening, because he would be too drunk and would let me drive it back to the apartments.  I loved that beautiful car.  I had quite a thing for its owner as well.

I know people were hesitant to accept the residency at Ochsner because of the half year every year spent down south in Houma, but for me that town was a  wonderful experience.  It survived Katrina somehow and it survived Isaac.  I’m dying to go back down there and see what it looks like and sample that wonderful food and those bloody marys once again.

Louisiana Wildlife

I don’t trust the wildlife in Louisiana.  I lived there for four years, half of which I spent in New Orleans, and the other half of which I spent an hour south of New Orleans in a little city called Houma.  Over those four years, I encountered wharf rats, Formosan termites, striped mosquitos that would suck you dry, nutria (giant swamp rats), giant dragonflies, car tire sized snakes, turtles, plagues of tree frogs and numerous aligators.

The wildlife in New Orleans was about what you’d expect.  The city is full of rats.  (See my blog on the rats in the walls).  Our house was full of rats.  We could hear them in the attic all night and when they got bored, they came down into the walls by our beds and scratched at the wood.  They were giant Norwegian wharf rats, and they resembled small puppies with hairless tails.  We would sit on our front porch at night and count the rats as they traveled the electrical wires from house to house and kitchen to kitchen.  They would eat and destroy everything that wasn’t in a can, so all groceries including flour and coffee had to be kept in the refrigerator.  And that’s not even mentioning the giant flour weevils that would infest any and all baking supplies, sealed cannister or not.  The mosquitoes were a force to be reckoned with.  They were a funny looking mosquito, not like the ones in Alabama where I grew up, with black-and-white striped legs.  And they left black-and-white striped bloody dust on your legs when you popped them.  The weirdest wildlife in New Orleans were the Formosan termites.  They were giant winged things that had sneaked off some ship in the harbor, I guess from the vicinity of Formosa.  They were horrifying.  You had to turn off every outdoor light and most indoor lights at night in the summer, or the swarms of Formosans would come and invade your house.  Then they would infest it permanently.  We were swarmed by Formosans once in the upstairs bathroom.  Something must have attracted them; a light left on or perhaps all the rotting wood.  They were terrifying to behold.  All over New Orleans were houses covered in brightly striped fumigation tents, trying to get rid of their enormous termites.  We gassed them with an industrial sized can of Raid, which we kept for the cockroaches.  The cockroaches of New Orleans are of Jurassic size, with the unlikely benign-sounding name of “palmetto bug”.  They are extremely aggressive and will fly out at you if you open a kitchen cabinet at night.  One evening my roommate and I got brave and hit one of those big suckers with a shoe.  Instead of politely dying, or even staggering, the behemoth made a lunge at the two of us where we stood.  We fled, screaming, into the next room, where it promptly followed us.  It was a thing of which nightmares are made.

The wildlife in Houma was even stranger and more exotic.  In addition to the enormous rats, cockroaches, mosquitos and termites, there is a selection of prehistoric-seeming critters that crawl up out of the swamps.  First, there are nutria, which are really giant swamp rats.  Bigger even than the rats in New Orleans.  Fortunately they prefer swamps and stay in them.  They resemble nothing so much as the ROUSes in Princess Bride.  Apparently the nutria were once very popular in trade with the Russians, who made fur hats out of them.  Alligators go without saying.  You could see them every day in the bayoux that ran along the roads.  What did NOT go without saying was that there was a six foot alligator they hauled out of our apartment swimming pool.  There were also red eared slider turtles constantly hatching in our pool.  We would pull silver dollar sized baby turtles out of the drain traps all the time.  We used to keep them as pets.  And the tree frogs – well, let’s just say that we were near to having a plague of tree frogs.  You could hear them chirping and croaking all night, and if you left the porch light on, it would be covered with cute green red eyed frogs who came to eat the bugs.  Armadillos were rampant.  And they got BIG.  They dug holes in everyone’s gardens and yards.  When startled they jump, and they would jump while crossing the road and hop up right into the axle of a semi.  Then they were dead armadillos – they were lying around as road kill everywhere.  My residency program director hated them so bad you couldn’t even say the word “armadillo” to him.  There were swamp snakes as big as truck tires.  One morning in clinic I heard birds squawking hysterically so I went and looked out the window.  There, winding through the grass behind the clinic and heading toward the bayou, was a snake so large it rivaled the ones I have seen in the zoo.  It was literally as big around as a tire, and as black.  The locals creatively dub them “swamp snakes”.  The bayoux were full of prehistoric garfish.  You could see them roiling up the water in the bayoux if you sat and watched.  They were tough as old shoes, but the locals caught them and made garfish patties out of them.  And the mosquitoes were disastrous.  They were even worse than the mosquitoes in New Orleans.  We used to have crawfish boils out by the pool of our apartment complex, and you would just have to run and jump in the pool about every five minutes to get them all off.  They would be clustered on us by the dozens, and they hurt worse and welted up worse than the ones in Alabama by far.  Enormous dragonflies hovered in the sky. You could imagine them flying around during the age of the dinosaurs.

Let’s just say my life in Louisiana was educational.  I have always been big on animals, so to speak, but I must say some of the creatures I encountered there were nothing short of sinister.  So as I always like to say, I don’t trust the wildlife in Louisiana.

New Orleans

Well, I spent a good part of my Labor Day weekend sitting in airports reading the antics of the indefatiguable Beyonce the Metal Chicken and her blogger, and was once again inspired to heights of hilarity that I will probably not be able to reach.

I took a trip to New Orleans this weekend.  It was a by myself kind of a trip, which can be the best kind.  DH took A on a trip to Chattanooga and they enjoyed the aquarium and the children’s museum and some caves and generally had a good old time.  My trip to New Orleans, ironically, was planned as a bachelorette party for my old friend C by one of her other friends.  Well, that other friend backed out at nearly the last minute because she suddenly realized that she didn’t have any money and couldn’t afford to pay for any of the trip or the hotel room she had reserved.  Then everyone else backed out, and at the last minute, C backed out, since hurricane Isaac hit and flooded everything between where she lives and New Orleans.  So I spent a very pleasant weekend in New Orleans by myself, and I did NOT have to dress up as a 1980’s singer, which was a huge relief.

I used to live there, so I was perfectly happy to walk in the Quarter for hours, exploring to see if my old haunts were still there.  Most of them were.  I found Coop’s, which was my favorite dive bar/restaurant where I went all the time when I was living there.  It is definitely a local place, where the patrons sing raucously along to the jukebox, and dance when a line-dance type song comes on.  The music is as diverse as the patrons and they were howling along to hiphop when I walked in (I ain’t sayin’ she’s a GOLDdiggah, but she ain’t messin’ wit’ no broke-broke), followed by more howling for Cher.  IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME, they bawled.  I ordered my perennial favorite, rabbit and sausage jambalaya, and the waitress plied me with multiple waters as my sweat had obviously grossly soaked through my clothes in the summer subtropical heat.  The jambalaya tasted just like I remembered.

The following morning found me in the Cafe du Monde, snarfing iced coffee and beignets, which were also just as I remembered them.  Six musicians met right in front of the cafe and played Down by the River and When the Saints Come Marchin’ In until I nearly bawled from realizing how much I had missed living in New Orleans.  I spent a leisurely morning in the French Market, buying gifts for my daughter and haggling with the vendors (one of which actually remembered me) for old African trade beads. 

My friend Angel was gone.  “Angel” Elaine Binney was a truly gifted body piercer who had kept her place across from the French Market.  She did my first real piercing before I even moved to New Orleans – she pierced my navel.  She actually did it twice.  I was in New Orleans interviewing for residency, and after taking a tour of her place with my friend R, I impulsively returned alone for the navel piercing.  When I returned home, my boyfriend at the time was horrified by the piercing and wanted me to take it out.  I made a deal with him.  If I was going to take it out, he was going to take me out to dinner, pay me the seventy bucks I’d paid to have the piercing done, and if he really wanted it gone he was going to have to deal with it enough to take it out himself.  Somehow he managed to take it out without throwing up.  After I was living in New Orleans and he was still living in Alabama, our relationship was crumbling and I defiantly went back to Angel and had her put the piercing back in.  He showed up the next week and broke up with me, before he even saw that I had replaced the piercing.  After that, I got several more piercings with Angel, and I came to really like and respect her.  She did one of my most interesting and rare piercings, called a Daith, that passes through the internal cartilege of the ear.  She said not many people would attempt that.  It was very painful, but I always get lots of compliments on it.  She actually came to Oschner Hospital to teach the OR about proper care of piercings before and after surgery; how to remove and replace them as cleanly and efficiently as possible.  She was very well known as one of the best piercers east of the Mississippi river and I was terribly sorry at this visit to see she had gone.

I stuffed myself with fabulous New Orleans food.  I did make an abortive attempt at eating at Jacque-Imo’s, another of my favorite places, but they were closed as they had no power from hurricane Isaac.  I got to eat at the Sazerac, since I stayed at the Roosevelt Waldorf, which was the very height of luxury.  I found out after hearing some barking that for a mere $150 per night, your doggy can stay with you.  I had gumbo, and jambalaya, and pralines and red beans and rice.

I found, sadly, that many years after hurricane Katrina, that it is still one of the most discussed subjects amongst New Orleanians and still is having an adverse effect on thousands of people and their properties.  We drove past boarded up neighborhoods on the way out of the airport and apparently hundreds of properties were left abandoned and never repaired.  Now Isaac has flooded outlying areas that were spared by Katrina and destroyed more properties.

All in all, my visit to New Orleans was fabulous and relaxing, although I have had some lingering sadness over how much I miss this city and over the damage that has been done to it repeatedly by its inconvenient sea level elevation and multiple hurricanes.

The Rats in the Walls

When I was a resident in New Orleans, we lived in this cool old double shotgun 2 story house uptown.  We were the only renters on St. Joseph.  All of the other houses were owned, and we were HORRIBLE neighbors.  One half of the house was, basically, occupied by an off-campus branch of a Loyola frat house.  The other half, my half, was occupied by a bunch of diverse and intrepid Ultimate Frisbee players.  I did not really play frisbee.  I had a boyfriend who LIVED Ultimate, and who badly wanted me to play but I sucked, and I did not play.  Our side was occupied by a mixed racial couple, an ice climber, a PhD student in Mayan studies, and me, an Ob/Gyn resident.  Our house looked like hell.  The lawn was full of weeds.  The gates were sagging.  The paint was peeling.  We had loud parties, often overflowing into both sides of the house, and people camping in the front and back yards at Mardi Gras time.  We were, in short, complete nightmare neighbors.  We sat on the front porch swings all night, even on week nights, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer and wine until 2 or 3 in the morning.  And another thing.  There were RATS in the WALLS. 

We were no more pleased about the rats than the neighbors would have been, had they known.  In reality, they probably had rats too.  New Orleans is famed for its rats, evil, beady eyed giant things who originally arrived in ships and disembarked on the wharfs.  You could sit on the porch at night and watch the rats run along the power lines from house to house, and kitchen to kitchen.  But we had SPECIAL rats.  Because our landlady didn’t give a crap about the house, and we certainly didn’t give a crap about the house, an exterminator was out of the question.  None of us were anywhere near able to afford one.  And the kitchens were a disaster all the time, with crumbs and dirty dishes and beer bottles and all the sorts of things that rats really love.  I was on a diet.  I had just discovered the Atkins diet from a 70-something year-old infertility specialist and had bought several bags of sugar-free candy.  A word about the candy.  One quickly learns, when dieting on sugar-free candy, not to eat too much, because the stuff gives you GAS and DIARRHEA.  Well, one night the rats found the sugar-free candy.  I’m surprised they would even eat it, but that’s a rat for you.  The scene in the morning was hysterical.  There were a few hard droppings leading up to the candy bowl.  LEAVING the candy bowl, which was full of chewed wreckage, the droppings got looser and looser as the rats got further and further from the bowl.  That stuff had made them dog sick.  We had to keep all uncanned or unbottled food in the refrigerator, or they would get into it.

The worst part about them though is that they were in the WALLS.  And they stomped.  I have never heard any living thing, save maybe an angry husband, that STOMPED like these damn rats.  And they crunched.  I’m not sure what they were crunching in the walls, food, or probably the insulation off our ancient wiring system.  They probably thrived on copper.  At night they would come in the walls and VISIT.  You’d be lying there in your bed and you would hear stomp stomp stompstompstompSTOMP.  Stop.  Right across from the pillow on the bed.  Silence.  That thing would just be sitting there, listening to you breathe.  Plotting God knows what.  If you got your nerve up, you would yell and bang on the wall to get rid of them.  You would quickly discover, however, that this actually attracted more rats.  Stomp stomp stomp stompstompstompSTOMP.  Stop.  Crunch crunch crunch.  Right in front of your pillow.  It was HORRIFYING.  Especially if you were in the house alone.  It was like being in some kind of horror movie:  The Rats in the Walls.  We never got rid of them.  We eventually all moved out, and they got rid of us.

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