Monday, November 24, 2014

Winter weather woes and day job drama, a reality check

Snowvember in Western New York (courtesy of Amy Johnson Blocher)

I really screwed up at work this week.  My mistake cost the company a considerable sum of money.  The good news is that I own the company, so I did not lose my job.  The bad news is that I own the company so I lost a considerable sum of money!!  It was bound to happen sooner or later.  How many of us juggle this whole writing adventure with all of the other “real world” responsibilities, like our day jobs and our families?  Juggling, it turns out, is not my forte.  I feel it important to point out here that no animals or people were harmed in this debacle.  I simply forgot an important piece of information that I should not have, and likely would not have, forgotten if I had been more attentive at work.  The release of A Whisper of Bones and the looming deadline of a scholarly publication have kept my focus in the direction of non income (or, rather, not much income) generating endeavors.  When less lucrative pursuits are accomplished at the expense of the small business that supports my family, it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate.

My costly mistake comes at the worst possible time.  Many folks are digging themselves out from underneath a record breaking snow storm in my part of the world.  While some people enjoyed the unexpected days off from school or work, many small business owners were forced to close during this historic weather event, losing nearly a week of income.  It has been a strange few days for those of us who live north of the impact area.  We closed our businesses largely because the rest of the city was crippled by severe weather and travel bans.  It was surreal to look out the window at clear skies while our neighbors only a few miles away could not see the street from inside their snow covered homes.  Closing down our business when the skies were blue and the roads were clear in our neck of the woods was a bitter pill to swallow.  An expensive blunder on top of several days of lost revenue was cause for concern.

My husband and business partner kindly stayed quiet while I apologized profusely and promised to get my head back in the game.  I declared my intention to give up on my writing and my research, sincerely intending to walk away until such time that I could spread myself a bit thinner with less dire consequences.  He would not hear of it.  So, with my tail between my legs, I crawled off to my office to ponder how I might prevent this from happening again?  Am I making a big deal of nothing?  Has this ever happened to anyone else?  Please make me feel better by sharing your mistakes, the lessons you have learned and how you moved forward.  Thanks!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Taking a break from cholera in favor of playoffs and book debuts!

We are recovering from a big weekend in the Higgins household.  My son’s football team made the playoffs and we got to watch the team play at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills!  My parents, who drove in from New England for the weekend, informed me that the last time they were at the stadium it was called Rich Stadium, they were seated in one of the corporate boxes, and OJ Simpson was playing.  I warned them that if they were to join us they must now call the stadium The Ralph, they must not complain about the cheap seats, and above all, they must not speak of OJ.  They agreed and made arrangements to rent a car for the trip.

I can't believe that in the year 2014 the administrators at Catholic schools still operate under the misguided notion that mothers don’t have jobs outside the home.  I give you as proof of this misunderstanding the fact that the game was scheduled at 5 p.m., requiring just about every working mother to arrange to leave her place of employment early in order to make it to the stadium on time.  So, at 4:30, with Granny and Grumpy in tow, we headed for The Ralph!  It was exciting to see our boys up on the jumbotron as we sat on the 30 yard line.  It was like being at a real NFL game.  We experienced falling snow, biting wind, and, sadly, defeat on Thursday night.  Not only did the St. Joe’s Marauders lose, but later that night the Bills failed to “squish the fish” and lost to the Miami Dolphins.  Later, in the warmth of our home, we licked our wounds, as well as the bottom of our hot chocolate mugs and refocused on the next adventure in our weekend.

The big event the following evening was the debut of A Whisper of Bones, the second book in the Orphans and Inmates series.  What were we thinking scheduling such an important event on a Friday night at seven p.m.?  As many of you know, I own a doggy daycare.  I am not sure if I am the only woman with a Ph.D. who cleans up dog poop, drool, and vomit for a living, but it's worth mentioning just in case!  For eleven hours a day, five days a week, my world is loud, smelly and hairy!  To schedule an event only one hour after we close for the day is always risky, particularly on a weekend.  However, the universe cooperated and with the help of the best staff a small business owner could hope for, I was out the door by 6:45!

You may wonder why I chose a small, yet stunning, shop to debut my second book.  It is an antique shop, not a book store, filled with expensive and breakable stuff.  Why would the owners of The Antique Lamp Company and Gift Emporium agree to play host to a bunch of historical fiction fans?  Well, this luminary wonderland was the inspiration for a similar shop in my book.  It was the perfect place for the debut of Whisper and I could not have conjured more gracious hosts.  The experience is an outstanding example of the power of small business.  There was tremendous support from our local small business association, and another nearby establishment, Caruso’s Italian Imports, kindly provided some savory treats for our guests to enjoy while they shopped.  The turnout was larger than I have seen for other authors at big chain bookstores.  All in all, the evening was a complete success.  I sold a lot of books and introduced my readers to one of the many gems in the Hertel Avenue business district.  As the holiday season approaches remember that books make wonderful gifts and shop local wherever you can!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Cholera Chronicles: Early Buffalo hospitals

An interesting fact about hospitals: they were originally established to care for the poor.  That seems strange to us, I think, because in the twenty first century United States so many people can’t afford to go to a hospital when they need to.  Nineteenth century hospitals were established to provide care for those who could not afford for a physician to come to their home and often these same physicians donated their time and services in the hospital setting to care for those who were destitute. 

In Buffalo, New York, the first public hospital was established by the Sisters of Charity at the request of Bishop Timon in 1848.  Just a year later, the one hundred bed facility was incorporated as the Buffalo Hospital of the Sisters of Charity.  While the hospital was owned by Catholics, it was open to all individuals, regardless of religious affiliation.

The establishment of hospitals was just another aspect of the growing conflict between Protestants and Catholics during this time.  Just prior to the advent of the Sisters of Charity Hospital, a group of Protestant physicians had formed the Hospital Association Board in the hopes of establishing a facility of their own to serve the poor and to act as a teaching platform for the recently established Medical Department at the University of Buffalo.  Multiple attempts to secure funding failed largely due to squabbles between local physicians and the Buffalo Hospital of the Sisters of Charity remained the only public hospital in the city for a decade, although the Protestant physicians were reluctant to consider a Catholic hospital as a public institution, particularly one that was run by women.  Efforts to fund a “real public hospital” continued and Buffalo General Hospital was finally incorporated in 1855.

Both of the public facilities provided care for the chronically ill rather than those with acute infectious diseases.  Although the Sisters of Charity did treat cholera cases, a separate hospital was needed during the epidemic years.  Recall that various period publications made reference to the Cholera Hospital, but did not provide specific details.  With a little help from my friends, I learned that “the old stone house on the beach”  also described as “the brick house on the ravine” was then known as the McHose House, an abandoned tavern between what is now Niagara Street and Prospect Avenue.  It was established as a cholera hospital by Dr. Ebenezer Johnson, the first Mayor of Buffalo.  Dr. Johnson also initiated the first Board of Health during the 1832 cholera epidemic. 

City of Buffalo, 1849
My attempt to identify the location of McHose House on the map, has, once again, lead me in the direction of more questions than answers.  Three separate publications indicate that McHose House was located between Niagara Street and Prospect Avenue (the blue dot on the map above).  Looking at the 1849 street map of Buffalo, Prospect Avenue was called Ninth Street.  It appears that the Cholera Hospital was not far from the original Erie County Poorhouse (the red dot).  The description of “on the beach” hardly seems to fit this location.  However, if one follows Niagara Street down toward Genesee Street, it intersects with Hospital Street (the yellow dot), but sadly, is no closer to the water.
Hospital Street, hmmm…  In 1849, the only public hospital was Buffalo Hospital of the Sisters of Charity, which was located on St. Louis Place, near St. Louis Roman Catholic Church (not seen on this map).  The Cholera Hospital, although not near a beach or a ravine, was apparently located near the poorhouse.  The 1849 street map of Buffalo indicates a street called Hospital Street (interestingly, it is also shown on the 1835 map), but the only known public hospital was across town.  So, the question of the week is what hospital was Hospital Street named for if the locations of the only existing hospitals are already accounted for?  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

And so begins The Cholera Chronicles

If you are a regular reader of my blog you are likely thinking that the Cholera Chronicles actually started two blogs ago, and I suppose technically they did. As I explore the epidemic experience in the city of Buffalo during the early to mid-nineteenth century, I find that my path keeps twisting and turning. The best way to keep my thoughts organized is to consider the blog a journal for the next few weeks. If you plan on coming along for the ride I will keep you informed of my research, any interesting morsels that might find their way into the third book in the Orphans and Inmates series, and the location of the next rabbit hole I am likely to fall into.

With the help of a brilliant librarian at the Robert L. Brown History of Medicine Library at the University at Buffalo, I found an article from the Buffalo Medical Journal written by Dr. Austin Flint entitled “Report of the Epidemic Cholera at Buffalo, 1849.” This little gem reported morbidity and mortality statistics for the duration of the epidemic. More importantly, Flint obtained these figures directly from the Proceedings of the Board of Health, which evidently met frequently during the three and a half month epidemic. Recall that the Board of Health was established, as it had been during the epidemic of 1832, directly in response to the cholera threat. The question is where are those proceedings now?

The Proceedings of the Board of Health are an important source of primary data. Both Dr. Flint and two period newspapers (The Buffalo Daily Republic and The Buffalo Morning Express) reported cholera deaths citing those proceedings as their sources. However, the total number of deaths listed in the newspapers does not agree with the statistics published by Dr. Flint. Area physicians reported cholera deaths to the Board of Health from Sisters of Charity Hospital, the Cholera Hospital (established at the beginning of the epidemic to treat individuals who could not afford alternative care), and the homes of individuals who could afford the care of a private physician. An examination of the original proceedings would allow for an accurate account of the reported cases and elucidate any other details not mentioned in the secondary sources. I have several inquiries out to my very resourceful friends in the hopes that these reports will be found.

The question of where the poor were seeking medical treatment during the epidemics came to light as I was looking at the inmate ledgers for the Erie County Poorhouse. The records for 1832 indicate that cholera patients from the city were not sent to the poorhouse and that the institution seemed to be spared the devastating consequences of the dreaded disease. While there are not, to the best of my knowledge, inmate records for the year 1849, two sources address the issue of medical care for the poor during that year. According to Dr. Flint, in the early days of the epidemic, Sisters of Charity Hospital took on the role of pesthouse. However, another building was converted into a cholera hospital for the city’s poor about a week later. In an article dated July 2, 1849, just days before the epidemic was at its peak, The Buffalo Daily Republic reported the following:

The Board of Health would inform the public that a Cholera Hospital has been for some time established at the old stone house on the beach, for the reception of such patients as are not in circumstances to receive proper attention at their own houses.

That same article went on to appeal to city residents to come to the aid of those who could not help themselves.

While the cholera is afflicting many of the poorer inhabitants of our city who have no means of obtaining medical assistance, it would be a humane act on the part of any person to aid in removing such immediately to the Sisters of Charity Hospital or to the Cholera Hospital, where they can and will receive every attention and care.

So with one question answered, another arises. Where was the “old stone house on the beach”? My initial inquiries have not provided me with any clues. Perhaps the elusive Proceedings of the Board of Health contain the answer?

A final fact of interest from Dr. Flint’s paper was the report of a case of cholera at the American Hotel on June 14, 1849. There are no details on this individual, but I think the case could be elaborated upon and included in my third book. Most of Buffalo’s elite social clubs were established later in the nineteenth century, so in A Whisper of Bones, the second book in the Orphans and Inmates series, the American Hotel on Main Street is depicted as a place where well-to-do gentlemen gathered for a pint. I imagine the individual who contracted cholera to be a German business man, maybe a jeweler, having traveled from New York City. In 1849, the first cases of cholera came to New York via Germany and traveled down the Erie Canal. Perhaps this man became infected enroute to Buffalo. This patient allows me to shed light on the lack of socio-economic preferences of the disease because the American Hotel would not have been frequented by men of little means and a reported case there supports the assumption that cholera was not just a disease of the poor. 

The character from the American Hotel has yet to be developed. How old is he? Did he come directly from Germany? Does he have a family back in New York? What, if any, relationship does he have with the Nolan clan? Does he survive the disease? Please feel free to offer suggestions.