Friday, February 09, 2007

A View from the Window

Dr. Virginia Kauffman died today.

Now, that may be a strange way to start a blog, but she was a remarkable woman and certainly merits the attention of one of my blogs. I knew her when she was a missionary doctor in then Northern and Southern Rhodesia (the countries are now called Zambia and Zimbabwe, respectively).

While there were other mission doctors from time to time, she was the one I remember the most because she cared for me through a childhood illness. When I was 12 years old, home from school on holidays, I complained to my parents that my arm felt funny, that I couldn't always control it. At first, since this was the mid-1950s, my parents were very concerned that I might have contracted polio.

So, Dr. Kauffman was contacted, and she came, did a thorough physical exam and took a blood sample. The diagnosis--rheumatic fever. Of course, I couldn't have the usual symptoms--I had to develop St. Vitus' Dance, a spastic condition that renders a limb or limbs uncontrollable. That explained my quirky gait and the fact that my left arm would suddenly fly out to the side.

I have written before, in My Sibling Stories entry, about some of the things I did during that illness. I was confined to bed with complete restriction on any movement, excepting to get out of bed to use the toilet. What I did during that time I remember somewhat. Since my mother was pregnant with my sister, I was cared for by one of the missionary women who was a nurse. And weekly, Dr. Kauffman would come to see me, and draw blood. What she was doing with the blood was allowing the blood to settle to see how quickly it would separate into liquid and sediment. Frankly, I don't know why. Caused by A Streptococcus bacteria, rheumatic fever is nothing to be messed with, as it can leave residual heart valve damage.

Photo from

One of the things I did during that time was look out the window. From my bed, I could see a stand of tall eucalyptus trees that was on the mission station. When the wind caught the leaves, they moved gracefully dancing and flashing. I stared out the window alot. So, when I heard that Dr. Kauffman had died, I looked out my study window. Not quite the same view, but evocative nevertheless.

Obviously, I was very grateful to Dr. Kauffman for the care she gave me. In addition to the weekly visits, she started me on penicillin and instructed me to continue it until past my teen years. I did, and whether from that, or good fortune, or her care, I rebounded with no residual cardiac damage at all.

For a while, during high school and my first year in college, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. No doubt I was influenced by the fine example of Dr. Kauffman. But, then in my freshmen year, I ran head long into chemistry--two semesters of it. And once I got a C the first semester, and a D the second, I determined that maybe I wasn't meant to be a doctor after all.


Climenheise said...

I remember Virginia playing Scrabble with Velma Brillinger at our house in Bulawayo. They were the two best Scrabble players in the missionary family (so I gathered); which of them was the stronger I don't know. Of course, she was also the one who helped mother find closure after our sister died -- if I remember Dad's account aright. Virginia Kauffman died this morning: we miss her.

dmmgmfm said...

That is a lovely tribute to an obviously great woman.

KGMom said...

You are right, Daryl. Mother told me this story--that after our sister died, Mother began to experience a variety of symptoms, pains, aches, etc. She sought medical assistance from Dr. Kauffman who examined her and told her there was no physical reason for the symptoms she experienced.
Mother was also a remarkable woman--she told me that she said to herself: Dorcas, pull yourself together. And she did.
I think grieving on the loss of a baby with all it entails was perfectly understandable--even if it resulted in phantom symptoms

Mary said...

She was one of your angels. She'll always be with you, in memory.

Cathy said...

A lovely narrative KGMom and it brought to mind this Frost poem "Tree At My Window"

Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.
Vague dream-head lifted out of the ground,
And thing next most diffuse to cloud,
Not all your light tongues talking aloud
Could be profound.
But tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
And all but lost.
That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather.

Anonymous said...

I had not heard that she died. Thanks for the blog and your memories. Denise