Wednesday, March 30, 2011

my amish neighbors

when we first moved to our current home, our closest neighbors were amish.  the father was very gregarious, the mother a little more shy.  they had nine children of all ages.  we often gave the father a ride into town, usually to pick something up from the hardware store.  once, he said to me, with his typical pennsylvania dutch charm, 'so, i hear you're a nurse...'  i said, 'no, i'm a doctor.'  he said, 'oh. that's what i heard but i didn't know if you had your license and everything.'  but with the exception of those trips, and other brief neighborly exchanges, our interactions were limited.  until one night.

it was about three a.m. when the father called our house from the phone they had in an outbuilding.  when i answered, he asked me if we had any sanitary napkins, or at least that is what i thought he was asking for.  actually, he really wanted to know if i had any 'chucks,' those blue absorbent pads that are placed under patients who have anything leaking, a bladder, a wound, etc.  no, i didn't have any of those...  in my sleepy mind i was imagining that something bad, or at least messy, was happening with their cow.  but then he asked if i had a blood pressure cuff.

 okay, now i was wide awake and wondering exactly what was going on.  i was able to finally get out of him that his wife was hemorrhaging from a presumed miscarriage.  well, i got myself out of bed and down to their house pretty quickly.  she was lying in bed, and couldn't sit up without passing out.  even in the limited light of the flashlight, i could see that she was as pale as a ghost.  apparently she'd been bleeding all day and passing large clots. i felt her radial pulse and listened to her heart.  despite a blood pressure of just 80/50 supine (lying down), her pulse was slow and steady.  with that much blood loss, you would expect a very rapid heart rate.  but of course, this was a woman that spent most of her days engaged in physical labor.  i was impressed by her heart's strength and stamina.

i asked the husband if we could call an ambulance.  she was treated in our nearby ER and discharged home after declining the proposed transfusion.  the next ride we gave the father was to the pharmacy to pick up some iron pills.  when they moved away a few years later they were a family of thirteen.

in my mind, that night was not so different from all those rides to town.  our separate worlds, like two drops of mercury, momentarily joined together then split apart.  and i believe we are both the better for it.


  1. This inspires me to write "More Amish Than the Amish (not really)" which is a running joke in the family. Not nearly as poignant as your story, but living next to an Amish family gives you perspective on many different issues.

  2. Hi,I´m an internist too, in a small private hospital, and a single mother of three. It hurts me a little when patients refuse what i think wil be best for them, like a transfusion in a bleeding mother os so many...Can we help? I thing we can, even in the way os other people diffrent ways of life. With humanity and company if only accepted, but going there to them as you did.
    Nice to find your blog! I will be back.

    inês, lisboa, portugal