Elsie Bergman was interviewed on September 13, 2005 by Marla Statscewich at Elsie's home in Allakaket, Alaska. In this interview, Elsie talks about becoming a health aide, training she received, her early days as a health aide, using traditional medicine, and types of illnesses and accidents. She also talks about some of the frustrations and challenges of the job as well as the rewards and successes. Finally, she talks about the stresses of being a health aide in a small village, changes in the resources available, people who helped and mentored her, working with the doctors, and gives advice and encouragement to anyone who might want to be a health aide in the future.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Community Health Aide Program Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Sep 13, 2005
Narrator(s): Elsie Bergman
Interviewer(s): Marla Statscewich
Transcriber: Carol McCue
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Some background information about herself and being a health aide.
Her early days as a health aide.
Some of the frustrations and rewards of being a health aide, and what helped her get through the tough times.
How her job as health aide changed over the years, and a funny story about giving shots.
Her use of traditional medicine, changes in the types of illness she encountered, and changes in the conditions under which community health aides work.
A time when she was not able to contact a doctor for instruction, the stress of being a health aide and how it effected her own health.
The rewards and difficulties of working in a small, tight- knit community and especially dealing with the issue of confidentiality.
People who helped her during her career, and how being a health aide changes one's life in the village.
How she feels about having been a health aide and gives advice to prospective health aides.
A word of encouragement to future health aides, and some comments on improvements in resources for health aides.
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.
MARLA: Okay. So today is September 13th, 2005. My name is Marla Statscewich, and I have the pleasure today of doing an interview with Elsie Bergman at her home in Allakaket. And we're doing this project for the Community Health Aides Program. And so thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview with me on such short notice. ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: We are going to -- I was just doing an interview with Bertha Moses and she suggested that we talk to you because you had 20 years or so of experience with the Health Aide Program. ELSIE: I think it was actually from 1969 when I had my first training in 1971. MARLA: Wow. Well, let's see, can we start with your -- where you were born, where you were raised, and some of your -- some background information, your parents. ELSIE: Oh. My name is Elsie Bergman. I lived here all of my life. And I -- my parents are Mary Williams and my parents was Arthur Williams. And my stepmother who raised me is Jenny Williams. And I have my -- I have my brothers and sisters living here. MARLA: So you were born and raised here in Allakaket? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: And when was that? ELSIE: September 1944. MARLA: Okay. ELSIE: And I became a health aide in 1969. But I had my first training in 1971. And it's a lot of work, I would say. And it's -- sometimes it's happy, too. We work lots. We have to do -- see patients at their home, make visit, and... MARLA: What kind of training did you have? ELSIE: I had Session 1, 2, 3, 4, every three years, about. MARLA: And where was that? ELSIE: I went to Anchorage, then I finished the last ones in Sitka. And besides that, we had to do a lot of workshops almost every two years. Then we have to do community -- a certified -- be certified. MARLA: So was that -- ELSIE: That's when you pass a written exam. And we have to pass that every six years. Then we have to do all the EMTs. We need to be updated on it, like -- well, we have to do every six years. MARLA: Take another exam every six years? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). And then we have to pass up to EMT-III. And it's -- it was good. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: Did it take you away from home a lot? ELSIE: It take me away from home lots. MARLA: And how did -- that must have been hard on your family or -- ELSIE: Yeah, it was hard on my family because I had to leave them. When I had my training, my kids was home. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: And my husband took care of them, and everything. I have to be away for four weeks for training. MARLA: And that was every year you had to be away for that long, or -- ELSIE: No. Every two years, about. MARLA: Hmm. ELSIE: It depends on how we were going. MARLA: That's a long time. ELSIE: Yeah. Then we have to -- on the workshops, we stay about a week.
MARLA: And how did you become a health aide or get involved with the Health Aide Program? ELSIE: I wanted to help people. I guess I wanted to help like who's -- who needs help or who look -- who is elder. That's how I started. And I stayed with my aunty and she had an elder that needed help at home, she was taking care of her, and that's how I started. I helped along with her. MARLA: So that was the first two years you said that you was -- you started as a health aide and in '69? ELSIE: Uh-hum. MARLA: And that you didn't go to your first training until '71? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: So who helped you those first two years? ELSIE: Bertha. MARLA: Bertha. ELSIE: Bertha Moses. Bertha. That was when the radio, we had the radio in her house. MARLA: The satellite radio? ELSIE: The satellite radio at her house. And they moved it to the Mission, Old Mission House. MARLA: And then when did the clinic open here? ELSIE: 1978. MARLA: So where did you work out of until then? ELSIE: '72, I think. I worked out of Bertha's house. That was when about Bertha started. And that was with the satellite. MARLA: Oh. ELSIE: And then out at the Mission House with the satellite, and we worked out of there. MARLA: Out of the Mission House? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: And people came to you for immunizations or for problems or -- ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: Or did you have to go to their house? ELSIE: We have to let them come first and we put our stuff. But most we let them get it when they are at the -- when doctors come. MARLA: And how often do the doctors come? ELSIE: About every month. MARLA: Oh. Every month? ELSIE: Uh-hum. Yeah. MARLA: And were there some doctors that stand out in your mind as being helpful or anybody who sticks out in your mind? ELSIE: Dr. James. MARLA: Dr. James? And then were you communicating to Tanana? ELSIE: Tanana first, uh-hum. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: Yeah, that was from when we was having the clinic in Bertha's and at the Mission. MARLA: Right. ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). Then we sent patients out by the plane if we needed to. MARLA: They needed to be medevaced? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). No medevacs at that time, we just put them on the plane. And on the medevac plane.
MARLA: And then did you deliver babies? ELSIE: Yeah, I did. MARLA: And do you remember your first delivery? ELSIE: In '86. MARLA: And what was that like? ELSIE: It was good. I didn't get excited or anything. It was some kind of experience for me. MARLA: Why? ELSIE: My first time, that's why I delivered baby. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: It was fun for me. MARLA: Oh, good. And -- and did you know the person very well who you delivered? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). Uh-hum. MARLA: So that was the first of many? ELSIE: Yeah. MARLA: And what was your favorite part about being a health aide? ELSIE: My favorite part of, would be seeing patients at the clinic. The easiest would be escorting them when they are not sick, only through appointment. MARLA: And was that your favorite part of the job? What was your favorite part? ELSIE: I like helping people, helping elders with their medicine, help the medicine treatment. MARLA: And what was the hardest part about being a health aide? ELSIE: I would say emergencies. It's the hardest part with the patient who we can't take, who we can't help. Really. But otherwise, all we can put. That part is really hard when they die. MARLA: Yeah. And what got you through those hard times? ELSIE: I just go along with it. I never tried to -- I never tried to let it bother me, all that stuff. MARLA: And what was it like being a health aide in a place where you grew up? ELSIE: It's -- it's okay. It's just, you know, we know everybody and we're used to them. And we get along and we can think with some of them too, you just have to. Then like we know their homes and home visits. Then sometimes we go by boat. We used to go over Alatna, Old Alatna. MARLA: So you worked in both villages, then? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). We helped each other, me and Clara. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: With the other side. Like right in there, we went over. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: They are part of our home. MARLA: And who is Clara? ELSIE: She's the other health aide. MARLA: What's her last name? ELSIE: Sam. Clara Sam. MARLA: Clara Sam. ELSIE: But she also retired. MARLA: Was there anything that ever made you want to quit the job? ELSIE: After working so long, you know, then when people never get along with you, I like to quit. It's so much stress working, you know, when parties stay home with their family, help their family, it takes a lot. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: And then there's some things we don't do, like other potlatches in other communities, we don't go there. It's frustrating sometimes. MARLA: So what made you stay? ELSIE: Oh, I worked along with my family. I think the reason I stayed on so long was my family helped me a lot. And they do the housework, cooking, and that really helped me out. I would be tired from clinic all day, being at the clinic, and there's -- somebody gets sick or gets hurt, we have to be there, that's beside the clinic hours. MARLA: Did you -- ELSIE: That happens a lot.
MARLA: Did you live near the clinic? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). It was more down by the river, which walk to the clinic and walk home. But like this is pretty far. Now I'm right. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: Since the flood they moved us back here, I'm on the hill, and way down we have to go to. I always think that patients wouldn't make it if -- it's so long. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: But I would make it. (Indiscernible.) MARLA: When did you retire? ELSIE: October of 2004. MARLA: Wow. So longer than 20 years, then. ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). Over 30. MARLA: Wow. ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: What -- what have you learned through the years from your experiences as being a health aide? ELSIE: I learned helping one another and working all the time. It was like we had to work all day. MARLA: Every day? ELSIE: Every day. MARLA: And did you do a lot of that alone or did you work with Bertha? ELSIE: I worked with Bertha. She helped me, you know, if we had patients and got three and we each had to help each others. And other people was there, too. And it works out. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: And then when Bertha went to Fairbanks, who did you work with? Or did you just -- were you the main health aide? ELSIE: I was the main health aide. MARLA: And was that much harder? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). Not much. I was just used to it, so. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: And I called doctor. Call the doctor and do what you are supposed to do. And I used to give shots for strep (indiscernible). And not long ago my husband told me, long ago you gave me shot for strep. Well, he had pneumonia and I had to give him 10 shots, and he said -- he said it really hurt. And I gave him shot -- for what I gave him shot. I forgot now. Remember when we used to give me shot? And I go, well, yeah, I was just practicing then. He really mad. That was in 19 -- that was about 1970. MARLA: You were practicing on him? ELSIE: No. No. I was just -- I was teasing. MARLA: Oh. ELSIE: Because he said the shot I was giving him really hurt, and he finally told me. And I didn't know what to tell him, so I tell him, oh, I was practicing on you. MARLA: That's funny. ELSIE: Oh, I really laughed and couldn't stop laughing. That was part he asked me anyway. MARLA: That's funny.
MARLA: Did you ever use traditional medicine or did you ever incorporate that into -- into your helping people? ELSIE: Oh, you know how we used that, we explain it to them. MARLA: To the patient? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative), to the patient, if we need some kind of -- medicate, boil the birch, (indiscernible) tree barks, this little pine that they boil, they would boil that. MARLA: And what does that do? ELSIE: That's for, like, fresh air or it helps them take the cold out. MARLA: And what kind of illnesses were in this area that you had to treat mostly? ELSIE: Pneumonias, and not much of strep throat, but it used to be impetigo. Not much, though. Like we didn't have much people with high cholesterol or heart attack, heart problems. MARLA: And now do you see that more or -- ELSIE: You know, since about 10 years ago, that really started up. And now we -- since about five years, we started caring, it seems like there's more of cancer here. But we find the same things in the clinic. Like if they are diabetic, like diabetic or anything, we find out them. MARLA: And what kind of machines do you have, or have you seen? Must have been from 1969 until now big change in medicine. What kind of changes have you seen? ELSIE: There was medicines, there's more a lot of other brands of medicines that are coming up now. And that's been working very good. And like the injection shots. And I see we start having asthma and stuff like that. MARLA: And changes, too, in the health care program, the Community Health Aide Program, or -- ELSIE: Uh-hum. Changed from long ago to right now. It's more updated. Everything's updated. MARLA: Hard to imagine working in 1969? ELSIE: Yeah. When there was not much medicines. MARLA: What did you have? ELSIE: Just hardly anything, Tylenol and ointment or stuff. MARLA: And no -- and the communication was difficult with doctors? ELSIE: Uh-hum. Hard to get the communication down to doctors and back around 1970. MARLA: When did that change? ELSIE: In 1978, had phone.
MARLA: And were there any situations that you were in that because you couldn't contact the doctor, things were kind of scary and you had to -- ELSIE: Uh-hum. MARLA: Were there anything -- is there anything that you can think of that you might want to share? ELSIE: Oh, it was a -- you know, we couldn't get planes those days. And I remember that this young -- kind of young guy shot himself, I couldn't get help for him. And he died. And, you know, maybe we could have helped him, medevac. And that situation is hard. It's like there was nothing that's really help. Then we have to deal with elders. MARLA: Like? ELSIE: Like taking those elders that's real sick. And sometimes they don't want to go to the hospital. So that's the way it used to be, though. You know. MARLA: They wanted to stay home? ELSIE: Uh-hum. Yeah. And it was hard. MARLA: And what kind of character traits do you think a health aide needs? ELSIE: They need equipment and all the updated, like wheelchair and stretcher -- we had stretcher but they need new backboards. MARLA: What about for kind of personality traits do you think a health -- make a good health -- health aide? ELSIE: If they have the training, and I think all the training and workshops. And be dependable. And it would be good if a lot of health aides. Not just only one. We need about three, it would be easier. One of them take one week off. And the one would be there. Take turns, like. They get stressed out or burnt out. It's work right to -- every day I work and I didn't know I got stressed out from it. And I just had three bad pneumonia. And it didn't cure so it went in my backbone. And I noticed I had -- in September I had really bad kind of gasping with patient, so it was that time I didn't feel very good. I didn't feel that strong. But it's keep working and keep working until December, and I got sick. And I had really bad pneumonia and I had that pulmonary embolism. MARLA: And that's probably because you were working and so stressed out and never really being able to give yourself a break? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). And I just worked days. MARLA: How come you stayed for so long? ELSIE: I don't know. Because there was, like -- oh, I was going quitting two times, one time I didn't. I resigned and I got on. And I said I wouldn't be working for a while. Then they wrote me -- they sent me a letter that I had to go back to work, so I did. MARLA: Is that because there was no one else? ELSIE: There was somebody else working, but it's just only one. Yeah. It's kind of hard like that. MARLA: Yeah. And how many people are in Allakaket? ELSIE: About 180 or more. MARLA: That's a lot of people to have to take care of. ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). Sometimes it's really busy. Yeah. I can (indiscernible) stayed on that long. But it's good, I never work -- like, first that's all, I keep waking up and I said, oh, somebody might call, and that was in -- even that, I was in hospital, I keep doing that. MARLA: Out of habit, huh? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: 35 years of people calling you in the middle of the night? ELSIE: Yeah. And I -- I don't know why I think that. I'm just so used to being like that, I guess. MARLA: Yeah. Dedicated, it sounds like. ELSIE: Yeah. And that's the way I was at home time in here. That's like, oh, yeah, somebody might call me. Every day, every day. MARLA: It's hard work. ELSIE: Hard work, too much to do. (Telephone ringing.)
MARLA: Okay. We're back on. ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: And you were talking about what you were working on for 35 years. ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: Sort of constantly, 24/7. ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: And was it rewarding work? ELSIE: Yes. You know, we -- how this is, you know, someone who comes back from the hospital and they say thank you and you did a good job. That really helps. And if they are around town, they tell us thank you. And make us feel like we did good to them, you know, it did turn out. But we did a good job, I guess. MARLA: I think you must have. ELSIE: Yeah. They always say that. And it really helps. You know, to me, it -- like when someone tells me that, I feel better, they I do so much work. They say thank you. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: That's how mostly when they were really sick, you know, you may do something and they come back and say thank you. MARLA: It makes it worthwhile, then, doesn't it? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: Yeah. What -- I wondered how -- how did you handle or how do you handle issues of confidentiality in such a small community? Is it difficult or -- ELSIE: Oh. Uh-hum. Especially when there's emergency, you know, but we -- when we have a patient, we say we have to -- everything is supposed to be confidential when we are there with the patients. And that (indiscernible) so. One another. And that's the bad part. You know. Yeah. Some people go home and they call other places. But that's what's been going on in this, not only here. I always feel bad when I hear something, someone say, this happened in Allakaket. They heard it. I didn't like that. And they asked us, you know, you say we can't talk about stuff. It's supposed to be held confidential. Like -- you know, like when we have emergency or domestic violence and the patient their self have to say they don't want some people coming in, for the confidential, because they see all what happened. And as we -- all I hoped to say was okay, and I promised the patient that I wouldn't talk at all with anybody else. And that way, some people want to get in the clinic and, you know, we have to lock the door. That's where the health aide was with a patient there. And she didn't even want -- only her friend and stuff like that, her family. And this happened one time. And this patient didn't want to -- people to see her in case of how they look or something. MARLA: Uh-hum. ELSIE: And we had a call from Tanana Chiefs, I did, after that, about three weeks later, I had a call from TCC that I didn't let this lady in. MARLA: Because the door was locked? ELSIE: Yeah. Because the door was locked. And I said, this is the confidential part. And if what the patient tells us to do at the clinic, we need to, to follow their -- what they say. She said, I think you should lock that door, lock them out for anything that's the patient's confidential part. MARLA: Yeah. Patient rights. ELSIE: Patient's rights. I said, you don't have to ask me that. You guys have to see what would happen out in the village and if something happens that this domestic violence in the village and the patient says you can't do that, you don't -- we don't -- we have the right to keep them out. I told them. I just didn't say anything after that. But, you know, they -- they would just stop there, and I guess this lady think they would just talk about her all, what is wrong with her, and that's the patient's. She need to say what -- what she don't want. All the patients are like that. And we try to do our best to, do our best to prevent that. Yeah. I had a lot of it domestic violence at home, take care of them. Some of them don't see that, though, you know.
MARLA: Were there any specific mentors or important teachers in your life or in the community -- in your community health aide work? ELSIE: The workshops. MARLA: The workshops? ELSIE: Yeah. The first basic training, I think it was really good instruction and understanding. Like the EMTs and the doctors, we get a lot of help from doctors who we call, was on call. MARLA: Where, in Tanana or in Fairbanks? ELSIE: Fairbanks. And he could ask to do that or do this. MARLA: Is there anyone specific you can think of, any names of people that you sort of looked up to or -- ELSIE: I -- I just look up to Dr. Springer. That he was there to help. MARLA: Where was he? ELSIE: At Fairbanks. MARLA: And did you ever have to go out of Alaska for training? ELSIE: No. I went to Anchorage and Sitka, that's all. MARLA: Yeah. Far enough. ELSIE: No other places. Yeah. MARLA: How does being a health aide affect your life in the village? ELSIE: I guess I'm there all the time and it is like I work with a kid one time. And I always like to be alert for emergencies a lot. Even though it wouldn't happen, but that's just the way I feel like since I've been there so long. And so it kind of -- it started affecting me like I kind of got sick and landed in the hospital. Right while I was working. And I know that's from my job. And I didn't take care of myself. And I didn't treat myself first. You know, I learned, you know, I'm busy all the time and I didn't learn how to take care of myself first before all the emergencies then. It took too much. MARLA: You gave too much? ELSIE: Gave too much.
MARLA: How do you feel about being -- having been a health aide? Was it a good -- was it a good experience? A positive experience? ELSIE: It was a fantastic experience, but there was a lot of learning. You learn a lot, too. That's how I helped people. How I get along with people. And, you know, being with the people, big job. MARLA: A very big job. ELSIE: Yeah. Big job. MARLA: Yeah. Do you have any advice for future health aides? ELSIE: I would think they need to have training and exam. A lot to pass, but they could do -- they could do. And all they have to do is go through training for the job, and be able to help all the patients. And I would encourage all of them to try, and go to school. They would do, but they just think they can't. It's a good job, but you try. MARLA: And do you think that it's easier to live in the village or come from outside of the village and be a health aide? ELSIE: I think it would be easier if they work in the village, they are from the village. And yeah, because they would have to move here or from other community. MARLA: And get to know the people? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). It was -- they would get used to it if they come from some other places, too. And depends on how big size the village is. They would probably like it, but they just never try. People need to try it even if they wouldn't want to. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: I think. MARLA: I think you're probably right. ELSIE: Uh-hum. Yeah. MARLA: Hold on just a second.
MARLA: And just wondering if there was anything else you wanted to say for the record about being a health -- a community health aide. ELSIE: I would encourage other ladies to try, and if they get used to it, it would be easier. MARLA: How long has the current health aide been doing the work here? ELSIE: About over 10 years. 15 years. MARLA: Does it get easier as it -- as the more years you been working the program? ELSIE: Uh-hum. Yeah. It did because we keep having training and workshops and get to know other stuff. And then we keep up like that. MARLA: And then do you learn from each other? I know during the time when there was the radio, when there was the one-way radio or the two-way radio, did you learn from other health aides. ELSIE: Uh-hum. Yeah. You -- people used to call one another on that radio. And we get instruction because what you do. MARLA: And now do you just use the telephone? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). Now we just use the telephone the doctor. MARLA: And the doctor? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). And that's much easier than before. MARLA: Yeah. ELSIE: And we but with the medevac, it's better. MARLA: Because it's immediate? ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). And they help us. And they talk right from the airplane to -- with us. MARLA: The pilots or doctors? ELSIE: The doctors on the plane, medevac plane. MARLA: Oh. ELSIE: It's good like that because they ask how the patient is doing and we -- before they land, too, they call, of how long did we take him. MARLA: Wow, that's great. ELSIE: That's even faster. Yeah. MARLA: Big improvement, huh? ELSIE: Yeah. MARLA: Well, terrific. Is there anything else you would like to say? No? ELSIE: No. MARLA: Well, thank you so much for doing this interview. It's been really wonderful to hear your story and I really appreciate you doing it on such last minute. ELSIE: Uh-hum (affirmative). MARLA: Thank you. ELSIE: Yeah.