Dr. Nina and the Panther

by Shirley P. Wheeler, 1976

Part 1: "Lord in the Morning...."
Part 2: "Work, for the night is coming."
Part 3: "Some poor faint, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save."
Part 4: "I walked in the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses."
Part 5: "And the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday bright."
Part 6: "Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee."

Part 6: "Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide thyself in thee."

. . . 1
Mother’s beloved, A.M. Price, immediately set about to build her a hospital. His hospital was to be much more grandiose than her first one and was, fortunately, of a more flexible design. Should she mean what she said, that she really didn’t want to run a hospital, the large three-story brick building could be converted easily into apartments with stores on the ground level. Within two years the conversion was made. The entire second floor was one large apartment for all of us, with Dr. Nina’s waiting room and office in the front.

A.M.’s daughters, one by one, came to live with us. No one ever told me why. Their mother had been given their large family home, where she eventually lived alone. Dr. Nina and A.M. had a baby of their own, Catharine, and our home was lively and interesting indeed, with seven girls, many of us near the same age, housekeepers, seamstresses, laundry women, cleaning women, strays, and waifs. A.M. ruled over the entire jumble of humanity without challenge. He had no choice but to become a dictator; with a brilliant and strong-minded wife, one grown daughter, assorted teenagers and preteens, several small children, and a baby, Daddy had to be a dictator or be a cipher. It is inconceivable that such a strong character could drift, by accident, into nothingness.

It is most pleasant to contemplate the marriage of two strong, intelligent persons, both with work to do that engrossed them, and both with such a sense of humor that underneath the discipline that made us into an orderly household ran always a cheerful ripple of laughter.

It was not until after A.M. had lost a great deal of money in the Depression that he became a miser. Perhaps "miser" is too strong a term, carrying with it overtones of greed and selfishness that were no part of A.M. Price’s character; but he would not have objected to being called tight-fisted. He rightly concluded that the way to get back the money he had lost was to earn it and not spend it. So he stopped spending money, and Dr. Nina took over paying for everything. Her practice by then was flourishing and she didn’t mind spending her money, although she worked long hours for modest fees. She paid the help and the household bills; bought all the food except for random wholesale lots of assorted fruits and meats that A.M. picked up here and there at bargain prices; bought clothes for everyone, including Daddy; paid college bills; gave allowances; bought a new car every two years, giving her old one to Daddy; dressed herself more and more elegantly as time went on, and bought hats and hats and hats, many of them from noted New York designers. She had a good time spending money, and the rest of us had all we needed and more from her warm, generous hands and her warm, merry heart. And with no resentment at all, we respected Daddy’s miserliness. It distressed him mightily when Dr. Nina spent her own money for consumer goods that would inevitably wear out. To spare him pain, we all smuggled our purchases into the house while he was at work. I have sometimes said in jest that Daddy never spent a nickel and Mother never told him the truth about money, and their marriage was made in Heaven. Dr. Nina left a modest estate. A.M. died rich. We loved and admired them both. In both their wills, everything was equally divided among the children.

As time went on, the Mrs. Grundy’s of the town tired of maintaining their self-righteous stances, which were of decreasing effectiveness. Old patients came back and new ones turned up. Other women in Stroudsburg started driving cars and news came in the city papers and over the radio of other women doctors in other places. Little Dr. Nina was no longer a phenomenon to make the town uneasy.

Charles Baierle turned up only one more time in my memory. I was walking home from school the day before we were all to go to court to be legally adopted by A.M. Price. Dr. Nina had no patience with idleness, not even for children. We all learned to read and write when we were three and learned numbers and simple arithmetic when we were four. At five we were ready for school. We usually started in the third grade. So I was very young to deal with such an encounter.

A man had been walking for some time behind the group of little girls I was with in Main Street, long enough for us all to be giving him uneasy glances. He caught up with us and asked if he could speak to me. Remembering Mother’s admonition never to speak to strange men, I said no. He said he didn’t want to go anywhere, just stand there on the street while we had a few words. He suggested that the other little girls move a few paces down the sidewalk and wait for me. He was persuasive and we agreed.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked.

I didn’t know.

"I’m your father."

I was astounded.

He then made an impassioned plea for me to refuse to be adopted. He said, "You will regret it all your life if you allow yourself to become the legal child of a stranger."

How odd it seemed then, when he was the stranger! How odd and how deeply disturbing it was, and how wrong he turned out to be! "The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy."


. . . 2
Roads were being built as if by magic all over the country and Dr. Nina’s mountaineers were exposed to and therefore drawn into the world. She was able to take the state probation officer with her to help her deal with the more nonfunctioning of the backwoods families. A few years before, they would both have been killed for their interference. One family consisted of a senile grandmother, two teenage girls so grievously retarded that they sat all day on the floor of the shack playing with their fingers, their bright blank eyes gleaming behind the long tangles black hair that made veils over their faces, and two young boys under ten years old, one incredibly brilliant, who kept the household barely supplied, and one who appeared to be of marginal intelligence. The grandmother was taken to a nursing home. The two girls were institutionalized. Dr. Nina found a home for the boys with one of her farm families. Both boys, when they grew up, took to farming. Eventually they owned neighboring farms of their own and had their sisters come for a month every summer. The girls, middle-aged by then, played happily all the outdoor children’s games their nieces and nephews would simplify for them.

Dr. Nina did not hesitate to remove functioning families from the mountains and into civilization. When she found them caught midway between the past and the future, unwilling to be content with the old and unable to cope with the new, she made a decision for them; she opted for civilization. She was never sentimental about life in the wilderness, I suppose because she knew firsthand how grim a battle it is to survive in partnership only with nature, which is never benign for more than a moment.

One afternoon Dr. Nina was coming from a case at Mud Run when a man stepped out into the road and waited for her car to come to him. She had seen him now and again at neighboring cabins so she knew his name, Adam Vanness, although he had never called her to treat any of his family. He was waiting now to ask her a simple question, but the encounter would lead to a whole new life for the Vannesses. She stopped the car and greeted him.

"Hello, Adam. How are you?"

"I’m all right, but the missus wants fer me to ask if ye have a threwic."

"A threwic? Say that again."

"A threwic," Adam repeated, slowly shaking his head.

"What does she want to do with it?"

"Well, I hate to say it to ye, Doc, but – but she wants somethin’ to make her shit." Adam blushed dark red.

"Oh, I see." Dr. Nina was matter-of-fact. "I just couldn’t think what she wanted. She wants physic."

"That’s it!" Adam was triumphant. "I knew it was somethin’ like that."

While she poured pills into an envelope she asked Adam about his family, and she drove away with an invitation from him to stop back on one of her trips to look over his children.

A few weeks later she walked up the path from the road to their one-room shack. There was a light skif of snow on the ground. The cabin had no window sashes; across the window openings were nailed an assortment of gunnysacks and old blankets. She rapped on the door. It opened and out poured four children, a barking hound dog, and two pigs, one white and one red. Inside, Mrs. Vanness was poking at a smoking stove. Knowing the silent way of these people, Dr. Nina sat down at the table and looked around. The children and animals came back in again. One of the children fastened the door closed by winding a string around a nail.

"How many of you go to school?" Dr. Nina asked.

"George and Charlie goes," the mother answered. "The rest ain’t got not shoes or clothes warm enough. I s’pose ye think it’s awful, keepin’ pigs in the house, but we hain’t got no other place fer ‘em and they git cold. They been comin’ in and goin’ out since they was borned, like the dog, come in and go out, and don’t make no mess."

"I never knew you could housebreak a pig." Dr. Nina was smiling an interested. "I learn something new every day!"

The children let her look down their throats and listen to their thin chests. They were fascinated with the stethoscope. Eight-year-old Lillian, with a bright and dimpled face, wore only a man’s undershirt with a big tuck held by a safety pin to bring it up to her neck.

"I tell you what, kids," Dr. Nina said. "Next week when I come this way I’ll bring some shoes and clothes I’ve been saving. Maybe we can fit you so you can all go to school."

The children were pathetically eager to find something to fit them in the basket of clothes Dr. Nina brought a week later. Lillian cried when the shoes Dr. Nina had handed her were too small to go on her feet. There was great rejoicing when both shoes and stockings the right size were found. Lillian dimpled all over her face, and the white pig grunted his way from under the bed and stood by the door to be let out.

"Where’s the red pig?" Dr. Nina asked.

"We butchered him. We’re eating him now. The kids cried," Mrs. Vanness said.

Dr. Nina learned that Adam, the father, was working every day with his team for a local lumber company. He did all his buying at the company store because he was paid in company scrip, and after he had bought feed for his horses, flour, salt, yeast, sugar, potatoes, and tobacco for himself, he was deeper in debt to the store than the week before. Dr. Nina thought this very strange.

"Tell Adam to ask for a bill for the things he buys this Saturday night, will you, Mrs. Vanness?" Nina asked.

"No use. He don’t read."

"Ask him to get the bill for me. I read. And maybe we can figure out a way for you to get more out of a week’s work."

She checked the bills from week to week and found that Adam was being charged exorbitant prices. She assumed that the cheating was the work of the company store clerk, and with the best will in the world she made an appointment with one of the partners in the company. She showed him Adam’s receipts and a comparative list of prices from the cash stores in the area. The partner exploded in resentment. He advised the doctor to mind hew own business. He told her what he thought of interfering females. He had a rough tongue.

The partner was running for state senator from that district. Wherever Dr. Nina went for the next six weeks she told her voting patients her little tale of the partner’s refusal to interest himself in simple honesty and justice. He lost the election.

She found a job in Stroudsburg for Adam and a house on the outskirts of town. The children, George, Charlie, Lillian, and Chester, all did well in life and Dr. Nina delivered their babies and their grandchildren.

The mountain settlements were breaking apart. Some of the men and some of the young women walked out of the woods to a new road and walked away from oblivion. With Dr. Nina’s help, other families moved closer to town. Whenever she found some sprout of intelligence in a mountain child, she arranged for him to go to school; if the home were unsuitable and not capable of being reorganized, he lived with us until a permanent home could be found. Those who stayed in the hills found work on the roads or at the paper mill, and with cash money to do with and electric power lines following the new highways to tap into, they rebuilt their shacks into houses with town conveniences. They began to pay the doctor and to take pride in paying.

One day a young mountain boy walked into the office.

"How much do ye charge to born a baby?"

"That depends," Dr. Nina replied, "upon where it is and who it is. Who’s going to have a baby?"

"My ma. She ain’t never had no doctor for none of us, but I work now and I want her to have a doctor."

"How much money do you have?" Dr. Nina asked.

"I got fifteen dollars saved. Will that be enough?" he asked fearfully.

"Yes, indeed. That’s just right. You’re a fine boy to do this for your mother. I’ll come whenever you need me."

"I come after ye now," he said.

Dr. Nina went.


. . . 3
The waifs and strays who lived with us over the years were a mixed bag of unfortunates. Often they were children, but sprinkled among them were pregnant girls whose families, pillars of one church or another, had cast them out when their mistake was evident. Dr. Nina always, with discretion, talked to the boys involved, themselves sons of church pillars. Surprisingly enough, many of the boys were eager to marry, to "do the right thing"; it was only ineptitude and fear of the parents that stood in the way of a solution. In those cases Dr. Nina herself talked to the parents, and the marriages that resulted were as happy as most. Where no marriage was possible or desirable, the girl lived with us until the birthing and the return to good health. If the girl was determined not to keep the baby, Dr. Nina found a good home suitable to the child’s background, a personal history Dr. Nina knew a thousand times more thoroughly than any forms cold reveal in a placement agency. Today I watch those of her babies that I know with the pride and satisfaction of an aunt by adoption.

When the baby was safely placed, Dr. Nina turned her blue, concentrated gaze on the young mother. She found a place for the girl to live, a job, a new life in a new environment, a new opportunity to "walk proud" in self-respect. I can’t estimate how many times she left no stone unturned until the need of a young person was met.

The children who lived with us were so numerous that I’ve forgotten many of them. I do remember the twins. Dr. Nina was called too late that time. By the time she reached the remote farm in the west end of the county, the premature twins had been born, their cords tied and cut, and the mother had bled her life away through a retained placenta. Theirs was a good family of Pennsylvania Dutch stock, but evil times had come upon them. The father had been killed in his own field by a stupid, careless hunter, and the mother, dazed by grief, had paid no heed to her own state of health until their was no health at all. The fire in the stove had been banked for the night, but there was some warmth left. Dr. Nina washed and wrapped the babies and tucked them in the oven until she could comfort the oldest daughter, get the other three children to bed, clean up the mess and fetch a neighbor to stay the rest of the night. She brought the twins home.

Responsible kin took the four children after the funeral, but no one would take the premature twin boys. They lived and thrived. We had them for nine months because Dr. Nina felt that twins should stay together and she could find no adopting family that would take them both. Finally and reluctantly, she decided to separate them in order to make room at our house for the Burton boys, whose need was dire. The two sets of new parents were poles apart in their ideas of how to raise adopted children. One twin was taken by a railroad engineer and his wife who were leaving town to live in the city at the other end of his railroad run.

"No one in that place will know he’s not our child," they said. "When we return here in three or four years, everyone will think he was born while we were away. We’ll raise him as our own and never tell him he’s adopted." They left town in great secrecy one night after stopping for the baby and smuggling him out of the house as one smuggles a fabulous gem to safety.

The other twin went to a pressman and his wife. They sent out announcements. They had a christening party with all their friends. They said, "We believe a child should grow up with the knowledge that he’s adopted, that we chose him for our own. Then he can never be shocked or hurt if he finds it out later."

Three years passed. The engineer, his wife, and the baby returned to Stroudsburg and moved into one side of a double house on a quiet, pleasant street. The next morning Billy was sent out into the yard to play. His mother, hearing him talking to someone and hearing another child’s voice piping back, went out on the porch. Almost at the same moment, the next-door neighbor came out on her porch. One look at the two boys and both women stared at each other in astonishment.

"So you took the other twin!" they exclaimed in unison.

In her long medical practice, Dr. Nina saw the results of many cases of child abuse, most of them ending in death. The abuse of children is a most heinous crime, all the more frightful because the abuser is out of his own control. No sane person tortures a child. It is a dreadful aberration that knows no one country, no one social class, no one fixed and recognized method of operation. And the commission of this crime is usually impossible to prove.

Dr. Nina took every suspicion to the authorities, who, with regret, refused to bring charges that could be proved only by the legally unacceptable inferences of a professional mind. In the case of the Burton boys, she took action by herself, and a great deal of time and trouble were to be spent before she found a happy solution for them.

Harold, nine years old, and Stanley, seven, had been legally adopted by Mary and Ed Lenear after the Burtons, neighbors of the Lenears, had died in the flu epidemic. The adoption must have been Ed’s idea, for Mary was unfit as a parent. She could stand Harold, who learned quickly how to cope with her, but Stanley’s fear of her enraged her until she had spiraled out of control into vicious hatred. He was subjected to cruel whipping. Both boys were seriously undernourished, but Stanley was close to actual starvation. As soon as Ed left for work, Mary chained Stanley in a cold outdoor shed, with only a piece of rag rug to lie upon. She brought him in before Ed came home and beat him so that he would be sobbing woefully. This constant crying did not endear him to Ed.

Dr. Nina came upon this dreadful situation by chance and persuaded Mary to let her take both boys home with her. Stanley was very sick; one ear was badly infected, his temperature was high. Dr. Nina was shocked anew when she bathed the little boys and saw the scars on Stanley’s matchstick body. She put Harold to bed and took Stanley into the kitchen, where she put warm drops in his ear and, with a hot-water bottle between his ear and her chest, rocked him in a big rocker and sang him to sleep.

The next morning she heard the boys talking.

"What did the doc do to you in the kitchen? Did she whip you?" Harold asked.

"No. She put something in my ear. She rocked me. She sang a song about a kitty. She was just like a mother!"

I wonder how the poor little tyke knew what a mother was like.

A brisk three-week battle ensued with Ed Lenear. He was sure there must be a reason why Dr. Nina wanted the boys, and the only reason he could imagine was that she’d found out the boys were heirs to a fortune from some unknown source. The battle became a bit rowdy at times, with lawyers shouting at each other in Dr. Nina’s waiting room. Ed Lenear was on the verge of victory when Mary announced that even with the court order for the return of the boys she would never have them in the house again. The battle collapsed. We won the Burton boys.

It was a victory, but not an unmixed one. For a few weeks still they cowered in corners, whimpered in their sleep, dodged if a hand reached toward them, but then the healthier and happier the boys became, the livelier and more inventive their games grew to be. The house, and especially the plumbing, was often in shambles during the year they lived with us. The thin, sparse bristle-like hair they had sprouted from their tiny skulls when they first arrived grew long and shining. A.M. became the hair-cutter, and with scissors and clippers kept them looking like civilized children. Their eyes, which had looked so enormous in their tiny faces, shrank to normal size as their cheeks rounded. Their energy never flagged. We were not entirely sad when Dr. Nina found the right home with the right family for the Burton boys.


. . . 4
Because of Dr. Nina’s rejection of idleness, her children graduated from college at an early age. We all married young, but not too young, as it turned out, to know what we were doing. Life began to be easier for the doctor. Her practice grew and grew and the money was more and more her own. Instead of buying Ford cars, she advanced briefly to Mercurys and then, in a great leap forward, to Lincolns. She had always dreamed of driving a Lincoln Continental the way others dream of owning a Degas or wearing diamonds. As soon as she could afford it, she bought a new Lincoln every two years, usually special-order pink. Dr. Nina’s pink Linc was always in demand by the city fathers to cart VIP guests around the area. The elite of the town women suddenly discovered what everyone else had known for years, that Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, had a Natural Wonder that the outside world was beating a path to the town to consult. Patients were coming regularly from Scranton, Allentown, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York. They came because the word had spread far and wide that there was a doctor in Stroudsburg who could find out what was really the trouble; who had a talent, a sixth sense for diagnosis. I think what we all want most from a doctor is a definition of the problem, a clear statement of what has gone wrong either with our complicated bodies or our even more complicated minds.

A new day was dawning for women in our world and in my home town. The local college began to hire women professors. Women opened specialty shops and became real-estate and insurance agents. Soon there were enough financially independent women to form a Business and Professional Women’s Club, and Dr. Nina, the outcast, became a happy, enthusiastic, and charming member of this new and envied elite. It must have been fun for her, especially in view of her personal philosophy that each day was a new day to be glad in; that the hater always suffers more than the hated; that anger and leftover grudges literally poison the cells of the mind. So she could enter a new era with the past wiped out totally.

The Monroe County Medical Association, which had ignored this member for years except to be amused at her wondrous hats, asked her to organize a child health committee; she did, and was a member of the Executive Committee from then on, and served as vice president and president whenever she was needed. She was elected president of the Stroudsburg Business and Professional Women’s Club and went to the state convention. For most of us, that a club convention could be a marvelous event would be unthinkable. For Dr. Nina, new as a wide-eyed baby to any convention, it was marvelous. She went armed with a sheaf of resolutions from her local chapter, and when the convention was ended, the other delegates went back to their counties with unaccustomed hope that their organization was entering a new era of effectiveness in the life of the state. It probably was.

Every Wednesday A.M. Price went to the Penn Stroud Hotel for the luncheon of the Stroudsburg Kiwanis Club, and Dr. Nina gave herself the modest treat of lunching out at Wyckoff’s Tearoom. She would take one of us, whoever was around at the moment, or meet friends there for lunch, as pleased with the outing as though the tearoom were Sardi’s or 21. Word soon spread that Dr. Nina could be found at the tearoom at noon on Wednesday, and patients from the country in for a day’s shopping would gather to ask for a quick prescription for someone ailing at home, joined by Wyckoff’s Department Store employees with their minor ailments of the moment, and by everyone else who, attracted by the crowd, seized the opportunity to discuss small physical or family problems with Dr. Nina. Ernest Wyckoff, Sr., was the merchandising genius who founded this excellent store. (I still shop there, and at other shops as well, Smith’s, Burrow’s, Vi’s, for clothes that I wear to events here and in Europe. A gown from Vi’s brought a gracious compliment from Emilio Pucci himself at a dinner party in Florence.) Mr. Wyckoff put a rueful and humorous ad in the Pocono Record (formerly the Stroudsburg Daily Record) noting that Dr. Nina’s Wednesday patients made it appear that the tearoom was having a weekly anniversary sale. He suggested that Dr. Nina’s following, after the free consultations, might enjoy sitting at the tearoom tables for the Wednesday special.

As time passed, a river of better paying patients came to Dr. Nina. Among the more affluent elite who turned to her and never turned away again was the Fisher family of Swiftwater, a mountain resort near Stroudsburg. That family, which lived a rigid and exclusive life on inherited money in a great old house whose back porches were cantilevered out over a forest gorge, consisted of an ancient, autocratic mother, upright and slender as a spring sapling but with a temperament unyielding as an oak; Bessie, a fifty-plus-year-old daughter, dressed in the old style with skirts that swept the floor; and Esther, forty-five, the modern sister who, in a Girl Scout leader’s uniform that stopped halfway between knee and ankle, did Good Works and ran the entire Girl Scout organization with an efficient, dedicated, firm hand.

Bessie was an intellectual. She studied insects and had marvelous equipment, microscopes and slides and laboratory fittings of such diversity that it was a pleasure for any of us to go with Mother to the Fisher home just to stand admiringly at the door of Bessie’s workroom. We liked the house, too; nothing had changed inside for eighty years. But best of all we admired Bessie’s mustache, which was thick and gray and unabashed to find itself on the face of a beskirted bluestocking. Soon we had something even better to look at: Bessie’s apes.

They were two chimpanzees that had apparently been abandoned by one of the small traveling circuses that roamed the country in those days. Bessie had spotted them swinging from the tops of the trees that met the cantilevered porch. She stocked up on bananas and fed them daily, luring them bit by bit closer to the house. A carpenter, meanwhile, had been employed to construct giant cages, reinforced with iron, on the porch. Bessie lured the apes up to the porch and into the cages and closed and locked the doors. She opened up one of the unused rooms in the big house and furnished a new laboratory with wonderful new equipment for the study of primates. Then she set herself the task of taming and making friends with the apes.

The apes refused to cooperate. No matter how cunningly and resourcefully she tried to win their trust, they bit her. The Fisher family had, none of them, ever sat in a doctor’s waiting room; the doctor, naturally, came to them. Dr. Nina was called once a week, on the average, to check the health of the three women, but after the apes were caged, Dr. Nina came almost every other day to bind up Bessie’s wounds. The interesting thing was that the Fisher’s never paid her a cent. At her first visit Mrs. Fisher informed Dr. Nina that she expected "professional courtesy." Her husband, dead for many years, had been a doctor, and it was only right that no doctor should charge for services to another doctor’s family. Extremes do meet. The poor without a cent to give and the rich without a cent to waste have much in common. In another sense, Dr. Nina was paid; at the Fisher house she met their sister-in-law, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, who accompanied their brother on occasional visits to the family home. It was Dorothy Canfield who, fascinated and entranced by Dr. Nina, convinced her that she should make notes on her professional life so that this era of our national history would not be lost.


. . . 5
After Dr. Nina and A.M.’s household had shrunk to the two of them, except for waifs and strays, together they began a study and collection of minerals. They took a summer off to wander across the country to California with metal detectors and Geiger counters to gather rocks and prospect for uranium. At an age when other couples totter around the neighborhood for exercise, Dr. Nina, over sixty, and A.M., over seventy, prospected in the deserts of the West and fished the icy streams of the Rockies. They visited us in Rome. It was their first trip to Europe and their first jet ride. We watched the oxen plow the country fields in Umbria, ate pasta and drank ice-cold white wine in Piazza Navona, toured Pompeii, dined on octopus and garlic-stuffed artichoke hearts as Terracina while watching the fishing boats set out over the slate-gray evening sea. We did everything they wanted to do, and it was a busy three weeks. A.M. was impressed with the only country he’d ever seen outside of North America. "These Italians are coming back!" he said.

A new element had been added to Dr. Nina’s vigorous practice of medicine: the role of consultant. As she approached her fiftieth year of medical practice, she had already seen many rare diseases, many unusual complications, many ordinary ailments so masked by secondary problems as to be unrecognizable from textbook descriptions. One day in 1956 she was called to the new, fully equipped Monroe County General Hospital to consult with a young doctor about a patient of his who was very sick but whose symptoms seemed to add up to a disease unknown to the human race. I waited in a wide, spotless corridor while Mother examined the patient. She came out of the room saying to the doctor, "I know that’s what it is, because I had a case just like this in 1912. I was baffled then, too. The reason it’s so difficult to diagnose…" and she began a medical explanation much too complicated for me to follow. I was amused. The young doctor could not even have been born in 1912. It should have been edifying for him to watch Dr. Nina, her white hair peeping out from under the mass of roses on her hat, her white doctor’s coat stiff and starched, turn her light-blue, concentrated gaze on the patient, and, rejecting false evidence, shut out the whole world while she searched for medical truth in a human body that was, for her, not an object but a person who deserved respectful treatment.

In her own practice she was delivering the third generation of babies, having remarkable success in her own method of treating arthritis, helping to found a locally supported home for the indigent aged, seeking help for children, counseling young persons, and everywhere sharing openly and unself-consciously her certainty that anybody could do anything that was required of him. To anyone who said to Dr. Nina, "I can’t stand it," her firm answer came back, "Of course you can."


. . . 6
In 1957 the celebration of Dr. Nina’s fiftieth year in practice got under way. The most formal celebration was a gala luncheon in Harrisburg put on by the state medical society, with the president of the American Medical Association and the governor of Pennsylvania attending. The most pleasant evening was the dinner in Stroudsburg arranged by the Monroe Country Medical Society. The dinner was unpublicized. "It had to be that way," said one of the speakers, "otherwise there would not be a place large enough to hold all the people who would want to come." So only a few hundred people were invited. Dr. Nina thought she was going out for dinner with her family, and when she was squired to the ballroom entrance and saw such an array of her colleagues and friends, she said, "There must be some mistake. We’ve come to the wrong place. There’s some sort of formal dinner going on here." There was indeed. Seconds later, Dr. Nina was among them, a slim white-haired figure in a pink chiffon gown, and as she was shepherded along, she was filled with wonder. The wonder grew as she was led the full length of the ballroom and the crowd stood for fully five minutes cheering and clapping. Throughout the dinner hour, clapping broke out again from time to time as diners exchanged anecdotes about the honored guest. Dr. Nina made a charming response to all the laudatory speakers. She was funny and touching and intelligent. For twenty minutes she told stories. She was as unself-conscious and as graceful as though she were holding spellbound her own family.

"I don’t know," she concluded, "why you feel I’ve done so much and not been repaid. I’ve had more fun in my work than I could ever have had in any other field. I’ve been repaid a thousand times – by little babies who grew up to be strong men and women and good citizens, and by men and women who not only have thanked me in a million ways, but who are my friends." Dr. Nina was seventy-three years old.

The most amusing sidelight of her celebration year came when the doctor in charge of a reception being planned for her by the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia called my sister Bobby to ask if "Dr. Nina could still get around by herself." That morning Bobby had arranged to meet Dr. Nina in Allentown for some shopping. They were to meet at the elevators of the largest department store. Dr. Nina had hurried in, late, and after the elevator doors had closed said to Bobby, "I’m sorry I’m late. I had twins at three o’clock this morning, and a miscarriage at six." Not a sound was made as all the shoppers turned to look at Dr. Nina. The elevator door slid silently open and shut for the second floor before those who had intended to get off recovered from their surprise at such a statement from a white-haired woman who blushed and twinkled, merry-eyed, under their gaze. Bobby assured the doctor from Philadelphia that Dr. Nina could dance a jig around the latest graduates of her institution.

In 1960 Dr. Nina was featured abroad by the United States Information Service as an example of a successful American woman who had gained recognition in a professional sphere. The copy of the feature article we sent her from Yugoslavia, in Serbo-Croation and written in the Cyrillic alphabet, made her laugh.

In 1962 Dr. Nina was named Pennsylvania Woman of the Year. The nomination was entered jointly by the Business and Professional Women’s Club and the Soroptimist Club, and letters of support poured into Harrisburg. The testimonials from men’s organizations (the Kiwanis Club, Lions, Chamber of Commerce, Exchange Club, Medical Society, and so on) tended to stress her unpaid services. Her male colleagues estimated that she had been paid by less than 40 percent of her patients, and the men in the community were impressed and indeed bemused by such benevolence. The women’s organizations stressed her accomplishments, not just the ones we know about, but (from the Business and Professional Women’s Club) "Dr. Nina organized clinics for young women in all phases of hygiene, but particularly in prenatal care and care of the child"; and (the Red Cross) "She was a pioneer in the cancer crusade in the country; and (the Visiting Nurse Association) "There were many occasions when Dr. Nina would recruit people to visit with the isolated and the lonely. Many of these visits evolved themselves into songfests and happy parties. A cheerful environment was of great therapeutic value in the treatment of these patients."

Churches of all denominations wrote, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Catholic. The pastor of the Presbyterian church, in which all of Dr. Nina’s children were raised, wrote, "Only the annals of eternity will reveal the number of lives she has touched and the number of homes she has helped. We have come to expect that our doctors will be self-sacrificing and benevolent. Dr. Nina, however, has stretched this expectation almost beyond belief." Hundreds of her patients wrote. It must have become a town project to take some part, no matter how small, in the general outpouring of gratitude. One patient wrote a one-sentence letter: "I shall never forget that she comes right over when you call her each time." Another wrote two sentences: "She could always be counted on when you needed her most, which was life-saving to the people in the country who couldn’t get to town. Dr. Nina has delivered many children in her career as doctor, and money, whether you had it or not, was no object to her."

It was all very beautiful.


. . . 7
Dr. Nina closed her medical practice in 1964 to have more time for her ailing ninety-two-year-old husband. A.M. Price had had a heart attack, three small strokes, and now had cancer. He died in November 1966, quietly, without complaint, and in severe and total dignity. "So let us melt, and make no noise." Eighty-two-year-old Dr. Nina then had a massive stroke and went to live in a nursing home in State College, Pennsylvania, where her second daughter, Carol, lived with her Pennsylvania State University professor husband.

Dr. Nina had said many times that when she could no longer work, and if she had to live without Daddy, she would fall apart like the one-horse shay and be no more. But the mind and the will do not decide such things; another force takes over, a life force, a will to live that comes from the hidden depths of the secret cells. She recovered enough from the stroke to begin a new life that was wounded and circumscribed but a new life, nevertheless.

One of her private nurses was a pretty young woman whose training had been in nursing care for children. Her skill, her intelligence, and her gentle, pleasing personality were so impressive that Carol persuaded her to try geriatric nursing. She began on Monday, and on Tuesday she called Carol.

"I can’t do this," she said. "I’m sorry, but I can’t work where there is no hope." She agreed to stay on until Carol could find a replacement.

On Friday she called again.

"Carol, if you haven’t hired someone else, I’d like to stay. I’ve changed my mind, because there is hope."

A second nurse, Janet Packard, was a blessing to us all. Had she been Dr. Nina’s own child, she could not have been more loving or more full of grace. She was with Dr. Nina until the end.

A third nurse did leave after two years to enter medical school. She’d always wanted to be a doctor but had never before had the courage to begin. Dr. Nina had that effect on people, sharing as she did Socrates’ opinion that "he is not only idle who does nothing; he is also idle who might be better employed." She had absolute faith in the potential of any person willing and brave enough to try new paths. "They go from strength to strength, every one of them."

On her ninetieth birthday, all the furniture except her bed had to be moved from her room to make space for the guests who came with flowers and presents. There was champagne and Dr. Nina, pink and white as a crumpled rose, drank a sip after the toasts and promptly closed her eyes and slept away the celebration, smiling faintly in her sleep.

On a June day in 1974, Dr. Nina died.

If there is a Heaven, Dr. Nina is surely there, and I think there are no panthers in heaven. I can see her now as she turns her energies to her new work in the Elysian fields. I fancy that just inside the Pearly Gates she has set up a dispensary complete with a neat brass sign that says:

Dr. Nina’s Dispensary
Free Consultations
Young People a Specialty

And I can see her looking over the frightened young souls of those whose lives were cruelly interrupted by war, by illness, by accident, or by the folly that others, given more time, lived to correct. And if, as she said many years before, God sees us not as we are but as we should have been if love and luck had blessed us all, then she is looking over groups of souls as variegated as armloads of wild flowers gathered in a spring wilderness in Pennsylvania – violets, wild ladyslippers, snowdrops, and trailing arbutus, whose heavenly scent quivers the very leaves that hide its shy white flowers.

And I can hear her now as she goes from group to group, saying:

"Don’t be lazy.

"Put in honest time.

"Decide how much time you can give to becoming the best of all angels, and if the work seems hard, don’t be discouraged.

"Excellence follows honest work.

"Do with your might what your hands find to do.

"The Lord has made room for you."

{The End}

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