Barbara Johnson was interviewed on May 27, 2006 by Karen Brewster in Yakutat, Alaska. The interview took place at the Blue Heron Inn Bed and Breakfast, where Karen was staying, because it was quieter than Barbara's house. In this first part of a two part interview, Barbara talks about her early years as a health aide in Angoon, the introduction of the telephone, training she received, learning from her grandmother, the stress and hardship of health aide work, job satisfaction, the importance of community and family support, differences between being a health aide in Angoon and Yakutat, the use of traditional medicine, and dealing with the stresses and hardships of being the sole medical provider in a small village.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Community Health Aide Program Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: May 27, 2006
Narrator(s): Barbara Johnson
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Her personal background.
Her interest in health work, the inspiration she received from her grandmother who was a mid-wife, and the training she received when becoming a health aide.
How long she worked as a health aide, the change from seeing patients in her home to when there was a clinic in the village, and training she received.
Moving back to Yakutat and getting the job as their health aide, working with doctors, the common types of cases she dealt with.
The history of the different clinic buildings in Yakutat, working with a physician's assistant, and why she liked being a health aide.
The satisfaction she got from health aide work, and the dental, mental health, nutrition and health education tasks that health aides did.
The heavy workload of the health aide job and handling the stress of its demands, doctors she worked with, and being an itinerant health aide.
A campaign advocating for more funding to hire more health aides, increase their salaries, and provide more training to relieve the workload and stress on health aides.
The recruitment and retention of current health aides, differences between generations of health aides, and the importance of community support for health aides.
The support she received from people in Angoon, and why she left there to move back to Yakutat.
Dealing with emotional hardship, differences between being an outsider health aide versus doing it in your home community, caring for Native and non-Native patients, and concerns about the distance from Yakutat to Sitka for patients to get to a hospital and see a doctor.
Evacuation of critical patients and treating Native and non-Native patients.
Talking with doctors on the radio in her early days as health aide in Angoon, trying to maintain patient confidentiality, and being both a health aide and a cannery worker at the same time.
The introduction of telephones in Angoon, and balancing the health aide job with caring for her own family.
Going away to Anchorage for extended training sessions, and visiting patients and observing doctors as part of the training.
Things she was taught in health aide training, and how important it is to keep your training and certification updated.
The adequacy of the training she received and how it has changed, doctors walking her through cases over the telephone, and how she was selected to be a health aide.
Dealing with difficult cases like suicide and the emotional impact of them.
Health aide retention, and how important it is for health aides to have support, get a break from the job, and to have people they can talk with.
The use of traditional medicines.
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN: Today is May 27th, 2006, and this is Karen Brewster. And we're here with Barbara Johnson. And we tried moving the camera because of your glasses. And we're here in Yakutat at the Blue Heron Inn, doing an interview for the Community Health Aide Project. And Barbara, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Appreciate it. BARBARA: You're welcome. KAREN: I wanted to get us started. Why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself. When you were born, where. BARBARA: Well, my name is Barbara Johnson and I was born in Petersburg. And my grandmother brought me here to Yakutat when I was a year old because my mother died when I was six months old. So I was raised by my grandmother. And so I -- I'm originally from Yakutat. KAREN: And when were you born? BARBARA: January 12th, 1937. KAREN: Okay. And then what kind of school did you go -- did you go to school in -- BARBARA: I went to Skagway to the Catholic Mission there. Hyacinth Mission, I went there for like five years. And then I went to Mount Edgecumbe High School. I went for a while to Yakutat grade school for about a year, I think. And then when I was a little younger, I remember going there. But my last -- my last schooling was in Mount Edgecumbe High School. KAREN: And what was your grandmother's name who raised you? BARBARA: Her name was Maggie John, and she lived to be, like, 100 years old. We took care of her when -- when she -- during her last days on earth here. And she was a midwife also, and what you would call a medicine woman, you know, because she used to take care of anybody to took sick or injured here, before anybody, nurse or doctors would come here. So she took care of them. Delivered babies. And I went to Juneau and lived there for a little while. But from there, I went to Hood Bay Cannery and met my husband there, and went to Angoon. KAREN: Where is Hood Bay Cannery? BARBARA: It's right -- it's close to Angoon. It's the cannery that the Angoon people owned. KAREN: Oh. BARBARA: And they used to go there in the summers, you know, and live over there. And then come back to Angoon in the fall time. But I lived there for, like, 25 years. KAREN: So your husband was from Angoon? BARBARA: Yeah. And my -- my children -- my children were raised in Angoon.
KAREN: So what made you decide to go into health aide work? BARBARA: Well, I always wanted to be a nurse, but because of not -- I didn't go to any schooling for it, so I knew my grandmother, I was always -- was here when she took care of people. You know. And then when I was in Angoon, I was adopted by Elizabeth Jack, who is also a midwife in Angoon. And so I -- I helped her a lot with things that she was doing. And then I started helping people. And then in 1968, the Health Aide Program started. So I went to training for a little while. It was mostly basic, you know, basic training at first, and then we went into, like, four phases of training. Four sessions. And then we got certified as health aides. And then when we did our preceptorship, we became health practitioners. KAREN: Oh, okay.
BARBARA: So. I did -- I think it was -- the 20 years that I spent, you know, doing that kind of work in Angoon, doing work there. And we had -- we didn't have a clinic, we used to work out of our homes. KAREN: Wow. BARBARA: And just carry our medicine bag around with us. KAREN: It must have been hard. BARBARA: Well, it was. Yeah. You know, it was. But we didn't have clinic hours like, you know, we did later on. But we started -- the Public Health nurse let us use her little clinic there in Angoon, so that was the -- in the school basement. KAREN: Oh, yeah? BARBARA: And then after that, we got another clinic in the school itself. So we had two -- two health aides there, Jessie Jim was my coworker. We worked together quite a bit. And we also did -- we did our EMT training also, so we were EMTs. That was one of the things we had to do under our guidelines. You know under our guidelines, we had to do our EMT. So we were -- I think there's been quite a few years that I've been an EMT, EMT-I. KAREN: Oh, I didn't know you had to do one. BARBARA: Oh, yeah. Uh-hum. It was part of the guidelines for our job. So we did a lot of our training in Sitka. And then also up in Anchorage, which was -- was good because we had one whole floor there was the CHAP program, across from the old hospital. KAREN: By the old Native Medical Center? BARBARA: Uh-hum. KAREN: Oh. BARBARA: And also they had a trailer like that, we would be able to see patients, you know. It was part of our training. And then we would see the patient and then go over things with the doctor. So he'd know that we were trying to do it right. So we did that.
BARBARA: And then -- and I came here after -- excuse me. About '88, I believe it was, when I came here, to work with -- they had a job opening here for a health aide. And I applied for it and sent my application here on a Monday and got hired on a Thursday. And I was surprised, you know, that they hired me so fast. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: Because this is my home town and I wanted to come back here to be with my relatives, you know, here, because I wanted to spend time with them. And I -- after living in Angoon for quite awhile, I got kind of separated from my -- my family, you know, so it was good coming back here. It's a little bit different than Angoon, because Angoon didn't have a PA at the time. You know. They have one now but they never used to have one before when I was working there. There was just Jessie and I. And then the doctor would come in four times a year, and Public Health nurse would come in about the same amount, too. You know, for immunizations and stuff, well baby clinics. And we'd do the clinics with the doctor, see the patients, you know, and help him with that. And we refer people. And sometimes if anything happens we would have to call the doctor and medevac the patient out, you know. People that would get accidents like maybe a gunshot or, you know, cut, bad cut or something like that. KAREN: Yeah. Something critical. BARBARA: Uh-hum. Heart attacks and those kinds of things. But we would see the patients on a regular basis for things like otitis, you know, and pneumonias. And -- and we'd also -- when Public Health nurse didn't get to see some of the babies, you know, we would go ahead and start their immunizations. So we were trained to do that, too. And we delivered babies. The first time I ever helped with a delivery was when the midwife was taking care of a mom that was -- that went into labor when she was only six months pregnant. KAREN: Oh, boy. BARBARA: No, it was seven months. I'm sorry. She was seven months pregnant. And she was in Angoon. They -- they didn't have a plane in for her then. It was a little too late to. You know. So my foster mom, Elizabeth Jack, she delivered the baby and it was three pounds. But. KAREN: Wow. BARBARA: That that baby lived and -- KAREN: Wow. BARBARA: -- and she's now a grandma now, too, I guess. But yeah, we delivered quite a few babies there in Angoon. And here in Yakutat, too. So.
BARBARA: I worked in the clinic here where the elderly people live right now. They had a clinic there, and then Yakutat Kwan, they got a clinic for us, you know. It's a real nice clinic. And we moved there like about three or four years ago. KAREN: Oh. BARBARA: And after I saw, you know, all the -- all the space we have up in our clinic now, and then the space that we had to, you know, work in at the other clinic, I just wondered how we did it. KAREN: And when did you retire? BARBARA: I retired in October, on the 7th of October. KAREN: Just this last October, 2005? BARBARA: Yes. Yes. Uh-hum. KAREN: So you had a few years to use the new clinic? BARBARA: Yeah. Oh, yeah. It was really good, too. And we had -- we have, like, two, three exam rooms, you know, and our offices that we had, our own, you know. KAREN: Wow. BARBARA: And an ER. And it's pretty well equipped for emergencies, you know. KAREN: And there's a permanent PA here, as well? BARBARA: Yes. Uh-hum. It was a little different starting to work with a PA here because I got used to just working with the doctor. You know. And then -- it was good, though, because I learned a lot of things from the PA, you know, that I didn't learn in our training. So that was good working with -- with them. And I probably would -- I probably would still be working yet if it wasn't for my hip, you know. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: Because I couldn't walk good. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: And -- but otherwise, I would have kept right on working. Because I really love my job.
KAREN: And so what is it about health aide work that you like so much? BARBARA: Just helping people, you know. I think nothing makes me feel so good as being able to help someone, you know, if they are real sick or -- or even with people that are having problems mentally, you know. And I always like to be able to help them and try to see them help themselves, you know. Because we all know we're doing mostly clinic work right now, we started off doing dental work, dental emergencies like if someone has a toothache or something, we'd see them or if they had a filling fall out, we are trained to do the temporary fillings. So that it wouldn't hurt so bad until they get to see a dentist. KAREN: And so the health aides are trained to also do the dental -- the basic dental? BARBARA: Yeah. KAREN: Is that a new thing? BARBARA: No, we've always done that. KAREN: Oh. BARBARA: You know. But we really wanted to push for the health aide, dental health aides because they are so badly needed, you know. Not to take the place of a dentist, but you know, to -- to help the patients that you have a bad toothache or, you know, abscessed tooth or something when a dentist is not here because, they only get to come here like a week out of, I think, four -- four times a year, about that, and they stay like a week. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: And they do a lot of work, but there's more and more people moving here now, you know. So we get to send kids out now on Denali Kid Care, since that came about, it was -- we were able to get more help for them. Then we also did mental health work, too, because, you know, someone was depressed and we would help, we would refer them to Mount Edgecumbe to the dental health -- or the mental health program there. So that's good, you know. And we did a little physical therapy, too, but not as much as I would have liked to have seen. You know. And health education, we could go into the schools was what I did was went -- I went into the schools and taught about, you know, just nutrition and good -- good food to eat, your own Native food, you know, and how good it is for them to eat their own food. And not so much junk food. KAREN: That's good. BARBARA: Uh-hum. And then we also taught about different -- different things, you know, like what -- what to look for when you have an earache, you know, and why you have one, what causes it, and also tuberculosis. You know, we don't see that very much anymore, but we have to really keep track of the people and the kids with their shots and stuff. And teach the kids about AIDS, you know, and what it is and how to be careful. We teach those things. We don't go into the schools as much as we should because the clinic part is taking too much of the health aide time now.
KAREN: Well, it sounds like all those different things, that's a lot of things to be put on the shoulders of just a couple people. BARBARA: Yeah. Well, you know, when I worked here the last few years I worked for diabetes, the diabetes program, keeping track of people that are diabetics, and then doing the testing, you know. And some people that we found that have diabetes, we refer them to the doctor and to the diabetes person in Mount Edgecumbe. And they would go in and have their training, you know, on what to do, to help themselves, you know. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: And so we had that. I was in charge of that. And then also the travel part, too. That was. KAREN: You had to arrange everybody's travel? BARBARA: Pretty hectic, yeah. But now they have someone. After I quit, when I retired, they got someone for the diabetes program, and then they got someone for the travel program. When I was doing those three, you know, it kept me pretty busy. KAREN: Yeah. It takes three people to do the job you were doing, huh? BARBARA: Yeah. It did. But it's good to see it working now, like I said. I really wanted to see it that way so it wouldn't cause one person, you know, a lot of strain and stress. Because it was stressful, you know. KAREN: How did you -- how did you handle all that stress? BARBARA: Well, I had -- I had my friend, Eva Sensemeyer (phonetic), who worked as a PA with us, and I'd always go and talk to her. Or our minister, Linda Westcott, you know, she -- she helped me a lot with stresses of my job. And then Dr. Pachelko (phonetic), you know, I could talk to him. KAREN: And he's a doctor in Sitka? BARBARA: He's the one that is our doctor for Yakutat. KAREN: Oh. BARBARA: He's our referral doctor. So he's the one that we call when we have any problems. He's the one we call to ask what to do, you know, if something is wrong with someone, we don't know, we call him, and he either let's us know what to do here or has the patients medevaced in. KAREN: So the hospital in Sitka, they have different doctors who are responsible for the different villages? BARBARA: It's community, yeah. KAREN: Well, that's good. You will always have the same doctor, then. BARBARA: Yeah. We will see Dr. Pachelko, he's the one that's responsible for Yakutat. And Dr. Owens for Angoon. Dr. Bob for Kake. I worked with a lot of them because I used to travel, too, to different communities, you know, whenever the health aide needed a break, sometimes they would call me and I'd go to work, like in Kake, I went to work there a couple times. And I worked there one whole month by myself. KAREN: Wow. BARBARA: You know. And then Hoonah. And Klawock, I went there to work. KAREN: So you used to be itinerant? BARBARA: Uh-hum. Yeah. KAREN: And that was when you lived in Angoon? BARBARA: Uh-hum. Yeah. KAREN: So that left Jessie alone? BARBARA: No. Actually, we had what we called substitute health aides at the time. And we would have the substitute health aide take my place while I go. You know.
BARBARA: After we had what you call Health Aide in Crisis, it was Deborah Caldera was in charge of that with us, and all the health aides wrote to Washington D.C. and asked for more funding for training and for the health aides' pay, you know. And for more health aides because there was only, like -- some of the communities just had one health aide. And like us, we had just two in Angoon, and we were responsible for everything, you know. And we did it, though, you know, like we had -- we have to be on call like two weeks on and two weeks off. KAREN: Wow. BARBARA: Yeah. That's how we worked when I was in Angoon. And now after that, they got more funding from -- from Washington, you know, for training and for more health aides. So now they have like four, you know, there's like two part time and two full time health aides. So that's a little better now. KAREN: Yeah. Do you remember what year that was when everybody wrote letters? BARBARA: Oh, gosh. That must have been -- I think I was still in Angoon then. That was like maybe 18, 19 years ago. KAREN: Okay. BARBARA: Uh-hum. Because I think I have been here like 20 years now. KAREN: Well, you said 1988, right? BARBARA: Yeah. KAREN: Right. So almost 20 years. Yeah. BARBARA: Uh-hum. Of course, they -- they did ask for funding and we got it. But now, we're so -- we're back in the same kind of situation. KAREN: Right. BARBARA: Because it seems like communities are just growing and we need more -- more health aides and the health aides need raises, you know, because of cost of living. So.
KAREN: So is it hard to find people nowadays who want to become health aides? BARBARA: Yeah. It is be -- mostly because of the stress, you know. We've had to go through a lot of health aides, they'd start off really wanting to work, but then they couldn't handle the stress, so they'd quit. So that I'd have to try to find some more health aides again and the same thing would happen. And I'm finding that the health aides that were on board a long time ago have been working, you know, longer. Nowadays the younger ones haven't been able to handle the stress as well as we did. KAREN: Yeah. Have you thought about why that might be? BARBARA: I don't know. It's just maybe the way we were raised, too, I guess, you know. Because we were raised to respect our -- our elders and respect our parents and, you know, try to live a little better in our own life-style, I guess. It has to do with our life-style, I think, you know. Because everything is not -- was not as easy as it is now. You know, when somebody says, well, they spent all day doing laundry, you know, it's a little different than packing the water to put in a tub to wash clothes, you know, all those kinds of things. So we learned to be strong. And you know, our elders always taught us about, you know, church and how to, you know, keep -- keep going to church and try to do better for ourselves and just to be strong. And our communities, it all depends, too, if your community backs you up, you know, it makes a lot of difference. Because I know when -- when I first came here, I didn't really have a place to live. I rented a room or a house from my cousin, but he moved back and then I didn't have a place to stay. I stayed out at the Yakutat Lodge for a while, you know. And they were just good enough to help me, you know, just charged me by the month. That was during the winter months, fall time, winter, because they weren't as busy then. But after that, I had to move out of there, and then I was just going to move away, back to Angoon, I guess, and then there was a house that became available. So the Alaska Native Sisterhood and the Alaska Native Brotherhood wrote letters for me to the Tlingit Haida housing and told them that I was badly needed here. You know. So there was -- there was several letters that went out to them. So they let me -- KAREN: That's nice. BARBARA: -- get that house, you know. So that's where I'm living now. And taking care of my two grand -- three grandkids, you know. They are teenagers.
KAREN: Now, when you lived in Angoon, did you feel like you got that same kind of support from the community, or -- BARBARA: Yeah, I did. You know, there were things that, you know, it was like a lot of political stuff weren't very good, but as far as the backing it, I think I did okay. You know. KAREN: I didn't know if it made a difference that you weren't from Angoon originally. BARBARA: Well, it actually did, you know. Before I left there, gosh, the people just didn't want me to leave, you know. And I didn't really realize how much that they cared for me, you know. And it was Christmastime, we always have a Christmas program, and from the time my kids were small, we used to be in the Christmas program, you know. And that year it was my last year there, and so I told my children, my older ones, that they needed to come to Angoon so we could have our Christmas together there. You know. For the last time. And so we did. And when I -- when I called my children up to the stage and we -- they all came up, we were just really -- there was lots of us, you know, there, my kids and their family, and the grandkids, you know. And I had a standing ovation. You know. And it just really touched my heart the way they, you know, really -- it really made me feel good when they did that. And I thought maybe, you know, I wasn't as -- liked as much, you know, but they showed me that, you know, they cared for me. But I wanted to come here because it was where I'm from. KAREN: Right.
KAREN: Did you think it made a difference in terms of your work as a health aide for you, emotionally, that you weren't related to people you were taking care of here versus your relatives? Does that matter? BARBARA: It did in a way. I felt like, you know, they are all my blood relatives here. And in Angoon, I adopted and I had a few relatives there, too, but not as close as here. So it did in a way, it was a little better as far as my job and stuff. I didn't feel so, how would you say that, you know, when you're kind of afraid of things happening. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: You have to really watch your Ps and Qs, you know. And it was just a little better here. But I -- I think it's just a little -- it was just a little different. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: Because I was here with my immediate family. KAREN: I know because I -- I wonder with being a health aide how people handle that. You know, you're providing medical care for your relatives and your friends, and so I wondered if maybe it's easier if it's a community you're not from? BARBARA: Yeah, it was -- it was a little easier. You know, it's kind of hard coming into a community, even though I was from here, there was a lot of changes. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: You know, a lot of new people here, too. And this clinic here sees everyone. In Angoon, we -- we just saw the Natives, you know. And here, they see everyone. And which I didn't mind doing, you know, but it was a little bit different. So I managed with it, though, you know, the change and everything. And then it's kind of harder for travel for some of our people because the ferry comes here now but it -- awhile back, it didn't come in as often. And people don't usually travel on the ferry to go to Mount Edgecumbe to see the doctor, they go on -- they go by Alaska Airlines. KAREN: Right. BARBARA: And it's kind of hard for the people right now because if they are really disabled and stuff like that, they have to -- they go to Juneau and they wait three hours there to get on a plane to Sitka. And then by the time they arrive in Sitka, it's about 11:30 or so. KAREN: At night. BARBARA: Uh-hum (affirmative). And then they have to get up at 7:00, go to see the doctor in Mount Edgecumbe, you know, or get their tests done. But it's the waiting, you know, and stuff that's kind of hard for our people.
KAREN: So if somebody's really critically -- in need of care -- BARBARA: They would -- KAREN: -- do they get medivaced? BARBARA: Yeah, they would get medivaced. And it all depends, like sometimes if it's a heart condition where Anchorage is more better, you know, to handle that, the doctor would determine that and then they'd go from here to Anchorage. KAREN: So is there an airplane stationed here for medivacs? Or where does it come from? BARBARA: No. There's one from Sitka. They have a -- SEARHC has one, you know, that comes here, and I know the crew pretty well. You know. They are some of our instructors for our EMT. So yeah. They -- they come here. And sometimes -- I think we very seldom get the Coast Guard because we always manage to have the plane from Sitka come here. And other times if it's Caucasians, you know, they could -- they could hire a private plane here. KAREN: So they are not -- the non-beneficiaries, the Caucasians, are they covered by the SEARHC? BARBARA: They are not covered but they can see, you know, they can see -- they can go to Mount Edgecumbe because they do take them there, too. But other than we have our -- our health program is all taken care of by Indian Health Service. KAREN: Right. BARBARA: Whereas theirs isn't. They have to depend on their health insurance or, you know -- KAREN: I didn't know if they're -- BARBARA: -- Medicaid helps a lot. KAREN: -- you know, if they need to be medevaced -- BARBARA: Yeah. KAREN: -- what -- BARBARA: We get ahold of our doctor and let him know what the situation is, and he will make arrangements whether they go to Juneau, Anchorage, or Sitka. KAREN: Okay. BARBARA: You know, so he's the one that determines that. KAREN: Okay.
KAREN: And when you first started as a health aide in Angoon, you said there wasn't a clinic. BARBARA: No. KAREN: Did you have -- how did you reach the doctors in Sitka? BARBARA: We -- we used a radio from the store. The store had a VHF radio. KAREN: Wow. BARBARA: And we'd have to call the doctor at a certain time, let him know about this person or that person or, you know, if there's an accident or something, we'd call on the radio to the doctor. KAREN: Do you remember when -- BARBARA: So we would have to say "over," you know. KAREN: Did you worry about confidentiality? BARBARA: Yeah, I did. You know. But what could you do, you know, because if you turn on a radio, you can hear all that on the radio. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: You know, a regular radio. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: So we used to have to be really careful about what we say. You know. Of course, the village, they know everything. But, you know, it's not through us they would learn that. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: But we'd have to be real careful in how we talked to the doctor, you know, about things happening. So. Yeah, we had to use a radio. When I was working in the cannery, I still worked as a health aide, too, you know, and the cannery, the office would let me use the radio at a certain time. KAREN: Oh. So you did both, you were a cannery worker -- BARBARA: Uh-hum. KAREN: -- and an unpaid health aide? BARBARA: Uh-hum. Well, actually, I got paid like 189 a month. KAREN: Oh. That's not bad. BARBARA: Yeah. KAREN: When did you move to Angoon again? BARBARA: Gosh, that was in 1960. Around there. 1959 or 1960. Yeah. KAREN: So yeah, but it didn't become the Health Aide Program until -- BARBARA: '68. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: I worked two years -- well, actually, I won't say work, but I volunteered like two years, though, before that, to just help people. You know. Somebody had an accident or something, we'd call the doctor and let them know. And we'd help the patient. KAREN: So was the first time you got paid was in 1968? PAULA: Uh-hum (affirmative). KAREN: Yeah. When it became an official program? BARBARA: Uh-hum. KAREN: Yeah.
KAREN: Do you remember when the first telephone came in? BARBARA: Yeah. There was only like a few -- I think the post mistress was one of them that had a phone, so we'd be able to go to her place sometimes and call. You know. There was only a few people that had a phone. And I think that must have been 19 -- around about there -- '65 maybe. I'm not quite sure, you know. My kids were small then. So I had -- I have eight children and 26 grandchildren. KAREN: Wow. BARBARA: And 13 great-grandkids. KAREN: Wow. BARBARA: But I had 10, 10 kids, and I -- and two of my children passed away. So I have 8 now. KAREN: How did -- how did you balance raising 10 children and working as a health aide? BARBARA: Well, my husband helped me a lot, too. You know. And he stayed home and took care of the kids when I'd go to work. You know, when I had to -- when I really had to start working in the clinic, you know. So that's how we worked it. I don't know how we managed, but we did. You know, I think about it now and I wonder, you know, how I ever managed it. But we did. KAREN: And you managed it -- to raise them with just your salary? BARBARA: Uh-hum (affirmative). KAREN: Your husband was staying home. BARBARA: Uh-hum (affirmative). Uh-hum. Yeah. But sometimes he'd go to work and we'd just get a baby-sitter, you know. And we'd pay the baby-sitter like 50 cents an hour. KAREN: When I first started baby-sitting, I think that's what I got. BARBARA: Uh-hum. KAREN: And what was your husband's name? BARBARA: Joe Johnson, Sr. Joseph Wilson Johnson, Sr. KAREN: Okay. BARBARA: Yeah. We're not together anymore. KAREN: But just so we have his name on record. BARBARA: Yeah.
KAREN: And then when you had to go to Anchorage for training -- what did you do with your kids? BARBARA: He took care of them. You know. Either that or my mother-in-law did. My mother-in-law or my foster mom would take care of them for me. Because we would -- we would be gone like maybe three weeks out of a month or else a whole month. And that was pretty lonely. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: Because I remember when we would go there -- when we first went there, we were kind of afraid because it was -- Anchorage was a big city for us to go to. You know. And to be able to go around. We always, when I say "we," I mean all the other health aides that were in training, too, we'd travel -- we'd go off together shopping and stuff like that. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: It's a big city, we didn't want to get lost or anything. But we had, I think on the third floor, we had to -- that was where our training was, and when we'd first come up there to go to training, we'd be trudging up the steps, you know, because there's no elevator. And pretty soon we would get a little faster, and by the time we left, we would really be able to run up the steps, you know, after. But it always seemed kind of funny because we would be so slow trudging up the steps when we first got there, you know. But it was good because we got to stay in the clinic at nights and, you know, watch while they -- the patients were being taken care of and stuff. And we got to go on the floors and talk to patients, too. We'd go through with the doctors and, you know, they let us know what's happening. And it was really good.
KAREN: Do you remember what some of the subjects were -- what kinds of things did you learn in that training? BARBARA: Well, when we first -- when we first started, we started by being able to take our vital signs and stuff like that. And first aid. And then we started learning about the body and, you know, what every part of the body was for, you know. And then we'd go -- we'd do a lot of that. And then later on, we'd learn about -- we'd work with the pharmacy, learn about the medication, you know, the ones that we could -- we were able to give to patients. Because there was only certain kinds of medicines we could, you know, give. We couldn't give any -- we couldn't give any narcotics. We had a few that were -- that they'd okay for us to give for emergency, but not very much. But as far as antibiotics and stuff like that, we had to go through all that with the pharmacy. And then also with physical therapy, we went -- we had training in that. And then we'd have training in nutrition, you know. And then in mental -- mental health. We had training in that. Then we also had training in, you know, delivering a baby, mother's pregnancy from the time she gets her care to the time she has her child, her baby, I mean. So we -- we had to -- you know, it's a lot of training. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: You know, they try to teach us all in, like, three weeks or four weeks. KAREN: Yeah. That seems like a lot to learn. BARBARA: It is. It was a lot to learn. KAREN: And did they keep giving you updates through your years of working? BARBARA: Oh, yes. Every year, every once a year or twice -- or every two years, you know, sometimes they would -- we would have to go to training because we had to keep up our certification. And it was like every six years, we have to redo our certification, you know, and we -- we'd take the tests and stuff over again to make sure we're still up to par on our education and doing all right. And then we'd have training also like in diabetes, you know, we had training in that. And we'd go to the symposium for the EMS program, we'd go to that. We'd go to diabetes training, you know, and then nutrition, all those kinds of things we'd have to -- we have to go to, you know, and learning about child care and then also child abuse, you know. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: We had to go to training on those kinds of things. We just keep updating everything, you know, especially with the Public Health nurse, too. The medicine changes all the time, you know, on the immunizations. So.
KAREN: Do you feel like that -- the training that you got was enough to help you deal with all the kinds of cases you came across? BARBARA: Well, yes and no. Because there were times that we have to really -- you know, I've had times when I was talking to the doctor and he would -- he would talk me through different things, you know, that I wasn't taught when I had to do things in the clinic for something. You know, like I had to give a cortisone shot one time and he talked me through that. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: You know. Because we're not taught to do that. And those kind of things, you know, they talk us through it. And I'm not quite sure what else. KAREN: When you were first hired in Angoon, did you -- were you hired and you were sent out for training or did you work first and get training later? How did it work? BARBARA: I think they -- they mostly took me because I was always volunteering, too, and then I filled out the application for that. And then the doctor in Mount Edgecumbe would determine whether I was, you know, whether I could do it or not. So one of them thought I was too nervous. And so I thought, well. But my aunt was a health aide, too, and they thought I had too many kids, and she told them, too, that's why I'm a health aide because I want to know what to do when they are sick. So I went, you know, after I was okayed by the doctor to go to, I went to Sitka first and learned, you know, basic vital signs and stuff like that, and basic first aid, you know. And then after that, we started going to Anchorage for our -- our training. KAREN: Yeah. Well, so yeah, you started with not very much. BARBARA: Huh-uh. Nowadays, they have really good training. Whereas before, when they were training us, it was okay, you know, nowadays, I wished I had trained -- the training they have now because it's so good. You know.
KAREN: Were there times when you were scared when something happened? BARBARA: Oh, yes, a lot of times. A lot of times when I was scared, you know, because we've had things like suicides and then people overdose, you know, and want to commit suicide. And I've had to talk with people, you know, that were trying to do that. And you just have to really pray when you're talking to them and trying to help them, you know, through that. And down in Southeast, it was worse than up here, you know, as far as that was concerned, because -- and I don't know, really know why it was, you know. But I've had days when I couldn't sleep. KAREN: Right. BARBARA: Because I had to go to someone's place that, you know, when they shot themselves or things like that. And I could not sleep because it was so hard to, you know, dealing with that and dealing with the family and dealing with my own feelings. But we just kept on going. KAREN: Were you able to talk with other health aides in the region? BARBARA: Uh-hum. KAREN: And did that help? BARBARA: Oh, yeah. We used to have health -- at least have each year, we'd have something that we would be learning, you know. And we'd talk with each other, you know, about different things that were hard for us. And then sometimes when we had training, they would bring somebody in that would counsel us, you know, and try to help us through hard times. But we did -- we did also have what they call stress -- KAREN: Oh, stress, that's right. Getting together with the other health aides? BARBARA: Uh-hum. KAREN: Sorry for that interruption. BARBARA: That's okay. One of the things that we did, we do, is we have this stress debriefing. If there's something really bad that has happened, like if someone commits suicide, you know, and for us to deal with it, they would come in, you know, from -- from Juneau or somewhere, they have a debriefing team. And they'd come and talk with us about it. So you know, that was good, too, you know, to be able to do that. But a lots of times you're -- we have no one. You know, sometimes our family, our own family we have problems, too, you know, so it's very hard for the health aide to try to get through that, you know, and sometimes they just quit -- KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: -- when that happens. KAREN: Yeah.
KAREN: And it seems like nowadays, people aren't staying at being health aides as long as people of your generation. BARBARA: Uh-hum. Yeah. I know. And I think -- I think it has a lot to do with not being able to get some backup, you know, like if something happens in their family, or in the community where a person dies or, you know, it's a really bad situation, they have nobody to talk to. And because they are the health aides there, they can't talk to the community, you know, unless it's -- unless they have a counselor there themselves. But a lot of it is burnout, you know. They need to have time out for themselves. That's what they need mostly now, because I hear from the health aides. Last year was the last time I went to our Health Aide Forum that we have every year. And I know that a lot of the health aides there would -- would have liked to have been able to talk with someone, you know, about their -- their community. And the things that are not going right for them and what they can do about it or just being able to talk. You know. About these situations, yeah, in their own home life, too. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: So.
KAREN: So did you -- you said your grandmother who raised you was a traditional healer or midwife. Did she teach you things? BARBARA: Well, actually, she would talk to me about it, you know. She -- she did a lot of deliveries that even the doctors wouldn't be able to do. You know. Turning the baby, you know, when it's in the wrong place and stuff like that. She used to be able to do that, you know. And she would just tell me how, you know, how she did that. But I -- I would just watch her, you know, stuff that she would do. She used to bring home the pregnant moms and then she'd deliver the baby at our house and then take them home the next day. And she was very good, you know, at what she did. And when she -- you know, she lived to be 100 years old, and she didn't have -- she didn't have no heart condition, you know, no high blood pressure, no diabetes. The thing that really got her was arthritis. You know. So something I inherited from her. KAREN: It runs. BARBARA: Yeah. KAREN: Did she use plants for traditional medicine? BARBARA: Yeah, she did. She would have different things. Like I know one time after I had my -- one of my babies at -- I was bleeding a lot and so she -- she went out into the woods and got some kind of pine and put it on the stove in water, and boiled it and boiled it and boiled it and boiled it, and then she made me drink it. And that helped. I wished that I could have written down everything she did, but yeah, she had a lot of stuff that she would fix, you know, for medicine. And she used devil club juice a lot. KAREN: Oh. BARBARA: She used that a lot. KAREN: What does that do? BARBARA: Well, you could use it for, you know, a lot of people when they have cancer, they start using that. And sometimes that helps them, you know. And just different things they'd use it for. It was just a medicine they believed in using, and it does help. KAREN: And how do you prepare that? BARBARA: Oh, you have to -- I think in the springtime when the snow's still on the ground, you get the devil clubs, and you dry them and then take the -- take the thorns off of them, you know, and then you take -- take the peelings off, dry that. And that's what you boil. KAREN: So that's the stem you're talking about or the weed? BARBARA: The peel, the peeling, the outside, you know, like where the thorns are, you take that -- scrape that off and then you skin it. KAREN: So it's like the stem. BARBARA: Yeah. KAREN: The stalk or whatever. Yeah. Okay. BARBARA: Yeah. The outside skin of that, you boil that. Or you could -- you know, you could use like powder, you put that in the oven and you just dry it, so it's crispy, and then you grate or grind it, and you could use it as powder, too. Because I used that one time when there -- this one lady had a bad infection on her leg, you know, and she was a diabetic, and also she was allergic to penicillin. So I thought, well, I had just been back from Gustavus and there was a Native lady from Hoonah that taught us how to fix the devil club. So I had a bag of powder that we had made and so I thought, well, maybe if I mix it with the Bacitracin, it might -- maybe that will help her better. You know. So I gave it to her and you know, she used to use those kind of things, too, and oh, she was really happy that I gave it to her, and I told her to use that on her skin. It took, like, three or four days and it was healed up. Yeah. And here she was a diabetic, you know, they don't heal real easy. KAREN: Yeah. BARBARA: So that's how I used that, you know. That was pretty good. There's someone in Sitka that makes that for -- for ointment, too. KAREN: Oh. BARBARA: Devil club. KAREN: That they sell now? BARBARA: Uh-hum. Yeah. And soap and stuff. But that -- that's one of our medicines that we use a lot. That's what SEARHC has, that leaf, that fidelco (phonetic) leaf. KAREN: That's their logo? BARBARA: Yeah. KAREN: I've never seen their logo. BARBARA: Yeah. That's their logo. KAREN: Oh, neat. BARBARA: So. And that's our Native medicine. KAREN: I'm glad -- I'm glad it has a good purpose because when you're walking through the woods -- BARBARA: I know. KAREN: -- it's horrible. BARBARA: Yeah. It's good for something, you know. KAREN: Yeah. Everything has a purpose. BARBARA: Yeah. KAREN: That's good. BARBARA: Uh-hum.