Since retiring two years ago, I occasionally spend time remembering various things that happened up to this point in my life. In part, to keep the memories alive. Also, to evaluate what things seemed to have accomplished intended goals, but more often to try to learn from mistakes. I’m glad I learned early in life that we learn from making mistakes. I was always interested in science, where I learned the purpose of an experiment is to test a hypothesis. Whether your hypothesis was proven correct, or not, in either case you learned more about what you are studying. I was the kid who had a microscope, chemistry set, and built and launched model rockets. And when computers arrived, the kid who wrote computer software. (and yes, had a pocket proctor, slide rule, and 6 or 7 science books under my arm.)
The reason I’m thinking about the past this morning is because of the following photo I posted on Facebook last night.
My sister, Lisa, recently suggested I share a photo a day. I liked the idea because I enjoy sharing my photos, and have realized when I die, no one will likely ever see them. Sharing photos is also possible with the new Facebook Story idea. I usually share a photo I have taken, though this one obviously was not. Permission had been granted to share this photo because it was used in a publication about the children’s hospital.
I have been blessed to make a great many friends, many of whom don’t know about my work in the hospital, so this was an opportunity to share that part of my life with them. This seems to be one of those cases where a picture is worth a thousand words, since it would take a lot to explain this work with words alone.
One of the main things I wanted to share this morning is HOW I ended up in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and later the Infant Pulmonary Function Research Lab. I think many of us fail to “connect the dots” of our path through life. I know I didn’t realize some of that while I was actually living the experiences.
Being interested in science from an early age, as described above, was important for a couple of reasons. The obvious one is that provided both knowledge content, and a familiarity with the scientific method, and tools used for experimentation (microscope, flasks, petri dishes, etc.).
The other thing that gave me, that I didn’t appreciate at the time, was confidence in myself. I think we all want to have something we are good at, and math and science were that for me.
Looking back now, I wonder WHY I was interested in math and science.
I think most people of faith believe God or the Spirit can be an influence in their lives. As a Quaker, trying to figure out what the Spirit is asking of us is the basis of our meetings for worship. We gather in a group for about an hour, where we listen for “the still, small voice” of the Spirit. Speaking for myself, that doesn’t happen every Sunday morning. And when it does it might not be very clear at the time. My grandmother, Lorene Standing, says the will of God is most often revealed in a series of small steps, and that has been my experience.
My interest in math and science started when I was very young. I don’t remember God saying, “study math and science”. But there were many times when I was finding those subjects were too difficult, or was starting to lose interest. But I was always guided to continue with them, in a series of small steps it seems now, looking back.
When it came time to enroll in Scattergood Friends (High) School, I was very concerned because the School struggles financially and I knew there wouldn’t be a lot of equipment in the science lab. This is another time when the Spirit led me to go to Scattergood despite those reservations. There was also a lot of pressure from my parents, but that came to them from God, too, I believe. I think I received a better science and math education at Scattergood than at public school. I learned critical thinking was much more important than lab equipment. As for math, the first day of class the teacher provided the definition of a point, and then told us to define other math concepts–lines, circles, etc. I clearly remember how great it felt to solve the formula for quadratic equations.
Oddly enough, the next step on the path to the NICU was my struggle deciding what to do about the requirement to register for the Selective Service System (the draft for the Vietnam War). As a Quaker and pacifist, I knew I could not join the armed forces. The problem was I could apply to be classified as a conscientious objector, and do two years of civilian (alternative) service instead of 2 years in the armed forces. Although I put in a lot of prayer and effort related to this, I was convinced early on that I could not choose to be a conscientious objector, because I felt that was a ploy to deal with dissent against the draft. I was very clear God was telling me I should resist (not cooperate) with the draft.
The problem was my parents were very much against that idea, because they didn’t want me to have a record as a felon, which would have happened if I my lottery number had been called. They were fine with the idea of being a conscientious objector. This became a long, drawn out struggle. I had no double I must resist the draft, but wanted to be able to convince my parents that was what I was being called to do.
While all that was going on, my 18th birthday arrived. In order to give my parents more time, I did register for the draft as a conscientious objector, though I still planned to resist the draft by returning my draft cards, once I had convinced my parents. I was classified as a conscientious objector. Don Laughlin wrote a letter below to support my CO application.
During this time in limbo, I joined the Friends Volunteer Service Mission (VSM) which was a project to provide young men who were going to do alternative service as conscientious objectors, a way to do meaningful work. The VSM project I joined was in a transient, white inner city neighborhood in Indianapolis. The idea was to live in the neighborhood, and work in an alternative service job for the first year, and save enough money from that to support yourself doing whatever work you decided to do in the neighborhood the second year. More about VSM here:https://jeffkisling.com/?s=vsm
The job I found was to be trained on the job as a respiratory therapy technician. Although up to this point I had planned to return to college to study physics, I found I really enjoyed work as a respiratory therapy technician. It was a nice blend of science and working with people.
During that first year I found there were absolutely no children’s programs in the neighborhood. So I would take the kids to the swimming pool or play games like capture the flag. I found I really enjoyed working with kids So my second year at VSM, I focused on working with the neighborhood kids. One thing we did was organize a 4-H Club. Although 4-H is farm oriented, there were other ways to be involved. One of our 4-H projects related to photography. I had learned at Scattergood and Earlham College how to work in a darkroom. This was 1972, way before digital photography. I asked people to donate 35 mm cameras, and we ended up with 4 or 5. We would take the cameras with us as we rode our bicycles around Indianapolis, taking photos. Then in the crude bathroom darkroom we set up at the VSM house, we would develop the film negatives, and then print the photos. I can still see the expressions on the kids’ faces as the image appeared like magic. Through the magic of Facebook, within the last year two of those kids reconnected with me, and they both talked about how much they enjoyed those days in the darkroom.
At the end of the two years at VSM, I returned to Iowa to figure out what to do next. I attended one year of community college, but I missed the kids in Indianapolis so much, that I returned to Indy. While at home in Iowa, my parents finally gave in to my decision to resist the draft, and I turned in my draft cards.
Returning to Indianapolis my previous training during alternative service allowed me to obtain a job as a respiratory therapy technician at the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. I also lived in the neighborhood where I had done the VSM work.
I was still planning to study physics, but still enjoyed working as a respiratory therapy technician. When the interviews were being given to select students for the Medical Center’s Respiratory Therapy program, I didn’t apply. There were many applicants for the 15 student class, and I wasn’t planning to make a career of respiratory therapy. But God intervened, again, and the course program director came to where I was working, and practically dragged me to be interviewed and subsequently accepted.
During my continued work at the hospital while going to school, I would often be in the delivery room in case problems with the newborn baby required resuscitation.
If the baby needed more than routine treatment, a team from Riley Hospital for Children, just across the street, would come with equipment to transport the baby to the children’s hospital. I was intrigued by the work the neonatal respiratory therapists from Riley did, so I applied and was give a position at Riley.
That is how I ended up working as a Registered Respiratory Therapist in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Riley Children’s Hospital.
Although I usually wasn’t aware of it much of the time as this saga was unfolding, looking back now, I can see the working of the Spirit at each step along the way.
Permission was obtained for all photos of babies