Monday, July 31, 2017


Dictated letters from Kathie

To Kathie’s father
Williams, Arizona
December 19, 1965
Dear Daddy:
     If I tried to put down all my thoughts and feelings in the journal Dick got for me, my poor non-focusing eyes would probably turn inside-out and my writing would look like upside-down Arabic.  So Mom has agreed to take on the chore of recording my momentous observations in a letter to you.
     The strangest thing is that the accident itself doesn’t seem credible to me.  I was half asleep when it happened and unconscious or only semi-conscious for a week thereafter, so it has no reality for me.  I’ve learned some of the details so I can reply intelligently when people ask me about it, but it is mostly just a story to me.  Of course I believe it happened, mainly because it’s an explanation of why I’m here.  It’s like asking, “Why do the tides come in and out” and being told, “It’s the moon.”  As an explanation, it’s acceptable but somehow remote.
     When I first became fully conscious I simply felt that I had a new situation to deal with.  All of a sudden I found myself in a hospital bed with two strange and numb legs attached to my body.  I felt very weak and very helpless.  Mummy was with me as well as Dick, so I was aware that something was out of the ordinary.  Even as I became informed of the details of the accident and my injury, I couldn’t really become depressed because I just felt like me in a new situation.  I’ve been in lots of new situations in my life and have come to feel the best way to handle them is to keep laughing and shoot high.  I don’t feel any different now.  
From Vonnie
January 4, 1966
Scituate, Massachusetts
        Dear marvelous, heroic, darling sissy,

     I went over to Dad's house yesterday to dry some clothes and made an inspection while I was there. I couldn't help being concerned about how he was eating and taking care of the place. All the doors were locked except the one on the terrace. A downstairs and upstairs light was on but the house was immaculate. He sure is a good housekeeper. I checked the refrigerator and it looked to be pretty healthy and well stocked. There were two steaks on a plate that hadn't been covered and the air had turned them a funny color. I left a note telling him to put wax paper on food so it wouldn't spoil.
     He called me when he got home and said he'd purposely left the lights on so people would think there was someone there at night before he got home. Smart ol' Dad. He also said his steaks were still good (ach! they looked awful to me) but promised to cover them from now on. All in all he's doing pretty well.
     We had our first real snowfall out here Sunday so Bob and I brought the baby outside to see it. Unfortunately his reaction was a disappointment. He didn't like it. It was too cold, too wet, and didn't taste like a cookie. He really is a delight, though. For instance, yesterday he pulled the living room curtains down, every day he throws his toys all over his room, feeds the dog when I'm not looking, and bangs his bedroom wall with his toys. You should see it—scratches, dents, chipped paint, etc. What a darling child. Nine months old and his nickname is Michael the Monster. He keeps me busy but it's worth it when he's asleep.
     Sis . . . We're plugging for you. Our hearts never leave you. I can't really put into words what we feel, but believe me, it's strong and warm and everlasting.
To Kathie’s principal
January 5, 1966
Dear Mr. Lievore,
     You can’t imagine how much your call meant to me.  Every card, every letter reminds me that I belong in a non-hospital world, too—not that the hospital routine is dull. . . as a matter of fact every day begins with a Battle Royale!  I am forced to fight fiercely for my beauty sleep against a hoard of uncooperative nurses.  At 6:00 a.m. the first wake-up nurse crashes into my room, hooks open my door, and turns on two lights.  At 6:15 the next bright-eyed nurse comes bounding in to get my water pitcher.  She doesn’t refill it, mind you, she puts it on a cart with all the other water pitchers and clanks the cart up and down the hall a few times until she is sure everyone is wide awake.
     Six-thirty is pill time.  A sweet, friendly looking old nurse who looks like somebody’s grandmother brings me about eighty pills and stands over me until every one of them has gone down the hatch.  At 6:45 comes the cruelest of all blows—some unidentified nurse wakes up every baby in the nursery and urges each to howl his loudest. I would like to think that the cold, wet washcloth that is brought in at 7:00 is intended to sooth our brows after fifteen minutes of listening to baby squalls; however, judging by the nurse’s expression when she hands me the wet cloth and says, “Get ready for breakfast, dear,” I doubt if this is her motive. She is not satisfied with eyes that are only half open and expects me to undergo a form of medieval water torture to complete the journey to wakefulness.
     Breakfast provides additional fun and novelty.  The nurses optimistically drape a king-sized towel under my chin, but in my groggy state, I still manage to feed at least half of my oatmeal to the sheet, blanket, and pillow case, as well as amply nourishing my neck, throat, and shoulder-blades.
     Much of the morning passes quite pleasantly because my mother is with me to read and write letters.  This is so out of keeping with the usual scheme of things that she is shooed out from time to time by nurses zealously devoted to restoring hospital normalcy.  The customary excuse is that my bedsores need treatment.  Who would have thought that one could develop sores just from lying on a soft, clean, comfortable bed!  The treatment is unique; the nurses prop me up on my side with a few pillows and then direct a bright lamp on the problem areas.  Never in my wildest nightmares did I ever picture myself with that particular part of my anatomy in the spotlight.
     Despite the obvious zest in hospital living, I appreciate my Manzanita mail more than I can say. I expect to be in Arizona for another two or three weeks and hope the mailbag will continue to be full.  Thereafter I will be at Massachusetts General Hospital.  I miss Manzanita and hope to be back there before too long.  Make sure my substitute is giving my kiddies enough loving.
To Kathie’s grandmother
January 6, 1966
Dear Isha,
     A steady stream of letters from home have helped to brighten every day.  Reminders and memories help the hospital routine pass more easily, not that the routine is very complicated—they feed me, wash me, roll me around and rub my back, somehow change the bed with me in it, massage my legs, give me different pills forty times a day and regularly take my temperature, pulse, and blood pressure.
     The hardest part isn’t the external hospital routine, it’s getting used to me.  Like there’s a strange pair of legs in my bed.  I have a vague feeling of a numb pair of bent legs attached to my body, but every time I look, there is very clearly a pair of flat legs lying here.  I can’t feel a thing though the nurses prod them and rub them and move them, but Mom tells me originally I couldn’t feel anything below my neck, so I figure by next week I should have feeling to the knees, and another week I should even be able to wiggle my toes.
     There’s been a lot of progress, anyway.  Instead of lying flat in bed like a pancake, I am wound up to a sitting position, trusted to wash my own face and hands, and I’m even allowed to feed myself.  I wonder if my kiddies would mind a teacher with egg all over her face.
     The doctor was a little worried about the injury to my head, but obviously I’m as quick and clever as ever.  The plan of action is to get me back to Boston for therapy.  I’ll keep you in touch and meanwhile would appreciate as much news as possible.  Please write again. 
January 7, 1966
Williams Hospital
Dear California friends,     
      Goldwater country is probably the last place you ever expected to see postmarked on a letter to you. Just before Christmas Dick and I started impulsively east, cat and dog in tow; we planned to call you as a big surprise when we had gotten close to home.  Unfortunately, someone must have let it out of the bag that we were good liberal Democrats because we weren’t able to make it through this state.  In the midst of a snowstorm our poor little “Baby Cadillac” and a great big tough old Republican car went skidding into each other.  Virtue failed to win out and the poor Democratic Volkswagen got demolished and I got pretty banged up myself.
     Dick and Lurch and Murphy proved too tough for injury, but I guess I had everyone pretty worried for awhile.  My mother and father came out from Boston to help Dick, and Mummy is still here, keeping me company.  As soon as I’m strong enough the doctor will put me in a body cast and send me back to Boston.  It’s been kind of a long trip but I still can’t wait to get home.
     Dick reluctantly went back to Berkeley to finish his semester, then he’ll be back to Massachusetts, too.  The doctor expects to get me out of here in three weeks.  I’m eager to begin some real therapy—there are two legs in bed with me, but no real indication that they’re mine.  Since I’m determined to be swimming, sailing, horseback riding and wrestling with Dick by next summer, I am naturally very anxious to get started on my progress.
     Lunch just came, and since eating is supposed to help me strengthen fast, I’ll sign off to you now. Mom is going to fill in some of the events between December 23, when I was still unconscious, and today, when I’m obviously my outspoken old self.  I am very anxious to receive mail, so please take time to write to me here.
Love to you all. . .
January 7, 1966
Williams, Arizona    
     Kathie continues to "hold me up," as my sister put it so accurately.  She cried today for the first time ‑‑ said she felt as if she needed to cry to ease her tensions.  I said, "Go ahead and get it out of your system, darling, before your hubby comes back.  He'll tell you what a tough kid you are, but a good cry might make you feel better."  
     My words sounded pitifully inadequate in the face of a sorrow so unanswerable, so beyond the reach of comfort.  I longed for a wishing stone to turn back the clock, to turn off her tears.  But Dick said "no if onlys."  He pictures her teaching from a wheelchair someday.  I must try to focus on the positives, as Kathie does nearly every waking moment.
     Before I left, she had dried her eyes.  She gave me a smile and a hug, and said not to worry, she was all right now.
January 12, 1966
     Dr. Barnes spent over two hours in Kathie's room last night, examining her from head to toe, checking her eyesight (her right eye "lags" a bit but will gradually become normal), and fending off her amorous advances.  She flirts with him outrageously, much to his amusement.  He says she has shown marked improvement in the last week, and as soon as the bedsore on her backside is sufficiently healed, she will be ready for a cast. 
     The treatment for the bedsore consists of placing her on one side or the other for as long as she can take it (she has worked up to half an hour at a time) with a lamp's rays directed at the sore.  Tonight Dr. Barnes and the nurse put her on her stomach for the first time, and he was pleased to see the area looking much better.  There was a  lot of kidding back and forth about what he would remember best about her after she was gone.
     At one point he turned to me and said quietly:  "You were right when you told me what kind of girl this was, the first day I met you.  Maybe you didn't think I was taking it in, but I listened and remembered, and you're right.  She's one in a million."
January 13, 1966
Dear Ted:
     It was wonderful to hear from my favorite older brother.  Writing an answer isn’t as easy as you might think.  I still have a problem with quadruple, over-lapping, intermingling, and thoroughly confusing vision.  I can’t even read what I’m writing when I attempt to be my own secretary, unless I keep one eye closed in one-eyed pirate fashion.
     Other than my skewed vision, my progress continues to be very good.  I had a problem with a squeaky ear, but that was only because of a low pressure area at our high altitude.  The doctor’s carefully weighed and well-considered prescription for this malady was a wad of bubble gum, which was intended to equalize the unbalanced pressures between my ear and Eustachian tube.
     I’ve applied myself so steadfastly to this cure that I can now down my pills  without so much as breaking rhythm in my chewing.  Lucky my children can’t see me chomping away; they’d think I should stay after school.
     One of the most exciting signs of progress is that I’m beginning to have some sensation in my legs.  Now that I’ve become convinced they are really mine, I have stopped requesting that the nurses return them to their proper owner.  I can’t move them yet but expect with the proper concentration I should be able to wiggle my toes within a week or two.
     You’ll be interested to hear that Daddy has thoughtfully arranged that I go to Mass General so I can be near the Union Boat Club.  Dr. Barnes hasn’t been at all cooperative about my getting exercise.  When I requested that a jungle-gym be installed over my bed so I could do chin-ups and pull-ups to restore the body beautiful, he merely suggested that knitting would be a more appropriate occupation and hurried on to his next patient.  Realizing that planning ahead can solve  many problems, I have my scheme all worked out for Boston:  whenever you and Dad arrange to play squash, come to the hospital to see me first, then you take my place in bed and I’ll go play squash with Daddy.  See you at the hospital. . . .
January 20, 1966
Williams Hospital
 To Kathie's father (dictated)
         The last few days have been particularly exciting.  Tuesday  morning they wheeled my bed down to the operating room.  I told Dr. Barnes that January was my "nervous month, but he seemed  convinced I was ready for my cast now and "never mind the  stalling, Kathie."  Actually I was pleased to be getting my cast at last but had no idea it would so closely resemble a corset.
     They began by wrapping me in felt, pulling it tighter and tighter, despite my protests that I needed room to get my figure  back.  They assured me there would be room for my tummy to expand but I couldn't convince them that this was not the only area where I intended to do some growing.
     During my badinage with the nurses I noticed a mild‑looking young man leaning in a corner and laughing at our conversation.   My glances toward him changed from coy to alarmed when he wheeled over a tall pole terminating in a menacing looking needle.  In confirmation of my fears, it took the anaesthetist three jabs  before he could find a vein.  I was about to protest loudly when, without so much as a good‑bye, the doctor, two nurses, and the anaesthetist all disappeared.
     The next thing I knew Mummy was saying, "How do you feel,  hon?"  I probably shouldn't tell you this, but she must have been  drinking because she was so blurry I could hardly see her, and her vision was so confused, the room looked spinny even to me.  I  was about to chastise her for her moral lassitude when the doctor came in.  I began to have doubts about him, too, when he walked  up to my bed and cheerfully thumped me on the chest.  I should  have realized that the hollow thump my chest gave in response wasn't my heart, but I still reacted with modest defensiveness when he swept back the covers to my waist.  
     To my amazement,  there before my eyes rose a far huger bust than I ever expected  to see attached to this body.  As my delighted eyes began to  focus more clearly on this unexpected development, I noted that it was white, nubbly, criss‑crossed with tape, and all in all not the texture you'd find in a Reubens painting.  Further exploration with my own tapping fingers proved  beyond a doubt that it was a cast in bust's clothing!
     "Is it comfortable?" Dr. Barnes asked, drumming thoughtfully on my chest.
     I was forced to admit I suspected his creation was designed solely as a punishment for all my flippancies of the past few  weeks.  I had expected rough spots in the plaster, but not sandpaper, bottle caps, and old coat hangers.
     As a reward for not resorting to physical violence to defend myself, I was placed in a wheelchair for the first time and taken on a Cook's tour of the hospital.  Everything looked a little blurry because I had been in a prone position for so long, but I was as thrilled as if I were seeing the whole world for the first time.
     We were on our way back to my room when this crazy broad in the lobby suddenly came dashing over, quivering with excitement and shrieked, "Kathie!"  I was a little overwhelmed by this mad, onrushing bundle of emotionalism until I realized it was only Mom.  It wasn't as though I was standing on my head, but I can  imagine it was quite a sight for her to see me sitting in a wheelchair after all these weeks.  
     As we close another dramatic chapter in the life of Katrinka Von White, the belle of Williams's white‑ coated set, we see her progress being ignored by a food‑hungry mother (reading recipes  in Playboy) and a comic‑craving husband (reading Batman). Since  I'm about to crown someone with my cast, you'll have to excuse me for now.
 January 27, 1966
      We left the Williams airport in an ambulance plane, a small single‑engine Cessna that barely had room for Kathie's stretcher, Dick, the dog, cat, myself, and all our luggage. Moppet had become quite brave about flying. Instead of crawling under the seat when we took off, she perched on top of Kathie's cast and looked out the window at the passing scenery. The cat was another matter. Lurch was hit by a car when a kitten and has never recovered from the trauma. Kathie and Dick raised him to be a protected house cat, so whenever he sees the outside world, he becomes panic‑stricken. Dick put Lurch in a cardboard carton, but by the time we got to Phoenix, he had nearly busted through it.
      At Phoenix, TWA provided two heavy cardboard carriers for the animals, and we were allowed to carry them with us onto the plane. They withstood the five‑ hour flight to Boston very well—and so did Kathie. She was provided with a "stretcher kit," composed of four passenger seats laid flat, thus making a bed, and curtains for privacy if she desired. She preferred having them open, smiling her cheerful smile at passengers boarding or disembarking.
      When we arrived at Logan Airport late in the evening, we were met by an ambulance and by Ed. Dick went with Kathie to Mass General, and Ed and I followed. Her room in the rehabilitation ward on the ninth floor was not yet available, so she was put in a ward with surgical patients on the sixth floor. She had a bad night. Unable to sleep because of moans and snores from nearby patients, it was nearly 1:00 a.m. before she dozed off. Then she heard a voice in the distance, calling, "Where's the paraplegic?"
      The voice neared the ward. "Where's the paraplegic?" the resident repeated. "Mrs. White?"
      "I'm Mrs. White," Kathie said sleepily.
      "Are you the paraplegic?"
      "I don't know," she said. It was the first time this term had been used in her presence.
      "You can't walk, can you?" said this bedside monster.
      "Not yet," she replied hesitantly.
      "You're the paraplegic," the resident declared flatly.
      In her forbearing way, Kathie said later that he was probably wakened from a sound sleep and hadn't meant to be insensitive. Personally, I am unable to condone his callousness.
      She was given no breakfast in the morning since no one thought to order one for her. She didn't even get a pitcher of water until I got there in the afternoon. She did get a lunch tray, but it was sitting on the table in back of her. She had been placed on her side to give her bedsores a rest, so she couldn’t reach it. By the time someone noticed her plight, the lunch was cold.
      Not a good start, but now she is on the ninth floor where she will be placed on a bed like the one Senator Kennedy had when he was recuperating from his plane accident. Called a Stryker frame, it will help her bedsores clear up; then therapy will start. The doctor said he would know better in forty-eight hours just how much recovery we could hope for. 

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