Rants from the Crib

An Ob/Gyn gone mad

Archive for the tag “Louisiana”

My Tragic Little Friend

When I was in college, I had a roommate who was a lost little soul.  We had known her throughout childhood; she grew up in our neighborhood, but we didn’t thoroughly realize what an awful childhood she’d had until we were grown.  She had spent some time in high school living with my best friend and her family, which seemed an odd arrangement, for a child living just around the corner with her own family to suddenly move in with another.

We learned in college what a nightmarish childhood she’d had.  Her father beat her mother and the three children often.  When the brother got big enough, he started handing out beatings too.  The police were always being called to the house, and the mother took her abuse out on the kids as well.  This little girl had lived in fear of her life.  And all this time, in high school, while she was a twinkling little Goldie Hawn, and Miss Congeniality, she was harboring this terrible secret. 

When we took her in in college we knew she was a bit troubled.  She was only in college because of huge amounts of student loans; her family (college professors, both of them) had done nothing to help her out.  We discovered that her problems went a little deeper when she moved in. 

She was bulemic.  If we ever got it together and cooked anything, she choked it down and then vomited it back up so that none of us got any of it.  And her wiring was very, very broken.  She was a full blown type I bipolar who would not take meds.  She had been prescribed some antidepressants, but instead of taking them as described, she took them “once in a while, when she didn’t feel good.”  For days she would be up up up and she would be awake for all hours, waking us up and calling friends on the phone to talk about brilliant art and music plans she had.  Then she would crash down down down and lie in her bed for days at a time, neither showering nor attending class.  This was a real problem because she was sharing a bedroom with someone else.

She had hallucinations.  She used to read William Blake, and Revelations, and then she would have waking nightmares.  One night her roommate found her standing over the bed with a knife.  She would lock herself in places and be unable to work the lock to get out.  This finally resulted in my poor roommate taking the bathroom door in the back bedroom off its hinges so she wouldn’t come home to find our little roommate locked in the bathtub again.  She tried taking the doorknob off first, but somehow our pitiful roomie managed to get herself trapped in there anyway.

Our relationship as roommates ended when she and her roommate had a knock-down, drag-out fight.  We threw her out of the apartment and packed a truck with her things.  We just couldn’t take it anymore.  I didn’t think I would see her again, and I didn’t for about six years.

I moved to New Orleans about six years later for my residency program.  I had not been in town long when I was riding my bike back to my house and heard a familiar cute squeaky voice calling out to me.  I pulled over to the side of the road – it was her.  She had somehow moved to New Orleans by catching a ride there with some friends, and she just stayed.  Maybe they wouldn’t let her back in the car.  I just don’t know.

Somehow, she worked her way into being a part of my life again.  I liked a good many of her friends; she was once again living on the pity of others.  The bipolar disorder was worse.  She took no meds at all.  She was in a cycle of employment that went something like this:  find new job, wax lyrical about bounteous goodness of new job, describe delightfulness of employees at new job, and that they understood her like no one else ever had.  About six weeks later the rot and paranoia would sneak in.  She would start to talk about how awful the people at work were, and about how they talked about her behind her back, and she would stop going to work at all, and she would lose her job.  Lather, rinse, repeat. 

I tried to help her.  I made her come to the free clinic to get birth control and her pap smear done.  When it turned out she had a hernia, I got her into the free surgery clinic to have it fixed.  She was in beauty school at that time, having long ago defaulted on and run away from her student loans.  I let her dye my hair (although I would never let her cut it) and my nails were always brilliant practice shades.  One time I wound up with eggplant colored hair.  I had to scrub it out with dishwashing detergent over and over again so I could go to work the next day without being fired.

When she was manic, she was up all hours and roaming the streets of New Orleans.  One day she caught a ride home when she found herself in a bad neighborhood and brought a guy called “Eight Ball” home with her.  I could just see him eyeing my stereo system.  She met some interesting people: a lot of famous musicians for one thing, given her nocturnal habits, but she also met some real creeps.  She got raped not once but twice, and now had PTSD on top of her severe bipolar disorder.

She had also become a hard-bitten alcoholic.  She was dating a very nice man, but unfortunately he was an alcoholic too, and they fed off each other.  She would call me at three in the morning, wanting to know if I wanted to go out for a drink.  She didn’t have a car, so when she got the hankering, she just called her friends until one gave in.

She was living with a lovely woman, an artist who seemed to overlook all her many tragic shortcomings.  She even used her a bit as a muse.  Our friend also earned spending money posing nude as an artist model, and in fact I have a painting of her head and upper torso painted by an artist I was dating.  She had introduced us. 

When the house she was living in burned, she became my roommate again.  She and her artist friend moved into my big old house with me and there she was, with all her bad old faults and many more new ones.  It was a given that she didn’t pay rent.  We just covered for her, and fed her when we could.  I used to go visit her at her many jobs waiting tables, and would sip drinks, eat and do crosswords, just to leave her some tips. 

Finally, her problems eclipsed us all.  She broke up with the nice alcoholic and started dating an abusive one.  She moved out and followed him to a coastal Mississippi town.  We all lost touch with her then; I admit I was glad to, and I have heard very little about her or her life since.  Even her artist friend drifted away.  She, too had had enough from her muse.  I wonder to this day if she is even alive, although I would fight tooth and nail to keep her from ever coming into my life again.

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.

Armadillos

For those of you who don’t live around these parts, armadillos look like little armored anteaters, with longish snouts and rounded ears, and a little bitty tail protruding out of a shell.  I am not sure how they got into the states; I think they just came up from Mexico perhaps.  They are thriving here, surely, and have moved out of Texas into the rest of the southern states.  There are three problems with armadillos.  First, they are known to carry leprosy, but as most people don’t cuddle armadillos, that’s not often a problem.  Second, they dig.  This is perhaps the biggest complaint, as they love to dig holes in gardens and lawns in search of worms and other tasty treats.  Third, they hop.  This almost guarantees that they become roadkill en masse on southern roads and highways.  This is because, when you see one in the road, if you can manage to steer your wheels to miss the armadillo and pass over it, the little fool will give a startled hop and smash itself into the undercarriage of your car.When I was in residency, my program director despised armadillos.  You couldn’t even bring them up.  They destroyed his lawn and garden, and he would spend nights on his porch, gun and drink in hand, blasting armadillos when he saw them.  I had a pair of armadillo earrings I liked to wear just to get under his skin, since he was patently incapable of remembering the names of any of the female residents.  He took the guys fishing.  This irritated me; he irritated me; it seemed only fair that I should irritate him.  I think he wanted to shoot me when he saw them.

When I was an Ob/Gyn in Atlanta, I had a patient who had an injury by armadillo.  These are fairly gentle animals, so I had to question her how on earth she had come to fall on her pregnant belly because of an armadillo.  She explained that she had been in her garden and she had startled one and it hopped at her (remember the armadillo/hop reflex).  She mistook the hopping for an act of aggression and retreated from it shrieking, tripping over a low row of shrubbery in the process.  We had to check out the baby and make sure it hadn’t been hurt by her armadillo-induced belly flop.  The baby was fine, and for the rest of her pregnancy, I referred to her as “armadillo girl”.  She at least had a sense of humor about it.

My folks have an armadillo problem.  Like most everyone else, the armadillos dig holes in their lawn and plants.  Mom was told by someone she knew (I kid you not) that the best way to trap an armadillo was to bait a Have A Heart trap with Juicy Fruit gum.  They swore armadillos loved this substance above all others.  So mom bought and baited the trap, and woke up in the morning to…  a raccoon.  The coon had been attracted to the gum and got caught in the trap.  Now the problem was, the raccoon had to come out of the trap. Those of you who live in the city may not realize this, but raccoons are incredibly vicious fighters and can be very dangerous when cornered.  My dad had to find a pair of leather gauntlets just to open the trap.  The raccoon caterwauled and hissed the entire time, and Mom and my daughter retreated in fear.  They finally got the thing out of the trap and the coon beat it for the hills.

When I was visiting the folks for Thanksgiving this year, I saw Mom out in the backyard, doing this incredibly slow, gingerly dance out in the back yard.  She looked like she was practicing some form of insane foxtrot.  I went out in the backyard and asked what strange dance she was doing.  “I’m replacing armadillo divots,” she explained.  We laughed and laughed at Mom’s armadillo foxtrot, but she is still incredibly put out that the armadillos are tearing up her yard.

Those little suckers are real pests.  I don’t think they’re getting eradicated any time soon – they like it too much here.  I have to giggle when I see an armadillo though.  I have way too much history with them just to pass them by.  I’m just waiting  for the next exciting armadillo event.

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.

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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