Bertha Moses was interviewed on September 13, 2005 by Marla Statscewich at Bertha's home in Allakaket, Alaska. In this interview, Bertha talks about her experiences as a health aide, working out of her home, communication with doctors, and some difficult situations she encountered. She also talks about working with Elsie Bergman, who was a health aide in Allakaket for 35 years.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Community Health Aide Program
Date of Interview: Sep 13, 2005
Narrator(s): Bertha Moses
Interviewer(s): Marla Statscewich
Transcriber: Carol McCue
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Her personal and family background information, and how she got interested in medicine and health care.
One of her first emergency experiences, and how she began to learn to administer health care.
Learning about medicine, and some of the other early volunteers who served as health aides for many years.
How communication between community health aides and doctors worked early on, and how the program changed as health aides became more professional.
How health aides were trained, sacrifices they made, and relationships they had with doctors and other health aides.
Improvements in communication technology and how they have impacted diagnosis of patients and confidentiality concerns.
Some of the emergency situations she recalls from her career, and some of the most rewarding things she learned to do.
Deciding to move to Fairbanks for a job as manager of the patient hostel at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.
How she set up the patient's hostel and overcame her worries to find that she was able to do the job.
The first time she delivered a baby.
The difficulties of being a health aide, including the challenges it posed in terms of her relationships with family and friends in a small community.
Improvements in medical care she has seen, and reasons why sometimes she wanted to quit working as a health aide.
What kept her motivated to work all those years.
How she has used traditional medicine, and some of the toughest issues she encountered as a health aide.
How her family's diet and lifestyle may have protected them from disease.
Types of foods she and her family ate, and the factors she believes have contributed to many of the children surviving into old age.
Her approach to providing nutritional advice to patients.
Qualities of a good health aide, advice to prospective health aides, and the community response to the community health aide program and changes within it.
Her best memories and some regrets from her career as a community health aide.
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MARLA: If you want to just say something. BERTHA: This is Bertha, Bertha Moses of Allakaket. Today is September 13, 19 -- I mean 2005. MARLA: That's excellent. Okay. And I can hear myself pretty well, as well. So let's just see how that sounds. So okay. Today is September 13th. I'm Marla Statscewich, I have the pleasure today of doing an interview with Bertha Moses in her house in Allakaket. And did I say it was 2005? BERTHA: Yes. MARLA: And we're doing a project for -- or doing an interview for the Community Health Aides Project, and so thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me. So if you wanted to just give a little bit of background information, where you're from, where your parents are from, and some family history, and we can start from there. BERTHA: My -- my grandparents came from the Kobuk River about before the turn of the century. Not the last century, but the other one before. And my parents were born in around here. My dad was born north of Alatna River, and my mother was born in the Arctic City there when they had the village down below here. And my mother was Cora Tobuk, my dad was Oscar Nictune. And I was born in Alatna May 2nd, 1930, and I grew up mostly in Alatna and up the Alatna River, most -- most of the time with my grandparents or my parents. And in 1941, my mother was delivering and there was some guy come around here and he was selling books, and he -- he said a Bible and a medical book were $16. $16 was a lot of money in 1941. So my mom ordered those books, and us, me and my siblings, get to watch the medical -- get to read the medical book. And it had colored pictures of the anatomy. And I guess that's where my medical background gets started. And so we -- we still have that book. My dad gave it to me in about 1950s or '70s, he said maybe I'll keep it, take good care of it. And so I had it, and just before the flood, I was digging around in the cache, in the trunk, and I found it and I brought it and so it's safe. And I gave it to my younger sister, Stella Hamilton, a couple years ago, then after taking care of it for many years and using it. The symptoms are the same but the treatments are -- had changed a lot, but still, it was very helpful to read it for symptoms. That was my -- the first time I ever read anything medical is when I read that book, not knowing that I would be a medical person someday. And then in 1955, I think it was the missionary's -- the missionary -- the priest's wife was an RN. So she taught us vital signs. And that was the first, just -- just vital signs. Nothing -- not blood pressure. The first time I ever learned that and we did that, she taught us the old -- old style way to do the -- I forgot what -- what you call it when somebody almost drown and you -- MARLA: CPR? BERTHA: Yeah, CPR. Yes. She taught us the old style way CPR -- MARLA: Oh. BERTHA: -- at that time, too. And then -- MARLA: And what was her name? BERTHA: Her name was Anita Miller. MARLA: Anita Miller. BERTHA: And her husband was -- is Reverend Richard Miller. They were the first -- that was the first priest we had. Before that we had two missionaries, ladies. One was a nurse, RN, and one was a teacher. For many years, that's all -- that's all we know was the two ladies. In 1953 -- wait, 19 -- yeah, 1953, that's when the Millers come. MARLA: Okay. BERTHA: Then after that, the Millers left in 1956, and when their three years were up, and there was a bachelor, a young guy, was there for the summer. And just in case if something happened, he showed me -- he asked me if I would like to know about the -- about the medical supplies back at the Mission. So he showed me where everything was and what to do, where they were. And the needles at that time were inside of a glass vial. And with water inside, solution inside. And I remember that one after a while.
BERTHA: Then -- then our next missionaries were -- she was a nurse again, and her name was Dorothy Mendehlsson, and Father Mendehlsson, Father Randy Mendehlsson was her husband. And they -- they -- they left for a few days and gave me the key to the Mission, told me to keep the -- keep the place warm. And while they were gone, one of my nephews got hurt and he got -- he laid -- cut on the -- a slit, slit runner -- slit brake or something. About six-inch cut. And his mother want me to go see him, so I went down. And I was going to put butterfly stitches and she said that wouldn't hold. She said that I should use needle and thread. So I went to the Mission again and I remembered those needle, but I didn't know how to -- we need to use needle holder at that time. So I washed it as good as I could and suture it. And my nephew always said I used straight green soap that time, and it really hurt. But I didn't -- I didn't know any better, I guess I was -- I was really scared. He didn't have to go to the Tanana Hospital then, or anyplace. He healed up right here. MARLA: And that was before you had any real -- BERTHA: Yes. MARLA: -- any training or -- BERTHA: Yes. That's before I had any training. And also that -- when any of my sisters are having babies, neighbors, they always called me for the -- the midwife's assistant or the nurse's assistant. So I learned about delivery, that when I was really young, too. And then in 1950 -- 50 -- I think it was 1958, the Public Health nurse come over. Before that, the Public Health nurse used to come about once a year or -- once a year about and she was here. Start the children in their immunizations, but never -- never -- never finished. And -- and then before that, too, in one of their trips they taught me how to do injection, to give shots. And I learned all that before -- before I had any training. Then the Public Health nurse come in 1958 in about February, I think, and they asked me if I would like to volunteer and be the health -- they called us nurse's aides that time. And so I said, okay, not -- not thinking it would be a long, long, long time before I ever get out of it. And then I said, okay. I guess I can run -- I guess at that time I volunteer for anything when somebody asks me. And so she start training us in our -- in our home, in my home. I had -- I had five or six children then. They had to be really quiet and they were quiet when we were just training how to give injection, we would practice in an orange and sometime in a towel with a syringe and water.
BERTHA: We learned to draw -- draw the medication out of the bottle, how you have to be sterilized and everything. And at first, too, we used to have to boil our needles. And then we even had to sharpen our needles and boil them and use them again. MARLA: And were you the only person who was doing this training with the Public Health nurse? BERTHA: There was other lady, Caroline Bergman. She took all that training at that time, too. But she -- she was much younger, so they used -- I used to do most of the health aide work if I'm here. She -- she does some of them when I'm not here. She passed away about five years ago. And so we had our little training at that time, about one week, every night for about a week. And then she -- she left some -- she had started the immunization again on the children, so she left serums for me to give -- finish giving them. At that time I think it was somewhere, three -- three -- three -- one month apart or sort of like that. Even -- even polio was an injection at that time, but now sometime after that, it was start being given orally. And most antibiotics at that time was injections, too. We didn't have any supplies, we didn't have any medicines, but we had -- we started learning to take care of the babies. Before that, a lot of babies go to the hospital at Tanana and stay there until they -- until they find the ride to send them home again. And after -- I think after the health -- they started having health aides, it was much better. Then after that, we started having training. I'm saying "we" because there was a volunteer, one or two people volunteer in every village. Like Sophie Beetus in Hughes, Annie Vent in -- Annie Vent and Marie Yaska in Cutoff or -- no, in Huslia. And then I don't know the other villages, like Jessie -- Jessie Williams in Venetie, Nina Russell in Arctic Village, Alice Moses in Chalkyitsik, and Lynn Yungpik (phonetic) from Stevens Village. And Nora Billy in Beaver. I remember -- those are the ones that are volunteer. There's more of it, I don't know them. But those are the ones that we had volunteered 11 years before we started getting paid.
MARLA: And where did you guys -- where did you go for your training when you were volunteering? BERTHA: Just to Tanana, every time I go down to have -- to wait to have deliver a baby at first, and then in 19 -- that's 8 years. In 1960 -- '69, we started traveling to get training, right at Tanana Hospital. Other than that, we did our training when the doctor comes. A very short time, and we just kind of learned by ourself, too, most of us, just reading the book and talking. We had really poor communication with the doctor in Tanana Hospital. They had the radio called single sideband. I don't know what that mean. We had to have a permit to talk on it, to -- I had a -- I had a temporary permit. And all kinds of letters and calling -- calling -- calling the -- we call the Tanana Hospital, we have to identify ourself by letters. And I called them by their letters, too. It was -- I -- like K22X is in Tanana -- I mean, K22X is in Tanana, this is K22JP Allakaket, something like that. And it's -- if anybody had other radios in the villages, they would hear us, too. Most of the time we don't get through, and then somebody would hear, somebody, sometimes someone from Kotzebue, sometimes someone from Fort Yukon, and they relay at that time. Communication was really poor. Then we had to -- the health aides had to diagnose and prescribe medicine on their own the best they could. And I don't think there was any tragedy due to our mistake or anything at that time. We were -- we were taught very carefully to give medication out. And the first thing. And I was really afraid of giving medicine, too, because I read about the side effects and stuff like that at the beginning. Then after 1969, we start getting a little bit paid from Juneau. I think it was 180 a month. I thought it was lower, but I don't -- I don't remember the exactly how much it was because I lost all my paperwork in the flood and I don't know or remember some things. Then we start going to Anchorage. The first time I go to Anchorage for training was 1969, to the CHAP in Anchorage. And by that time, we -- most of us health aides already -- already learn a lot by that time, but we -- we had to learn to do a lot of other new things at that time. Not as much as the health aides know now today, though. They are very much advanced from -- from the first time.
MARLA: And how long were those training sessions? BERTHA: Two or three weeks away from home, from our little children. I think our family sacrificed a lot, too, when you were voluntary health aide because of when -- that's not very much -- that's not very -- enough training, two weeks or three weeks, but when we come home, we still continue to train. Reading or talking with the doctor or checking patients. Being here with the doctor, dentist, or nurse, traveling nurse, RN, and that's how we get our training, too. MARLA: And how often did the doctor come to the village? BERTHA: About once a year at that time. MARLA: Oh. BERTHA: And the Public Health nurse used to come once a year, then two times a year after -- yeah. MARLA: And who were some of the doctors or the nurses that you remember? BERTHA: I remember Dr. James, Elterman, Brown, Dr. Jones, Dr. Dennis, Dr. -- I forget his name I guess. Dr. Britton. And there was one doctor, but I forgot his name. It was Dr. N. I just remembered but I couldn't -- I forgot it then. MARLA: And did you get along with all of them? BERTHA: Yes. Except the only ones I argued about was Dr. Dennis. But I wasn't supposed to do that, but he forgive me after a while. After he come -- after he come and work one session with me at home, then we got along better. It was just one time I disagree with him. Usually I disagree with anybody, I don't say anything, because I'm not a doctor and they are the doctor. We had -- I think all the health aides had good -- good attitude to the doctors, to anybody, because we hear each other talking all the time when they make the round robin. MARLA: And what do you mean by a round robin? BERTHA: They started from A to Z in the villages, Allakaket, Arctic Village, then -- MARLA: When they were calling on the radio? BERTHA: And then they would call every village. Yeah.
BERTHA: And it was -- it was good. Then after a while they started having the satellite radio. That was much better. It was like a two-way -- two-way like -- like -- just like a CB radio. It actually, there are -- they were like car radios, the CB kind, but we were going through the satellite. That was so much better. Every day we can talk to the doctor. And every day we listen to each other. But the trouble was it was at lunchtime. And then my kids come home from school and I have to kind of tune it down a little bit and everybody. But if I have to talk with someone, I couldn't -- I have to talk, I can't tell them to go out, they are eating their lunch. And some of them complain, they don't want to listen to medical stuff while they were eating. One of my boys complained. They -- our children had to sacrifice a lot, too, because they -- we have to spend time away from them and everything. I see my sister coming. MARLA: Should I pause it? BERTHA: Shut it off. (Pause.) MARLA: So we're back on, and we were talking about the satellite radio and how much Bertha -- that was for communication and being able to contact the doctor. BERTHA: Yes. And the first time they -- they test it, two -- several years before they actually put it out, they test it, too. So they picked Venetie and Allakaket just to see how it would go. So I had to get up four o'clock in the morning and record something on the satellite thing, and Jessie Williams had to do that, too. And I was KB2X -- I was Mobile 1 and Jessie was Mobile 2. So they left that on for about a couple months, then they come and take them out again. And we had in our living room great big machines all over and wires. And my children didn't touch it, though. They -- I didn't have to holler at them, they just -- them days, people disciplined their children quietly. And most of them listened because we had 11 of them. And some of the older ones were grown up about that time. So they came and picked them up again, then several years later, they had one in every village. Then the telephones come in. So now it's just the telephone. MARLA: And did you treat most of your patients in your house? BERTHA: Some of them -- oh, yes. Some -- I made a lot of home visits. I was -- it was nothing for me to walk, I mean, lots of home visits. In the summertime I used boat. I drive myself across the river to Alatna, and dark, no lights. And sometimes in daytime, sometimes at night. And then in wintertime I used snow machine if it's available. But if my husband is out with the snow machine, then I walk. Walk across the river or walk -- I'd rather do home visits more than bringing them to our house because my kids getting a little bit nosey, too, and you know, we don't -- you have to -- there's a lot -- I always tell them, though, if they hear anything or see anything, not to talk about it, it's confidential. So they learned that, too. MARLA: And how did you deal with confidentiality issues over the CB or over the radio? BERTHA: Usually we don't -- usually we try not to talk about things that you shouldn't on the radio. We just treat people we need to. But that was very hard to do. Every village know what's going on in other villages. But mostly it says, you know, like pneumonia and fractures and things like that. We were trying not to talk about -- we don't really have to talk about a lot of things, we just treat ourself and -- treat them ourself, diagnose them. And if somebody has a really bad stomach pain and this is very uncomfortable, we have to go there and examine the person, and then the doctor say what do you think is wrong with that person, and if we think it's -- if we think it's gallbladder attack, then -- then we tell us what the treatment is. But for pain. And then try to get that person out the next day. I didn't have very many medevacs out. We usually wait for -- we usually wait for mail -- the regular mail run because there wasn't very much money to medevac everybody at that time. So we had to just do our best and -- and treat the patient the way the doctor wanted. The only time we medevac is if they have appendicitis and -- or bad fractures.
MARLA: And -- and how were you able to contact the hospital before the telephone to tell them that you were sending a medevac? BERTHA: They made the medevac from the hospital. MARLA: Oh, okay. BERTHA: And we called them. I would be calling on the single-sideband radio, and sometimes the hospital doesn't hear me. Sometimes Kotzebue hospital hear me. Sometimes Fort Yukon clinic hears me. So they relay and they said the plane is coming to pick up so and so. And they usually take them to Tanana. And sometimes I escort people to Tanana or Fairbanks, too. Sometimes scary flight because it's really bad weather and we need to get that person in. But it didn't happen too often because most -- most accidents and illnesses we started treating them here. And it was really hard to tell, you know, we have to watch for meningitis in the babies. And I had one patient with meningitis, she was -- he must have been 8 or 9 months old, and I started treating him as soon as I find out something was terribly wrong with him. And I started -- I can't get the doctor. Then finally I got the doctor, and he said that was good, continue. And then I called the doctor back again and told him he wasn't responding very well, and he was lethargic like, and so they sent a medevac plane for him. MARLA: How were you treating him? BERTHA: I was giving him antibiotics by oral. And the doctor said if I didn't start him that early, he might have had a lot of damage to -- to his brain or something because it was really dangerous. But he came out all right. MARLA: Yeah. BERTHA: Good thing we had only one here. We had one more but he was already around Fairbanks, and they didn't treat him and he died. Didn't treat him soon enough. MARLA: What -- it sounds like you had lots of scary experiences. What was one of -- one of the most memorable ones? BERTHA: Gunshot wound in the head. Self-inflicted. Yeah. And another one was stab wound in the stomach. And I know he was having internal bleeding, and the plane, small plane just happened to land, we just grabbed it and he took us to Tanana. That's when we fly through a lot of clouds and scary flight. So when we get to Tanana, they meet us and they ask me what I think might be wrong with him, and I said I think he's having internal bleeding, but I had to come back in that small plane again. So from Tanana, they just sent him to Fairbanks, and they did surgery that night and he's -- he's -- he's been well since then. MARLA: And then what was the most rewarding part about being a health aide? BERTHA: When we deliver healthy babies. The most rewarding part. When -- when you're a health aide, you forgot to be afraid. And when you're trying to save a life, you forgot to be afraid. It's all done, the next day you just think about it, and get a little bit shaky after everything is over. And one of the best things they taught us was how to put -- they called it super tongue splint and broken bones. It was one of the best ones they ever taught us because then we could -- it was -- we think somebody had a fractured leg or arm, and we put a -- put that super tongue splint on it. And it's like plaster but it's removable. And we put it on with ace bandages. And it feels better. And it's warm, too, because you soak the -- soak the stuff in kind of warm water before you put it on. I was -- I felt really good after we started having that. And then set up IV and sent them on the mail plane or a regular flight most of the time. Sometimes I have to do a medevac.
MARLA: Well, it sounds like you learned a lot in your training. BERTHA: Oh, yes. We had good instructors in Anchorage and Fairbanks and Tanana Hospital. Dr. James was one of the -- my instructors in Tanana Hospital, and when also when we made the trips, Dr. Elterman, all of them. MARLA: And did you ever have to go to the Lower 48 for training? BERTHA: No. I never. MARLA: And then you moved to Fairbanks? BERTHA: Oh, yeah. 1983. I was at the clinic one day, and my daughter come in with me, she says, someone called our house, we had a phone at the house then. She said this person wanted you to call. So I said okay. And since I didn't have a patient at that time, the office was closer to -- to the telephone, so I went to that Allakaket city office, and it was a pay phone, so I called that this person that wanted me to call. I was thinking at that time, it was in March, and I was -- the convention was coming up and I was thinking, well, maybe they are going to ask me to go to convention. I would be happy to get a little break from the health aide. So I went to that -- so I made the call, and they said we are thinking of -- we are thinking that you -- we want you to apply for the house manager job for the patient hospital. And I said, oh, I know about it before, but I thought it was too complicated for me. So I didn't apply for it. This person said, we really want you to, there's several of us want you to apply. They said, you don't have to answer me right away, you can -- I said, I have to talk with my husband first, I'll call you from the office. And they said talk with him and call me back in a day or two. So I hang up and I think, I say to myself, God, whatever you have for me, that's what I'll do. Whatever it is. Go or stay here or go for it. So I went back to the clinic and finished my day, then I went home and I told my husband. And he said, that's funny, he said, because we all of us talk about living in Fairbanks some day. It's like we know we were going to live in Fairbanks some day we said. And he's saying, I think you should -- you should apply because this is the third time somebody asked us to relocate to our job. And I think you should apply because it's only 55 minutes flight from Fairbanks if you wanted to come back, he said. And so I called and the next day, and told -- called Sherry, I told her, yeah, I'll apply. So anyway, they make a reservation and for us to travel right away. So both of us traveled and meet with Dave Mather. And he said, I can't believe you want to leave your health aide job, he said, you are doing really good in the health aide. And I can't believe you want to live in the city. By that time I think after -- after how many years, I wanted to rest from being health aide. I'm getting old, too, you know. I was 53, almost 53 years old. And so I -- I went for my interview, then come back. And how many days later, they said I was accepted. It was kind of hard to leave all the babies, all my patients when I'm working, and Clara Sam was working with me as a CHR. MARLA: And did she take over for you? BERTHA: Yes. Her and -- her and Kitty, Kitty David. Then Kitty David take over as CHR. When I leave the village, Kitty David used to alternate for me. And then after that Elsie. I trained Kitty all at home. Everything we had for clinic, she didn't have to go to no training before. And then Elsie, I trained her mostly at home, Elsie Bergman. At the clinic, too. And a lot of people didn't feel too comfortable about me being out, but I think, oh, they will get used to the new -- new health aides, and they did. And yeah. And they -- they called me and they told me I was accepted and when did they want us to move. So we moved to Fairbanks. And I was really worried about the paperwork, how -- how am I going to have -- take these calls, and how will I keep track of who is coming in and the rooms, and there was no one to work with me, just myself at the patient hospital, with living -- with living quarters. And so --
BERTHA: First we had to get it -- I had to get it ready. I had to buy the sheets and blankets and pots and pans and just stock the shelf for everything, order -- after we ordered the things for the patient. I don't know how to run it, it's like there's no -- nobody run it before me. In fact, I just kind of had an idea. And someone tell me, go down and talk with Dottie Silver. And Dottie Silver. So I went down and she kind of outline and admission forms and gave me a supply of that. And then after that, I went back and one person was keeping track of me from other place, trying to be really helpful. Everybody was helping me. And then this lady, she asked me. And I told her, oh, I was down and met with Dottie Silver, and I got some information and so I feel much better. And she said, oh, nobody goes to visit with her. She's way up and how could I. But I didn't know that. Someone say I could, so I went. I always think about that. And then after that one lady asked me, one Native lady asked me, she lived in Fairbanks, she asked me how in the world did you get that job anyways. I was kind of offended, so I said I guess I was most qualified, that's why. I know I shouldn't act smart with her, but I felt offended so that's what I told her. So -- and then I worry, I don't sleep good, how will I take care of the paperwork. Then one day we went to church. Before that I prayed about it and we went to church and this priest's wife, I'm coming up there, hi, Bertha, I'm so happy you got that job. You'll be so good to the people, she said. At that time I said thank you. And we went home to the hospital and had lunch, and toward evening, I just remember what she said, and I start to laugh, and I told my husband, I'm worried about the paperwork and it's people I'm going to be working with. I could work with people, why I worry about paperwork. People is important. And I felt way better. I thought, I have lots of confidence again. And then after that, some -- some guy working at Chief Andrew Isaac, I think he was director or I can't remember what was his title, he said -- he said, you have a very hard job, very. I said, you think so? He say, yeah. Yes. I was thinking, I wonder what -- what am I getting myself into. But it went all right. After a couple months and Dave Mathers was coming, he said I could -- I could sign up for how many years I want to work there. I said, I'll try 11 years. And that's what I did. It was good experience. I get to meet lots of people, make lot of friends. But then a lot of times it's sad, too, because you get so used to seeing the same people coming around, and then they go to the hospital for the last time, it's kind of sad, too. MARLA: And they named the hospital after you now? BERTHA: Yes. MARLA: Is that correct? BERTHA: Yes. MARLA: When did that happen? BERTHA: That happened in '95. Yeah. MARLA: You must have done wonderful things for that hospital. BERTHA: Must be. I don't know. MARLA: And do you think that your community health aide training, being a community health aide helped you in that job? BERTHA: Yeah, a lot it helped me. Once in awhile I have to measure a patient's medicine, some elderly people can't see and to measure their insulin or something. So I have fun with that, too. I read their medications for them if they can't understand. And that really helped me, telling them what each medicine is for. That's when they bring it to me. If they don't bring it to me, I don't bother them. MARLA: Well, that -- that sounds like you were very helpful.
MARLA: When did you deliver your first child, kind of getting back to your health aide time? BERTHA: When -- 1950 -- 1953, in the wintertime. The nurse, old nurse, the RN, was still here at the Mission, Miss Amelia Hill. And it was cold at night, lots of Northern Lights out. Really cold and lots of Northern Lights. And my sister went into labor over in Alatna. And my baby was not even a year old then, too. But my husband who happened to be home and that was good, so I dressed up with my warm clothes. You should see me, my -- my long fur boots was almost to my -- way above my knees. And my thick caribou skin parka was down, and my mittens was rabbit skin lined, and my caribou leg boots with fur liners inside. And I dressed up like that and put scarf on and start walking. And I walk and my brother told us, my sister wanted me, so I know what's going on. So I walk across and I took my parka off and I -- I didn't get around to prepare much yet and the nurse hadn't arrived yet, and the baby was coming, so -- so I got the baby. And he didn't breathe right away. And I thought, and I turned him over and rubbed his back and he cried right away. And I felt really good. And I was still working on the baby and tied the cord and everything and waited for the afterbirth, and then the RN nurse come in. I was 22 years old. MARLA: Wow. I have to flip the tape. Just a -- (Tape turned over.) So you were 22 years old when you delivered your first baby? BERTHA: Yeah. Yeah. But I see people when I was younger, when I was 20 years old, I was assistant to the nurse delivering baby. MARLA: And is that because you wanted to be an assistant? BERTHA: They asked me to come. MARLA: Oh. BERTHA: I don't want to. I don't want to be the one every time my younger sister go in labor, they usually -- her mother-in-law send for me. And I just scared while I was young to, but that was -- that really helped me. MARLA: Yeah. BERTHA: And one time my niece was going into labor across there, and I was -- I went in and the baby will be born pretty soon. We had these pack -- this is -- there's plastic dish pan inside and there's everything sterile pack, give-away pack, all paper, you can throw it away. And we had the big -- the waterproof and rubber seat, the old style kind I found at the Mission. We have to wash it after. So put that on over their bed, and put all this paper stuff and their feet and legs, and over there, over their stomach. And then scrub our hands for -- brush our hands for five minutes with soapy water and brush. Then put our sterile gloves on. And my assistant was helping me put everything on, I'm ready to get the baby. But I didn't deliver too many because I always make sure I sent them to Tanana or Fairbanks. MARLA: When it was almost time? BERTHA: Uh-hum (affirmative).
MARLA: What -- what do you think was the hardest part of your -- of being a health aide? BERTHA: I think the hardest part was before they tell you what's -- what they knocking at the door for. Made me really -- made me scared. When somebody knock at night, no telephones in village, you knock at the door at night, and I know somebody must be sick. And it's kind of hard before you know what's going on. MARLA: Yeah. BERTHA: You never know what somebody's going to tell you. MARLA: And what got you through those hard times? BERTHA: Prayer, just determination to do something good for the patients. Even if I feel afraid, I still -- still have to be -- be there. There's no escape from it, it seems like. MARLA: And they are all people you know. BERTHA: And everybody, yeah, relatives, nieces, sisters, brothers, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and I'm their aunty, and all that. My -- my little grandson didn't like me because the first time he remembers, all that he remembers seeing me every time is looking in his ears or checking his throat and listening to -- taking his temperature and stuff. And he didn't like me much after for a while. MARLA: That must be difficult. BERTHA: Yeah. I had to do that to my kids, too. Giving them injections and you know, that medicine is dangerous, too. They might have reaction. MARLA: Yeah. BERTHA: The two people that had reaction to penicillin was both my daughters, too. MARLA: And were you able to get them to the hospital? BERTHA: The first one, I gave her -- what -- I gave her epinephrine. The second one, I had to give her epinephrine twice. I was able to talk with the doctor. I didn't -- I didn't medevac them. The doctor -- or else I couldn't get the doctor and I was talking to someone in Fort Yukon, she was a -- she was a nurse, but she was not a PA but she was a nurse. And she told me what to do. MARLA: So you had epinephrine in your medical kit? BERTHA: Yes. MARLA: What else did you have in your medical kit? BERTHA: First -- first medicine we had were just all tetracycline that's given orally, and sulfa, the first antibiotics we had. And penicillin was injection, at that time it was. They don't have the orally ones yet. And cough medicine. Aspirin. The first medicine box I had was my dad made it for me. He didn't want the kids to accidentally take medicine, so he made me a medicine box. I didn't even ask him, he just -- with padlock and even everything. And it was two and a half feet wide, two and a half feet square and then two and a half feet high. And all our whole village medicine fit inside. MARLA: Wow. BERTHA: Then after a while we started having more and more medication, so all people automatically filled, and you know, people's high blood pressure medicines, and all the -- all kinds of medicine for each person who are on medication. Then we had to -- a big, old cabinet. We had a big metal cabinet with lock in our house. Then I told the Chief, I don't like to work in our house anymore. My children doesn't like it either. And I say, we really need a clinic. So they build a clinic. It's still down -- down in -- down in the old village. They use it for mental health clinic now. Log cabin. MARLA: Oh. I've seen it. And is it still used as a -- as a clinic? Or -- BERTHA: Mental health. MARLA: But for physical illnesses or -- BERTHA: No. MARLA: Just for only for mental health? BERTHA: For the counsel. MARLA: Is there -- is there another clinic? BERTHA: Yes, that clinic is down here, down by the road when you were coming here. Frame building. MARLA: Okay.
MARLA: So you must have seen a lot of changes in medical care throughout your years? BERTHA: Oh, yes. Better and better. It gets much better all the time. The health aides learn more, too. MARLA: Yeah. BERTHA: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: And are they getting more training now, or -- BERTHA: They get more training, they get more and more sophisticated training. Like they can monitor the heart, they have to -- it maybe something like EKG. I don't -- I don't really know. They have this machine they can hook them up to and find out if they have heart -- really bad heart problems. They can do that. And just about everything they can do. MARLA: So they've gotten more equipment, as well? BERTHA: Uh-hum. Yeah. That's nice. There's telephone. MARLA: Communications? BERTHA: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: And were there any other -- were there any times when you wanted to quit the job? BERTHA: Yes, a little bit. Not really, but sometimes I wanted to quit because everybody's going somewhere and I can't go -- I can't leave because of the clinic. And at that time, I used to drink beer, too, and at that time. And I -- I can't -- I have to -- I have to make sure I don't drink when -- well, you know, there's nobody else to take care, and so that was really hard to stay away from the alcohol when a health aide. Sometimes I have a little too much, and when that happens, sometimes nothing really bad happened while I was drinking, though. And except our son had cut his forehead, he fell down, and my husband was home, he go get me, but I was already -- I had a couple beers. And that's the hardest part, too. I don't drink now, since for many years. MARLA: Yeah. BERTHA: Sometimes when you keep working with patients all the time, sometimes you have to get a week and start drinking or take something to calm down. Sometimes. And maybe not everybody, but I think I just making an excuse, but I really didn't want to drink. I didn't drink when I was young. I must be in my 30s when I start. But periodical, for a long time. MARLA: And then you probably worried, too, that someone's going to come knocking on your door. BERTHA: Yeah. I worry about that. One time the Public Health nurse was here, and I think, oh, boy, Public Health nurse is here, somebody is almost ready to deliver, too. So I went back to my daughter and son-in-law's, and I had a beer. Somebody knock and come getting me. Said the nurse didn't deliver babies before. So that was the end of it. That's good, though. MARLA: Yeah. BERTHA: I was all right by the time. But I let the nurse get the baby, the Public Health nurse. I just tell her what to do.
MARLA: And what -- What really kept you staying with the job because it was -- BERTHA: The interest, wanting to find out more and more of how -- how a person gets sick and what symptoms are and just being interested in medical was one of them. Another one was I know I'm needed, too. Somebody had to do it. And then when they start paying a little, too, at first it was really small, but it helped. I used to sew for sale at night before -- before we started -- before I started getting paid, to try to make ends meet. That was hard, work all day and sew at nighttime and sleep a little while, and I had little kids to take care of. And the reason I think sometimes before that is when somebody gets mad at me and holler at me and stuff like that, which don't happen very often, but people get excited when their baby is sick and just get out of hand like, but I don't pay attention to them. I just do my -- do my best and work and I've been -- I mean, after I settle down and think about it and my family don't like that, though. But after I think about it, then I think, after all, it's people that make the job. So it's people that -- it's not -- it's nothing, if there's no people, there's no job. That's what I'm trained for. So I let it go. It's all right. I'm fine again. MARLA: Did you have to take care of your family before you became a health aide? Were you taking care of your siblings or -- BERTHA: Yes. My mother died when I was 12. And by the time I was 15, my two older sisters and older brother left home. And I was the oldest when I'm 15. So I had to take care of three -- three sisters and one brother. And then after a while our grandmother was really old, we had to take care of our grandma. And we have to cook for the dogs and feed the dogs. And I had to go fishing to put food on the table. Started real young. And I had to -- hunt, too. I was a tomboy. Driving dogs, hauling wood, hauling meat. Didn't have much time for -- to cook, I come home and if nobody cooked, and cook any old way, just throw something in the pot and boil it and do the best we could. But mostly sometimes the younger ones cooked. And then I still don't like to cook. I can bake, I know how to bake, but I never learned to cook fancy dishes or anything. I just boil meat or bake meat, or boil fish or bake fish. Cook something else to go with it. But we had to, too, because my husband had heart problem and we have to watch our diet and eat really. And my son -- one of my son in-laws ask my daughter when -- before they got married, don't your mother learn to -- didn't your mom learn how to cook? Doesn't she know how to cook? And my daughter told me but I never told my son-in-law. I think that's okay. I don't need to be a cook. MARLA: No, you were taking care of so many people. BERTHA: Uh-hum. Yeah. MARLA: And it sounds like you were taking care of your family when you were young, so it was almost natural to become a health aide for the whole community. BERTHA: Oh, yeah. And you know, I have -- I don't try -- I always prayed so I'd be good to the people. When I was working at the patient hospital, I prayed so I wouldn't say anything mean to them, I would be good to them, treat them really good and listen to them. And that's the way it worked. That's the way I want it to. I don't want to -- I don't want to just pretend I'm nice on top and not -- not inside. I want -- I want my feelings to be from inside, too. And I always tell my kids that, too. MARLA: I think that's important. BERTHA: It is. MARLA: It's an important part of being a health aide, as well. BERTHA: Yes. Uh-hum. MARLA: Is to be able to care for so many people. BERTHA: Uh-hum (affirmative).
MARLA: Did you ever know or use any traditional medicine or have to use any traditional medicine? BERTHA: I didn't while I -- I did not when I was practicing after we already -- before that we used to use pitch when we cut, you know, from the wood. And there's stink weed, too, you can boil it and drink the juice to help your cold. But I didn't use the traditional medicine when I was working with people. MARLA: And what are some of the key health issues that affected this area and have they changed throughout the time? BERTHA: At that time when I was working, the big change was alcohol. And later part of the time before I was transferred, they were just getting into drugs. I hear about it. I've never had anybody had overdose or nothing. But I hear about it. MARLA: So that's been -- that's been recent, then? BERTHA: That's 19 -- late '70. That's quite awhile ago now. MARLA: Yeah. BERTHA: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: Yeah. BERTHA: Almost 30 years ago. But alcohol was a really big change that I had while I am health -- while I was health aide. MARLA: Because there was so many accidents or -- BERTHA: There was suicide and stuff like that. And that's one of the hardest things to do is when somebody with gunshot wound and you don't know if they are alive or not, we have to go there and check them out and pronounce they are dead or they have to be medevaced or something. That's the hardest part. MARLA: Yeah. I can imagine. BERTHA: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: And that's when your faith probably really helps to -- helped to get you through it. BERTHA: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: And what kind of support did you get from the community? BERTHA: They -- my husband is the one that really helped me. If somebody had -- is kind of intoxicated and I'm trying to suture them or put a splint on their leg or arm, and how they are trying to get out of there, and that's where my husband come handy. If it's nighttime and if he think it's alcohol related, then he goes with me. If a baby is sick or an elderly person is sick, he didn't -- he don't have to go with me. But when it's alcohol related, all those years, he didn't rest very good, too, because somebody's always knocking. Babies always be sick in the nighttime. MARLA: Because that's when they know you're sleeping? BERTHA: I don't know. Because I don't know. They get -- all day they get tired and in the nighttime they are sick. They get worse. I spent a lot of time, and I always used to nurse my babies. And then when -- when they wake up at night, I'm not home and they are crying. They don't like bottle and they are crying and my husband had to walk the floor all night once, sometimes. MARLA: So your family was really helpful? BERTHA: Oh, yes. My -- my girls learned to appreciate early, too, there was two girls especially. One of my girls was a health aide for a while, too. One of my daughters. And I -- I wanted my oldest daughters to -- I wanted somebody in our family to become a doctor, but nobody wants to go. They chose teacher and I think some of them don't like -- they see too much already, like leaving and stuff. MARLA: Yeah. And so one of your daughters became a health aide? BERTHA: For a while. MARLA: In Allakaket? BERTHA: Yeah. For a -- for a short time. But then she had health problems where she had to quit. MARLA: Yeah. Who took care of you when you were sick? BERTHA: I talked with the doctor. I have to talk with the doctor and tell them what's wrong with me. MARLA: So you took care of yourself? BERTHA: Oh, yes. MARLA: Oh. I thought maybe one of your children or somebody else -- BERTHA: At one time when I had -- I had a slight stroke, I think, and my one eye can't close, and my daughter had -- the one was health aide, she had to put patch -- she talked with the doctor and put patch over my eye and get me where I could go down to -- go to Tanana Hospital. Could we stop a while? MARLA: Sure. (Recording shut off.)
MARLA: So we're back on. BERTHA: Yes. MARLA: And we were just talking about health and diet and perhaps how that had some effect on your families being able to have very long -- long lives. BERTHA: Oh, yeah. I had -- there was 10 of us in our family. When the oldest was 18, the baby was newborn, our mother died. And then that same year, our young -- our little baby brother died with pneumonia and then another girl died of pneumonia. Then after that, that was in '43, and then my older brother died in 1996. And my older sister in 1999. So but there's six of us. And the first missionaries, the priest and his wife, knew all 8 of us. And they want -- they were thinking -- they were wondering how 8 of us survived the TB era. People were dying -- our neighbors and our cousins were dying with TB and our uncle, and we lived around those people. They -- they don't know how we survived. He thought maybe we had good resistance, but I -- I don't know. After I become a health aide and start studying nutrition, too, then I figured it was our diet. Ever since I could remember, our mother used to have a garden. She would grow potatoes, cabbage, carrots, turnips, beets, and lettuce. Then she canned in early June, late May or early June. We started eating lettuce first and radishes. She even grew Swiss chard and spinach, too. We eat those, too. We eat a lot of turnip tops. I like that. And she would thin the turnips out and she would have a whole bunch and wash them off and boil them, and then she would fry bacon and put bacon on there and salt and that tastes really good. We have some fish and then something from the garden every day all summer. Then -- then we leave our garden and go up Alatna River and we start fishing for -- fishing for little fish. Not much moose them days or caribou. So we grow -- mostly grow up on fish. And she would catch all kinds of fish from springtime to fall, to a part of the winter even. And we eat a lot of fish. The liver, eggs, the whitefish gizzard, we called it. We eat a lot of that. The whitefish, they are fat, and good. And berries. And we eat berries and fish at the fish camp, and we have some -- we have some dog -- dog food, too, and we make it last a long time. And then when falltime, when the frost -- when it frost a couple times now and the ground freeze a little, then we start picking roots. If we start picking them before it frost, this kind of tastes tough. But they are good after it frosts a couple times and we pick these roots, certain kinds. Just only one kind root.
BERTHA: I remember one time when we were living in Fairbanks, someone asked me what kind of snack do we have when I was growing up. And that first time I ever thought about snack. We didn't have no snack food like our kids do today. We don't know about chips, we don't know about pop, we know candy but we can't afford to buy candy. We know gum but we can't afford to buy that. We used to chew spruce gum. We used to chew spruce gum and -- and it's healthy for our -- healthy for our teeth, they always say. They are not like soft on those, they are just stiff after a little while. And then when we were fishing at one place and after they find enough fish, first they cut the fish, they dry them, then after that they start -- like in September when it's cold out, we start putting it away in some kind of box they make out of logs. It is like a little cabin, they pile all their fish there, and they cover it, and it keep air, but mice or anything can't go in there. And we just leave it there and it will freeze for dog food. Then after they do that, then we start down to the village. We start closing down, row, and fish. Every once in awhile when we were going along and our oldest sister and brother would seine, that means we all would have to get off and then they seine. In the meantime, I would run to shore or run up the bank, look around, we would find roots and we had one pick, little pick. Not animal pick, but it's a pick to pick the ground. And we start with sticks. We used to fight over that pick, too. But not too much. Sometimes we share it really good. And we pick roots, and it's too cold to walk it, so we all get in boat again and we eat the roots. Muddy. We have pretty parka over our clothes so we just wipe them and wiped the mud off on our parka. Always I still know how mud tastes. Sometimes when we land, there's berries, rose hips, or high bush cranberries or low bush cranberries or blueberries, we eat those, too, on every stop. And after a while we eat too much from the ground and we -- then our mom would build a fire and then we would eat raw fish eggs, little ones. And our mom would make fire and cook some whitefish, you boil it, and we eat our fish, and we drink the broth and eating that and get in the boat again. And warm, even though it's ice, it's warm, we huddled together. Our oldest sister and brother rowed the boat and our mom would paddle. And our dad would be working the barge earning money to buy food and we don't see him all summer. That's our snack was from the ground. And when we get done -- when we come to the village, we have to camp about two or three times. That means we've traveled about three or four days. And our dogs run on the shore. They follow us from the shore. And then we finally get to our house across Alatna. We had a big log cabin. It was built high, too. Nobody smoke in our house, too. I think that's one reason why we survived with didn't get TB, no one smoked in our house. There was no smoke. Only when grampa come he smoked, but not steady. He just smoked pipe. And not smoking and having a good diet, I think that's how we survived that. Eight of us grow to be old age out of ten. There's -- now there's six of us living. All old, too. Old age people. The young people's 65. MARLA: I think you're probably right.
MARLA: And did you do some -- when you were a health aide, did you do any education, like nutritional education and -- and if so, was that -- how did that help or preventative health care? BERTHA: When I have baby patients, that's the only time I tell nutrition, what to feed the baby and when to feed the baby. I don't really go by the books and teach them because when we had our little babies, we didn't have no natural book to follow, we had only the midwife or the nurse. And we did -- I always talk about breast feeding, nursing the baby is the best. I tell all my prenatal patients that when I was working. I also told them to one time -- two times I had overweight babies. One time one baby was three or four months old and he was so overweight, his neck was raw, too much folds. And then I asked the mother what was she feeding the baby. She said she feed the baby canned milk, Carnation canned milk, half and -- half water and half milk, and then she put sugar on it. And that, I told her, no sugar. Try dilute his milk and give him -- start -- stop giving him sugar. Stop that. She didn't know. She didn't ask me before that. And so in about six weeks, the baby was back to normal and he was much healthier. And then another -- another lady -- young mother, her first boy, he was -- he was about a year and a half and he was way overweight. So I told her to cut -- dilute his milk and don't give him sweets, don't give him salted meat, try feed him solids, plain food, see what would happen. Not too long after that, she bring him back again and his weight was not quite normal but he was way better. And both of them grow up to be -- they are -- they grow up to be slim guys because we caught them in time. So I used to talk about the baby's diet mostly. And some people when they have high blood pressure, I tell -- I go over their diet with them, too. But I never talk about our family's history. I didn't have time, I guess. MARLA: Yeah.
MARLA: And what do you think would -- what are some of qualities you think make a good health aide? BERTHA: I think a person has to be alcohol and drug free. They have to have -- be confident enough, too. They have to be willing to work. When they get called, they should immediately go there. I had to learn that the hard way because one guy, they called me and told me that this guy is having DTs, not really bad, but he was very restless and it was my bedtime, and I told them just give him light tea with sugar or juice, anything that has -- is sweet. And just stay with him until he go to sleep. And then I go to bed. I didn't sleep very good wondering about him all night. That was my lesson. After that, when somebody called me for anything, I go and check them myself. I had to learn the hard way because worried and not sleeping was over that it was the same as if I had gotten up and dressed up and go see the patient and come back and I'd sleep better. MARLA: And the -- is there any advice that you would want to give to -- to future health aides or to current health aides? BERTHA: I would -- I would say to them, learn all they could because they have the opportunity to learn more than what was taught in my day. And I would say always be -- be calm and be kind. Not to say anything bad because people is the one that is our job when we are health aide. And we shouldn't -- we shouldn't scold them or anything. Always be kind and calm. Practice being calm, then you will be calm. Not to be too jittery. Once they start being a health aide, they get on, and if they are a health aide for a couple years, then they find out on their own how to adjust to most of it. MARLA: And what -- what was the community's response to the health aide program, or to having health aides in the village? BERTHA: They were really happy when it was voluntary, especially. They were grateful to me. And when I first started getting paid, some people think I was getting paid for -- one person, one older man told me that I was getting paid for nothing. And here it was about 360 a month. That's because they don't see me work because they are not around me at night. At night is when -- evenings and night is when, that's before we had clinic. After we have clinic, then they know I'm at the clinic. But I was on call every day, all day, every day all year around as long as I'm in Allakaket. If I'm not here, that's all, I'm not on call then. Seven days a week, all year around. On call. MARLA: For free. BERTHA: For free. And then after that, start getting paid, they really -- they thought that was too much. But I -- I didn't let it bother me. If some people -- if some people think I was doing all right, that's good. Not everybody will think that. I think the village needs to support their health aides, too. Which they -- they do. A lot of them support me. They were really nice. And all the way through, I had a lot of help from -- from the people, from my husband, from my children. I had lots of help. MARLA: That's great.
MARLA: Were there any people who were -- that you would consider important teachers or mentors throughout the years of your health aide experience? BERTHA: You mean beside the health -- besides doctor and nurses? MARLA: Yeah. BERTHA: Yes. The older -- elders usually good at helping me deliver babies, delivering babies. Even if they are just there and not doing anything, they are supporting me. Sometimes in case I need -- in case it was an emergency. But this never did happen because I didn't deliver too many babies. MARLA: Well, I think that this has been really great. BERTHA: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: Is there anything else that you would like to add to the record? BERTHA: Let me see now. I'm not -- I never regret what I did for 11 years volunteering. I never regret it. I learned a lot at that time from -- just from doing things and helping with the doctors and nurses and reading and everything. I -- if I had to live my life over again, I would try to do it a little better yet, not -- not be hooked to trying to use alcohol and stuff. I would -- there's one thing I did in my life that I always regret because it didn't help me, it just made things worse in our lives. And always remember that when you -- when you're actually trying to save a life, you forgot to be afraid. So that's one good feeling there. It's not always -- it's not always going to be easy, hard work or afraid. Anything else? MARLA: You answered all my questions. So if there was anything else that you wanted to add.