Thursday, January 16, 2014

1940s: Stories from National Jewish Health x

The 1940s saw a significant drop in the number of tuberculosis victims.  There must have been a fear that both National Jewish Hospital and National Home for Jewish Children would be forced to close.  However, the idea of "parentectomy" gave birth to a new clientele: asthmatic children.

What follows are three true stories sent to me from these patients.  Keep in mind names will be changed to protect the identity of the patients, although they did submit these stories and would probably love that I'm sharing them here.

National Home for Jewish Children in Denver:
National Home for Asthmatic Children:

From a patient from Huntington Beach, CA (1943-1944)

When I was 12.5 I was sent to Denver for my asthma by the Social Services of Beth Israel hospital in New York.  It happened to be in 1943, in July or August.  It was either called the national Home for Jewish Children in Denver, or the Jewish National home for Asthmatic Children in Denver.  I remember it was a large facility opposite Lake Junior high School which I attended when school started.

I came from New York with another girl named Ellie.  My name was Nina.  I was very lonesome and homesick, but I made friends and was aught up in the daily schedule of making my bed, eating in a large dining room, giving my clothes to be washed  (I think the number they gave me for the laundry was 22.)  I have used that lucky number ever since when I go to Las Vegas!

I remember Sunday School, which I had never gone to before.  Since I played piano, I found a piano teacher close by to go to for lessons.  I remember going down town with a lot of kids to see a movie.  I also remember seeing the Brown Palace hotel from a distance.  I remember trudging through high snow banks to Lake Junior high across the street.

Some of my friends were...  I believe Mr. Cohen was the Superintendent at the time.

I was there when VE Day was declared and everyone was happy.  That was the summer of 1944.  I left the next month in July to go back home

I have fond memories of the Home even though I was very homesick.  Though the years, I have been in touch with some of the kids I met there, and they are very special to me.

National Jewish Hospital:

From a wife of a patient from Tarpon Springs, FL (1943-4):   From a wife whose husband was a resident (1945-47) but is too ornery to share sentimental memories!

By the time I met and married my husband, Tim, he was an active, successful, fun-loving man with little evidence of illness.  It took months of dating before I even realized he used an inhaler.  He eventually explained what asthma was and how it had impacted his early years.  he told me how his time (nearly two years) at the National Jewish Hospital altered his life immeasurably.

He said at that Home he learned how to be "normal" and participate fully in life.  It was there that he became an outstanding athlete.  This was a gift that enhanced his life from high school, where he was a star basketball player, through adulthood, which has included years of organized softball, basketball, touch football, and vigorous racquetball along with years of coaching kid's sports.

Although he never really shared many memories of being sickly, my mother-in-law related to me the anguish of having a child so ill she sometimes thought he would never grow up.  She talked about a neighbor's asthmatic child who had died and the impact that had upon her -- the enduring sadness and fear.  She said she was told that the only chance her son had for living a normal and relatively healthy life was to send him to Denver.  She said it was a very difficult decision to make.

Living in the Bronx, New York, they were working people who couldn't afford to move, therefore sending their nine-year-old to the National Jewish Hospital was their only hope for his future.

The thought of sending her child so far away tormented her.  She said that in order to prepare her -- and Tim -- for this ordeal, they visited a psychiatrist several times who focused on the ensuing separation, (Tim has no recollection at all of seeing a psychiatrist or therapist. I surmise that he was so young, that these visits never registered as therapy sessions.)

Tim recalls leaving his mother, father and little brother and boarding a train for a very long ride to Denver.  (And returning two years later to discover a baby sister, born while he was away!)

He recalls arriving at the hospital and at some point being asked to relinquish his inhaler.  He remembers being overwhelmed by the number of inhalers in this particular room -- shelves, filled with hundreds of inhalers in all shapes, colors, and sizes.

Tim has mentioned fondly a room with a piano, the school he attended, and the wonderful times he had there, better than any other times in his life up until then!  He talks of how he learned to deal with his illness, how he was encouraged to do everything, how he was taught to handle emotions and to take care of himself in nearly every situation he would face.

As a rule, Irving speaks very little of his asthma or of his time in Denver.  He prefers to function as a healthy, ordinary man who had an ordinary childhood.

I personally thank the people at National Jewish who made it possible for me to have a healthy, active, loving, supportive husband who was the absolute best father any children could have!

From a patient from Ft. Collins, CO. (1949-51):  Remembering Mr. G., the many friends and fond memories of my time at the National Home for Jewish Children in Denver.  Hello to all:  (She lists names here).  I once had the nickname, Mousey, in those days.  I remember sneaking out at nights to Bears Stadium, swimming at Washington Park, Elitch's, and of course, Sloan's Lake and Lake Jr. High.

From a patient from Ft. Collins, CO (1941-1945):  Some o fmy memories.  I remember vividly the huge amounts of food available, having just arrived from Germany (no mat, no milk there -- mostly cabbage.)  I gained 20 or 30 pounds in the first month!

I was among the first to receive a phrenic crush with pneumoperiteum (note: phrenic crush is where a nerve supplying the diaphragm is cut off.  Pneumoperiteum is gas in the abdominal cavity.  I am not sure the connection here to asthma, although there were some questionable procedures performed to treat asthma).

I fondly remember Dr. Japha, also Dr. Rosenbloom, and Dr. Kaufman, Medical Director.

First I was in the big B'nai B'rith Building, later the Guggenheim Building, and finally, as the sort of caretaker, in the Nurses' Building on the corner of Colorado Blvd. And 14th Ave.

I remember other young patients. (She names three).

  1. "Our Memories," National Jewish Medical and Research Center Patient and Resident Reunion," July 30-August 1, 1999, National Jewish Medical and Research Center, Denver, Colorado, Memories is a packet put together for former patients who visited the institution for the reunion.  Note:  I would be more than happy to send a copy of this little booklet to anyone who requests one.  

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