Agnes Valle was interviewed on May 26, 2006 by Karen Brewster at Agnes' home in Yakutat, Alaska. In this interview, Agnes talks about the nursing training she received, being a volunteer health aide, dealing with the stresses and demands of the job, babies she delivered, some of the emergency cases she handled, and the joys and hardships of health aide work. Due to technical difficulties, a portion of the interview was not recorded and the interview had to start again, so there is some redundancy in the discussion.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Community Health Aide Program Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: May 26, 2006
Narrator(s): Agnes Valle
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
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Her personal background, her childhood, going to a mission school, and how she got her nickname, Sugar.
Dealing with emergencies, why she quit the job, and other work she did after being a health aide.
Starting as a volunteer health aide and then getting paid for the job, and the duties of a health aide.
Difficult aspects of health aide work, what she missed about the work after she quit, and how the village has changed.
Transporting patients to the airplane, having to treat patients without a doctor in town, and having to do things that people needed but were not supposed to be part of the job.
Coming to Sitka, becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN), coming to Yakutat and getting married, and how she became the health aide.
Writing letters to and calling the doctors at Mt. Edgecumbe hospital in Sitka to consult on patients, trying to maintain privacy, and successful patient care.
Training she received as a health aide.
First getting paid as a health aide for long hours at low wages, seeing patients at home and making house-calls, and making do on your own to help your patients.
The number of times doctors would visit the village, working as the sole health aide, and memories of babies she delivered.
Nursing training she received and some of the difficult things she saw and did.
The equipment and medicine available when she first started as a health aide, and all the record keeping and paperwork she had to do.
Dealing with the stress of being a health aide, the support she got from her husband and family, and the training session when she learned to give shots.
How she was chosen to be the health aide, and working together with Marge Adams.
Dealing with emergencies.
Why she quit being a health aide, and becoming a teacher aide at the school.
What she liked most about being a health aide.
The hardest part about being a health aide, and the history of the different clinic buildings in the village.
Missing being a health aide, the admiration she has for long-time health aides, and changes in the village and the delivery of health care.
Maintaining patient confidentiality, and some of the scary moments she had as a health aide.
Being proud of her work, and dealing with death and the loss of patients.
Handling the emotional impact of traumatic incidents.
Advice she has for young people who want to become health aides, and the qualities she thinks are necessary to make a good health aide.
The relationship between the health aide and the community, her interest in getting more advanced medical training, and a funny story from when she worked shifts at the hospital in Sitka.
Being raised at the Kodiak Baptist Mission, and how she got her nickname when she lived in Sitka.
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN: Ok, today is May 26, 2006 and this is Karen Brewster and I'm here with Agnes Valle in Yakutat, Alaska and this is an interview for the Community Health Aides Project Jukebox. So, thank you Agnes for agreeing to be interviewed and I've heard people call you “Sugar”-- AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). KAREN: That's your other name, I guess? AGNES: Yes. KAREN: And where does that come from? AGNES: My girlfriend from Klawock gave me that name back in the ‘50s. KAREN: And how come? AGNES: She wanted to take me home to her mom, but I was still under the Mission in Kodiak so they couldn't. They wanted to adopt me and he said no. And they were a Tlingit family. KAREN: Let's go back a step then and tell me a little bit about yourself and your background. When you were born, where. AGNES: I was born in December in Alitak, that's on Kodiak Island. KAREN: What year? AGNES: I935. KAREN: I know that's a rude question. AGNES: No. So, I'm 70. And all my family is gone. My parents, they died from tuberculosis. And the rest from heart problems, like my niece. My sister and my brother from cancer. KAREN: So, how many brothers and sisters did you have? AGNES: The ones I knew were two brothers and a sister. KAREN: And what were your parents' names? AGNES: My dad's name was Esi Stepan and my mother's name was Anne. I can't remember her last name, it's a long one. KAREN: So, tell me a little bit about your childhood. You grew up on Kodiak? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). Let's see after my parents died my sister took care of me until her daughter got sick and they traveled by the ‘Denali'. KAREN: What was the -- ? AGNES: It was a big steamship. And my dad was there and he was always off fishing and I guess the social services heard about me and they came and got me and took me to the mission. And that was back in the ‘40s. KAREN: And what mission was that? AGNES: Kodiak Baptist Mission. KAREN: Do you remember how old you were? AGNES: No. I think I was about ten, eleven somewhere around there. KAREN: How old were you when your parents died? AGNES: My mom died when I was very small, maybe about two or three. And then my dad took care of us and my sister. Oh, somebody's coming. KAREN: Uh-oh. I'll pause it.
KAREN: We're here. AGNES: What were we talking about? KAREN: Okay. We're back. We were talking about emergencies that you had dealt with. I was wondering how you handle that kind of a thing. AGNES: Everything was just automatic. Do the first aid first and then you told the doctor and give him all the information and he says: “Put him on the plane.” Then of course we had fish hooks that got caught on the cheek or the finger. Everything, you just take in stride, don't get all shook up. KAREN: So you kind of get used to that kind of stuff? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). Yep. But when we got that knife wound and the gun shot wounds, I said: “That's it. I'm getting out.” Then of course they tried to put us on half a day, take half of our pay and give it to a PA. I said: “You're going to get my letter in the mail. I'm resigning.” And the people would still call. And they'd say nobody was health aide. Marge quit when I did. KAREN: And when was that? AGNES: 1975 or '78, one of those two years. But they did have a PA here. KAREN: But then did you go back to working or that was it? AGNES: I tried to not work but I couldn't take it, so I applied for a job at the school as a teacher aide. I think that there were twelve of us that applied. And I got it. And I was there for what, 27 years? KAREN: So when did you officially retire -- so you retired as a teacher aide? That was when you officially retired? AGNES: Due to health problems. KAREN: Yeah, and when was that? AGNES: It'll be four years, I guess, in August. KAREN: 2002. AGNES: 2002 or 2003. 2002, I think. KAREN: Yeah.
KAREN: So you were a health aide from 1961? AGNES: Volunteer, yeah, until 1975, '70. KAREN: Did you like being a health aide? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). I did. I enjoyed it. And during the time we were health aides, we made house calls to patients that came back from the hospital, especially the elders. Make sure they were doing ok. Making sure they took their medication and their exercises and then we took care of the immunizations. We were getting good at that. Make sure that all the kids were caught up with their shots. KAREN: What other kinds of things did the health aides do? AGNES: Raise money. We had a health council and we raised money to bring a dentist in. And then mental health program. Sounds like there was something else. Oh, Marge will tell you all about it. KAREN: Did you do health education kinds of things for the kids, besides immunizations? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). Dental, flouride. KAREN: Okay. AGNES: Then we started pre-natal. That was fun. KAREN: What was fun about it? AGNES: Well, you got to teach somebody something. New mothers how to take care of their babies. And you tell them: “Make sure you get their shots taken care of, when they're of age.” How to give them a bath, how to change their diaper. I don't know, it was --
AGNES: But, some things were hard especially when you first started off. It wasn't any fun when you had to quit. KAREN: No. AGNES: I was sad. I think we still would have been health aides if -- you know, they have brand new clinic up there. Maybe we are too old now. KAREN: So, why have you missed it? AGNES: I miss the walking. KAREN: You miss the walking? AGNES: Yeah, we walked from, you know -- I lived down here before and have to walk way out to ASHA and up on the hill there. We walked everywhere. I can't drive so I have to walk. Crazy. Carrying an umbrella when it's raining. We were lucky if somebody picked us up. KAREN: Were there many cars in town back then? AGNES: Not as many as they have now. Way back then it was nice. You didn't have to worry about people taking your gas from the boat. You could leave your door unlocked. Everybody knew everybody. And now there are so many new people. There were no sportfishermen. It was peaceful. There were so many things. We finally got water and sewer, and before we had to use outhouses. KAREN: So the clinic didn't have running water? AGNES: They did, but, you know, the village. Some people had it but -- it was nice to have flushing toilets, running water, take a bath. Otherwise you had to heat water on the stove and give your kids a bath. Pack water -- KAREN: Where did you get the water from? AGNES: The lakes. For bath and mopping. Then we got good water from neighbors.
KAREN: So, what was the hardest thing for you about being a health aide? AGNES: Hardest thing is taking patients out to the plane. We used to have to call somebody to volunteer and take them out. Not having a doctor in town. It would have been terrible if we had a really bad accident like a plane crash, you know, terrible. But they did have -- some people had training in that, I guess, in case a jet crashed out here. And there was a lot of things we did too that we could have got fired, but everything always turned out okay. KAREN: Like what? Do you have an example? AGNES: Pregnant women that didn't come in for their checkup. Crazy kids. Girls that wanted abortion and they didn't want to go through the clinic. Suicidal. I had one girl that slashed her wrists. She didn't do it hard, just enough to bleed I guess. It was while she was drinking.
KAREN: Now we're back and we're gonna start a little bit over again because I didn't have the recorder turned on right. So, you had told me before about when you came down to Sitka. AGNES: The first -- KAREN: The first time. AGNES: In '52. I went down there to the hospital for tuberculosis and I was there for about a year. Then I lived in Sitka, went to school there, went through high school and went to PN training. KAREN: And had you thought about being a nurse before that? AGNES: No, there was just a -- someone had mentioned that there was a PN class starting that May, so I went to PN training. The training lasted a year, so -- KAREN: So, what year was that? AGNES: That was 1958. KAREN: Okay. AGNES: And it was over in '59. I went to work at Mt. Edgecumbe hospital. Then I quit in '61, moved up here. KAREN: And why did you decide to move to Yakutat? AGNES: I got married to somebody from here. I told you it wouldn't be the same answers. KAREN: No, it's not. That's why it's kind of good. AGNES: I left a lot out. KAREN: Oh. So, your husband is George Valle and how did you meet him? AGNES: I knew him when him and his wife lived here and they had been divorced. I used to be afraid of him, he sounded so mean. Then I divorced my first husband and, I don't know, we just got together. We've been married for what, going on 35 years? KAREN: Wow. That's great. And you had come to visit Yakutat before? AGNES: In '57. KAREN: In '57. Did you meet him then? AGNES: No. KAREN: No? AGNES: Uh-hum (negative). This was in '61. KAREN: Oh. Nice. So, how did you start doing health aide kind of work? AGNES: When I moved up here in '61, there was some elderly patients that were at Mt. Edgecumbe hospital. And they remembered me from there and they talked to me for their problems. And then we told Mt. Edgecumbe or write letters and then they'd write back and say what to give them if we had it. If they didn't, they'd send the medicine. But usually they did come back with their own medication from the hospital. KAREN: Did you always have to send patients to the hospital or could you treat some of them here? AGNES: We could treat some of them here if we had the medication or -- KAREN: -- or the doctor would send them the medicine up or something? AGNES: Hm, mm (affirmative).
KAREN: So, you said before that there were no telephones. AGNES: No, telephones except for one that was crank. I didn't know how to use that. KAREN: And where was that one? AGNES: That was down at Mallot's store. KAREN: Was that the only store in town at the time? AGNES: There was another one that was called Bellingham -- Bellingham Store. That was the cannery. KAREN: If there wasn't a telephone, how did you communicate with the doctors? AGNES: Letters or if it was something drastic, we'd have the person that knows how to run that phone. Then we'd talk to them. I'm glad they don't have those kind of phones anymore. It would: ring, ring, ring (makes the sound). And they'd have it out on the porch so people could hear you talking as they were going by and that wasn't good. KAREN: Yeah. I didn't ask you before. I was wondering how did you deal with privacy, confidentiality. AGNES: Well, we'd wait 'til the person pass by and start talking (laughs). But they'd find out one way or another that so and so was getting shipped out or -- KAREN: Was there a problem writing letters? Because that takes time to go back and forth with the letters. AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). KAREN: Was that ever a problem? AGNES: Yeah, it was. But I remember only one patient that called, asked me to come down and check her over. She had breast cancer. And that was the only letter that sticks out in my mind that I had to write. And they made arrangements for her to go down. And then she thanked me for getting her down there. She passed away long time ago. KAREN: Did it ever happen that a letter didn't get there and back in time and a patient died before they could get help? AGNES: Uh-hum (negative). There was never anything that critical. KAREN: Uh-hum. AGNES: I told her that somebody was watching from upstairs. Things would work out ok.
KAREN: What kind of -- besides your LPN training what other kind of training did you receive as a health aide? AGNES: The only thing was the suturing and, of course, the paddles when they start up the heart again. But we didn't get to do that, we just watched. KAREN: So, with the health aide training where did you go for that and for how long? AGNES: Well, we started off in Sitka and then the other trainings were up in Anchorage. For about three weeks. Anywhere from three weeks, two weeks. KAREN: Do you remember the subjects they trained you on besides the suturing? AGNES: Triage. That was fun. It was a plane wreck and we had to figure out who was critical and bleeding and not breathing, all that. Then we'd have to put a sign there, who goes where 'cause there're certain spots where to take the patients. It was chaotic, but fun. “I don't know, he goes over here. She goes there.” “You put her in the wrong place!” Yeah, that was fun.
KAREN: Do you remember when you first got hired as a health aide and got paid? AGNES: That was in the‘70s. That was a $187 a month. Is that all? I think we were supposed to get back pay but we never saw it. And that was a little upsetting. Yep. Didn't get paid very much, for all that work. But -- KAREN: And that was for SEARHC at that point? Is that who you worked for? AGNES: No, SEARHC didn't come until later. This was just Mt. Edgecumbe. I think they called it CHAP. Health training or health aides. KAREN: Uh-hum. And before that program when you were just -- people just came to you for help, did they come to your house or was there a clinic? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). They came to our house. Or if they couldn't, we'd have to go to their house, then go to the clinic and get the medicines if we had it. But back in '71, it was easier. We had telephones then. It was much easier and we called collect to the hospital -- KAREN: Oh, in Sitka? AGNES: -- and then they connect you to the doctor. KAREN: So, before there were telephones in Yakutat and somebody had an emergency how did they let you know they needed your help? AGNES: Somebody would come down in their car and let us know. There weren't too many cars then. That was scary. But things always worked out. We didn't have stretchers then. I remember one patient we had, he was a man in his 50s or 60s. No stretcher and he was having ulcer problems and he couldn't walk, so I had to get two oars and get a blanket and make a stretcher. KAREN: Wow. AGNES: And then two guys had taken -- put him in the back of a truck. Had to have a canopy in case it was raining or snowing. KAREN: So, that was your ambulance? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). Yeah. Poor guy. He was suffering so much from his ulcers. I think he died from stomach cancer.
KAREN: So, how often would there be a doctor who would come to town? AGNES: Hmm, they used to try and come up at least once or twice, whenever they could. KAREN: Once or twice a month, a week, a year? AGNES: Year. And now it's four times a year. KAREN: Uh-hum. AGNES: Yep. KAREN: And when you first started were you doing this health aide stuff by yourself? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). KAREN: How did you do that? AGNES: I don't know. Just like working in the hospital. You just went and took care of your patients or person that needed help. And you had to walk a long ways. A couple of miles anyway. Rain or shine, deep snow. KAREN: Wow. AGNES: Yep. It's a good thing we were young and healthy then. It's a wonder we never got whatever sickness people had. Colds or pneumonia, ear infections, tonsillitis, all kinds of crazy things. KAREN: That also was sort of the common things you saw? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). Except for delivering babies. KAREN: Yeah. AGNES: That was something else. KAREN: So, yeah. Tell me a little bit about delivering babies. Do you remember -- AGNES: I delivered three babies and they were all boys. See, the first one, the first boy I delivered was still in the water bag, they call it. I had to break that. KAREN: So, you break it before the baby is delivered? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). 'Cause her water didn't break, her water didn't break. And then when he came out there was cord wrapped on his neck, so we had to make sure it wasn't choking him. He came out and just undid it. And the mother would try to look, see if everything was going ok. I said: “Jessie, the cord is wrapped around the neck but I've got it. He's ok.” KAREN: Sounds scary. AGNES: It was. And then the second one, second boy, he was going to be born breech. But there was an old grandma there, she knew how to shift him so that he'd go to the birth canal. Turned out ok. KAREN: Good. AGNES: And then the third one, after the baby boy was born, the mother didn't expel the afterbirth and we had telephones then. And so I called the doctor and he said: “Well, just have her sit in a warm tub of water.” He said: “It should come out.” And sure enough it did. Yep. He's still alive. KAREN: Yeah. That's great. I would have thought you would have delivered more babies than just three. AGNES: Oh, no. No, when they had more jet service they have the pregnant mother go in two weeks early. But if they waited too long, they delivered at home. But it doesn't happen that way anymore. KAREN: Now, those three you delivered were those people who chose to stay home or they just came too soon or something? AGNES: There was one, the first one, she wanted to have her baby at home and she wanted me to deliver. KAREN: That's an honor. AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). That one, boy, I didn't start shaking 'til way after. Just thinking about what could have happened cause of the water bag not breaking. And worried if maybe some kind of infection -- nah, she was ok. KAREN: That's good. AGNES: Yep.
KAREN: Before, on the part of the tape that didn't come out you talked about some of your training when you were in nursing school up in Anchorage at the Air Force base. AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). KAREN: Talk about that again a little bit? AGNES: We were up in Anchorage and we went to training. This was for pregnant women, in the Air Force hospital. We had to watch some deliveries and there was maybe five, six of us that were around. We watched babies delivered and there were three or five girls that fainted and they had to take them out. There were two of us left and we just watched everything that went on. And then I remember, one, two, there were two women that were delivering at the same time and they had a mix up somehow. But they straightened it out right away. KAREN: Oh, that's good. AGNES: But, the girls that were training up there were asked if they wanted to join the Air Force. We said no, we get too home sick, too far away from home. So, there went that idea. KAREN: And you had said too that you had to watch autopsies? AGNES: Oh, yeah that was part -- KAREN: That was part of nursing school? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). And the same thing happened. Those girls fainted again. And then two of us were left and we watched everything that -- what do they call them, the person that cuts them open and -- KAREN: Morticians? AGNES: Morticians, yeah. KAREN: No, or -- is that what it is? No, medical examiner. AGNES: Yeah. KAREN: Medical examiner. AGNES: And they cut out all the organs and had to weigh, see how much they were and they'd show us. If it was a heart attack, they'd show us the clog in the heart. KAREN: Sounds kind of neat. AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). But it was so gross. And they used to have that just before lunch time and they had all these awful gonorrhea and syphilis and dental problems in the mouth. They'd have all that before lunch. And we wouldn't feel like eating. And that was a hard program. You had to have A's, B's, you couldn't have any C's. KAREN: I didn't know that they had sent people to Anchorage. I thought if it was a nursing program in Sitka, it would have all happened in Sitka. AGNES: Oh, no. 'Cause there wasn't too much happening there. And there was always babies being born up there. Lot of emergencies. KAREN: Uh-hum. AGNES: Yeah, we'd have -- we'd be there for emergencies just to see how they do everything from midnight to 8 o'clock. And we didn't have -- while we were there, there weren't too many emergencies. But I'm glad we didn't have to do all that. They had the emergency crew there. But it was interesting to watch.
KAREN: So, when you first became the -- I know you weren't paid as a health aide yet but I keep saying you first became a health aide 'cause that's what you were doing. Did you have any equipment or medicines or anything available? AGNES: Medicines, there was few medicines up in the clinic that the public health nurse would leave in case we needed it. KAREN: And they'd let you go use those? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). If the doctor orders it and if we had it. If they didn't, they sent it up. KAREN: Any other things? Like, you had a little black bag or something with things in it? AGNES: Oh, yes. Always. 'Cause they wanted to know all the vital signs and all that good stuff. Then of course we had to keep track of all the patients that we saw. We had a notebook we kept notes in. You know, when I was done, I had to burn a whole bunch. KAREN: Why? AGNES: 'Cause I wasn't the health aide anymore. And they had to be, what, four, five copies that you had to fill out. This was after we had a clinic and they had regular hours from 8 till 4:30. And then we had to keep a log. Lots of paperwork and that was the worst part of the health aide. KAREN: Was the paperwork? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). KAREN: Yeah. AGNES: And they gave you just a little space to write on each patient. You had to write really small. KAREN: Yeah. AGNES: I wonder where all those papers are on now days. They probably burned them all. KAREN: Or they are at the hospital. Maybe they have copies. AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative).
KAREN: So, was it stressful? AGNES: Oh, yeah. KAREN: In the beginning, when you were the only health aide? AGNES: Yes, in a way. How do I get there in the night time. Good thing we didn't have any wild animals running around then. KAREN: How did you handle that stress, how did you deal with that? AGNES: House cleaning. House cleaning and taking care of the baby. KAREN: So, you were raising your own family at the same time you were doing all the health aide things? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). KAREN: How did you balance that? AGNES: I don't know. I just took the baby with me where ever I went. And the other kids were big enough to fend for themselves. KAREN: And then did your husband help? AGNES: Oh, he was working too. He worked from 7 -- 7 until 5, I think. KAREN: Wow. What kind of work did he do? AGNES: He was a truck driver for Chevron. That was Chevron then and now what is it, uh? I can't remember what it is now. So, he always came home smelling like gas or oil. KAREN: The other thing you had talked before was about, you know, you'd learned about blood pressure and temperature and pulse and learning to give shots. AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). In PN training we learned on orange and then we gave shots to each other. And my girlfriend, I practiced on her, and got the needle in and then I said: “Oh, no!” Pulled it back up 'cause I could imagine how it felt when the needle went in. And she says: “Sugar, you're supposed to leave it in there, give me the medicine.” That was the -- we call it, normal saline. She said: “Well I don't want you practicing on me anymore.” Oh, gosh. KAREN: Then did she try it on you? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). She did good. KAREN: She did good? AGNES: She said: “Do like I did.”
KAREN: You had also talked about becoming -- once the Health Aide program was official and there was a job that would pay, how you got that job? Were you selected? Did the village council come say, we want you to be the health aide, or what? AGNES: They knew I had worked in the hospital before so they said: “You be a health aide.” And my friend Marge, I was working with the Headstart Program then, I think it was about a year, and she said: “Either take Headstart or you take health aide.” And then said: “ You can't be Headstart Director and try to be a health aide at the same time. It's too much.” So, I took health aide. KAREN: Do you remember why you decided to take the health aide? AGNES: Because I worked in the hospital before and then people were comfortable with me so, I guess they trusted me. KAREN: You must have been doing a good job. AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). Yep. KAREN: And then Marge became a health aide at that same time with you? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). Yeah, she decided to go be a health aide. And then we did calls together if there was an emergency. And if I wanted to party I could count on her to take over. KAREN: Yeah, it must have been nice to have a relief person, where you could get a break.
KAREN: What would you do if you got a call for an emergency in the middle of the night? AGNES: You'd have to go. “Wait 'til I get there.” We'd have to either run to where ever they are or if you can get a ride from somebody. It was hard 'cause we didn't have a car. I didn't drive anyway. It was all on foot. KAREN: That's amazing. AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). We were good and healthy then. We'd never make it now. KAREN: Do you remember some of those big emergencies that you had to deal with? AGNES: The gunshot wound, the stabbing and what was the other one? I can't remember the other one. KAREN: You mentioned something about a car wreck? AGNES: Oh, yeah a car wreck with young kids. They were lucky. They're all alive today. KAREN: Wow. AGNES: Oh, yeah. And then one of our relations was in a bad car wreck. They brought him to the -- this is when we got the new clinic and he had glass embedded in his skull and I had to help the PA take all that out. Crazy. KAREN: How do you do that without falling apart? AGNES: I just -- I don't know. You have to do it. I don't know, I can't remember how many pieces of glass I took out of his skull. KAREN: Yeah, I wonder how doing that kind of work in a small community where you're either related to people or you know everybody. How do you do that? Was that hard? AGNES: No, but it was, you know, it made you feel bad. But you just knew you had to do it. You just get used to it as the years go by. Yep.
KAREN: So what was it that made you quit, doing the work? You said you quit in the mid ‘70s. AGNES: That's when the city said they were going to put us at half a day and take part of our pay to pay the PA. And my husband said: “Just quit.” So, I wrote my resignation letter, that was it. And we were on call 24 hours, even if we did stay on half a day and half a pay. And that wasn't right. So, I wrote my resignation. We were going to go down to California for the first time to see our friend down in Taft. And so when I came back Marge had sent her resignation and she says: “I wasn't gonna work without you. And now I'm not going to work half a day with my pay taken away, half of my pay.” So, the PA was by herself. KAREN: And did people keep coming to you for help? AGNES: We told them: “There's the PA. We're not working anymore.” And they said: “Why?” And we told them. So -- KAREN: So, was that hard to turn people away? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). Of course you could give them some advice. I tried not to. I tried to not do anything, work, I didn't last a month. So, there was an opening at the school for teacher aide. I put in for that. And I got it. Was there for 27 years. I also liked working there. I was with the kindergarten, then from first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, went to each room and helped the ones that had a hard time. That's with math or whatever.
KAREN: So what did you like most about being a health aide? AGNES: Seeing people and their different problems. Help them out if you could. Kept me in shape anyway. All that walking we had to do. And then the elderly people were so thankful that somebody was there to help them. And it was so sad when we had to take care of little ones with their earaches. A lot of kids with a lot of ear problems, high fevers and strep throat. Even our own kids. My own baby had ear problems. And, oh, she used to feel so bad when I'd have to give her a penicillin shot: “My Mom gave me a shot!” She'd tell Marge that. She'd have a fever of a 104 and still wanting to play. KAREN: Now this is the one that you would take on calls with you? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). And now, she's got her own kids. KAREN: Did she like going with you? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). She never fussed. She was a good kid. She enjoyed it, too. Yeah, it's a good thing 'cause from the time she could walk I walked her up town, walked her back home. KAREN: Did she ever want to become a health aide like you? AGNES: Oh, she said she was going to be a nurse like Ma, but she never did. KAREN: Yeah.
KAREN: So what was the hardest part of being a health aide? AGNES: No doctors up here. That was the hardest thing. And no equipment. But when they got that new clinic, we call it the old clinic now, they finally got stretchers and of course all the medicine equipment. KAREN: So, the old clinic, which was the first clinic, do you remember when that was built? AGNES: No, gee. That was way before. KAREN: Oh. AGNES: She'd probably know when the old clinic was -- KAREN: So when you came in '61 there was already that old clinic? AGNES: That old clinic there. KAREN: Okay. And then there was a new clinic built? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). One right next to the old one. And they had elderly housing there. They have apartments. KAREN: Do you remember when that clinic was built? AGNES: At '70s, in the '70s. KAREN: And that was where you worked? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). That's where Marge and I worked. KAREN: And now is there a newer clinic? AGNES: Newer one. It's out on the hill there. And that one, we didn't get to work in. KAREN: Do you remember when that was built? AGNES: Not too long ago. KAREN: Like in the '90s? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). Think so.
KAREN: Do you regret having quit being a health aide? (Agnes nods her head yes.) You do. AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). I missed it for a long time. Just like Barbara Johnson. My God, she was a health aide forever. Thirty some years? My God. KAREN: A lot of them around the state, a lot of them are like that. AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). We were up in training together once, up in Anchorage. Boy, she stuck it out. And she was in Angoon and she came up here. KAREN: So what was it that you missed? Why did you miss it? AGNES: Taking care of people. Making sure that they got the best of care. It was so much nicer when the ‘70s came. Telephones, equipment, medicine, doctors you could talk to and, of course, the PA. And it was easier to get around. KAREN: People started having cars and things? AGNES: They'd come pick you up or just bring them to the clinic: “We'll meet you up there.” And it was so nice when they had emergency crews. We were out of it by then. KAREN: The EMT people? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). Yep.
KAREN: Did you have to worry about confidentiality? AGNES: Oh, yeah. KAREN: How did you handle that? AGNES: We were trained in that and training in nursing. You know how people are curious. They all say: “Who got hurt? What happened to them?” I would say: “Somebody got hurt. And that's all I can tell you.” It wasn't hard. It was probably hard for some people to keep their mouth shut. KAREN: What about some of the cases you had to deal with? Do you remember sometime when you were really scared? AGNES: When I was really scared, oh man. The one I was scared of was when that fisherman got a hook in his cheek close to his eye. I said: “My gosh, you're so lucky that you didn't get that in your eye.” And I can't remember how we got that hook out. He said it doesn't hurt, but I'd sure like to get that hook out of there. Then we tried to clip the barb out. And then he said: “See if you can work it out where -- how it got in there.” That part just blanks out. KAREN: You don't remember? AGNES: No. We got it out. I know, I was scared 'cause it was so close to his eye. And it just, I don't know, it just came out ok. And then there was Warren, about a finger too. I can't remember what happened to him. But anyway, gave him first aid, took care of it and then I tell him: “I think, you'd better --” I think he had it smashed or something. And then I tell him: “You'd better get on the plane and go see a doctor.” And he said: “Ok.” But he came back and said everything was done right. And then that one time, too. There was an elderly man, he slipped and fell on the ice and broke his leg and there was bone sticking out. Marge and I took care of him. That was another scary one. But the only thing we could do, they had these inflatable, I think it was that guy, they had the inflatable splints, put that on and it was so easy and they put him on a stretcher and shipped him out. KAREN: So, the planes they take them to the hospital in Sitka? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative).
KAREN: Were there any times where you had close calls that you thought someone wasn't gonna make it and because of what you did they made it, they survived? AGNES: No, not that I remember, not that bad. KAREN: What about some success story you remember, you were really proud of? AGNES: Oh, I was proud of anything I did. Just worked out ok. You try your best. It was delivering babies, I think. KAREN: Did you have to deal with --? AGNES: Oh I remember, when I was in training in the -- LPN training, I had a patient, a woman that had cirrhosis of the liver from drinking too much and I took care of her for two days. And then that one day, second day, I went to lunch and I came back and her bed was empty. And I went and asked my supervisor: “What happened to her?” And she said: “Oh, we meant to tell you when you came back from lunch that she had passed away.” I was so sad. And I didn't know about cirrhosis of the liver or -- We were still in training and she was from further southeastern. I can't even remember her name even. KAREN: Did you have cases where, besides that one, once you were here as the health aide and working, where you had to deal with your patients dying? AGNES: Oh, yeah. We had one mother that lost her husband. This is the one where I had to make a makeshift stretcher, her husband. This is the wife that drank so heavily that she died from drinking. She had died in one of her friends' house and they called and we had to call the doctor. And we told him that she passed away from drinking too much. And then he said: Okay, just pack up all the openings in her body.” That's what we did. And I don't know, they took her out to the airport and sent her out. I was so sad, she drunk so much. And her kids were still small, but they took care of each other. I think they had older kids. KAREN: Yeah.
KAREN: Were there any times when somebody would come to you as a patient and you tried to save them and you couldn't? AGNES: No. KAREN: So that stabbing you talked about and -- AGNES: That was oh -- KAREN: The shotgun, the person -- AGNES: Oh, the shotgun one was terrible. KAREN: -- that you were able to save those people? AGNES: Yeah, the stabbing was ok, but the gunshot wound was one side of his face. And he tried to talk, but he couldn't because his whole outside of his face -- KAREN: His jaw was gone? AGNES: Blood all over. The PA was there, took care most of it, but we were there for moral support. He didn't make it. KAREN: He didn't make it? AGNES: Uh-hum (negative). It was all through drinking. KAREN: Do you get training on how to handle, how to deal with those kind of things, the emotions of it? AGNES: There were so many people in there that, you know, there are people there consoling, while we're trying to clean up the mess and the PA was taking care of the patient. It was horrible. KAREN: I think it would be hard to try so hard to save somebody, you know, and then lose them and how you as a caregiver deal with the emotions of that? AGNES: On yourself or others? KAREN: No, on yourself. AGNES: Oh, it bothered us for a long of time. Especially if you knew that person. But we knew they had a lot of problems and that was His way of taking care of His, I guess KAREN: Did they offer post-traumatic counseling or anything like that? AGNES: Not that I remember. But they, later on, Mt. Edgecumbe or somebody would come and talk to the kids in school and they'd help them handle whatever it was.
KAREN: In another question -- I'm just looking at my list of questions here -- about any advice you would have for somebody, a young person nowadays who might want to be a health aide? AGNES: I tell them go for it. It's fun but it's stressful. But I did enjoy being a health aide. I tell them: “You would too.” Study hard, listen to everything your instructors tell you, pay attention. If you don't, you'll miss out on a lot. Make sure you sit up in front where you can hear everything. KAREN: Do you think there are certain qualities of a person that makes them able to be a health aide? AGNES: You have to be passionate, understanding and be willing, and do the best you can. KAREN: Did you feel like the training you got was enough training to help you deal with the kinds of cases that you had to deal with? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). Yep. KAREN: You never got one where you went: “Oh no, I don't know what to do!” AGNES: No. Common sense.
KAREN: Being a small community, how do you think your being a health aide effected your relationships with people in the community? Did people respect you, was it hard because you knew all these confidential things and what was that like? AGNES: Oh, yeah, everybody was respectful and they always said: “If you need any help just let me know.” There' s always people that are willing to help. KAREN: Well, that kind of covers all of my questions. I'm sorry we had to repeat some of it. My mistake. And is there anything else that you've thought of that you wanted to talk about that I haven't asked about? AGNES: No, I would have liked to get more training in other -- you know, in the health field, but money was always the problem. And then of course leaving your home. KAREN: So, by more training you mean like a PA school or something like that, is that what you mean? AGNES: Yeah, I wanted to go on to school for pediatrician. But money was the problem. They didn't have all those trainings then that they have now. KAREN: You mean the financial aid, things like that? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). And then there was a place in Philadelphia, so I could have gone to, but it was too far and no money. KAREN: And any favorite stories or -- from your health aide years, maybe ones you tell over and over again to people that we haven't -- could you tell --? AGNES: Oh, Marge has some good ones. KAREN: There must have been some funny times as well, especially if it was you and Marge together. AGNES: I remember working in the hospital down at Mt. Edgecumbe. Working the nightshift, it was so hard to sleep during the day. You'd have to be at work at midnight and couple of times the security guard had to come and knock on my door and said: “The hospital wants you at work.” “What?” I said: “Is it that time already?” So I didn't get to work 'til 1, 1:30 in the morning. That was so embarrassing. The summer, summer time like this and the days were so nice and you can't sleep. KAREN: Yeah, nightshift would be hard. AGNES: Yeah, but got to get used to it. Some times you had to work double shift 'cause they were short. I had worked evening shift 3 o'clock to midnight and they'd asked me to leave at 6 and come back at midnight and work 'til 8 in the morning. KAREN: Wow, how do you do that? AGNES: You had to do it. You'd go home, go to sleep and go back to work at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Yeah, I usually worked 3 o'clock to midnight and then switched me over to midnight to 8. That was kind of hard at first and it seemed weird to work during the day, 8 to 4.
AGNES: It was nice to be brought up in the mission though. They taught you a lot of things. KAREN: Like what? AGNES: Like how to clean up after yourself. Get up in the morning to go to school. Make lunches for school for eighteen kids. They had three cottages in the Mission. We had to walk two miles to school everyday. KAREN: So, the school wasn't at the mission, the school was -- AGNES: In town. KAREN: In town? AGNES: Public school. Everyday I'd be late, three kids, we played all the way, then we'd have to stay after school. They had posts on the road and they had big cable through it and you'd play leap frog, leap over them, over and over before we got to school. Boy, we'd be in trouble all the time. KAREN: They'd let you walk to school by yourselves, huh? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). KAREN: So, was this in the main city of Kodiak? AGNES: Yeah. KAREN: What was the name of the village you were born in? AGNES: Alitak. KAREN: Alitak? I've never heard of that. AGNES: Inside Kodiak Island, there's lot of villages on Kodiak. KAREN: Uh-hum. AGNES: Yeah, you learn to mend socks or darn socks and iron, do laundry, do housework. In case you didn't do a good job, they'd think of some way to get the corners in the house all clean. They finally figured out, they put quarters or 50 cent pieces or something so you could get a broom and clean the corners real good. KAREN: You said you had a friend, when you were in school at the Mission, your friend who named you “Sugar?” That was -- AGNES: Oh, that was down at the hospital. KAREN: Oh, that was in Edgecumbe. Okay, 'cause you had said she was from Klawock and I was like: “How did she get to Kodiak?” AGNES: Yeah, she was in the same sanitarium that I was in. KAREN: Oh, in the TB. AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). Yeah, she wanted to take me home so bad. KAREN: Did she name you “Sugar” 'cause you were sweet? AGNES: She said: “You're so nice!” She was my best friend. She passed away with cancer about five, eight years ago, I think. KAREN: You guys had been, stayed friends all that time? AGNES: Uh-hum (affirmative). KAREN: That's neat. Well, I wanna thank you very much for spending the afternoon with me. AGNES: Oh, yeah. KAREN: Unless there is more that you want to talk about. AGNES: Not right now. KAREN: Okay.