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Three nurses linked by common talent (netsly essay)

by netsky / October 31, 2004 1:21 AM PDT

Inspired by today's irony posted at


here is another three-phase essay. It is three medical-themed true relatings about a once-prolific scourge of lovers.

The TITLE of this piece is at the --bottom-- of this post.

No fair peeking ahead for the title; read it in due course. That is -doctor's orders-, get me?

Scene One

Elizabeth G, previously chronicled here was a nurse at a public hospital in Germany from 1918 to 1927.

Sometime during that nine year span a syphyiltic
prostitute applied to the hospital for birthing.

The woman was very pregnant and very much known to the staff previously as carrying secondary stage syphillis.

Under doctor supervision Elizabeth worked to disrobe the wailing street walker

The woman was settled into an examination chair.

Elizabeth knelt to tug off the woman's underwear.

Just at this time the water broke.

"It burst out over my head on me. Iwas soaked from the top of my head, my eyes, my back, everywhere! Oh, but into my eyes; that is the worst of all place"

The cool-headed doctor rushed Elizbeth out of the exam room to a sink with hose attached for chemical emergencies.

Terrified peers of Elizabeth rushed to help and to wring hands in horror. There was no pennecillin in those days, you see.

"OH, poor Elizabeth" teared one of the nurses
"Oh, Elizabeth we may lose you, oh Gott, o Gott!"

"Or,maybe I'll ---just go blind---" shot back level-witted Elizabeth in a sarcastic black humor.

Of course, nothing happened to our good Elizabeth. No disease resulted. Secondary syphyllis is not much contagious. She and the doctor knew this.

Scene Two

The year is 1930. The place is Kansas City, Mo. Bernice Norman is a registered nurse, married, one child age three.

Her husband is a successful mortgage broker.

I knew Bernice all of my life until she died at age 97 some time back. She was my maternal grandmother's best buddy- and became a surrogate grandmother for me when my own died in '64.

To get to Bernice's true story as told to me and never published before...

Bernice was not a stay-at-home mom. She worked because it was what she did before marriage. She worked after marriage, after her sole son graduated from infancy because she loved nursing.

The family was comfortably well off. The Norman Brothers Mortgage Compay offered Frank Norman the means to support a maid, and a nanny and allow his wife to work her will.

Bernice, on principle, wanted to go back to the nursing work she had done for a few years before the 1927 marriage.

She applied to work with a well known Kansas City physician in that doctor's private office.

One day Bernice was sorting through the patient files. Surprise: Her husband's name on the tab of a particularly confidential file.

She opens this folder and sees that a year past her husband completed the lengthy and toxic
"mercury cure" for syphylis administered by this office physician. The file must have read something like this:

Diagnosis: Patient Mr. N presented with primary syphilis 1928. Course of treatment completed. Prognosis excellent.

The writer-downer's jaw drops as she tells me all this. "My gosh, Bernice how the heck did you react? You must've been mad as hell!"

"Goose! What good would it have done to get --mad---?I got --even--- instead."

Long widowed Bernice proceeded on with this:

"Reid you remember meeting 'Gilley' last year when he, with late stage prostate cancer came to Florida to see me for the first and last time in years and years.

"That is who I met when he was a handsome, young pioneering flyer, in reaction to my Frank's cheat on me. We had an affair, we two. And you know that my -favorite song is "little White Lies", not just because it was mine and Gilley's song, but because it described our affair so well. I did it because I was owed that much. And Gilley knew WHY i had the affair with him while Frank never knew a damned thing about me knowing he'd slept with prostitutes nor me sleeping with an airman to get even."

(writer notes- obviously I have paraphrased words from memory into Bernices mouth for clarity and to keep the spirit of what she told me as close to actual events as possible. All this really did happen and she really did tell me every one of these things)

"But but but Bernice! Why didn't you just ditch the dog, take your baby and go onwards from there with Gilley?"

"I loved Frank. He was a fine provider and father. I only -liked- Gilley. Why throw away an otherwise good husband? Why stay mad? Why be a goose about the whole thing? That is why it was better that I got --even--- instead"

Scene Three

Yet another nurse and yet more syphylis to the tale. Related to me by the man, the LPN, who was Al Capone's male nurse in 1946 and '47. This never-before published story he told me at Elizabeth G's 100th birthday party conducted from under the shading, forgetting Hayden mango tree I once wrote about here on SE.

Capone, the greatest gangster of them all was in the final stages of tertiary syphylis. A now-obsolete term, general paresis is generally descriptive of late stage syphyilis when the damage includes brain lesions.

This LPN was one of a team of three around the clock nursing assistants in private service to Alphonse Capone, resident of Palm Island at Miami Beach.

Capone was unable to walk unaided owing to general deterioration and loss of equilibrium. His mental faculties sometimes focused. Other times he
could not verbalize at all.

This nurse steadied Capone for his shower baths, fed and generally managed Capone just like any other chronic invalid patient.

Capone grew quite fond of his keepers but this one who told me, was Capone's favorite.

On rare, clear days Capone was jovial, active and his old self.

One day my acquantance began his shift. At his first sighting by Capone the LPN got a crystal clear and cheery "How 'ya doin', Kid!" Simultaneously, Capone grabbed up an entirely imaginary Tommy gun and mocks fired out:


Our source pretends to fall dead on the floor. Everyone present, especially Al, cracks up at this joke.

Forever after whenever Al saw his favorite assistant he shot off with the two-arm Tommy gun.

Our protagonist sometimes even shot back, or ducked behind the doorway, in a flash reappearing to "gun down" Alphonse Capone himself who always laughed if he could laugh at all.

Sometimes Capone couldn't make the ack ack sound. But even when the sound wasn't present, the LPN dutifully dodged this most notorious syphilitic's
bullets, living to tell his friends this intimate tale I now put down in print so that you too can smile at...

"Dodging the Syphylitic's Bullets"

All three of my story tellers dodged syphylitic bullets. All three lived long and happy lives without shame or permanent rancor residing in any one of them.

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(NT) (NT) Ol' Bernice shoulda felt some shame.
by Cindi Haynes / October 31, 2004 3:36 AM PST
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good point you raise
by netsky's remains / October 31, 2004 3:56 AM PST

"..bernice should have felt some shame"

Now i ask a philosophical question- it is NOT an insult but for you to ponder and answer as you choose:

-did Bernice project herself upon you in this morality tale? Or did I do that for her, without her living consent?

-therfore, if Bernice- my young-hearted and very close friend gave me a confidence and now, all these years later after her death I tell the story- is the shame instead all on me?

-another angle: If philandering husband brought home a case of the clap to his wife, in a day when "cure" was never a certainty, was not the SHAME all his, no matter in what way Bernice might have reacted?

- What if Bernice had instead just upped and left with the child and cut Frank out of her life even tho he really loved and leaned no her in ways you cannot know.... See, i have not told the rest of the story yet because the rest of the story is not germain to the common theme of syphylis.

I would like to tell the rest of the story about two Franks, and how sins of the father also destroyed the son in a way no one here could ever guess, nor I invent.

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Ah- i wish you all could've known Bernice. She was a buxom, vivacious beauty who never lost her looks if you know what i mean: she was always someone you wanted to just hug and be with.

See her actual home in the opening scene of "Two Much", the banderas/griffith screwball comedy. They used 1254 Coral Way for a introduction to the con-man and damn! There goes Antonio Banderas, stepping half off from the edge of the thick asphalt drive in front of Bernice's blue roofed coral stone home. He trips there, just as I did so damned many times myself!

The links never stop, forgive me Cindy for my windiness. Should Bernice have been shamed? Please tell me why. We are in pure "opinion land" now, and my only advantage is that i knew her so well. But now, you should, too.


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Re: good point you raise
by Cindi Haynes / October 31, 2004 4:56 AM PST
In reply to: good point you raise

Bernice did nothing but exact revenge against someone who had wronged her. By doing so, she sank to the same level of the scum who cheated on her. She didn't confront him and give him a chance to make amends or strengthen the marriage in any way. In addition, she also undermined her family (children know when things aren't right, even if they don't know exactly what's wrong) and possibly passed on a maybe-incurable disease to the guy she slept with. Being a nurse, she shoulda known better.

Your other 2 examples were acting and thinking on behalf of others, and suffered some worry and/or misfortune because of it. Bernice was just plain selfish.

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Re: good point you raise
by netsky / October 31, 2004 5:13 AM PST

Very tart analysis- one I think most everybody would agree with.

This is the kind of debate that makes something other than idle talk.

Here we get into the practical application of differnt philosophies.

"Bernice was just plain selfish."

Yes, that was a SELFISH thing to do. Plain selish? No, it was HER very wonderful way to -repair her badly shocked EGO-.

So yes, she was selfish.

The three year old boy in the care of a nanny all day long anyway, could not know that mommy had an affair.

Frank Sr. was not "scum". He was a selfish and flawed man like alll of us horn-dogs.

I don't know, but I can imagine that during the late term of Bernices 1927 pregnancy, Frank wasn't getting enough sex.

He cheated. Men do that you know- they are 'scum' in yielding to their weaknesses.

He got a chancre, it would seem and he wasn't poking Bernice at that time, it would seem, so he did not worry about having -passed- the spirochete over to his wife.

Frank goes to the doctor, gets cured, and thinks no one need be the wiser. Frank loved Bernice and never left her again so far as I know until the day he died. But he was a mentally ill guy.... on other accounts than cheating.

So, while your POINT is extremely plausible- that Bernice was just plain selish in her reation, there is always MORE to a story than even this teller-out-of-school can fill in.

Bernice FIXED her ego-pride, her "desirability" as a sexual woman, by entering into a practically, exclusively Male world: the TROPHY affair.

She fixed herself, did not harm Frank Sr. or Jr. Did not harm open-eyed young Gilley. In fact, she enriched his life, evidentlyh. The rounding, dissolving estrogen-medicated Gilley I met at the end of his life was still entranced by this remarkable woman who he knew he could never really have. They were instead, life long friends.

All were the richer for the way "selfish" Bernice reacted to a horrible brown file folder.

Thanks so much- and Cindi, if you disagree still please say so. I am delighted to have your help and attention to my most colorful old time friends.

Oh, the times she had and the lack of selfishness on things other than herself: her optional, entirely necessary nursing work, for instance.

She lived and wrote large through life because she was resilient and strong and came from a bare-foot poverty childhood on a Missouri farm. Her Frank was not such strong stuff: born upper middle class. Chronic hypochondria, depressive, kind and loving. But he did the worst thing at the end of all: on the afternoon of Dec7th 1941 the new I guess of our new War was his final straw. Into the basement, a shot to the head, for his 14 year old son and wife Bernice to find.

THAT was the ultimate selfishness- to kill yourself in the presence of your two closest loves. But he was sick... i said so earlier. And young Frank? I knew him so very, very well.... Bernice did not warp -him-.

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Well, there's always more to a story
by Cindi Haynes / October 31, 2004 5:53 AM PST

And a lifetime of experiences to balance against it. Certainly no person is ALWAYS good or ALWAYS evil.

We just have to do the best we can, because no one gets out alive. Wink

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Re: Well, there's always more to a story
by netsky / October 31, 2004 7:11 AM PST

amen to that and to you too


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PS to Well, there's always more to a story
by netsky / October 31, 2004 7:35 AM PST

-Young Frank Norman, the boy who was my own dad's exact contemporary, grew up weak, neurotic, sweet and empathetic. An copy of his own dad, not of his mother.

Frank Jr. married once, had two lovely and normal girls who thrived.

Frank Jr. stayed within his marriage forever. So sweet, so sad, until one day Myra came home. Myra opened the garage door to put the car away. Myra found our Frank dead of self inflicted wound to head almost preciselyidentical to how young Frank and Bernice found Frank Sr. 49 years earlier. We have no basements in Miami is why he did it in the garage. His lifetime of melancholy caught him in the end.

GILLEY- who was a published, autobiographical author returned home to die, that fall of 1977 after his life-parting visit to Bernice's azure crowned coral home. Gilley presented her with A homely ceramic wall plaque; a six inch square green glazed tile lithographed with a well worn verse.

I hung the reminder on a nail in her kitched where it remained for another twenty years:

The Clock of Life is wound but once
And no one has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour

Now is the only time you own
Live, love, toil with a will,
Place no faith upon tomorrow
For the clock may then be still.

Cindi adds to this tapestry. She reminded me by reference to death how very well and tender Gilley himself laid his mortal self away for his months-away earthly oblivion.

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