This is the continuation of an interview with Lillian Walker on August 24, 2005 by Karen Brewster at Lillian's apartment in Anchorage, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Lillian talks about the reason she became a health aide, training she received, lessons she learned from being a health aide, and caring for patients. She also gives advice to anyone wishing to become a health aide and shares her own experiences with healing through the power of prayer.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Community Health Aide Program
Date of Interview: Aug 24, 2005
Narrator(s): Lillian Walker
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
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Qualifications of a health aide, in particular of herself, and why she was selected as the health aide.
Advice she would give to people interested in becoming a health aide.
Training she received as a health aide, and the influences of narcotics in her community after she retired as a health aide.
The main reason she became a health aide, and reflections on how her childhood background provided her the ability to care for others.
Lessons learned from being a health aide.
A story of when she successfully cared for a patient that suffered third degree burns.
Her personal beliefs about not being partial to patients, but treating all patients equally no matter their ethnicity.
Her own healing experiences using prayer and chiropractic treatments.
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN: One -- one question I wanted to ask you is what do you think the qualities of a person are that make somebody a good health aide? LILLIAN: Qualities? Well, what -- KAREN: What was it about you that you think made the job easy for you? LILLIAN: Well, I just don't know. They -- you mean the job easy for me there with the people? Oh, there's one thing, I asked them, why did you choose me to be your health aide. They told me, you're -- you don't have any relatives here in this village. The only relatives I had were my children and my husband and my in-laws. I didn't have no relatives there. I wasn't born there. And they -- they thought it was easier for me to be a health aide there where I wouldn't be partial to people, yeah. I treated everybody equal. So that -- that was one reason why they chose me. KAREN: And do you think that proved to be the case? LILLIAN: Yes. And then your -- there was another thing there, your -- your sense of being not one that gossips. Uh-hum. There's some that they could -- they could tell, in the little village, they can. And I know one person asked me this once, you always treat everybody nice and you never seem to gossip about other -- other people. I don't -- yeah, about my kids to their -- if I worry about them, I talk to the others about them, you know. But I don't usually. If somebody told me something, I never had -- I didn't think it was worth repeating. And I didn't have to. And that was one reason why they told me they thought they liked me as a health aide. But it made me feel -- it made me feel good that they wanted me. And their reason was because I was not related to anyone. You have no relatives here. And when you see -- well, we -- it seems that when you grew up together in the mission, like I did, we all treated each others equal. We never -- I never even knew anything about being prejudiced or mean or anything like that. So that was one reason why I think I -- it was easy for me to be in public with the people, you know. Because we were always together. We did everything together. In that school. We learned everything there. And having our good teachers that we had was the Sisters of St. Anne. They were strict but they were good. We learned a lot from -- I learned. We all did. Yeah. KAREN: When you were the health aide, how did you -- did the community treat you? LILLIAN: Good. They were always good to me. I didn't think there was anyone that would -- they were always happy to call me, ask, when they got sick or something. They never said, no, not her, not her, somebody else. They were. I -- I stayed at the Shelty's (ph) -- I mean, she was my husband's niece, I stayed at her house that summer, that one summer, all summer, so I don't have to be going up and down, walking one mile, walking one mile back. And having to come back and forth, back and forth. No. I stayed down there. Saw my patients from there. It was easy for me to go to the clinic. And easy to go right home and have lunch and then go back. I liked it. I had a lot of young teens come to me, can I come and talk to you? Sure, you can. So I -- I'd talk to them about what was troubling them. Teen things. And even adults would come to me and ask me. It was always good to talk to somebody. Come and -- come and visit me in the house. And I come to visit so I can talk to you. I said, oh, that's good. Having family problems, I guess, teenage problems, this one teenager, she still remembers it. She became pregnant and she was really crying about telling me how she was treated by the family. And I told her she -- she didn't know what to do when she had the baby. I told her go to Anchorage, go to your brother, live with him there. And when you have the baby and you're young, you're too young to be responsible, you can give the baby up for adoption because the parents didn't want the baby. And found the baby -- the boy, he was an adult. She had him stay with her for a while. She lived in Hawaii after she got married. And she said after wanting him so bad and she missed him, she thought -- she felt guilty she was not raising him herself. She said she found out the mamma that he had now was his true -- his true mother. He wanted to be with her. Because he took her -- she -- she took him as a baby here in Anchorage. But she had the privilege of finding him and now she knows, he -- he visits with her. And she talked to him and told him why she had to give him up. She has one daughter, she got married and she has this one daughter, and that one daughter has more children than she had. KAREN: What -- what would -- what was the best thing? What did you like the best about being a health aide? LILLIAN: Of being a health aide? KAREN: Uh-hum. LILLIAN: Well, I don't know. It just gave me a -- a good feeling of helping others. And then I made extra money for myself. And I enjoyed traveling, so I'd come here and go to Bethel, back and forth. I never said no. I sure did. KAREN: What was the worst part of about having that job? LILLIAN: Having to get up early in the morning, maybe, and staying up all night sometime. Being tired. Otherwise, it was always good to be there. I -- it made you feel like you're helping, you know, being useful to others.
KAREN: If a young person came to you today and asked for your advice about being a health aide, if they wanted to do that, what advice would you give them? LILLIAN: What would I give them. Always be cheerful and caring about listening to what their problems are. And making them feel relaxed, not scare them about what's wrong with them. That's what I would say to them. And if everyone become a nurse or a doctor, you go right ahead and do it, do what you want -- what you think you want to do. My -- my daughter Mary wanted to be a teacher. I told her, yes, you can be a good teacher. And Vita wanted to be a nurse. I told her, you can be a nurse if you want to, go ahead and try it. She became a health aide, she worked in Galena clinic there for quite a few years. And then they lost their social worker, I mean, she -- not a social worker. She -- children, they help children. KAREN: Yeah, Children and Youth Services? LILLIAN: Youth. Uh-hum (affirmative). Uh-hum. They worked in that social service building. And she's had that job now for how long. 10 years, 13 years. Something like that. KAREN: Did you ever consider going on for more training like becoming a nurse or something? LILLIAN: Not after I -- no. Not after I -- I resigned from the health aide thing. I -- no. By that time, I was helping take care of my grandkids and stuff. KAREN: But while you were doing the health aide, did you ever think about, oh, I want to do more of this or I want to be a nurse or -- LILLIAN: I didn't wanted to -- I didn't want to go and get PA training. Uh-hum. Yeah. But I never got that far. KAREN: Was there a reason why? LILLIAN: I just couldn't get out of the village. I had my kids there to take care of. KAREN: Yeah.
KAREN: Do you think the training you received as a health aide was enough training for dealing with the kind of cases you had to deal with? Did you ever feel like, oh, no, I don't know what to do, I haven't received the training? LILLIAN: We had good training. Uh-hum. Our -- the trainings that we had in Bethel were very good. They had doctors to train. They had nurses that trained us. There -- those people that -- there was a psychologist that was there that worked with us. And quite elderly persons that trained. Both men and women. And the doctor that was there worked part time for YK. He was the best doctor. I mean, he was best. He was good. KAREN: What was his name? LILLIAN: What was his name. Oh, gosh. I forgot his name. KAREN: Okay. What was -- LILLIAN: The one I remembered the most was Shirley -- Shirley. She was -- I forgot her last name. It wasn't easy to remember. And her friend, he was -- I don't know, what is it. He was a teacher in medical where maybe he was working at Fairbanks or he worked up there later and he took care of -- he was working with animals, the musk ox. He didn't only do that. He did a lot of other things. What in the world was his name. He even brought me up there to see the -- he wanted me to see the musk ox, because I had never seen one. He wanted me to come and have dinner. Him and Shirley -- Cheryl was her name. Not Shirley. She -- we had meals together in Bethel. And up in Fairbanks where they were. Yeah. KAREN: And what -- what was the relationship like between the doctors in Bethel that you recall and the health aides out in the villages? LILLIAN: There was certain doctors that were assigned to talking to the health aides, of taking cases. And then there was not only one, there was maybe two, some alternate. But we knew them. We knew them as the service unit we -- we worked for. We worked with. The same doctors we would call on them because they always knew what we were talking about. Who we were talking about and stuff. They were good, too. And our nurses, we had Public Health nurses come in there. Diane Kettleson was one of them. And she -- she was a good -- very good woman. She -- she worked up until she got married, and then she had another nurse take her place. What got me was when she became on there, and I used to work with her in the clinic, to see patients, and this one kid that was in the school had herpes, and she knew it. Why didn't she report it. She didn't. I -- I -- that's one thing that kind of made me wonder why -- why didn't she. Because this person that -- the boy was not from our village, he was from up Kuskokwim, up -- I don't know where it was at. KAREN: Somewhere, yeah. LILLIAN: Up there -- up Georgetown or somewhere, up that way. Up the Kuskokwim River. And he took him with him everywhere he went. He was molesting boys. But he later got caught and he -- he did this when he was teaching. And this boy got this anal herpes, and he sent him home after some time. I guess he didn't want him around no more or something. But the boy went, when he went home, he commit suicide. KAREN: Was suicide something you had to deal with when you were health aide? LILLIAN: It was rare to have suicides in Holy Cross and when I was -- and I never had to deal with that. This came up a few -- we had one in the village, one suicide is all I know. Yeah. Uh-hum. That's just one. And it's after alcohol and drugs came in real strongly. The boy -- there was a -- some of those, the drugs started coming in when the teachers, some teachers came in from stateside to teach. They didn't stay very long, for some reason. Superintendent released them. And I later found out that they had been dealing in drugs with the students and others. Cocaine came in quite some time after, maybe about 40 years ago, 30 years ago. And they -- and it first was this pills, some kind of pills they had, speed maybe. And the cocaine came, this man, he started a grocery store there, him and his wife, and I found out he dealt in cocaine. And two young boys he sold some to, plus booze, whiskey, those -- those two boys wanted more, something. And they -- this one boy had a .22 pistol and he shot him. Well, he's the cause of them doing this to him. He died right away, instantly. KAREN: This was all after you were a health aide so you didn't have to -- LILLIAN: A long time after. I didn't have to deal with it. KAREN: Didn't have to deal with it? LILLIAN: Huh-uh (negative). KAREN: Oh. LILLIAN: One of those boys died later. They both -- they are both in prison for life. KAREN: Hmm. LILLIAN: The other one is still there. That -- that stuff started coming in after I -- and I didn't have to deal with something. KAREN: Yeah.
KAREN: What has it -- what has it meant to you to have been a health aide? LILLIAN: Oh, I really -- well, it meant an awful lot to me, you know. If I -- if I had to do it over again, there's something I think I would. Uh-hum. If that's -- if I had a chance to do it, I can't -- I know I can't do it. Just like Rose, she was always a willing person to help. You have to be a willing person to like and help people, regardless of who they are, where they came from, if they need your help, give it. I had, while I was working as a health aide in that old clinic, two pharmacists came in from Bethel. They were doing some kind of a survey, I think. They came from Boston, he said, and they were surveying all the clinics. And they were not new to Alaska. And he came to look -- look -- he looked in my clinic and he checked all the meds and stuff and some kind of a survey they were doing for probably stateside, I don't know. And I was there standing talking to them. And one of them said, you know what, Lillian, could I ask you a question? I said, sure. He said, what are you? I said, gee, I said, I'm a human being. What are you? I don't mean it that way, he said. I mean, what nationality? I said, well, that's better. I told him my mother was half Irish and my dad was -- dad's dad was -- had some Russian blood in him, he used to be around the coast quite a bit. And I told him, I'm that and Iñupiaq Eskimo. And I said, well, that's better, I could give you a better answer. And I started laughing. He said, I didn't mean to say it that way, you know. I told him, that was all right. I understand what you mean. And I forgot to ask him what nationality he was. KAREN: Yeah, well, when I asked what it meant to you -- LILLIAN: Uh-hum (affirmative). KAREN: -- I meant like what did you learn from it for your life, life experiences that you take away from that work? How did it change your life? That's what I meant. LILLIAN: It didn't change too much because I still have, you know, all my friends and everyone. I still -- it's just that -- it's just that you go caring, like maybe because you were orphaned, and since I was orphaned from 7 years old, I was the oldest of three -- let's see, four of us, there was four of us. I had two sisters and a brother, I took care of them. I tended to their cuts and their everything. And in those days, if you were -- if you live isolated out in some -- like we lived on a farm, we didn't catch everything that came along because we had pure air. Yeah. And we still have to run dogs. Hook up seven dogs and go for a ride. Or go look at the fish trap or go look at our dad's traps. He had permission to get live animal, like mink and marten. But that was up -- (Telephone ringing.)
KAREN: You were talking about lessons learned in your life, what -- what experience you took away with -- from being a health aide that have applied to other parts of your life. Is there anything? LILLIAN: Well, for one thing, we -- you -- if somebody gets sick, things you learned and you can pretty well tell when they tell you what's wrong, you can kind of know what -- what -- what you should tell them to do or if there's no doctor around or anything, nurse, try to get something that would help them or say, I think you could go to a hospital or go get checked up or something like that. It's pretty easy to tell them that. I know there's this one man that -- I don't remember if I was working still as a health aide, but I noticed he always had a funny froggy voice, all of a sudden. He was one of those that drank all the time. And I said, hey, I said, how long have you had that? What's the matter? You seem to be losing your voice and everything. And he said, quite awhile. I said, you know what, if I were you, I'd go and get checked up. He did, but he already had pretty advanced -- he lost his voice -- voice box. He had to have that little thing to talk. KAREN: Right. He had throat cancer or something. LILLIAN: Uh-hum (affirmative). Cancer. Yeah. He should have gone sooner, it probably would have helped him. KAREN: Did you ever know anything about traditional healing, other than your midwife work? LILLIAN: Traditional healing. KAREN: What the -- LILLIAN: Just what I learned from Irena Woods. I-R-E-N-A -- and I was no health aide when -- well, my granddaughter, her mom, she was about 11 years old, she had -- they told her she had eczema. Her hands were all kind of weepy or something. Around the fingers. And she kept sending her here to Anchorage to the doctor, come home with this different kind of a medica -- salve or something. And no matter what it was, her mom was getting tired of it. She said, go and tell grandma what to do, what can I do about your hands, because she was just crying, she was just in pain. I told Kathy, have any of you got, it's in -- in the language they use in Holy Cross, that's all I know it by, caithluk. And she said, yeah. I said, well, I'm going to boil some of that. It was in the spring or somewhere. Winter. And I boiled some and I cooled it off and I had her come over to me. And this is what Irena Woods taught me. She told me that medicine is good for -- in everything. And I had her wash her hands, and I had a stainless steel bowl. I had her soak her hands in that, both of them. And then after a while, I told her take them out and air dry them. No wiping on anything. She did. And then I had -- I always had gauze and two-by-fours and bandages at home, you know, I always kept them with me. And if I ran low, I'd go to the clinic and get some. But I took the leaves there, just, you know, nice, good leaves, I said, I'm going to put it in between your fingers here, and I'm going to wrap it on there. And whichever -- however much I had to do. And then I -- I forget if it was her right or her left hand. And I took and I wrapped it lightly, and just, you know, individually. And then I took it and I wrapped her whole hand, I put some on her palm, wherever it was, I think it was mostly in here, and I told her, okay, now, you go to bed, and I fixed it so it wouldn't come off. And that's all I put there on it was that moist, the leaves, and I told her, you don't have to be afraid of it, it's not going to hurt you, it's boiled and everything, it's pure. And tomorrow morning before you go to school, you come to me. Come to me at 7:00 so I can have it done by the time you go back to school. When you go to school, just use your other hand to do your work. I can't remember, it was right or left. But anyway, that was for two days I did that. After two days, it was clearing. KAREN: Wow. LILLIAN: And all I had to do was just little parts that were, and make sure she -- I told her, don't wash your hands with soap and water, just wash your -- you know, in that solution. Just real good. And then just let it air dry. Don't wipe it. And she did that and she's never had it since. KAREN: Wow. LILLIAN: She -- she remembered it, you know. She's living in Nome now and she said, you know, her -- Will's cousin, one of his girls or boys had -- girl must have been -- had something like that, so she went out and got some of that and she showed her mom how to use it. It cured her. KAREN: Great. LILLIAN: Yeah.
KAREN: So did you ever prescribe traditional healing techniques or medicines when you were a health aide? If somebody came in? LILLIAN: No, I didn't. Never thought about these. I didn't have to -- all I know is that I told them never use Bacitracin. It didn't -- didn't seem to heal. It -- this little school teacher's wife had a cup of hot coffee on the table, and she was trying to get -- her husband was getting ready, he left his coffee cup there, and just when she said something, here her little two year old grabbed it and dumped all over him. And he had blisters. Early in the morning I had to go down there. He called for me. And I went to the -- he told me what happened. I went to the clinic and I got all these -- the bandages we use for burns. And I told him, take -- just take his T-shirt off and leave him like that and put him in cool -- just cool water. Not -- not hot or cold. And not -- don't put him in it, but put moist pads or dish cloth -- or washcloth there. And you have to go down, call for -- I think he had third degree burn. It was all on his chest, and I did that. And when I -- after I cooled it off, I took the gauze and put the Bacitracin all over it. It was just to not let it stick. Then I just wrapped his little body up with bandage and I told her not to -- the blisters were so big, I told her not to break -- try not to break them. She brought him to Bethel and the doctor said, who did this for you? And she told. She sure did a good job. I said, oh, that made me feel so good. Yeah. KAREN: So Bacitracin is an antibiotic? LILLIAN: No, not -- not antibiotic. It doesn't -- I don't think it has antibiotic. KAREN: It's an ointment. LILLIAN: Neosporin has antibiotic. That's very good stuff. KAREN: I've heard of Bacitracin, and I can't quite think of it. LILLIAN: Uh-hum (affirmative). I used that to moisten, to keep that not to stick on him. KAREN: Right. LILLIAN: That gauze not to stick on him. And she brought him in, and then she brought him back home. Look at him, he's just fine now, she would say. He was so cute. KAREN: It sounds like that made you feel good. LILLIAN: Uh-hum. Yeah. When he said that, he asked, he had asked her, and she told him, she said, yeah, she said she was very proud to say I did that for her. Uh-hum.
LILLIAN: For some reason, for some time they were saying in the clinic, some of the people, if it was orders from the Native Hospital, only for Natives, and you can't treat anybody. I told them, baloney. I'm treating anybody I want to treat. I'm not going to -- that's stupid, I told them. It might be only for Natives, but it's wrong to say that. And so whenever they came to me, if there was anyone that needed help, the teachers were most all -- most all of them would be White people, but not -- there was some Natives, too. But whenever anybody needed -- needs to, you got to -- you got to respond to them. You can't. And I told them, I don't care who knows -- if they find out or not, I'll just tell them that I don't think that's right. And in our -- in the villages, you can't be partial to anybody. KAREN: No. LILLIAN: No matter who it is. And if they want to do that here, it's different. It's their business. But you have -- you can have more than one hospital to go to. I know I was in ANS there, this man, he -- he was all -- he was suffering from his legs. Something was wrong. And he could barely walk, and the Doctor didn't want to treat him. Or he told him, oh, there's nothing wrong with you, you can go. I went over there and I looked. His grandson brought him to the hospital from out of town. And I went over there and I talked to him. And I asked him, what did he say to you? And he told me. And I told him, okay. You stay right here and I'm going to go and talk to somebody. I went and I reported that doctor. I don't know who he was. I -- I forgot his name. And I told him, you have to go and talk to the man. So they came and they went over to him and talked to him. And I told him, okay. I'm going to go home now. I think you are going to be taken care of. Oh, his grandson was so happy. Thanked me over and over again for helping them. Because they were going to go back home. I told them, no, you stay right here, you're going to get help. I thought, that shocked me. But they -- I think they expelled that doctor. KAREN: Yeah. It sounds like you really cared about people. LILLIAN: Yeah, if you can help somebody, you can, you can do it. Yeah. That old man, it was -- I felt so sorry for him. I don't even remember what village they came from. KAREN: It doesn't matter. LILLIAN: Uh-hum (affirmative). He told me -- and he told me, his grandson, take this key. It was one of those you can open the door. And you keep it and put it away where he -- I guess he knew how to drive, the boy did. And just bring it home and don't let nobody use it. I told that little boy, it's so nice that you care so much for your grandpa.
KAREN: You -- you were raised in the Holy Cross Mission. Did you feel that help -- that helped you face some of the difficulties in the job of a health aide, the spiritual side? LILLIAN: Yeah. It -- it helped. I'd always -- I -- if they are real bad and they talk, I'd try and say some prayers. Even if you say one Hail Mary or ask Jesus, please help me, or something like that maybe, I said, that will help you. And don't forget, just to say that. If you aren't used to praying, just say that. Pray to your guardian angel. And I feel -- I find that a lot of times that helps. You get worried about somebody, just say a prayer yourself. And we came here, there was -- I came to Anchorage, I had a bad back. I had a broken tailbone. And -- and my back started bothering me, so I came here to see the doctor. And they gave me a bottle of painkillers. I was staying with one of my friends, she was raised in the mission, too, him and his wife, I stayed with them, and he said, I'm going to bring you to my chiropractor. And I said, what are -- what will he do? Oh, he'll fix you. He's really -- it will really help you. You'll see. And he did. And I told the doctor, I don't think I want to take those pills. And he said, why? I said, it might help the pain for a little while, but it won't go away. And I gave up on going up to the hospital, and my friend told me he would bring me to his chiropractor. And then I went there to him, and he worked on me, and I was -- I had to be here for treatment for a while. And I was okay after that. But he himself had had cancer surgery on his stomach, they removed his stomach. Dr. Thorndike is here still. He pulled up his intestine and made a stomach for him. And aside from having the bile duct that helps you digest your food and stuff, he couldn't -- he should eat only soft foods and no hard, which would, you know, be difficult to digest. Otherwise, he will get really sick if he did. And he knew it. And he just loved to eat the corn, that corn, hard corn stuff you chew. KAREN: Corn Nuts? LILLIAN: Corn Nuts. Yeah. Right. I caught him doing it. I said, what are you chewing on those for? He said, I like them. You're going to get sick. I know. I said, well, don't make yourself suffer for nothing. And for years, he -- he's still living, and for 20 years, after 20 years or 10 years, he saw -- this doctor saw him in the hall. Gosh, he said, Willy Wassillie? He turned around. Yeah? Are you Willy Wassillie? Yes. Oh, my God, you're working. You are a walking miracle. Willy said, well, you're the one that did it for me. You made me the walking miracle. That's what your medical history knew about, he was a surgeon, especially for cancer, and a lot of other things. But he's still up there and he's still working on people. And he loves his job. He loves helping. And these miracle -- these healers came and Willy suffered a lot, and so was I. My -- my arms were beginning to affect me from my spine, you know. And I couldn't even lift my arms up like this, it would hurt me. And to mop, I couldn't mop the floor anymore. So I came here. And there -- they said there's this doctor healing some people, the healer. So we all went to the auditorium where they went to, I can't remember here, it was so long ago. At least 20 years ago. And I said, Willy, you're going to come with me, because he suffered real bad with his stomach, and he still does. And he has no stomach, he's using this makeshift thing. And we went there and I told him, you're going to -- we're going to pray and he's going to pray over us. And we're going to do what he wants us to do, if you believe in prayer, it's going to help. And, you think so? And I said, yeah. I told his wife, Veronica, I said, come with us. So she did. And we both were there, both in prayer, and when he said, lift up your arms and put your arms way up as high as you could, it hurt me so bad to do that, but I did it, and I held my arm up as much as -- all the way during the prayer. And pretty soon I think that worked, that helped. It helped Willy. And I told him -- we went up there to get prayed on, and what he ever said, he said he -- and he blows on the person that he's praying for. And all he does is touch your forehead a little bit and you fall backwards. And there's somebody to catch you. And I didn't think that would happen to me, and it did. And it did to Willy. And Willy said, I wasn't going to let them make me fall over. And I said, you did, though. And, you know, I told him, I told him before we went, you got to believe in what he's going to do for you, and that's the most important thing. And it worked. And my -- I've never had problems with my back, never. Bad things, you know, things we had to go through to help others. People come to you and want to talk to you. And -- and mostly it's young adults that trusted that they could talk to me. And helped. It did help the girl, I know, and the boy. He was -- he always came to us after his parents passed away.