Category Archives: Washington County, Arkansas

No-Visitor Policies Do Harm

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*Legal note: this is written under the auspices of both employee safety and in the interest of public health and debate. This commentary is almost universally applicable, regardless of geography. The policies I’m complaining about have negatively impacted thousands of lives without furthering our collective public health interests. They piss me off because people don’t understand the implications until they affect them personally. (Which might well be the national motto for the United States.)

Not all healthcare facilities and hospitals adopted a blanket approach, precisely because such policies wrongly isolate patients and reduce the quality of life of everyone involved. To those who properly implemented precautions without simultaneously severing the vital family-patient link, I thank you. Were such a facility nearby, you can be sure that you would be my first option for all healthcare services. The idea that a family cannot interact in person with their family member when they are ill is one of the most abhorrent ideas I’ve dealt with as an adult.

I have serious concerns about the no-visitor policies healthcare facilities adopted when covid made its appearance. Most of these policies weren’t based on science; they certainly went too far. When I see ‘heart-warming’ videos of long-wedded couples communicating through windows, my heart doesn’t melt. It hardens – and against those who insist that isolation in lieu of reasonable precaution is in the public health interest. We allow millions of Americans to wander in public without taking basic precautions. We are not making good decisions as people, as citizens, or as businesses.

Though it says something less than positive about me, the above angers me. It’s not an irritation that can be overlooked. I see the impact that misguided and poorly-executed policies have on real people. Your mom, sister, grandmother, son, daughter, and friend. Now, me.

Perhaps my inside view of how healthcare works discolors my opinion. Healthcare is a mammoth business. We routinely forget that healthcare is at our service. Though it is a business with a mission, it is one that should focus on the human impact of policies. They all say they agree, though when I outline my argument that demonstrates the no-visitor policies to be draconian, their faces harden and they fall back to a “trust us” stance. Failing that, they aggressively insist. After all, they hold our family members hostage inside their facilities. What can we do? Before you think that ‘hostage’ is too harsh a word, I suggest you drop a family member off at an ER without knowing they have policies that endanger your family member and isolate you from them.

Is there any other business you can think of that operates this way? By invoking the label of public safety, they can hide any motive or lack of reasoning in a policy that harms your interests. The fact that not all hospitals adopted blanket no-visitor policies logically indicates that there is strong disagreement among experts. In my case, it was nonsensical.

I did not have a voice in these policies. No family member did. As you’ll see through my emails, my presence in a hospital as a visitor constituted LESS of a risk to hospital staff than even those very hospital workers. One of the dark secrets of our covid response is that we failed to test each and every healthcare worker. Even while we were in Phase I, we didn’t test. Although the state mandated that surgical candidates would have to be tested prior to entry into the hospital, efforts to test healthcare workers at the same level of sensible precautions were stymied. The motive for such decisions probably jumps into your mind in the same manner as it does for everyone else. The public interest would have best been served by universal testing for everyone in a healthcare facility, followed by stringent testing on a scheduled basis thereafter. This can be done without fear of dismantling the healthcare industry. It would, however, make us all safer.

It is true that it would expose the fact that healthcare workers are working while infected with covid. How many might be up for debate but it would be foolish to insist that the answer is ever ‘zero.’ We can’t fix a problem by ignoring huge variables. Even though I’ve said it already, my commentary is couched inside the box of the public health interest. Only the most feeble arguments would stretch to claim that my mentioning it somehow lessens the confidence of our healthcare industry. The industry is staffed by fallible people, as is any other field such as aviation, police, or engineers. People try to do their best. When policies are shown to cause harm, they need to be modified in the same way that ‘best practices’ evolve within healthcare.

Although I intervened in the cases of others when they were fighting hospitals needlessly keeping them at a distance from their loved ones, I knew eventually the policies I loathed would affect me personally. I had several conversations with my wife. During each, I repeated that I’d rather risk a lower chance of survival in exchange for the simple human right to have her visit and watch over me and my care. It is for the same reason I’ve instructed her that I don’t give consent to ever be airlifted anywhere. I trust my local healthcare facilities. I trust them more because proximity increases the chances that people who know me will be able to visit and observe my care. I do not want to ever be in a facility that denies her access to me unless it is a prison. Weirdly enough in the case of a prison, she’d still be able to visit.

Hospitals of course weight varying interests when establishing policy. Covid, though, has caused a lot of decisions to be made with inadequate information or in fear of liability. You, as a family member, are powerless to appeal, threaten, or sue hospitals for their policies.

One of my friends in particular was forced to endure days of being away from her dying husband. She finally was allowed to see him shortly before his death. I think Northwest Arkansas was on the verge of mounting an insurrection had she not been granted access. All those days they were separated were needless and harmed the public interest. Anyone looking at the issue from a wide perspective agrees that blanket no-visitor policies only serve to hurt human beings. They are written to protect hospitals – which already enjoy immunity and liability protection. If you read my emails below, I address the futility and stupidity of these policies that prohibit loved ones from seeing their family.

During those weeks, despite the fact that the policies did not affect me personally, I wrote opinion pieces and contacted as many interested people as I could to object to these horrific no-visitor policies. The silence from those who could have made sensible changes was astonishing. The same was true regarding efforts to test everyone working in healthcare.

My mother-in-law was rushed to the ER. She was suffering from what we presumed to be diabetic shock. We all met at the ER entrance at the hospital. No one was allowed to enter the ER with her, despite her deteriorating condition and her complex medical condition. A State Trooper, complete with gun, badge, and uniform sent a clear message to my sister-in-law that family members were the problem.

My mother-in-law is 80. She sat in a chair unattended for quite a while, getting worse. No one was there to insist they be cautious with fluid intake, insulin, or the other things that were vital to her proper and safe care. My mother-in-law’s inability to have someone there as her advocate and loved one contributed to a level of care that suffered as a result. Now that the moment has passed, the hospital can claim this to be untrue. As we’ve discovered once again with our recent riots and the events that precipitated them, events that are recorded or witnessed are more difficult to excuse away. Prior to covid, one of the best means to improve a patient’s care was to have both companionship and oversight for that patient. Those will diligent family members directly improve and suffer fewer health complications than those who don’t. No-visitor policies have stripped patients of the right to have oversight by those who care for them.

I wrote the hospital through its portal. My goal was to request permission to assist in better care for my family member, as well as provide companionship. I knew that the approaching holiday weekend would increase her isolation. Here’s what I wrote:

“My mother-in-law is in your facility.

I work at another hospital. I’m COVID-negative and get screened each day.

I’d like to know why I am not allowed entry into the hospital to visit my mother-in-law.

She was admitted through the ER without a COVID test. I also know that even though hospitals are testing all elective surgery candidates, they are not testing all employees within the facility.

IF you have a method to allow me to visit, please advise me as to the protocol.

Thanks, X Teri”

Someone wrote back:

 

“Thanks for reaching out to us and I’m sorry your mother-in-law is ill. If you will send your phone number, I can have one of our nursing leaders call you. I’m copying our Interim CNO in case she is able to respond by email but I think a phone call would be easier.
These are certainly tough times for everyone and we are sorry for the pain and inconvenience these temporary policy changes on visitation are causing. As you know, they are in place to minimize risks of patients or staff health being compromised, particularly since many people are asymptomatic before they test positive for covid.”

In short, the above is a “No, you may not visit” response.

The next day, I received a reply from someone else, presumably higher in authority:

“Teri, ____________ copied me on your request to evaluate the possibility of visitation at _______________ hospital. As I am sure you recognize, this is a difficult time, the surge of Covid patients has required administration at our hospital, as well as the region, to place restrictions on visitor access. These efforts are to mitigate any possible exposure to our patient population already managing their illnesses or post surgical recovery.

We have made available to our staff access to ipads or recommended the use of phones to support face time calls and discussions with the nursing and physicians if requested by the identified contact family member to provide additional means of support. Nursing staff are available 24/7 to connect with families.

I can empathize with the challenges this places on families but safety is our priority at this time as we continue to care for our community.

Please reach out to me personally if you have any additional questions or needs.

Thank you for your understanding.”

 

Here is my reply:

 

“Thank you for replying.
 
My first name is X, as unusual as that is. This isn’t a “gotcha” email. Please don’t interpret this email as an attack. I am writing it in one fell swoop to voice my objection and concern.
 
I have a family member in your facility. I know that her initial care was less than desirable due to no one being allowed to accompany her during her initial ER visit. No matter how the issue is characterized, she did not receive the care she could have, precisely because the adopted no-visitor policy prohibited her caregiver or another person from being present. This absence needlessly caused the healthcare workers to lack information that would have affected both the timeliness and effectiveness of her treatment. I don’t expect anyone to enthusiastically agree with my assessment. It is, however, a hard truth – and one supported by the facts.
 
I understand the issues surrounding covid.
 
One of the things that has long puzzled me is that while hospitals pre-test elective surgery patients, we still haven’t tested all healthcare workers.
 
Statistically speaking, we know that we have covid-positive healthcare worker cases. We had the opportunity prior to resuming surgery schedules to test each team member at our local hospitals. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t do so.
 
This continues to trouble me greatly as I see families grapple with the ‘no visitor’ policies. I knew it would eventually come around and affect me personally.
 
Knowing that “we don’t know” whether healthcare workers continue to expose patients is an issue that I can’t get around. While I, as a worker in a healthcare facility in Northwest Arkansas, get screened daily, have been tested for covid and follow routine precautions each day, can’t assist in the healthcare of my family member. This disconnect isn’t logical and doesn’t serve my family’s interests or those of public health.
 
While I still would not agree with the visitor policies most hospitals have adopted, I find it illogical that hospitals are not doing everything possible to help our community; such efforts would include testing each and every team member at your facilities. It certainly would allow for those of us in healthcare and who have been tested to be allowed to see our family members.
 
The fact that I’ve been tested when most of your staff has not should be sufficient justification to be allowed to wear PPE and see my family member. Once you see it written that way, it is hard to continue to see fit to disagree with my claim that I should be able to visit my family member.
 
I don’t expect my reasoned response to draw a change of heart for your hospital.
 
I’ve argued against these policies from the day they were implemented.
 
Each of us is exposed and exposes others on a daily basis. It’s true that we might hopefully reduce our involvement, the statistical truth is that we have passed the point of logical precautions.
 
While it might be easier to issue a blanket no-visitor policy, it is one not based on consistent logic or one taking into account the needs of human beings when they are ill.
 
I only wrote back in the futile chance logic would prevail and I’d be allowed to visit my mother-in-law.
 
Absent that, I did not want my silence to be interpreted as agreement with a policy that goes too far and without merit to the extreme of impacting our companionship and oversight of the care our family member might receive.

 

The first person wrote me back, instead of the person higher up. A holiday weekend was approaching. It’s likely the higher-up was off for the holiday.

“X – thank you for copying me on this. I am not a clinician but what you say does make sense to me & I can assure you it will be discussed. In fact, we all know that – in ordinary times – we encourage involvement of family members & other caretakers. ______________ checks email regularly and would encourage you to reach out to her or the house supervisor any time you want to discuss a concern or have a question. Again, I’m sorry for the issues that have led to these temporary very strict policies”

I waited and heard nothing directly about my appeal or request. So, I wrote both of the people I’d heard from:

“I know the holiday probably exacerbated _________’s lack of enthusiasm to attempt a reply to me. I forwarded the email to you because you were the first point of contact for my issue. Each day that passes with rules that force distance between family members is one that cannot be reclaimed.

In your reply, you said something critical to my issue: “…these temporary very strict policies…”

From a family point of view, the policy that prohibits me from seeing my mother-in-law isn’t temporary. It could very well be permanent. I know people who experienced that very issue. They didn’t get the chance to speak face-to-face with their loved ones. They’d entered healthcare facilities without oversight and companionship. And they died in those conditions.

While I objected to these policies when they did not personally affect me, I’m flummoxed to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced them how needlessly draconian they are. Because I have a view from the inside, I know that these policies are blanket policies and do not generally advance the objective of public safety that they purport to. In my case specifically, they only do harm.

I enter a larger healthcare facility each day, get screened, and have been tested for covid. Yet, when misfortune touched my family, I was somehow classified as the general public and denied access to my family member. I’ve been tested for covid, which is far and away more than the overwhelming majority of healthcare workers in your facility can say.

Additionally, your healthcare workers live and work in one of the hottest hot spots in the United States. They eat, shop, and move about among a high concentration of people who do not wear masks and do not observe proper social distancing. Your healthcare workers, the ones caring for my mother-in-law, come to work after such exposure each and every day. Even though I work in a similar but different environment, I am lumped in with the general public, despite being tested and despite following protocols when out in public.

It is lunacy to deny me access to my mother-in-law. Factually speaking, I present LESS exposure to your staff and other patients than your own healthcare workers.

It’s easy for me to get preachy in these emails. On the other hand, hospitals are places where people experience tragedy daily.

When people are ill, especially as old as my mother-in-law, there is no such thing as temporary.

The policies you are enforcing might well be permanent in my case. I don’t know how else to say it.

When logic does not intersect with law (and voluntary rules), the effect is that people needlessly are harmed.

If hospitals don’t intelligently and scientifically lift these burdensome and needless restrictions, the same policies may one day befall you and your loved ones.

Again, I didn’t expect a reversal of policy but I honestly hoped that sense, logic, and compassion would prevail.

I’m still waiting. I’m not the first. And it is a further tragedy that I will not be the last.

X”

I haven’t received a reply, of course. Two days have elapsed. I wrote them a final email, after hearing nothing in response.

“Given that I wrote Saturday and did not receive a reply, I am assuming that my emails weren’t bumped up for further consideration? I didn’t know if there was an appeal process or if an edict had been announced that allows for no variance. I know that some patients were allowed visitors in the interim.

I can understand if you would have said, “The matter is closed.” I wouldn’t be happy, but it at least it would have been a final statement.

Since this issue came up for me personally, several people have reached out and provided me with details about other families and how they were dealt with. I have a lot to consider going forward.

Under the assumption that no one will reach out to me again, I’ll close by saying that it was wrong for _____________________ to prevent me from being with my mother-in-law in the ER and thereafter in her room. It’s a policy without logical footing and one which inhibits the public health you’re charged to protect.

Thanks, X”

As with thousands of others, the hospital has artificially and needlessly robbed me of my ability to be with my family member.

Looking at my case specifically, it is a fact that I present less of a risk to patients and staff than the staff members working in the facility do. I can prove I’m not covid positive. I can enter using PPE that eliminates the risk. Meanwhile, staff members caring for patients at the facility that denies me entry are working, shopping, and living in one of the hottest hot spots per capita in the United States. They haven’t been tested. They walk among a community that does not protect itself by wearing masks or social distance at a rational and reasonable level.

They are a bigger risk than I am.

I’m been tested. They have not.

Anyone who doesn’t question these policies hasn’t had the misfortune of watching their family member needlessly suffer.

My mother-in-law moved a few months ago from a remote location to Springdale in part to be closer to medical care when needed. We’ve visited more in the last few months than we have in years. Ironically, hospitals have worsened that wound of isolation by refusing to allow me to see her.

One hundred thousand people die from infections they receive while in healthcare facilities. This was true before covid.

The workers caring for my mother-in-law haven’t been tested, even though it is an obvious step to ensure the public health and employee safety.

Somehow, I’m the problem?

These policies must go. They must be replaced by sensible public policy and hospital rules that take into account the interests of the whole patient.

Test all healthcare workers, both now and on a scheduled timeline.

Allow designated visitors, even if a covid test is required.

Ask patients and visitors to sign a liability form, to address the primary and obvious reason that hospitals continue to abuse their discretion regarding visitors.

Require masks in public.

Or..

Continue to do the same.

.

.

.

P.S. The hospital responded to my appeal request on Friday, days after my mother-in-law was discharged. It’s hard to make this stuff up.

 

 

 

 

Not-So Super Tuesday

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I declined the GOP primary ballot this time because my vote against Trump would be meaningless, much like a vote for most of the Democrats. (Unlike 2016, when I voted against Trump twice.) In Trump’s name, I did trip someone, mocked a dozen people, and took another person’s wallet and flung it across the parking lot, so it was like Trump himself was there in spirit. Voting on the Democratic side, every candidate I chose was female. The one school board race without a female, I skipped. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Bernie due to his desire to outlaw lined notebook paper and his refusal to nominate Tom Hanks to be the Vice President. That last part isn’t true, but we’re living in a post-truth dystopia, so I can say whatever I want. The truth is that Bernie never mailed me the check he promised to get my vote. Like all liberals, I’m in it for the free money and services. (As always, I put that in to irritate at least one liberal.)

I was relieved I didn’t have a poll worker ask me which name was my first name, as if the laws governing states IDs had suddenly been rendered arbitrary, or based on what kind of flower we feel like. I recited my name, address, and date of birth as if I were reciting poetry without any meter to it.

I did give strange answers to the questions the ‘pre-screener’ asked. “Do I have the right to remain silent?” isn’t something they are accustomed to hearing. She walked away very quickly, wondering why no one had noticed my dosage wasn’t sufficient.

The strangest moment happened as I walked away after voting, paper tally in hand, headed toward the ballot box. “Sir!” someone kept shouting. After four or five repeats, I turned. “Sir? Did you already vote?” I looked down at the completed ballot in my hand and then back toward the voting machine fifty feet away, the one I had stood at for sixty seconds while I voted. It took everything I had to not say, “No, this is my CVS Pharmacy receipt.” Instead, I just smiled and nodded. I wondered about HER dosage at that point. When I reached the ballot box, the worker gave me redundant instructions. I said, “The Phoenix sees the mouse, all clear” and winked at him. I suspect he was very sad to see me leave, even though he was laughing a bit.

In November, my vote won’t matter. You can howl and moan all you want to about it. G̶i̶l̶e̶a̶d̶ Arkansas is a solid lock for Trump. Even if the Democrats ‘win’ the popular vote by some impossible miracle after stumbling around while the GOP puts them in the ditch one by one, our beloved constitutional democratic republic will award the presidency to him for a second term, if the hysteria from the latest plague doesn’t kill us all.

We enjoy boasting that we voted as if participating in the process elevates us. That’s not the case. We pick our team, our camp, our tribe and throw knives from the sidelines. I’ll vote for a bad case of derriere acne in November if it keeps Trump from office.

But I’d give my middle fingers if the Republicans would have picked anyone to run in Trump’s place. And gave Tom Hanks the Vice Presidency.

If you’re a Trump fan, just remember that I’m a liberal in Arkansas, which is about as rewarding as eating lunch in the bathroom.

The Gavel Is Hollow

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I’m in a bit of a strange state.

 

I arrived home after a Celebration of Life.

 

I absent-mindedly opened my email, assuming that someone had decided to take me up on the offer of watching a memorial video I made and needed an email link.

 

Instead, someone close to the defendant in a murder trial from 2016, had written to me today. I wasn’t chosen to sit on the jury. It turns out that the letter I wrote to the defense’s legal team had been turned over to the defendant and his family.

 

As I wrote back then, the jury selection process in the murder trial being held in Washington County had legal defects, ones which precluded the defendant from receiving due process from the court. I don’t say this lightly.

 

I did right by the defendant, the prosecution, the court, and the process by sticking my neck out and informing them of what I had observed. While I heard back from the defense back then, I did not hear back from the court or the prosecution. I wrote them all the same truth: things were done improperly.

 

I’m not surprised by the failure of the prosecution team to respond. It would have been impossible to defend the defects I reported to them. They go directly to the efficacy of the jury process. I understand the need to persist in the illusion that the system does not fail. A good prosecutor and human being could not faithfully convict people if he or she knew that the process is fundamentally flawed.

 

My wife will tell any of you that because of my exposure to the frailty of the human process, that I don’t believe that justice as we imagine it exists in most places. It permeates my ability to watch, read, or consume any stories about the justice system.

 

The person reaching out to me alleges that in addition to the glaring problems I documented, that one of the jurors had allegedly threatened another sitting juror on the case. I don’t know if the allegations shared with me are true.

 

I can say, however, that I tend to believe them, given the disparity between what I personally witnessed and the lofty promises our criminal justice system proposes we accept as true.

 

To paraphrase my misgivings: “It just ain’t right.” What I witnessed was not an impartial jury, nor one honoring the requirements of eligibility to sit and faithfully serve. Because I reached out to inform them, everyone involved knew at the time that someone involved in the process had serious issues about how it was handled. A dedication to the truth would drive most people to inquire; otherwise, we’re not dispensing justice.

 

I look forward to hearing more about the allegations that an actual sitting juror had more than simple misgivings and was threatened for it.

 

I have a feeling this is going to take me down a winding road.

 

The gavel is hollow – and so am I.

 

Downtown Dummies – An Art Installation Sponsored by Prank Sinatra

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I keep lists of jokes, ideas, and amusing things to amuse my amusing self. Last year while I was walking before sunrise in downtown Springdale, I burst out laughing with one of them.

I’ve been secretly fantasizing about an idiotic prank for quite a while. I’ve browsed on eBay, Amazon, and retail clearance websites trying to get a reasonable cost to purchase several dozen mannequins. The best cost I could devise was about $750. Three weeks ago, I could have purchased an entire lot, clothing included, from a defunct retailer.

After purchasing all the mannequins and keeping them in a self-storage unit, I’d rent a U-Haul. Early in the morning, I would drive around downtown Springdale and strategically place the dummies in key places. (Benches, leaning on walls, astride Spring Creek, behind patrol cars, etc.) It occurred to me that I could create a story if I was creative enough in my implementation. (With the epilogue involving me getting bailed out of jail, I presume.)

I even had a list of explanations if I were caught. I’d say, “It’s an art project for the Revitalization District.” Or, I’d say, “Look at that!” and as the person looked, I’d run like hell in any possible direction.

If I keep my movements low-key, no one will think twice about dummies downtown. There are always several standing or loitering around down there and several have been elected to keep the city running. Just kidding, Doug. I’m a big fan, with the exception of that horrendous city logo – the one which invokes an image of the floor of a New York City Taxi when I look at it.

I’ve had more fun thinking about doing this than you might expect.

I’ll probably never do it now, especially after sharing it with everyone.

If there’s anyone out there reading this, though, it would make an excellent prank.

It would also make a beautiful art project if it were planned with care.

A Great Customer Service Story

As much as I like the pursuit of a bad customer service issue, I’ve found that people overlook those times when I highly recommend a business or service.

Today, one of the owners of Oasis Property Maintenance personally reached out to ensure that he could answer my questions and make things right. It was a literal delight to hear someone directly address an issue and offer to make it fully right, even if it bit him in the pocketbook.

I reciprocated and told him to pay it forward instead and that I didn’t want any refund, credit, or compensation. Just knowing that he was willing to go to that length to ‘fix’ a mistake was enough for me. It would have been a costly fix for him. As a consumer, I should have caught the issue when I bought this house, but didn’t.

Oasis is mainly a lawn company, one which charges based on lot size. They do online billing, which is a massive benefit to those of us who are antisocial. I’ve used them since they started. They’re not perfect, but they listen if there is an issue. Taking cost and intangibles into consideration, they are almost unbeatable, unless you have a cadre of teenagers to force to do your yard work.

If you currently have a lawn service, you can look online and ‘see’ what they will charge you without any misdirection. Oasis Property Maintenance

Even though you might not see or hear me doing so, I try to thank, reward, and appreciate good businesses. Thanks, X

A Road By Another Name

Last week, I discovered that South Hewitt Springs road is the same one as a county road by a number which escapes me. It seemed blindingly obvious once I walked off of it onto Parsons Road. Due to a condition I refer to as “being old,” I hadn’t made the connection coming from the other direction. There are times when I set off walking not sure where I’m going or that the road I’m following comes out somewhere recognizable. Dawn has joked that I’m going to end up on a milk carton; this would be doubly amusing given my aversion to drinking milk. It would be triply hilarious if I accidentally wander inside a cow pasture and get tenderized by the hooves of a herd of dairy cattle.

As I cut through Parsons Road, a very elderly man was inching his way from an outbuilding back to his house. While he wasn’t 100 years old, he walked as if he personally had carried the last 3 generations on his back. I guessed that he was 90+, which means he has 40-something years on me. I wondered how many miles I might traverse before my body gives out. Life already feels long to me. To look back after 40 more years is going to look like an infinite encyclopedia, its pages laid carefully end-to-end, without end, so to speak.

I’d like to think in 10 more years, I will have walked every street, lane, avenue, and road in the city of Springdale. It seems more likely as I continue to discover places which have been previously hidden in plain sight.

PS: When I got home, I used a map to find the house of the elderly man on an aerial overlay and then used this to find the owners on actDataScout. (DataScout superimposes an overlay with the owner’s names and property limits directly in your browser. It is a powerful tool.) You might be thinking that this leads to more questions than answers. In this case, you would be correct. After my eavesdropping incident earlier in the week, I didn’t resist my curiosity this time. The problem with knowing a little, though, is that I always want to know more.

Below, I’ll put a sample screenshot of what you can see if you use the mentioned website. Before you have a privacy-induced nervous breakdown, please stop and remember that this information is already publicly available, without charge. I’ve written about it before but sometimes people think I’m exaggerating or have omitted some crucial step.

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September’s Ancestors

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I’m not sure how meaningful my words might be, coming from someone who loathes the idea of burial but loves cemeteries and their connections to history. It’s a cliché to point out they serve as reminders to us, in part because we so seldom feel the urgency they offer. When we do, it is usually because we feel the icy fingers of oblivion as subtle symptoms in our bodies or when it reaches out to visit someone in our private circle.

On rare occasions,  people we’ve never even met get a moment of remembrance, as is the case with this story.

As is frequently the case of late I found myself with a few stolen moments and chose to walk a long serpentine path along Huntsville in Springdale. As I walked along, I looked up and noticed I was approaching a cemetery that I had not visited in probably 20 years and certainly not since the road had been widened. The last time I had been there, almost everything about Huntsville was awaiting transformation into a multicultural artery on that side of town. Normally I would have walked past, my eyes gauging the sights as I moved on. Perhaps in part to the relative chill in the September air and the declining sunlight, I instead turned and opened the latch to enter the shady cemetery grounds. It then it occurred to me that I had just researched someone laid to rest there. So with a little more anticipation, I walked the outside perimeter and without even searching happened upon the graves I had seen in my genealogy searches.

I found Daniel Lemke’s headstone. He was born on the eastern edge of Poland, in a small place named Chelm, almost into Ukraine. He came to the U.S. in 1901 and chose Wisconsin as his first home here. His son Martin Julius was born there and moved to Northwest Arkansas 70 years ago. Daniel died 72 years ago, or 27,317 days ago. His son passed 14 years ago, some 5,455 days ago.

I find it difficult to put myself in the place of someone who would travel so far around the world to land in an unknown place, with new exotic words to learn. It’s fitting that Daniel’s great-grandson would find himself in a similar situation, on another part of the planet, forging an entirely new life for himself. I imagine, though, that these places here in Northwest Arkansas have a pull on his heart. He can always return here and sit by the fire, remembering his life on the other side of the world.

While it’s likely that my path crossed with Martin in the way that almost all proximate lives do, a complex intertwining mesh of ‘almost,’ I don’t have any claim to knowing his presence. But thanks to the prism of time, I can see where his path led and look back through the footprints of those who came after him. Because of him, I learned of a place called Chelm and its part in history. I wonder how much our footprint will be memorable and not simply because of our safe choices.

I think that sometimes history’s bell rings more deeply when the hour grows later and the air turns chill. The grass inside the cemetery grounds was bright green, still waiting for the arrival of frost mornings. There’s something about these times and these moments.

It was a pleasant sensation to be standing in such a contemplative place, thinking back to the lives of people unknown to me. As the busy avenue continued unabated behind me, I alone possessed the refuge of that cemetery, even as it possessed me.

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Confederate Stones, Withering Trees, and Change

Observing the long view of history and social forces:

“A city or town isn’t the past, who founded it, or who once lived here. It’s who is here now and the children they’ll have. Those who were here first have no greater say in its disposition than those who moved here to be one of us. It’s one of the most overlooked lessons of history. A family changes as it accepts new members and towns can be no different. Roots grow into trees and those trees must adapt to the changing environment or wither to become the firewood for those who need it.

You can fight change with all your vigor or you can understand that all things perish, even ones carved in immortal stone. The things that we hold dear are not things at all. They are flesh and blood, love and hope, compassion and intellect. Those things which do not advance us and bind us together must be willingly set aside in favor of the great invisible.

Nostalgia for the way things were is the most human of traits. But we must always remember that we share these fields and places with those who look upon us with new eyes. Even our children will one day peer back with wonder at the things we valued over one another as people. As we are renewed, so too must our attitudes flourish, blossom and envelop those who do not share our history and culture.”

Peace

A Possible Story to Frighten

jay hill

(This is a story I wrote for a friend of mine. Some of it is true, some of it is embellishment to amuse and delight him.)

I am telling you this story so that you can better understand Jay Hill. Like all interesting people, he has some history that he keeps well-guarded; not just from fear of being judged, but as a sort of superstitious protection. Sometimes, giving words to fears grants them life.

Years ago, Jay lived in a house that had been abandoned for 13 years. A new owner spent the minimum necessary to get it habitable again. Jay’s family rented it for much less than they would have paid anywhere else.

The lady who previously owned the house, Marjorie Wilson, died under suspicious circumstances. Even though the police investigated the adult children of Marjorie twice for suspected foul play, they could never bring charges. Within a year, both of Mrs. Wilson’s children disappeared after having last been seen inside the residence. You might be able to google the mysterious death, as a semi-famous investigator spent months trying to unravel the mystery. He wrote a story for the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette – and that story was later loosely used to make a movie. The house no longer exists, having been torn down two years after Jay moved out. It was once known as the Fuller House, sitting slightly off West Center Street.

Jay’s family had lived in the house for only about two weeks when he began to experience sleepless nights, imagining a figure at the foot of his bed. He would wake suddenly, thinking he could feel fingers slide across his feet. If he covered his head with a blanket, he could hear a female voice, softly asking him to go downstairs. Jay’s sister teased him mercilessly about it, accusing him of claiming there was a ghost in his room in order to get more attention. After a month in the house, Jay began to feel himself being pulled in the direction of the windowless wall on the East side of the house. He would wake up, hearing the irritated female figure demanding that he get up and leave with her. In two months, Jay began sneaking out of bed and sleeping inside one of the two closets in the bedroom, curled up with his feet bracing against the door. He could hear the ghostly figure scratching relentlessly. No one else in the house could see or hear any of it, which only worsened Jay’s already frazzled composure. He lost several pounds and his hair started falling out around his temples.

A school counselor pulled Jay aside and talked to him privately. Even though she didn’t believe that Jay was actually being visited by ghosts, she recommended that he wake himself up during these dreams and imagined visits. She was certain Jay was imagining it all, due to some family or personal issue that was robbing him of his ability to sleep deeply.

On April 15th, Jay awoke, feeling a face within inches of his. He was inside the closet with the door closed. He realized he could hear a low, guttural voice repeating, “We must go.” Since Jay half-believed he had been imagining it all, he reached up to pass his hand had through the empty air above him in the musty closet. And touched a face, one covered in what felt like small bristly hair.

Just as Jay started to scream in terror, the apparition grabbed his arm and took him threw the wall, into the back room used for storage. Stunned, Jay curled himself into a tight ball and rocked himself.

Before he knew how much time had passed, he woke up, feeling his sister shaking him and asking, “What are doing sleeping on the floor back here?” Jay told her the story. She of course laughed and teased him again.

Twice afterwards, Jay witnessed the female apparition walking past open doors. Once she looked his in direction and seemed to say “Some day.” Jay spent every night doing anything possible to prevent himself from falling asleep.

Before Jay could lose his sanity totally, his family had to move again, as a developer had bought the property for cash and wanted it so quickly that he paid the first and last month rent on an apartment on the other side of 6th Street.

For those of you who know Jay, he might have told you this childhood story and about the woman visitor in the Fuller House. I think he honestly sleeps with one eye open some nights, wondering if the ghost would follow through on her promise to visit him again. I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t half the reason he rents instead of buying a house.

Until this morning, I hadn’t thought about his old story for at least 10 years. He walked up to me, cup of coffee in hand, frazzled and nervous. He told me that he had awoke last night, after dreaming a female ghostly form had walked past a door in his apartment. Jay told me he lunged at it and instead of disappearing or recoiling that the ghost had grabbed him – and dragged him through a wall. Jay said he awoke to the feel of the claw-like fingers on his arm, the sensation of literally having just went through a solid wall still echoing in his body, his heart pounding like a symphony of hammers.

I could see it in his eyes. The fear. The dread. But I joked, trying to relieve the discomfort of what he was probably really thinking. That’s what people do when they are truly afraid.

The apparition isn’t waiting for him to be in a house. I think it’s started again.

I hope that Jay gets a good night’s sleep and walks into work tomorrow, tired but still there. Because I think I might be the one who loses my mind if Jay doesn’t call in and then doesn’t show up to work. I’m afraid that if I visit his apartment, I might find it to be perfectly empty, with no clue as to where Jay might be. Or worse, hear a small female voice asking me to come downstairs.

 

Jury Duty Aftermath

 

As I predicted, the jury pool for the trial of Samuel Robert Hill in Washington County, Arkansas ignored his mental illness defense and threw the book at him.

Whether he was really mentally ill isn’t something I can be certain of, as I didn’t get to hear the evidence that the jury heard during trial. On the other hand, I didn’t enter the jury process with a predisposed belief that mental illness isn’t a ‘real’ thing, either, or that even though the law says juries must take them into account, that mental illness should never be used to defend someone – and if it is, it should be ignored. Also, while I didn’t hear the evidence in the same way as the jury did, I did read it, including many things which were kept away from the jury during the trial. In some ways, I had a more complete picture and better information than they did. That’s how trials, work, though. The distinction in my case is that I heard some of the potential jurors say they didn’t believe in mental illness and that it can’t be used to mitigate a crime or its punishment. While I was dismissed for some unknown reason, citizens were left to serve on the jury who legally didn’t qualify, given their beliefs and biases about mental illness. Maybe the opposing psychiatrists had different levels of credibility or the defendant’s mother was a better witness than her sister, who testified for the defendant. Truth be told, though, none of it really mattered if enough mental illness-deniers got seated on the jury. Most of them wouldn’t admit they believe such things, as it sounds stupid to admit, just as bigots know they can’t claim that certain minorities are better at sports or that some are just angrier people – they believe it in their hearts but have been conditioned to conceal these bigoted or stereotypical ideas from everyone else.

I know that there are people who don’t believe in mental illness, people who think such sufferers can just ‘snap out it,’ or just get busy to distract themselves. It’s almost insurmountable to get past that kind of attitude in people. It’s not based on evidence or science, so argument and reason won’t get you around their mental block.

Likewise, many of those in the jury pool said that they were certain that if a defendant didn’t get on the stand, that this indicated either deceit or outright guilt. Despite the judge and the defense pointing out that this attitude was not acceptable if you were going to serve on a jury, several of those people also remained and undoubtedly served on the jury. Deciding to not testify is a fundamental right in criminal trials. It’s a foundation of our system. Especially if a defendant’s case rests on the idea that he or she is mentally ill, it is ludicrous to hold that against them. The law is clear: you can’t hold it against a defendant. As a citizen, of course you can. Many of the jurors ignored the law and should not have been on the jury deciding a person’s fate. Like most people, those who believe it know they can’t just admit such a belief in the face of scrutiny; they’ll justify or rationalize their bias and tell us that they can decide a case, not realizing that such a bias infects everything that filters through their eyes and ears.

(PS  Another bias that I heard people admit to: people charged with crimes are overwhelmingly guilty. Which may or may not be true – but again, jurors aren’t supposed to have this bias.)

I wrote the defense attorney in the trial a couple of times, as he wanted to know my opinion as an outsider. Much of what I wrote in my previous blog post I included in my email to him. The premise of my reply was that I knew before I ever left the building that day during jury selection that the jury pool wasn’t one I would ever want on a trial wherein me or my family was a defendant. There was too much bias. I told the attorney that I guessed every major aspect of the trial and its outcome, both in its decision and punishment. I was careful to not point fingers at a specific person, but I did my best to convey the overwhelming specifics that I observed, all of which combined left me with the idea that the jury pool wasn’t one that should have been hearing that case. In sort, I told the attorney that no matter what he had said or done once the trial started, the conclusion was predetermined. Had the prosecutor been the worst to have ever served, he would have won the case with that jury pool.

Some potential jurors knew more about the case than they admitted, too, and some had access to information after jury selection started. In the age of cellphones, it’s probably impossible to eliminate such temptations. I had some recommendations for different kinds of questions to help weed out these people. I could easily sit and watch a jury pool and come up with easy questions to make them uncomfortable- and more forthcoming and honest during jury selection.

The defense attorney told me that it was apparent that I was exactly the type of juror that both sides needed.

But we’ll never know. My opinion of jury selection and trials went down a notch and I’m left with the feeling, no matter what ‘really’ was the case, that the wrong jury was probably seated.