Thursday, May 25, 2017

Memorial Day is Much More than a Day for Some People

War brings death to young men in the prime of their lives.  It leaves a heartache that never really heals and a colossal void that is never really filled.  The sadness is immeasurable.     Memorial Day is a nice idea but how can it do justice to a loss so immense? 

"At Headquarters First Army, Fory Jay, Governor's Island, New York, on 5 Aug 52, Lt. Gen. Willis D. Grittenberger, Commanding General, Fisrt Army, Presented Mrs. Marie M. O'Donnell, wife of the late 1st Lt. Joseph T. O'Donnell, with posthumous distinguished service cross which was awarded her husband for his extraordinary heroism on 13 Oct 51, on which date he was fatally wounded in the vicinity of Mun-Dung-Ni, Korea, while a member of Co. A. 58th Inf. Regt., 2nd Inf. Div.
Standing on the left and right of Mrs. O'Donnell are her two daughters, Sharon and Diane. The parents of both Lt. O'Donnell and his wife were present at the ceremony. "

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Flipping a Coin for Dr. Coyne ( Part 8) and it's over

Flipping a Coin for Dr. Coyne (Part 8)

What happens next is a real “let-down” – totally anti-climactic and disappointing.  If you like happy endings, maybe you should stop reading right now, this part of the story is not for you!
A few days after the dance, I saw J.J. again for the first time in the back corner of a crowded elevator at the hospital.  I was in my awkward, old-fashioned student nurse’s uniform, tucking in the clumsy starched bib and adjusting the straight pin through the tissue under the legendary St. Vincent’s Nursing Cap.  I was running late for my shift – punctuality was never one of my strong points – and hadn’t had much time to apply my usual makeup.   I was late and flustered and was literally still “dressing myself” when I spotted J. J. standing along the back wall of the elevator.  I avoided eye contact and quickly turned to face the front of the elevator.  I stood there paralyzed with disappointment when I realized he was seeing me in such disarray and without my typical face paint (I always felt naked without my makeup).  If I had any inkling that I might see him that day, I would have prepared myself physically and mentally; I would have had my witty remarks on the tip of my tongue and I would have applied my makeup with artistry and precision. No, I wasn’t ready; I wasn’t that confident woman that I had become by the end of my fantasy date; the magic of that night in December had transformed me.   But now, sadly, Cinderella had turned back into a poor house servant again.  I quickly exited the elevator at the very next floor and walked the stairs to the ward. 
After acting so foolishly at this first post-dance encounter, I never quite recovered.  I avoided Dr. Coyne – no longer J.J. – as if he had the plague. In fact I elevated avoidance to an art form! If I saw him in the hallway on one of the hospital units, I would duck into a doorway or quickly find an excuse to enter the nearest patient’s room.  I lived with a certain degree of fear wondering where or when I might see him and what I would say or do should we inadvertently come face to face.
The only time I came close to seeing him again face to face was near the end of my junior year, shortly before the seasoned Interns left and the new guys arrived.  I was given an appointment to appear in the 8th floor Student Nurses’ Infirmary (under the stern yet competent direction of Agatha Boyce, R. N.) for my annual physical exam.   My classmates and I stood in two lines waiting to be examined by one of the two doctors behind the privacy the two privacy screens.   It was surprising to me - at least at this time in my life – that the young, robust Interns were assigned to this task.   Did I mention that the physical included a breast exam?  Tough duty for these guys, wouldn’t you say? As I slowly inched my way closer to the white screen on my side of the room, someone happened to mention that it was none other than J.J. Coyne behind that particular privacy sheet.   “Oh my God!”,  I shout out loud even though I don’t usually say “Oh my God” in anything other than a prayer.  In a way it was a prayer; I’m praying please, get me out of here as soon as possible.  Never in a million years will I be able to sit exposed naked before him.  Wasn’t it enough that, even fully clothed, I felt so naked and exposed before him ever since the magic of a mystical December night dissipated and that confident young woman disappeared.   
The sad fact of the matter was I never once spoke to this wonderful man again.  Not one word.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I was realistic enough to know not to expect a marriage proposal.  I didn’t want a marriage proposal.  I was only 18 years old, I was rather immature and naive and we had only one date – a date that I initiated – and that he probably accepted as a bit of a lark.  But, that is not the point. The point for me is that I find it terribly sad that I was so lacking in confidence, social graces, and self –esteem that I couldn’t even face him, or look him in the eye, or say a single word to him.  I couldn’t just open my mouth and say, “Hi, how are you doing?”
When I was 18, I thought I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough or worthy enough.  From the vantage point of having lived 70 decades, I now see some of the whys and wherefores of my feelings and behaviors.  For sure I didn’t know then, what I know now.    I know now that I was brought up in an era when men were even more powerful than they are now, and at the top of this hierarchy of power stood the doctors ( mostly male )  and the Catholic priests (still officially all male but the women are rising, praise God). This was the early 1960’s and we were on the cusp of Vatican II.  Things were different, very different, and even today, we continue to struggle to bring to fruition the wonderful spiritual renewal and positive energy of Vatican II.  
I married Robert W. Buchner on September 18, 1971 at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Brooklyn, NY.  I have two children and one grandson.  I enjoy writing and have a million stories swimming around in my head.  Many of my memories surround St. Vincent’s Hospital and the wonders of life I experienced because of my connections to some of the most marvelous women on earth – the women of St. Vincent’s Hospital School of Nursing, and especially the women of the Class of 1965 (The Vatican II Class- 1962 -1965).  Sometimes I get in trouble for being “too truthful”, but at 72, I doubt I will change.  Thank you for reading my story.  Now, I have to mail the rest of the story to Dr. J.J. Coyne.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Flipping a Coin for Dr. Coyne (Part 7) – The night comes to an end.

I really wasn’t very upset to be kicked out of the Playboy Club. I never really cared much for the night club atmosphere to begin with.  I actually found it a bit amusing.  I sensed our young interns were a bit embarrassed but, alas for the most part, they seemed to have pretty powerful egos and handled it without difficulty.  I actually remember thinking that it it put us on a more level playing field – they weren’t perfect and could make mistakes just like us young student nurses.  
I would have been upset, however, if it meant an early end to our evening out on the town. I had finally gotten into the swing of things and, at that point, I was enjoying myself immensely.   I am not sure who arranged it, but, JJ and I and a couple of other couples from our group, went back to Greenwich Village, to a small place somewhere in the vicinity of St. Vincent’s Hospital.  I believe it was a place that some of the Interns had been to before, although I had never heard of it.  I even remember the name, it was called, “Marie’s Crisis”.   I wonder if any of my SVH classmates remember it.   We walked down a couple of steps and entered a tiny, dark, intimate establishment. To me it looked like a Probation era “speak easy” that I had seen once in a movie.  And, because the place was so tiny and narrow, there were no empty tables left when we entered the room.  “Do you mind if we sit at the bar?” J.J., ever the gentleman said, and I - just so happy to know that our date was continuing, said “that’s fine with me”. I probably would have sat on a blanket on the floor if I had to, but of course, I knew enough (even back then) not to say such a thing.   Even at the tender age of 18, it wasn’t like I had never sat on a bar stool before.   So, we walked to one end of the short, slender bar against the wall at the opposite side of the room and sat down next to each.   It could have been anywhere, any place, any time, as the rest of the world truly disappeared for me for the entire time we were there.   We talked only to each other and we shared life stories, family history.  I don’t remember how long we were there or what time we left.  It might have been the wee hours of the morning.  Not wanting to be restrained by a curfew at 158West 12th Street Nurses’ Residence, I stayed at Barbara Bildziukiewicz’s home in lower Manhattan the night of the Junior Dance.  J.J. walked me into the hallway of her house, but before we went upstairs to her doorway, we stood talking, and he leaned over and kissed me.    It was a great kiss, and then he kissed me again.  Barbara was home before me. After entering her house, I remember sitting on her bed and talking excitedly about everything that happened that night.  I believe she had a really nice time too, but I was all consumed by my experience.  I wondered aloud if the two kisses J.J. gave me were simply obligatory, “I must kiss the student nurse on the night of her Junior Dance” type kiss, or did he really want to kiss me.   I like to think, he really wanted to kiss me.
The story has one more part to it, but you might not like it.  It is a big part of why I could never finish it before.  Nonetheless I give you my word; I am committed to finishing it now.  By the way I was able to track down Dr. JJ Coyne’s address (with the help of my dear husband of 45 years) and I sent the first three parts of the story to that address.  I have no idea if he received my little memoir.  In the mailing, I promised that I would send him the rest of the story once I finished it.    Some people may think this is terribly bold of me, but honestly, what 79 year old man wouldn’t love a story from his youth?   Especially a story about what one date with him meant to an 18 year old Student Nurse.
By the way, I just went on google search and put in "Marie's Crisis" and low and behold, the place still exists!!