Willa Ashenfelter and Irene Aukongak were interviewed on September 13, 2005 by Karen Brewster at the Norton Sound Health Corporation, Village Health Services office in Nome, Alaska. Willa and Irene were interviewed together because they were health aides in nearby villages during the same time period, worked closely together, went to training together, and are close friends. They traveled to Nome for the interview. They have great fun remembering their younger days and telling stories together, each adding to the memories of the other. In this first part of a three part interview, Willa and Irene talk about how they became health aides, training they received, early equipment they had, working without being paid, methods of communication with the doctors, challenges and joys of the work, the importance of family and community support for a health aide, and changes in management of the health aide program. They also talk about delivering babies, handling emergency cases, working in their home village, and dealing with deaths.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Community Health Aide Program
Date of Interview: Sep 13, 2005
Narrator(s): Willa Ashenfelter, Irene Aukongak
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Some background about each of their lives and families, and how Irene became a health aide.
Willa tells how she became a health aide.
Irene talks about times she wanted to quit and why she never did.
Raising a family while working as a health aide, and what it was like before the health aide program became official and they started to receive pay.
Radio call, and how it worked.
Delivering babies in the village, often with Lucy Lincoln's help.
Irene talks about delivering a stillborn baby and how health aides helped each other through such tragedies.
The first meetings of health aides organized by Norton Sound Health Corporation and the importance of the support network provided by those meetings and training sessions.
Development of the training program for health aides and what health aides learned about during training.
Treating patients in embarrassing or uncomfortable situations, like in the case of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD), or treating family members.
Issues about treating friends and family, and how they coped with the dangers of getting involved with situations involving alcohol abuse.
Dealing with deaths, including suicides and accidents.
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN: Start with today is September 13th, 2005. And this is Karen Brewster. And I'm here in Nome with Willa Ashenfelter and Irene, if you could pronounce your last name so I don't say it incorrectly. IRENE: Aukongak. KAREN: Aukongak. Okay. Thank you. And this is for the Community Health Aide Project. So maybe Willa, if you can start, just to tell us a little bit about yourself and when and where you were born, your parents, your background a little bit. WILLA: Okay. I was born -- gee, one thinks I have a birth date. KAREN: Yeah. WILLA: Okay. I was born July 4th, 1940, and my parents were Abraham Lincoln and Lucy Lincoln. I grew up, I married in White Mountain, I had all my children there. I'm a grandmother. And I was a health aide since 1967, the fall of 1967. KAREN: And when did you retire? WILLA: March of 2002. KAREN: So you were born in White Mountain? WILLA: I was born in White Mountain. I got married to a guy from White Mountain. And all my children are there. I'm a grandmother. KAREN: How many children do you have? WILLA: I have eight. Four boys and -- oh, I should go back. I need to. I have three -- I have eight but I've got three boys and three girls. I shouldn't say eight. And I've got grandkids. KAREN: Okay. Now, Irene, maybe you can tell us a little bit about yourself, your background. IRENE: Yeah, I was born at Upper Kalskag, down Kuskokwim area, in January 2nd, 1937. And I went to school there, part time school there, and we moved away when I was maybe eight years old. And I never went back there. We had to follow my dad everywhere he goes because of his fur trapping. And we missed a lot of school, so they send me and my younger, my sister next to me, to Holy Cross. We were there for three years and came back and settled. They were at Kukagruk (phonetic) so we stayed there until I finished my school year at Mount Edgecumbe. And I took the LPN training there, Mount Edgecumbe. KAREN: The LPN is what? IRENE: Licensed practical nurse. KAREN: I didn't know they offered that at Mount Edgecumbe. IRENE: Yeah, they did. I don't know what years they stopped. KAREN: So what years were you there? IRENE: I believe it was '54, '55. It's a one-year program, I think. So -- but I was happy I took it. And moved to Golovin. I married my husband in Anchorage. And he's from Golovin. Moved there in -- oh, maybe a month, or maybe a month, not even maybe a month after I got married we had to move to Golovin to take care of my mother-in-law who was bedridden. And Mayor Floyd, our mayor then, came up to the house and asked me if I wanted to help the doctors and nurses when they make their visits to Golovin, so I said, yes, I'll be -- you know, I told him yes. So since then, like February '56. KAREN: Wow. IRENE: I started helping the nurses and the doctors. Yeah. KAREN: Do you know why he came and asked you? IRENE: Because -- because of the training I had, licensed practical nurse training. I was working down in Anchorage to the old hospital. KAREN: Oh, you had been a nurse there? IRENE: Yeah. So. KAREN: Why did you decide to become a nurse? IRENE: One -- one of my teachers, he's passed on now, he was a real nice teacher and he talked to me about, you know, if I wanted to go into nurses training, they offered at Edgecumbe. And I thought I was too old to go on to high school.So -- so from there, from -- after I graduated eighth grade, I took -- went down to Edgecumbe and took that training. KAREN: So how old were you? IRENE: I was maybe 18. Was I -- no, 19. Maybe I was. No, 18. I was 18, yeah. So. Because it was a nice experience for me. So I enjoyed it. KAREN: And Willa, how did you --
KAREN: Willa, how did you get to become a health aide? WILLA: To go -- to go back, my mother was a medical aid, she took care of TB patients' medicine. If they ran low, then she would order some more. And she worked with the doctors when they came from Kotzebue. She worked with Dr. Robert -- who was that real tall, skinny doctor? IRENE: I could picture him. WILLA: Yeah. I don't know. IRENE: Fraser. WILLA: Both he and his wife were doctors at Alaska Native Medical Center. But mama worked with them. She would report to the doctor. And then she slowly worked to where she would report patients to the doctor on the radio. And then she figured she needed some help, that she wouldn't always be there when the doctor came, so she asked Martha Agloinga if she would be willing to work with the doctors when they came, and Martha told her yes. They learned how to give penicillin shots and take care of medicine, report to the doctor. Then Martha later on said she needed somebody to help her. By then my -- my mom, she retired. So the City Council had that position open. They said they'd -- they wanted somebody to work with Martha. And I went home and I talked with my husband and I told him, if no one else was going to fill that position, maybe I'll -- I'll let them know that I would be willing, it was something I could do. And so I started then, that might have been maybe 1966. But we didn't start our training for a couple of years. And we weren't getting paid at all. KAREN: So was your mother getting paid when she was doing that? WILLA: No, she wasn't. She was also the midwife in the village. And Martha and I used to get -- Martha would split her paycheck. When we finally start getting paid, it was -- I think we were getting something like $43 or $45 a month. KAREN: Wow. WILLA: And we thought that was a lot -- for us, that was a lot of money. And then Martha stopped working and I was there for a long time. Then I had -- there were different people in the village that would help me. Rita Buck was one of them, one of those that worked on the weekend. There was Mike Simon, Carl Brown, Linda Kumagak (phonetic), Sally Agloinga. KAREN: That's not good to have the microphone fall on you. Okay. WILLA: But for a long time, I worked -- Irene, both Irene and I were the only ones that worked in the village. I told my youngest daughter, there was a time I -- I really thought of quitting. And I thought if I stop working there, there will be nobody to take care of the people in the village, so I went back to work. I tried telling one of the doctors I wasn't going to work anymore. And there was somebody in the village that wasn't doing so well, so I'm -- I went to see him. He was at the teacher's -- staying at the principal's house. He told me the only way he will -- he will be able to go see my patient is if I didn't quit. So I finally told him I'm not going to quit, and I went with him to see the patient. And I've been -- I worked since then. But that was a -- a long time ago.
KAREN: Irene, what about you, are there times you wanted to quit? IRENE: A lot of times I wanted to quit because I worked 12 years without pay, a lot of us did, so -- but I enjoyed it. But there was a lot of times that I wanted to quit, especially after a person died. Or -- it's real hard to take care of cancer patients, too. KAREN: So what kept you from quitting? IRENE: Oh, like her, when we have our trainings, we used to start worrying about patients back home, you know, even little babies, elders, and people that are sick and on medication. And I start to worry, gee, who's going to take care of those people back home. I had a helper, too, her name was Florence Willoya. That was nice. I worked for a while until in the '60s, until I got her. So that was a good break for me when I needed one. There was a number of other health aides, too, that got on, too, like there was Phillis Farrell, she's here; Sharon Henry, she's at the dental. Sharon Lock. Sharon Lock now, she's at the dental. And I had her brother to be on -- being on call once in awhile when he was down in Golovin, Howard, Howard Lincoln. There was a number of -- number of people that worked. I'm sorry, I couldn't remember the names, there were so many of them. And people, some people always don't want me to quit. They always talk to me, especially the elders and people back home. They were real supportive. They are always being real supportive of what I do. That -- that really helps when they are real supportive. Yeah. What else? KAREN: Yeah, I was wondering how you -- how you do that, how you do a job like health aide for so long. IRENE: Uh-hum (affirmative). KAREN: With it being so hard. WILLA: Later on with the telephone, we got so we would call. We would call each other, and because things -- things a lot of what we -- we do is confidential. IRENE: Yeah. WILLA: And she knew a lot of the feel -- or a lot of the stuff I went through, I would call her and I'd feel better after my telephone call. So we were kind of there for each other. IRENE: You'd be crying and me. KAREN: That's good. You need somebody who you can talk to. IRENE: Uh-hum. WILLA: And my husband was there. Every time there was an emergency, he was there. Even if the middle of the night, he would get up with no problems. I didn't have to -- he would get up with me and take me to clinic, he'd go and get anything that I needed. But he was always there for emergencies. So without -- I think a lot of it was people in the village supporting us. I had one of the older men in the village who would come into town and go back home, and he would tell me, I didn't have to go to Nome, you would have done well. But I -- it was -- I'd feel better because he would be here in town not -- seeing a doctor, somebody that knew more than I did. IRENE: And that really helps with your husbands close by supporting you. And that -- KAREN: Is that the same with you? IRENE: -- the family -- yeah, the family support. That really helps. KAREN: Yeah, because you -- how many people did you have, Irene? IRENE: I have three, two girls and two -- one boy. They are far apart. One is at Barrow, my daughter, she's got six kids, married to a Hugh -- search and rescue people. KAREN: Oh, Patkotak? IRENE: Yeah, Hugh Patkotak. Do you know him? KAREN: I know his name, yeah. IRENE: Yeah, he works, and then another one lives down in Anchorage, Bertha, married to Stan, she's got five.
KAREN: Yeah. So both of you had your own families to raise, plus doing health aide work. How did you -- IRENE: Oh, I forgot my son. He's still living with me. KAREN: How did you do that? How do you balance the family and being a health aide? IRENE: When I first started with Lynn Arrington (phonetic), she had a little girl she used to take with her, so I started taking my little girl Myna. I couldn't get baby-sitters to take care of her. And when they get a little older, I just leave them at home and the family takes care of them. WILLA: I think a lot of why I worked so long was I liked the people I was helping. I don't know. It was something I really enjoyed doing. Otherwise, I don't think I -- I don't care if people paid me a lot of money or a little money, but I really enjoyed my job. IRENE: Coworkers are one thing, too. Good coworkers, it's important. KAREN: So you -- you worked first in the -- starting in what year, 19 -- IRENE: '56. KAREN: '56. IRENE: February '56. KAREN: And the Health Aide Program didn't -- WILLA: There was nothing. No health -- no program, no training. Not until later on. IRENE: That came later. WILLA: That came later. With (indiscernible). IRENE: Yeah. KAREN: So, well, you had your nurse training. IRENE: Uh-hum. That helped me some. Yeah. KAREN: So did you communicate with doctors? IRENE: Yeah. Kotzebue. KAREN: And how did you communicate -- did you have telephones yet? IRENE: No. We had those little single-sideband radios from BIA school, and we had a little room to -- a little tiny room where they kept their radio and I'd have to sometimes see patients there. We didn't have clinics. We just made like home visits. And when the doctors make trips, they go in someone else's home. KAREN: And set up a clinic in somebody's home? IRENE: No -- yeah. Set up a little clinic in someone's home, if they okay it, you know, some -- some people are real nice. So it was -- we didn't have nothing to begin with, no clinics, nothing. WILLA: The very first time I went on radio, Martha was telling me to go ahead and report somebody that I saw, and I was really impressed with this lady, I didn't know what in the world she was talking about, KYD. What else did she say that I didn't -- I didn't know what in the world she was talking about. But I called Kotzebue and I spoke with Dr. Dudley, I told him it's my very first time on the radio, to be really patient with me, but I was calling for a refill on a medication. And the medicine was phenobarbital and belladona. I had -- I think he ended up spelling it three times for me. There was another LPN in Koyuk, too. IRENE: Oh, Robert. Yeah. WILLA: Yeah. And he used to use words I didn't know. And it took me awhile to understand. IRENE: That's what we learned at Edgecumbe LPN school. Those skills. WILLA: He would talk about hematomas, and I think the doctor then would wonder if he knew what he was talking about. But he knew. It was -- so.
WILLA: We reported everything on the radio. IRENE: And that way we learned from each other. WILLA: Yeah. A lot of our education, too, was on -- at radio call. IRENE: Yeah, just like we learn from each other. And when they stopped, when we have phone, just like we were (inaudible.) WILLA: And when reception was bad, there was always somebody that was willing to relay. So we would talk with the village that could pick up Nome really well and they could hear us really well, and she'd relay to the doctor here for us. So that was nice. We got to know some of the doctors by voice, and we didn't meet them. And some of them were really patient with us. KAREN: Did the doctors get any training in -- in how to -- sort of cross-cultural training? WILLA: I don't know. I know when I first started reporting, Martha said the doctors wanted us to report, that if we're going to report anything, to let him know, like, if anything that the size of was the size of a pea, and it grew to the size of an olive, those -- that kind of thing. Or if something was the size of a plum or -- it was both something the doctor knew and that we knew the size of, so we used that -- those terms. And the doctor one time finally asked Martha and I, how come you ladies are always talking about food. IRENE: Especially fruit. WILLA: Yeah. Martha told me, tell him it's because we're hungry because radio traffic in the evening was around five o'clock, and they took -- the doctor in Kotzebue took the villages from Point Hope. IRENE: Yeah. Point Hope. Yeah. WILLA: All the way down to Stebbins. KAREN: Wow. WILLA: He was just along the coast. And some of the villages would have 17, but those were the days when we -- we reported headaches and -- KAREN: Like 17 cases? IRENE: Everything. KAREN: You reported every case? WILLA: Every case, everyone that we saw. KAREN: So radio call could take a while? WILLA: Yeah. And sometimes radio call would break in right into KICY. KAREN: Which is -- WILLA: It's the radio station here in town. And people would be listening to KICY and we would come in right over. IRENE: They would overhear us, too, which I felt kind of funny, if I had patients to report, I felt kind of funny. But they started talking about it, too. WILLA: Yeah. IRENE: Like can we have our trainings. WILLA: Not to use names, they would tell us not to use names, to use ages and female or male. But even so, because our villages were small, I think people pretty much figured who the patient was. Anyway, one day I reported on the radio, and the next day I went to visit one of my aunts and her husband said last night he was really swearing at me. And I was asking him, what did I do? He told me he was recording KICY, a program, it came on at 5:30, and he said I broke in right when he was -- whatever he was taping. So he wasn't happy with me.
KAREN: What -- what did the villages do before there was radios to call back and forth, like when your mother was a midwife? WILLA: She -- there was the -- they kind of relayed -- relied on the school teachers there. IRENE: Yeah, school teachers. WILLA: And they were expected to handle broken bones. IRENE: They used to do things before the health aides came. You know, like take care of, like, broken bones and bad colds and... I think they used to report -- WILLA: Because they had -- the single-sideband was at the principal's house at White Mountain before they moved it to the school. And down -- florescent lights would interfere, they got a lot of static, and they would be nice enough to let us -- to turn the lights off for us when we were holding radio traffic. KAREN: So you'd sit in the dark? WILLA: No. So they sat in the dark. And the regular light bulbs didn't bother it but the florescent lights did. IRENE: Another thing, them radios weren't even dependable. They had a lot of static. WILLA: No. IRENE: And really get frustrated. WILLA: One time -- one time one of my cousins was he said he was passing the radio room, and all he could hear on the radio was one of the health aides reporting, he's sick. Over. But those are the days when we first started. KAREN: So did your mother do traditional healing as well as midwife? WILLA: No, she did mostly -- she mostly delivered babies. They would call her. And it was something she didn't always do but I don't know how many babies she ended delivering. She delivered my oldest son and helped with my youngest daughter of my kids. And then when the sonogram first came to the -- to the hospital, they saw one of my prenatals, and they had the due date not -- a month later, so she ended up going into labor in the village. And I ended up calling my -- my mom. And she was wondering how come the fundal height was so high, and she was in active labor. So mama was there and was checking her fundal height was really high. She told me to go and report to the doctor that the fundal height was still really high, and she was in active labor. So I went to another home to use their phone, and when I came back, she told me, you go right back and tell them a foot came out. So I did. And when I went back, both of the feet were out. And a week before that, we were practicing with delivering babies in case of a baby being born by footling. KAREN: Breech? WILLA: Yeah. And we practiced. So I did that. The baby was stuck around the waist and was turning blue, so very slowly I lifted him up and I checked under his neck for the umbilical cord, and I made sure it was out and I left him very -- and I was so happy when he started crying. That was -- seems like every time we had training, within the next week or two something would happen that we would have to use whenever -- whatever training we've just finished. KAREN: Well, that's good timing. WILLA: Yeah. KAREN: So was that the first baby you delivered? WILLA: No. I'd end up calling mama. And she was kind of there. As much as she could, she'd let us try to do whatever we can, but she was there kind of as our backup. And for my youngest one, Rita was there and we ended up calling mama, and mama came in. Delivered her granddaughter.
KAREN: Irene, what about you, do you remember the first baby you delivered? IRENE: Yeah, I remembered my first baby. How many babies did I deliver. But I always -- I always had one of the elders, like Ida Boone, that's Rita's grandma, I always sent for her and she would be there rubbing the hand or, you know, rubbing the tummy, you know, always there to give me support. I think her -- the first baby I delivered was there in the '40s. WILLA: It could be. IRENE: It could be now. Lots of kids, some of them got married, I've got all my grandchildren. So -- but there was one baby that was being born real early. I don't know how many months she was -- was being born. And I was across at camp. Someone went across and got me so I had to go to that person. And they never call my alternate. So I went to that house and checked that lady, you know. And she was in labor and she was early. And she was drinking. And I stayed with her, checked her. After I checked her real good, I called the doctor because she was too early. And it ended up the baby was born -- I mean, the head came -- the foot came out and I tried to do like how we learned, but the baby was already. It was really sad. Sad for me. I was real sad. Because she -- he would -- it was a boy. And I didn't know what else to do, but I delivered him -- I had hot stuff ready, like, if it's born, I would put the blanket and the baby up against the hot water bag or something, covered. First time I delivered a real preemie. I think if he was just born at the hospital, he might have made it. So. It's kind of hard but I talked to the parents and... KAREN: And how do you -- how do you cope with those hard moments like that? IRENE: Well, I -- I give the family support and we support each other. Of course, I was out -- you know, after things happened, it seemed like I always break down. After I'm kind of tough during the emergencies or something, and after things are -- after they are over with, I just -- seemed like all the health aides would just break down and talk to each other. Most of the time, like, we always pray and I always lead them. Prayer helps. I used to pray before I deliver babies that things would go right. Because little babies are so important.
WILLA: A long time ago when we first started working, the doctor that we were -- was planning the village visits would -- seemed like they would go there and we wouldn't be really prepared or... So Norton Sound Health Corporation was one of the ones that kind of made health aides a priority, and they encouraged us to form Health Aide Association. They would call in all the primaries -- primaries here to Nome. And for us, I remember the first time we came in for a -- for a meeting. It was a meeting of all these names that we were -- all these voices we were hearing on the radio, we got to meet each other. We started talking, and it was good to know that we weren't the only ones with that kind of problems. It was -- it was -- we could sit down and talk about our -- our problems, and all these other ladies would understand. It was kind of -- for me, it was a booster, it really made me feel like -- IRENE: It was something like a talking circle. I never thought of that before, you know. WILLA: Yeah. Norton -- and I don't know if Norton Sound ever really realized how important those meetings were for us. IRENE: Seems like we don't do it anymore. WILLA: Yeah. It's -- KAREN: You don't do it anymore? IRENE: I don't think so. WILLA: I don't think so. I don't -- I don't know if they ever call the primaries in again for -- IRENE: How often we used to come in, every year or? WILLA: Yeah, they used to call us once a year. IRENE: All the primaries would meet with -- sometimes with the new health aides, and... WILLA: Uh-hum. And for us out -- in those early years, it was one of the reasons why I kept working, too, that it was always at the back of my head. IRENE: Support. KAREN: Do you remember what year that first meeting was? WILLA: I don't remember. Maybe 1970s. IRENE: I think it was in '70s. Latter '70s, or -- WILLA: Yeah, Norton Sound -- our employee -- our work with Norton Sound started July 1st, 1975, is when they started. IRENE: It seemed like it would be later, in the early years. WILLA: Yeah, but even before that, they were calling us in for training. KAREN: So before 1975, you worked for Public Health Service? WILLA: Yeah. And we used to -- ANB was taking care of our pay. IRENE: Yeah. We used to go to Kotzebue, Anchorage, and then we started going in. WILLA: And here. KAREN: So there wasn't a hospital here? WILLA: There was Maynard MacDougal Memorial Hospital, that little. And a lot of our training was in Kotzebue at their -- at the PHS Hospital there. We got to know the -- the health aides from the Kotzebue region. IRENE: It was nice. We sure missed that after they quit. WILLA: Yeah. IRENE: So it's real nice to, you know, get to know health aides from all over. WILLA: Get together. IRENE: Get together. We used to talk, a lot of us use to cry. WILLA: We would end up crying and then we would laugh and then we would -- IRENE: End up crying. I think that was healing, you know, the healing part. KAREN: Yeah. WILLA: And I don't think I -- I don't know if Norton Sound ever knew how much those first meetings helped us.
KAREN: So before it was Norton Sound when you were working for the Native Service or Public Health Service or whatever, what was -- WILLA: Well, it was Public Health Service. IRENE: Public Health Service. KAREN: What was that like working for them? IRENE: They did some training when they first started, too, we used to go to Kotzebue or Anchorage to trainings. And then after, later on when Norton Sound Hospital started, we started coming here. WILLA: I worked with -- before they had the training center, they had something called the PAC HA PA. I don't know if you've ever heard -- IRENE: Oh, yes, the PAC HA PA. WILLA: It was a health -- it was maybe the very beginning of the health aide training where they were trying to standardize the training all over Alaska. There were doctors and nurses and health aide people like Karen, they would meet and plan the programs for -- for things that they wanted to teach us. I went to Dillingham one year, one fall, with that -- that program. They wanted a health aide's perspective on things, so I went there. And we went to Kodiak one year. A couple times we went to Anchorage. So it's been a long time since -- I know the people that were in charge of the program were trying to make this easier for us and standardize our training. KAREN: And so once they started having training, what kind of training did you get and where did you go and for how long? WILLA: Seems like they used to call us in for a week at a time at the very beginning, and then two weeks. IRENE: Yeah. And then a month. WILLA: Yeah, and then later on they -- they'd call us in for four weeks at a time. KAREN: And that would be to Nome or you'd go to Anchorage or? IRENE: To Nome. WILLA: To here, mostly. IRENE: When we were getting -- WILLA: Yeah. Yeah. And I think those were after they start standardizing the training for all over Alaska. IRENE: How many trainings we had to go to? WILLA: I think we went to four. IRENE: Four. WILLA: Yeah. And then the last one with the doctor where we went in for clinical. And had to work under a doctor for -- was that two weeks? IRENE: Two weeks I think it was. I think it's two weeks. WILLA: I missed that -- that part of the training, but they sent a doctor to work with me in the clinic in White Mountain. But I think I -- I might have missed out a lot because I -- IRENE: We did a lot up here. WILLA: Yeah, because we didn't always see the patients at our city, or the number of patients I will have seen here instead of the ones at home. KAREN: So what kind of things did they teach you in the training? WILLA: We started from the very beginning, the basics of the thermometer, blood pressure, weight. IRENE: Height, weight. WILLA: Then later on they started teaching us systems of the body, what to look for, what's normal and abnormal. IRENE: And we had to go through anatomy of the body. WILLA: Yeah, anatomy. IRENE: And all the way down. You know. We had to learn all that stuff. KAREN: Do you think the training they provided was adequate for the cases you ended up having to deal with? WILLA: I think so. And they made us make sure -- if they were sending new instruments to the villages, they made sure we knew how to use them, that we were familiar with. IRENE: And they trained us a year before we would take something new home. WILLA: Made sure we knew how to use them. I remember one time they -- for one of our classes, they showed us how to do catheterizations. And the week or when I went home, I ended up using what I learned. And it really helped because I used it for an elderly man, he couldn't -- he couldn't pee anymore and he was just getting really bloated. So I explained to him, I learned how, and I told him what to do. And by the people in the villages, I think they had -- I would think they were pretty brave for us -- for us to let them -- for us to do stuff to them. But he was so relieved. He kept telling me, I don't need to go to the hospital. I said, no, you need to go. I just did this because it needed to be done. He was so happy he felt better. IRENE: I did a few, too, but seems like men always asked for me to do stuff, you know, to do their exam. They didn't -- kind of didn't like to go to these young -- WILLA: The newer health aides? IRENE: Yeah, the newer health aides. They always asked for me to do it. So I guess being an elderly type lady, it helps.
IRENE: You remember when we started exams here that we had to learn some -- there was a real young girl, that, you know, she always used to get real red, real bashful even to do a mannequin. And we always encouraged her, you know, she didn't have to. I guess she was just learning, you know, anatomy part of men and female. We used to have fun all right. Remember when we were younger and learning stuff? We went through the same thing. KAREN: How do you get over that kind of embarrassment of some of that stuff? IRENE: You know, talking to the patient and telling them what we're going to do. WILLA: And the more times we did it, the less it bothered us. On the other hand, when I first started working, it was after mama was there -- was doing the penicillin shots for a while, I went in and the patient I was seeing looked at me and told me, no, I don't want to see you, I want to see your mom. I told them, mama's not working. The only one that's here is me. He wasn't very happy but he ended up letting me give him his -- giving him his penicillin. And he didn't want me to give it to him on his butt, he said he is going to -- I'm going to do it on his arm. IRENE: Oh, they used to dread, you know, when they have, you know, sexually transmitted stuff, we used to have to give them how many, one side cheek and the other side. WILLA: Yeah. IRENE: Four, four. WILLA: And that used to be enough. Later on it was -- IRENE: They would be so scared of those shots, they had to get four on each buttock. WILLA: But later on then we had to -- it was becoming resistant to penicillin, so we had to give more. And it was those great big, those great big -- not the bi -- IRENE: 400. WILLA: Yeah. IRENE: No, not 400. Yeah. WILLA: Yeah. Those were bigger. IRENE: And when I -- it's real hard to treat your own family. Yeah. WILLA: It is. IRENE: It was real hard when my little girl Myna was a baby, she started having her strep throats when she was three months old. And doctors used to -- Kotzebue doctors used to tell me to give her penicillin, so many penicillin shots, and on the seventh day, give her Bicillin. When I was going to first give her her shot, I thought I was doing real good, I put -- I prepared her, put her on my lap, and you know, like so, and got things ready. I cleaned her and my -- my hand went up, whew, stop. I couldn't do it. For a while, I couldn't. And then I started thinking, gee, she's got a -- you know, she might have strep throat and you know, it could hurt her. So I think it was the fourth time I -- after that, it got easier for me. I had tough time when I first was going to give her a shot, she was so tiny. KAREN: Yeah. IRENE: That was a relief when I started doing it. And then when she was six years old, I finally did a shot for her.
KAREN: What about the idea -- you know everybody in your village and you're taking care of their medical problems. Is that ever a concern? You know everybody and... WILLA: I don't think so. We were the only ones there. If they didn't see us, they didn't see anybody. I mean, we were the only ones there. IRENE: Like we could send for their medicines and stuff. WILLA: Yeah. It's like they had no choice. And they didn't have a choice. We were the only ones there. And because they -- we were -- because I was the only one in White Mountain, I -- I tried to treat everybody the same. The way I would like to be treated if I had to go see somebody. But -- and I really felt for my family because they were kind of stuck with their mom doing -- doing all this to them that somewhere -- somehow along the line, our kids grew up with us being -- giving them medication and stuff. IRENE: Oh, I know. Maybe that's why my son is still not leaving. So much problems because he is asthmatic. That was tough. He pulled through. KAREN: Yeah. I was thinking is it ever hard for you having to treat other than your own children, but other family members or people you know so well, whatever hardships of doing that? IRENE: Somewhat. You know, not as bad as your children or your own family. But then if they are kind of sick, then you, you know, tend to worry and all that. Sometimes I have to go see them two, three times a day. In those days we had to walk a lot. Maybe that's why I was so skinny. Somebody comes banging on the door. WILLA: If there was -- if there was anything that happened in the village, we were one of the first people that was -- that they called. So we were kind of -- IRENE: We didn't have VPSOs them days, too. We had to. WILLA: No. IRENE: But after something almost happened to me by a drunk person, my husband and one of the council start going with me. So we just -- if they are drinking or anything, they wouldn't let me go in. They called the troopers. WILLA: And I remember when White Mountain -- White Mountain is one of the few damp villages in our region, and the people in -- in village decided to go damp, meaning they could bring alcohol home but they can't sell it. And when that was -- that first happened, I met with the City Council and I told them unless somebody is always there with me, I won't be going anymore to any home visits. And the City Council then was behind me, they said just to call any one of them and they would go with me. So that was kind of nice to know I had their support. That they were willing to go with me in case I ever needed somebody along. Because a lot of our -- our bad things happen when people are drinking. IRENE: I know. WILLA: And it wasn't always safe for us to be there. IRENE: They made it -- the Norton Sound VHS, they made it so we won't be able to go to the home of the violent person or drinking person unless we take the VPSO along with us, let him go in first. And then.
KAREN: How would you know whether there was drinking involved? WILLA: Usually it's somebody that come and tell us people are drunk and there is some -- somebody is hurt there. IRENE: People are always -- are always there to help us, too, besides the VPSO. WILLA: Seems like -- and if there was ever an emergency in the village, there was always people there -- IRENE: I know. WILLA: -- to get stuff for us from the clinic. They were more than willing to help us. IRENE: I remember the worst thing that happened was when one of my husband's nephews shot himself. I went over and he was just going down. He tried to say something to me, but he just -- he was just bleeding. There was -- Martha was with me, Martha Agloinga, Rita's mother, and somehow she got up there and I ran down -- we didn't have Hondas or anything in them days. I ran down to the clinic, got the oxygen, and I don't know how to this day I -- I was -- WILLA: You carried. IRENE: I carried that oxygen with box and all, all the way and down. WILLA: That's a lot of ways. IRENE: I didn't know, somebody said they saw me, I was just paying. WILLA: Oh. IRENE: But I knew what to do. Even my mind was -- Martha was there and some other people got there, but he was already -- I looked around the room and there was splatter on the wall. Couldn't do anything. And Martha let me go. And when the troopers came, they didn't even call me. So I just stayed home. WILLA: We get called so many times to that kind of... IRENE: Uh-hum. It's bad when somebody -- you know, say fatal, how they say it's fatal. That's real sad times for us. But then there's always people, like I say, they support us and call Norton Sound. WILLA: And then a lot of times after that, they would call us to come up and clean. So that was kind of an added on -- they would ask us to come and clean the rooms or -- IRENE: That's tougher, too. KAREN: After there's been a death? IRENE: Yeah. WILLA: Uh-hum. It wasn't part of our job, but I think a lot of us did it to make things easier for the family. We knew what they were going on -- IRENE: And it always was harder for us, too. WILLA: Yeah. But that kind -- that was really hard. KAREN: Did you have to do things with preparing the bodies, as well? WILLA: Uh-hum. Yeah. IRENE: Yeah. KAREN: As well as that? WILLA: Yeah. IRENE: But if there was like suicides or bad accidents and stuff, then the troopers. WILLA: The troopers would come. IRENE: Come in. We wouldn't have to clean that person. KAREN: Yeah. I'm going to change the tape here.