The Lost Doctor: Victim of Medieval America
Expanded from the 10-16-2005 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

The big sister I never had passed through my life just long enough to show me what a big sister could be: a way-cool version of mom.

She was the superior sibling of my high school best friend, a pal beside whom I labored through Latin, trigonometry, politics and football. Dr. Jane was compelling but not intimidating, possessed of a sparkling presence to match her big, dark eyes.

Her goal was medical school. All these decades later, I picture her in white smock and stethoscope, starting the healing process just by walking into a room. That most rare of all talents is something a chosen few are born with.

Alas and alack, Dr. Jane never got the chance to use it. She's been dead 40 years, almost unwept, unhonored and certainly unsung. Until now.

One brutally muggy day, my family got the sad news: The brunette beauty who would have become Dr. Jane was dead.

I don't recall any notice in the local paper and we didn't get invited to a funeral. Through a friend came word that graceful Jane had been thrown from a horse. The impact of the fall caused a congenitally-flawed blood vessel to rupture. In a moment, she was gone.

College came and went. Our families grew apart. I chanced upon her father late one night at Harrah's back in the 1970s. I found him alone at a restaurant counter, more bitter than his black coffee, staring the thousand-yard stare. I asked about his wife. He muttered that they had been divorced a long time. I later learned that she died in a mental institution. Her daughter's death had broken an already troubled mind.

The tragedy got worse with time. It took me almost 30 years to find out that Dr. Jane had been laid to rest enshrouded in a lie.

Every decade, I get invited to my high school reunion. I've never gone back, never will. A classmate once called to prod me into showing up. Our conversation inevitably came around to old friends.

How was my erstwhile football buddy? Too bad about his sister and her equestrian exit, etc.

My friend then hit me with the awful truth: Dr. Jane did not die from any heart defect. She died of a botched abortion.

Over all those years since, Dr. Jane has helped me figure out what happened to a lot people I once knew who mysteriously dropped out of sight forever. I think I now know why always-happy Jackie the clarinet player was often caught crying in the ladies room.

I've remembered Lila, the alabaster-skinned girls' class president. (I attended a gender-segregated Catholic high school.) A bright student and natural leader, she never came back after spending freshman year wrapped around a tall, dark Italian sophomore. He never returned to school, either. Same with Denny the Bad Dude and Susie the Cheerleader – dropped out, married, opened a gas station, parents before 17.

It took me 40 years to deduce from the evidence at hand that Lila and her sophomore paramour had probably ended up the same way.

Back in medieval America, pregnancy meant the end of your education. At Our Lady of Perpetual Perplexity High School, marriage meant automatic expulsion. I'm not kidding — making an honest woman out of your girlfriend got the happy couple purged to the purgatory of instant adulthood.

Why? Our raggedy band director once tried to explain it: "When two people get married, the next thing you know, they're going to have a child and we can't have pregnant women at our school."

One would think that with the church's ban on birth control, any activity to produce more dues-paying Catholics would not only be permitted but encouraged. I have never been able to swallow Rome's idea that a delivery room life-or-death choice between the mother or the baby means dad's a single father. Wonder how many doctors took that into surgery? How many still do?

When I got to a public university, I found that Catholic school rules basically prevailed. Our perky-pepgirl campus queen and spectacular launch-the-baton-30-feet-high lead majorette never came back from summer vacation. Neither did the best flautest in the music department.

These brilliant young women were confronted with pretty much the same choices as today: If you become a mother, society will not support you. Single or spoused-up, your life options become tightly constricted. We're not like Scandinavian countries where families are not allowed to drop through the cracks. Even the richest get regular post-partum visits from social workers to teach parenting skills.

The self-help movement

The Way It Was — and could be again
Mother Jones, 9-9-2004

ON THIS DATE IN 1916: Margaret Sanger, the mother of contraception, opened the first U.S. birth control clinic in New York City.
From journalist Dennis Myers' Online Almanac

Back in the Sixties, I had friends and relatives who worked at the county hospital. They reported an endless stream of hemorrhaging young women admitted after a visit to an abortion butcher.

With safe and legal abortion services increasingly difficult or impossible to obtain in most of the country, that ghastly scenario is making a comeback.

Witnessing the slow erosion of Roe v. Wade, some women's organizations have for years been teaching (gasp) self-abortion surgical techniques. The landmark 1973 supreme court decision was dead on arrival of King George the Lesser's second reign. Anybody who thinks John Roberts and Harriet Miers have not been wired upfront just hasn't been paying attention.

Death, desperation or destitution are not acceptable options for young women. The standard conservative canard of personal responsibility is a non-starter in a society where living wages are an endangered species and health care is unobtainable for almost 50 million.

We are a big, fat, rich country. We're just stuck with a political system which offers old ideology rather than new ideas. Even the inept Bush administration has shown that government can occasionally solve problems. Homeless advocates point to the rapid provision of housing for Gulf Coast refugees through rent vouchers. When Dubya's Dastards realized to their horror that a government program was actually working, they killed it because housing vouchers were slated for big cuts before Katrina blew through town.

Cost-efficient, life-affirming solutions are available and attainable. All we need now is a courageous leader to take us there. He or she will arrive just after the cold dawn of Dubya's Great Depression.

Mothers and babies don't need to die.

Too bad Dr. Jane is not available to help out.

Oh, what wonders my big sister could have wrought.

Be well. Raise hell.

The events described above actually happened. Only names have been changed. | U-News
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Copyright © 2005, 2023 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 37-year Nevadan and editor of Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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