The typhoid shots had
come and gone and the days slipped slowly by with only minor treatment
required for a lone student now and then. Organizing the files was only a
matter of typing names on labels and placing these alphabetically. There was
one problem with names though. Navajo students basically all had the same
last name. There were Begay's, and Yazzie's mostly. If there were thirty
John Begay's it was difficult to always tell them apart. Maybe this is part
of the reason the head nurse had simply made mental notes rather than actual
written records. I separated them first by age, building, and home town.
They all had a lot of the same locations but there was some variety. A John
Begay who was sixteen years old, from Window Rock and lived at Home Six was
a bit more of an identity than just plain John Begay. By adding his parent's
names, this too became another way to identify him. If John Begay's parents
were Jack Begay and Alice Begay this might separate him from another John
Begay whose parents names were different. The head nurse was to get caught
up in her own failure to keep records with a real severe consequence later,
but that is another story.
When the influenza
outbreak hit Chilocco it was with a vengeance that year. Everywhere we
looked there were sick kids in the clinic. The treatment room was packed
full. A waiting room in the entry way was packed and usually there were
never students out there. Even the large area inside the wide double doors
in front was full. For some reason the head nurse had elected to turn the
heat up. While I was working with one of the nurses doing only what she told
me to do; helping with taking temperatures, filling the little paper cups
with the pills they were to take and dispensing tissue for them to take home
with them. This was not in my clerk typist duties but anyone would have been
totally unconcerned not to try to pitch in to help.
One of the nurses who
later became a very dear friend was steadily and quietly working. She was an
Osage-Otoe woman who was very quiet and soft spoken. Her recent move from a
tuberculosis clinic at Shawnee put her in a much more elevated position as
far as being conscious of the need to protect one's self from germs.
“Go around opening
these windows,” she whispered to me.
This is what I did. The
air flowing in the windows was cool and a blessing to the feverish children.
The head nurse didn't see it like that though.
“Who is opening these
windows?” She was looking, at each and every one of us trying to decide
who was the culprit. No one said anything as she went around closing them.
“Now what?” I asked
the nurse beside me.
“Just wait until she
goes out of the room and open them again. Don't let her see you doing it. It
reminded me of a movie I saw recently where a nurse was doing the same thing
and I wondered how many other nurses in the world had the same battle with
people while they tried to initiate healing practices. In the movie the
woman actually threw a chair through one of the windows in order to bring
the fresh air into the room. We didn't go that far. I'm sure the head nurse
wanted to suspect I was doing it but she couldn't catch me. The nurses all
kept an eye on her and if I was at a window while she was coming they would
either make a motion, shake their head or some small gesture to warn me. Kid
that I was, it was all fun and games for me. For the nurses it was a deadly
“I don't know which
one of my little dar-links is opening these windows, but they better not let
me catch them,” the head nurse bustled around and had to keep busy closing
windows. None of the nurses said anything or even looked up.