Dr. Frau: A Woman Doctor among the Amishby Grace H. Kaiser
With poignancy and humor, Grace Kaiser details a part of rural America that few people ever see or understand; the life and land of the Amish and Mennonites of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where she spent 28 years as a family doctor. See more details below
With poignancy and humor, Grace Kaiser details a part of rural America that few people ever see or understand; the life and land of the Amish and Mennonites of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where she spent 28 years as a family doctor.
- Skyhorse Publishing
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.32(w) x 9.32(h) x 0.64(d)
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Chapter 1 -- Surrogate Mother
Melvin King limped across the kitchen with the air of a man in control of his world. He paused in the kettlehouse doorway. The rust-pocked Coleman lantern swinging from his twisted left arm bleated a hole into the black predawn.
"I'll be in the barn doin' the milkin'. If you need me, set the lamp in the window," he said, chomping a burned-out matchstick. He looked toward the slow-sizzling slabs of mush frying in a pan on the gas stove. "Can you watch that mush? Turn it when it gets brown."
I nodded and wished he would leave. The night had been long and rough. My thoughts were on the worn couch at the other end of the kitchen.
Melvin stopped. "Oh yes, if the kids come down, send them over to Mom's." He pointed to the outline of a small frame house barely visible across the barnyard.
He hobbled off before the impact of his words registered in my weary head. I had often been called out of bed to sit with a laboring wife, but this was the first time I had been assigned household chores. I sat at the table surveying my new domain.
The night had been short on sleep and long on work when Melvin had telephoned. Having fallen into bed at 1:30 a.m. after attending a birth near Mascot, I had been in no mood for his fun or jovial mood.
"Yes, this is Dr. Kaiser," I had mumbled into the telephone, eyes closed. I was determined to maintain that state of semiconsciousness allowing my return to sleep.
"That you, Grace?" the snappy voice repeated.
"Know who this is?"
"No, and I don't play guessing games. It's the middle of the night. Who are you?"
"We'll be needin' you soon," returned the too cheerful answer.
"Yes, who will?" I shivered and squirmed deeper into the down comforter, carrying the telephone with me.
"Rebecca will. This is Melvin King below Intercourse, toward Harristown, second farm across the covered bridge."
Melvin King was a farmer who conducted his family and acres with firm purpose. Like all Amish, unless tenanting farms not owned by their people, he had no telephone.
The telephone held such fascination for Melvin that it was conducive to entertainment. I was in no mood for it. He had probably gone to bed at 8:30 the night before.
I risked opening one eye to look at the ceiling. The alarm clock projected 3:30 a.m. through a hole in its plastic top. I would put Melvin off several hours.
"This is just a warning then," I said. "Call me back after you finish milking and let me know how she feels." I began to hang up.
"Rebecca thought you oughta come soon. Her pains are every 15 minutes and getting harder. Better not wait 'til morning."
"I'll be out soon." Submissively, I fumbled the phone onto its cradle. The clock glared 3:37. Almost milking time. Melvin probably wants me to speed up Rebecca's labor, or tell him it is okay for him to go to the barn. Every Amish kitchen has a couch. I could nap on it.
Afraid of falling asleep, I dragged myself from beneath warm covers and groped for the pile of clothes on the rocking chair beside the bed.
"I'm going out again. Call me on the car phone and beeper," I half shouted to my husband, attempting to reach his conscious level.
"You coming in or going out?" the mound under the covers muttered.
"Been in, going out again," I repeated, raising my voice several decibels.
"Okay, good luck." The lump shifted, hunting a quieter place.
I never knew how much he heard, but he always located me if necessary.
In the car the chill of late winter air and the challenge of potholes awakened me. I hoped Rebecca would be ready for her home birthing when I arrived.
Each morning prior to milking time was a period of what I called "barn panic." A herdsman, torn between obligation to his laboring wife in the house and milk-laden cows in the barn, faced a true dilemma. This was worsened by a milk truck which usually arrived on schedule. Sometimes I suspected that I filled the role of a convenient wife-sitter.
It was still black night when I swung around the last pothole and onto Kings' gravel lane. A white board fence ran beside the drive, ending in the yard near the old brick farmhouse. I parked under a giant maple, grotesque in winter nudity. Its whitewashed trunk stood out boldly in the headlights.
March frost crackled beneath my boots like eggshells on the concrete walk. I shone my flashlight on the icy slabs, tilted by sprawling roots of the old tree.
Melvin stood stocking-footed in the kettlehouse doorway, waving a Coleman lantern into the night. He shifted a gnawed toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. "I wonder if you better park there. The milk truck will be comin' in after 'while."
"How soon?" I was well up the long walk.
"Seven to seven-thirty."
"Hope I won't be here that long. Good morning, Melvin."
I wiped my boots on the burlap-bag footmat and followed the swaying lantern through the kettlehouse. We passed shadowed outlines of pies, puddings, and pans of congealed cornmeal mush sitting on the wooden lid of the great bricked-in iron kettle used to heat Monday's wash water or cook meat at butchering time. (continued)
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