Patients Say the Darndest Things

Before I began my internship, I could never have imagined some of the scenarios I would witness in the middle of the night in the emergency room. Nor would I forget them. The year was 1983. One night, halfway through my internship in family practice, I was on duty at Mercy Medical Center in Denver, Colorado. Just past midnight, the hospital had finally quieted down with a lull in patient admissions coming through the emergency room. It was a rare opportunity for me to take a time-out and put my legs up. Shortly after propping myself up on the narrow … Continue reading

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Frankfurt American High School’s 50th Reunion

Around this time 50 years ago in Germany, the Frankfurt American High School’s class of ’66 graduated in the Frankfurter Zoologischer Garten (Frankfurt Zoo), a fitting place for this memorable occasion.

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Photo of the entrance to the Frankfurt Zoo complex. Our graduation took place in a theater inside the complex.

A notice in our graduation packet spoke about rabies shots. I wonder if our principal had fears about one of us getting bitten by wild animals in the zoo?

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Do you think we’ll be able to graduate when we’re seniors and get out of this prison?

 

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Some of us are in line to receive our scholarships for academic achievements.

The notice of the 50th reunion of FAHS arrived in my inbox a few months ago. I had never been to any of my high school reunions over the years—or any reunion for that matter, except for reunions with family and friends. Initially I had no intention of going to the reunion, but then, one by one, I received emails from a handful of long lost friends who asked me to join them in San Antonio for the reunion. I changed my mind.

Why San Antonio? Since our high school in Germany no longer exists, the reunions take place at various locations in the States. The decision lies in the hands of the planning committee.

At this moment, I’m in the air, heading to Texas, with my head full of memories from half a century ago.

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Römer Platz in downtown Frankfurt am Main. Sometimes I skipped school, jumped on a trolley and headed downtown to simply wander around this historic part of town. One time I slipped past the guards at the court house and witnessed part of a trial of Nazi criminals which I wrote about in one of the posts called “Nuremberg Trials.” I learned a lot when I wasn’t in school.

Frankfurt American High School (FAHS) was one of six Department of Defense high schools in Germany that served the children of the American military, the government, and civilian personnel after World War II. The school, opened in 1946, relocated several times within the city, and ended up at a place called the Abrams Complex, seen below.

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In this old aerial photograph of the Frankfurt American High School complex, the playing fields can be seen in the upper area. On the far upper right, barely visible, are the sinister buildings of I.G. Farben, commonly referred to as I.G. Hoch Haus (Tall Building), where German chemists manufactured the chemicals used in the gas chambers during WWII. A Jewish classmate told me that the word “GIFT”—the German word for POISON, was stamped on each canister of chemicals. After the war, those deadly chemicals found a new use as insecticides and herbicides. The American military took over the building complex at the end of the war. One of my German patients worked at I.G. Farben after the war as a translator. She fell in love with an American soldier who became her husband.

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The school adopted the eagle as the its mascot. The motto became “Eagles Über Alles.”

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With the closing of American military bases in the Frankfurt region following the Cold War and German reunification, the school closed in 1995. The American government returned the Abrams Complex to the German Federal government and Frankfurt American High School became Die Phillip Holzman Schule.

Update: I’m stuck at the airport in Oklahoma City. Our plane to Dallas had to be re-routed because of a shooting at the Dallas airport (Welcome to Texas). We’re stuck in Oklahoma until there is security clearance at the Dallas airport. Of course, I’ve already missed my connecting flight to San Antonio. Not sure when I’ll get there, but not too worried about it.

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We stayed in Hotel Contessa, right on the lovely River Walk in the heart of San Antonio.

I finally arrived in San Antonio, checked into our hotel, located right on the River Walk, then walked along the river until I found the German Bier Garten where the dinner get-together was wrapping up. In my haste to join the group, I had not picked up my name tag at the hotel. Even without the name tag pinned to my shirt, several people called out my name, “Rickie Merriam,” as I entered the outdoor restaurant. Being addressed by my childhood name made me feel instantly like I was among family. Several people claimed I looked the same as I did in high school. Haha.

Fortunately, everyone else had name tags because it took me quite a while to recognize my old friends. One of my former classmates, Mike O’Connor, jumped out of his seat, whipped out his iPhone and showed me pictures he had scanned into his computer of the senior class play we were in, “Bye Bye Birdie.” He even played a monologue of me—the mother—speaking in a heavy Brooklyn accent. Mike’s parents had recorded the entire play and then Mike had managed to put the recording on his computer and iPhone and saved it for posterity.

In the role of Albert’s mother, Mae Peterson, I took on the personality of a high-strung, long-suffering martyr, desperately manipulative to get her son’s attention and resentful of the time he spent with his girlfriend, Rosie, and not with her. Fellow actor in “Bye Bye Birdie,” Mike O’Connor, put his iPhone up to my ear at the restaurant, and this is what I heard—a familiar voice from half a century ago:

 

Here’s a snippet of a professional rendition of “Bye Bye Birdie” with the song I sang,“Kids—What’s Wrong with Kids Today?”in our unprofessional version of the musical.

One of the pictures of the musical that Mike showed me on his iPhone.

The storyline in the musical, “Bye Bye Birdie,” was inspired by events in the life of Elvis Presley when he was drafted into the army in 1957.

Our little sub-group spent the rest of the evening reminiscing about our times together.

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Some of my old buddies gathered together. On my right is David Vining. He played my son in Bye Bye Birdie, our senior class musical. The couple all the way to the left fell in love at their 40th high school reunion and got married.

The reunion planning committee reserved a room in our hotel for meeting up with classmates and a place to leave personal memorabilia for all of us to savor. I came unprepared, but enjoyed looking at other people’s scrapbooks.

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Next Morning: Fire Alarm in the Hotel at 7 am. A loudspeaker announced that we had to evacuate our rooms due to a fire alert. About twenty minutes later, the loudspeaker announced it was a false alarm.

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Our hotel served breakfast right on the River Walk. The morning air felt cool and refreshing.

So much reminiscing with a flood of memories that came pouring over me as I spoke with my former best buddies. Below are photographs of a couple of friends who went to the prom together in 1966 and then met up again at our reunion, fifty years later.

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Linda Looney and Peter Patrick in 1966, dressed up for the prom.

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Linda Looney and Peter Patrick 50 years later. Shining through the accumulation of years, I see their strong and vibrant spirits. The smiles are just as infectious as ever.

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On the left is the Honorable Judge Susan Illston, district judge of northern California, appointed by Clinton in 2009. Susan missed the graduation ceremonies at the zoo because she was in Washington, DC, shaking the hand of President Johnson, one of just a handful of students who got the presidential award for excellence. We went to Paris together for wild adventures during spring vacation of 1966. And to the right is Karen Tackett, professor of nursing, the person who cut off my braid and set me free, as written in the blog post “Cutting the Braid.” After junior year, Karen and I went to Neufchatel, Switzerland together during the summer of 1965 to take an advanced course in French.

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Peter Patrick showed his affection for me in high school by pulling on my braid. The more he pulled on it, the more I knew he liked me. That braid got a lot of hands-on attention from the boys.

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Downtown San Antonio.

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Exploring downtown San Antonio with Susan Illston and her husband, Jim Larson.

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The front entrance to the Alamo.

 

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Seniors from FAHS, 1966, have come together as seniors again—this time from a different kind of school called LIFE, 2016. The graduation date from this school is unknown.

Out of a graduating class of around 350, 300 of us are still alive. Almost one-third of the surviving class attended the 50th reunion. I could not fit them all into one picture.

Our classmates include doctors, engineers, teachers, therapists, lawyers, judges, government officials, military officers, CIA agents, nurses, professors of nursing, artists, actors, professors of drama, and musicians. About half of the people I talked with at the reunion are still working full or part-time because they love their jobs and find them meaningful.

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Cindy Ravitsky and Tony Jesurun dancing to a mariachi band on the hotel balcony.

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Susan Illston posed with her 1966 prom partner, Eric Melby, just for old time’s sake—at my request.

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During the intermission at our reunion dance party, all the people who won school prizes in 1966 were announced and told to stand up, one by one. Mike O’Connor and I were voted the “wittiest” in the senior class. I never thought of myself as particularly witty.

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This group of former classmates called themselves “The Melloteens.” They had achieved some fame in the area and had even been invited to sing in Berlin. They sang for us at our graduation ceremony in the Frankfurt Zoo in 1966. And now they assembled again for our 50th reunion and graced us with their beautiful voices.

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We danced the night away to the infectious music of the 60’s. The band members looked our same age. I enjoyed every minute of it. In the music-driven state of ecstasy, I totally forgot how old I was. For just a moment, I was back at the teenage club in Frankfurt.

Update: I’m stuck at the San Antonio airport until late tonight because of a big storm in Dallas. Yet another Dalles delay, but at least this time is not due to a shooting. So, my trip has been rerouted. I’ll arrive in Albuquerque in the middle of the night. I’ll be in Santa Fe in the wee hours Monday morning. Fortunately, I don’t have patients until the afternoon. I’m just going to relax into this prolonged delay and savor the walk down memory lane this weekend at the 50th reunion. I had no idea it would be so much fun. The planning committee did an outstanding job.

If you’d like to read the little memoir series of short stories I did about my life in high school in Germany, here are the links, in the order they were written. The first one is “The Nuremberg Trials,” then “At the Pub,” “Cutting the Braid,” “Cutting Loose,” “Trials of Transparency,” “Summer with Jean Pierre,” and “First Day at Antioch College.”

That’s all for now.

 

Telluride Mountainfilm Festival

May 26th, 2016 My longtime friend, Aryeh from Durango, Colorado, invited me to join him for Telluride’s 38th Mountainfilm Festival. He has been many times and thought it was time for me to experience this special event. Every Memorial Day weekend since 1979, Telluride hosts the Mountainfilm Festival—not to be confused with the Telluride Film Festival which is held over Labor Day weekend. Mountainfilm bills itself as America’s leading independent documentary film festival, featuring documentaries related to environmental, cultural, political and social justice issues. Below is the Mountainfilm Festival’s mission statement, as posted on their website: Mountainfilm is a dynamic … Continue reading

Yosemite

May 4th, 2016 I’m heading off to see my son Barrett, his girlfriend, Danielle, and my dear friend, Sally Abbott, whom I met when we were in the 10th grade at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, just across the bridge from DC. Barrett left his job in forensic finances in DC and moved to San Francisco in July of 2015, after being offered a job as director of finances at a start-up company. Except for the shock of the cost of living, Barrett loves being in San Francisco. He no longer minds working long hours because his work environment … Continue reading

The Trials of Transparency

In the 1980’s when I began practicing medicine, I started out as a mainstream doctor wearing a starchy white coat with my name tag, stethoscope around my neck, and an air of authority, giving the false impression that I had all the answers. The kind of doctor that was modeled for me in my training had all the answers—and if he didn’t, he never let on—and never revealed his emotions, or anything about his personal life. Such behavior was considered inappropriate—a word that was used a lot to keep errant medical students in line. Over time, that mode of practicing … Continue reading

Elephant Graduation

Day #4 at TECC—our last day with our beloved elephants. This day was extra special because we got to participate in making paper out of elephant dung and we got our certificates in mahout training. But best of all, we got to hang out with the elephants for another day. Apparently, the dung is so well digested by the beneficial bacteria in the elephants’ intestines, that it has no odor and contains no undigested food—only insoluble plant fibers—perfect for making paper. I imagine the street elephants’ dung would not qualify for making paper since they probably are forced to eat … Continue reading

Elephants Working for a Living

You might have seen Katherine’s Boon Lots Elephant Sanctuary as the ideal place for elephants to live out their lives peacefully and well-cared for. No one rides them and they don’t have to do anything to earn a living. They get all the food and medical care they need. Her sanctuary is referred to by Asian elephant experts as an elephant boutique since it is not self-sustaining and is supported by on-going donations. The harsh reality in Thailand is that elephants have to help with their expensive upkeep, given that only a small percentage of the remaining elephants in Thailand … Continue reading

Thai Elephant Conservation Center

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 It’s a short drive from our lovely hotel in Lampang to the Thai Elephant Sanctuary (TECC). When we passed under the arch announcing our arrival, it became clear we had entered the world of elephants—domesticated ones. TECC is a government-supported organization that helps foster awareness of the Asian elephant in Thailand. They offer a program that we will be participating in called a “home stay” in which simple lodging and food is provided, as well as intimate experiences with the elephants and their mahouts. We will actually accompany the mahouts in their daily routine over the … Continue reading

Exploring the Countryside in Thailand

December 14th, 2015 Leaving the the elephants at the Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary pulled on my heart strings. if i was a bit younger and not committed as I am to my medical practice, I would consider spending a few months here as a volunteer. Being around the elephants is not only an exciting adventure, it also feels like an unusual spiritual experience, difficult to put into words. We headed back towards northern Thailand to a town called Lampang, located a few hours south of Chiang Mai, on the Wang River. Near Lampang we will be staying several days at … Continue reading

Elephant Sanctuary

December 11, 2015 Today we drove to Sokhothai, in central Thailand, to spend time at the Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary (BLES), started by a young Englishwoman, Katherine Connor, whose encounter with a young elephant, named Boon Lotts, changed her life forever. Katherine had taken a year off from her work doing retail sales in London in order to travel around Asia when she was twenty-one years old. She ended up working at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center where she met Boon Lotts, a baby elephant who was very sick. She formed a deep bond with the baby who eventually died. … Continue reading

Asian Elephants

December 9th, 2015 “This is not a book of answers. This is a book of questions. More precisely, it’s about living a questioning life, a life of unknowing. If we’re ready to live such a life, without fixed ideas or answers, then we are ready to bear witness to every situation, no matter how difficult, offensive, or painful it is. Out of that process of bearing witness the right action of making peace, of healing, arises.” ——BEARING WITNESS by Bernie Glassman, Buddhist monk Today is officially the first day of our tour, even though most of our little group of … Continue reading

Arrival in Chiang Mai

The Long Journey to Chiang Mai: “Ma’am, you can just walk right through. You’ve been pre-qualified.” I felt like I had won the lottery. It was like travel in the old days. Nothing to remove. Nothing to take off. Nothing to pull out. I just walked right through. An auspicious beginning. I’m sitting here in LAX for four hours, waiting for the flight to Seoul then on to Chiang Mai. Seoul has special significance for my family. In 1960, my father lived in Seoul during his time as Secretary of the United Nations Peacekeeping force at the demilitarized zone (DMZ), … Continue reading