In June of 1972 I was working the 4 to 12 shift as an orderly at Seaway Hospital in Trenton Michigan. It was a summer job and I needed all the money I could get to pay for my second year of college at Eastern Michigan university.
The previous summer I’ve worked in the transmission plant on an assembly line. It had paid well $4.50 an hour. In three months I had made enough to pay for my tuition and half of my room and board. My job was to punch holes into clutch housings. I initially ran three machines. After 10 minutes it was clear that I had mastered the task and I was given three additional machines to run in succession. My job was to place a clutch housing in the machine press two buttons simultaneously. It was a safety feature designed to prevent you from chopping off a lazy hand. Probably a good feature for me. While the machine did its thing, I would grab another clutch housing and move on to the next machine. By the time I had the sixth machine started the first machine would be finished I would pull the finished product out and roll it down the line. I would then put a new piece in the machine and move on to the next machine. And so it went. It was often over 100° in the plant. There were mounted salt pill dispensers available every few feet. Salt pills helped control the perspiration. I ate them in mass quantities throughout the shift. It was a mind numbing and dirty job. After an 8 hour shift you would have to blow your nose several times to get all the grease out. So the next year when my mother, a nurse at Seaway Hospital, indicated she could get me a summer job as an orderly, even though the pay was half what I earned it at the transmission plant, I jumped at the oppertunity.
The job involved primarily making beds, feeding people, shaving, catheterizing men, and helping people to the bathroom. When necessary I was paged to the emergency room to hold down a drunk, prep a person for stitches or wheel some one to get a X ray or admitted to a hospital room. Basically I did what I was told. Overall I enjoyed helping others and as well as the freedom inherent in the job. I especially enjoyed my time in the emergency room. It was a fast paced stimulating environment,regardless of how menial my assignment was.
As an orderly I was basically on call. There were times when I was nonstop busy. Other times not so much. On this particular day things were slow. When I heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter I found myself staring out a patient’s second story window as it landed on the helicopter pad below. I watched as two men quickly disembarked from the helicopter carrying another man on a stretcher into the emergency room. I had only worked there for two months and I had never seen the helicopter pad used before, so it was a big deal. I went back to work doing what ever orderlies did when there wasn’t much to do. Sometimes you hid out and read a book, sometimes you sat with a lonely patient and sometimes you found conversation at the nurses’ station. This time I returned my attention to my patient. But I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening in the emergency room.
I first met Frank at the beginning of the eighth grade. He was a slender boy with thick brown hair, he was obviously smart, he had kind eyes and a quick smile. I was in need of a friend. My seventh grade pal Jim Cooper and I had been placed in different classes. As you stayed with your classmates all six periods I felt adrift. Frank accepted me as a friend. And Frank was a true friend.
Frank had an easy manner about him. He liked to laugh. His humor was both subtle and intelligent. He had a slight build but he was fairly tall and well put together. While not the best athlete he was a competitor who loved sports particularly basketball. He was a bright student, but I think it was his self confidence and integrity that earned him the respect and endearment of both students and teacheFrank Eskro 1953-1972rs. Frank was not a fighter but he was not bullied either. His friendship was a buffer from the callous indifference to suffering that seemed to envelop me during junior high. I learned a lot from Frank just by observing him.
The summer following 8th grade another friend Mike Compau introduced me to caddying at the local country club. It was a great way to make a few bucks. The more you did it the better “loops” you were given. You would wait your turn sitting on a bench. Generally the caddie master respected the queue. However the best golfers often demanded their choice of caddy. So with no qualms the caddy master would pick and choose ignoring the queue in an effort to please his masters. This was all fine and dandy unless you had been sitting on the bench for over an hour only to be overlooked by Chuck the caddy master. I suffered on that bench and even though I caddied for over two years Chuck never did know my name. After a few months Frank eager to make some cash joined us on the bench. It was not long before he was one of Chuck’s favorites. But it was Frank and he was a hard guy to begrudge.
Ninth grade was at the high school. Frank and I only shared government class. Same old Frank, I looked forward to seeing him. I could not help but notice Frank’s fingers were covered in what appeared to be dark brown dye. This was a bit out of character for Frank has he was generally a well kept guy. He explained he had taken a job at the country club polishing golfers shoes. Giving them a good shine meant brown fingers for Frank. He did not complain he was glad to be off the bench.
Frank and I were both cut from the basketball team that year. Somehow knowing that Frank was cut as well seemed to soften the blow. After being cut from the team I looked for work. In short order I was working two jobs one as a janitor for a cleaning service and one as a stock boy at a drugstore. As we were both busy we still hung out a bit at school but I did not get to see Frank much.
The work afforded me new opportunities. I started skiing, smoking, drinking and experimenting with drugs. None of which interested Frank. Even as we drifted apart, I could not pass him in the hall or on the street without a smile, a hello and\ or a short catch up conversation. Frank was Frank.
After graduation Frank attended Michigan State University. I attended Eastern Michigan University. I don’t remember seeing Frank at all my freshman year. However, after returning home for the summer I ran in to Frank, and as I was going golfing, I asked Frank to come along. We had both been introduced to golf as caddies. As it was we were far better caddies than we were golfers. But of course it was not about the game, it was about friends doing things with friends. It was a great time. I had just started working as an orderly and Frank shared he had just gotten a job summer job at a glass factory. The job at the glass factory was a hot, and dirty job. It was a non union job but the job paid well. In the early 70’s non union jobs were viewed with suspicion and concerns of worker safty.
After watching the helecopter deliver their patient and not being called to help I returned my attention to my patient passing time talking Tiger baseball, when over the loudspeaker I heard, ” Range to the emergency room.” I practically ran to the ER. As I approached the ER doors, I was met by the assistant nursing director. I never actually made it into the ER that afternoon. She motioned to a gurney with a body covered in a sheet and told me to help her take it down to the morgue. It was almost immediately clear to me that this was the man I had seen carried in from the helicopter on a stretcher. He was covered head to toe by a sheet. It was the practice in those days to tag the toe with the decease’s name on it. When I picked up the sheet and looked at the tag I was stunned to see Frank’s name.
It had to be a mistake. I found talking and even moving difficult. This was noticed by the assistant director and with a smirk she asked me “what the problem was.” I didn’t speak, but I managed to move to the foot of the gurney. We were joined by another nurse and we started to roll when the assistant director stopped us. She took the sheet down a bit exposing FranK’s head and propped him up into a reclined position. This was done to protect other patients and the public from the reality of death. Though I am not sure who it really ever fooled. For me it confirmed that it really was Frank.
I kept thinking “breathe Frank breathe! Please breathe!” I was in shock, but I could not turn my back on Frank. Evidently an overhead crane had fallen on Frank. His face was untouched and his injuries were hidden under the sheet. So I continued to look for signs of respiration until the morgues cooler door closed. It wasn’t till later that evening that I mentioned that Frank was my friend. Out of necessity or compassion I was asked if I wanted to work a double shift. I readily accepted. The long hours resulted in a welcomed exhaustion that promoted sleep and the added caveat that it was all a dream. I awoke however to reality.
I attended the viewing. And while I never knew Frank’s family well, I made my way to his Mother but all that came out of my mouth was, “I am sorry”. Frank’s mother consumed by grief responded compassionately “I know you are.” I soon left the funeral home. Consumed by feelings of shame and guilt I did not understand, I did not attend the funeral. Over the years Frank would come to me in my dreams. While the scenarios varied they always involved Frank walking into the room alive and well. I would approach him saying some thing to the effect. Frank you are OK. He would not utter a word and I would wake with the sad realization it was only a dream.
I am an old man now and I have not dreamed of Frank for many years. I know now my shame was not being able to save Frank. Distorted as this cognition is I found it difficult to shake. I do not know if I ever will. I do know Frank was my friend and he still is.