health care

A Life Time of Serving

Argyle, WI

During my high school years, I kept busy by bagging groceries at the local Rossing’s Fine Foods. My boss was a grumpy old fellow of few words who was as fiscally tight as the bark on a tree. I was paid a whopping $2.90 per hour (less than the minimum wage of $3.25/hr then) to bag groceries, stock shelves, and listen to the endless wit and banter of our 80-something year-old cashier, Hazel.  She knew every soul in town and the surrounding area, never missing an opportunity to subject a stranger to 20 questions if she did not recognize them.  Ruth was another cashier, a pleasant, portly woman who talked ad nauseum about her husband and children.  At least Hazel’s monologue was interesting.  The accountant for the grocer was a woman named Russie, a vibrant, passionate woman who also helped run a 90-head dairy farm nearby.  It was at Rossing’s where I came to know Russie and would later be asked to help out on the dairy farm, doing chores, cleaning calf pens, assisting with milking, taking pickup loads to the on-site dump, and mowing hay in the summer.  Many hours were passed pitching forkfuls of matted calf scours and straw into a manure spreader while listening to the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Kansas and other bands of that era.  Paint it, paint it, paint it black! One day my older brother and I were riding back into town with Russie, listening to the radio, when I started unwittingly bellowing “I want you to want me, I need you to need me.” My brother was embarrassed for me, he would later mention. During our junior year of high school, I asked Russie’s daughter Amy (also from the class of 1985) to homecoming court when our class elected me to the role of Duke.

Duke Erik and Duchess Amy

Amy, the duchess, would many years later be know as “The Noah Whisperer” by my wife when Amy was able to get our oldest son interested in school in a way that no one else had been able to get through to him.

The Noah Whisperer

The Noah Whisperer: Amy & Noah (right)

     Had someone told me the day I graduated high school that I would spend my entire adult life in health care, serving others, I just would not have believed it.  On the spectrum from Selfish to Selfless, I was busy high-fiving Selfish while preening in the mirror with my free hand. After a seasonal stint at UPS as a sorter/preloader in Dodgeville, WI, I beat out 35 other guys for a $3.50/hr job as a psychiatric aide at the Garden Court Group Home in rural Lancaster, WI.  I was a criminal justice major at the UW-Platteville, with an eye on joining the FBI upon graduation.  After a year of A’s and B’s at Platteville, I became restless about being on the right path for me.  A chance meeting with my second cousin Rosann during her mother’s funeral in Argyle, WI, had me head out to Phoenix in April of 1987 to explore ASU and find a job.  After a month of floundering and becoming more homesick, I returned to WI for the summer.  My official move to Phoenix came in August of 1987, just as my next younger brother was graduating from Marine Corps boot camp.


     Cousin Rosann suggested nursing as my new major since ASU’s criminal justice program seemed poorly developed.  I wrinkled my nose at that prospect since I was heterosexual, but Rosann reassured me that the notion was part of an old stereotype.  How else would I turn a four-year degree into a paycheck to afford graduate school?  I can be won over with logic, so I looked into the BSN program and my path was set. My first semester at ASU was spent being homesick and distracting myself with endless games of pool.  Did you know it is possible to get a 1.0 GPA and remain in college? After another bump in the road by the name of Marie Eicher, a Nurse Rachett type of an instructor who was all about squelching the dreams of young people, I was soon petitioning the Standards Committee for additional semesters in adult ICU, pediatric ICU, and Neonatal ICU.  I finished with the last four semesters on the Dean’s List and graduated with Sigma Theta Tau honors (the international nursing honor society) and the ropes over my shoulders to prove it.


     After sixteen years in intensive care nursing, I dabbled in the float pool caring for medical-surgical patients and came to know I really wanted to be in the emergency room, where all the action is.  Through the years, I had volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House in Phoenix, Special Olympics in Missouri, and for the church elderly.  One day in April, 2013 an opportunity came up to go to Haiti with a medical mission with a group called Schools4Haiti, started by an older gentleman named Len Demert from Cassville, WI.  Len had recently passed, but his daughters eagerly took up his cause in Haiti.  I found his daughter Penny easy to like and she and her sisters had been to Haiti enough to know how to navigate the country safely while still meeting the needs of the children in the orphanages.

Schools4Haiti Schools4Haiti

     I suppose we all have our biases and mine tend toward lazy people and smoking, but hating someone for their skin color has always seemed simply stupid to me. I was called “ghost,” “whitey,” and “Casper” when I was young, to which I would reply “I am Norse–I’m supposed to be this color!”  Obviously, if I had any hang-ups about skin color, I would not immerse myself in Haiti.  Before I ever traveled to New York City for the first time, the best piece of advice I got was “just get used to streams and streams of people on the street–no matter what time of day it is.”  This advice also came to mind when I landed at Port au Prince. My brother, an ER doc, came along on the trip and we saw hundreds of orphans and members of the community on four separate days at four different locations. Some treated our arrival like a social event, eager to put on their Sunday best to meet the American team of nurses and doctors.

Haiti missionaries

Haitian missionaries @ New Life International, Mirebalais

me (far left) & brother Adam (far right)

The pastor of my church is fond of saying that the only things you take with you to heaven is those which you have given away.  While I absolutely love foreign travel for it’s ability to expand my horizons, in one hundred years absolutely no one will know that Haiti was my 19th country I have visited since pulling away from my provincial roots. If my kin remember one thing about me a century from now, I hope it is that I was of a giving heart, always eager to help those who need it most.

bad date

The Bigger Purse

I don’t know what I would have done right after high school if I hadn’t gone to college.  I was too hot-headed to go into the military back then and would have laid out the drill instructor breaking me down to build me back up (or died trying).  But I wasn’t ready to be in college right away.  I had a less-than-desirable childhood and little of it prepared me for being on my own.  Don’t misunderstand, I was ready to have a different identity, rather than the moniker placed upon me by my Argyle peers “Doug-Hanson-the-welfare-man’s-son.”  Crippled from years of emotional and mental abuse by parents and my peers, I was woefully shy as a young man first out on his own.  Looking back, I was actually handsome and very well built due to years of body-building.

muscle Erik002

I attended UW-Platteville for my first year of college as a criminal justice major, my eye on becoming an FBI agent.  Before long I realized that career was incompatible with a stable family life, the only thing I wanted as much as being a college graduate.  I grew restless in Wisconsin and packed my Renault Alliance with all my earthly possessions and Dad, and made the trek to Arizona.  A few years later I was the Manzanita Hall Council President at Arizona State, an older student among the teens and early twenty-somethings.  Heads full of ham surrounded me.  One older gal stood out, not just because she was more mature, like me, but because of her blue eyes and long, wavy dark hair.  In the elevator one day, I finally summoned the courage to ask her out on a date.  “Hi, I’m Erik.  How would you like to go for some Thai food and see Isaac Stern at the Gammage Auditorium?”  To my delight, she smiled and said yes, then scrawled her phone number on a torn off piece of paper.

blue eyed brunette

On a Wednesday night, I picked her up in my brother’s program car from work, a Pontiac Grand Prix.  I took Buffy to the Pink Pepper, a more classy Thai restaurant with white tablecloths and fine crystal.  The food was to die for–very exotic and yummy!  I was stoked.  I had a very attractive woman on my arm and a world renowned violinist to top the evening off.  I held the door for my date as we entered the Pink Pepper and the hostess soon led us to our table.  As Buffy looked around the establishment, I could tell that she had not been there before.  She seemed pleased, but slightly uncomfortable.  The moment the hostess walked away, Buffy said “Just look at that crystal!  I wish I had brought my bigger purse!”  I waited for her to laugh, or make any indication that this was just a really bad joke.  Nope, no such luck.  My heart sank.  I thought “oh, a classy dame!”

classy dame

I don’t have a poker face.  It must have shown how truly disappointed I was in her and that comment.  I don’t remember anything she said after that.  When dinner came, I gobbled it up like a cowboy at the evening campfire.  Manners be damned–there was no one to impress here.  My quietness must have been disconcerting to her because half-way back to the Gammage Auditorium, Buffy or Tiffany or Bunny or whatever-her-name was, suddenly remembered that she had to study for her history mid-term that was tomorrow…on a Thursday!  What BS!  I happily drove her white trash buns back to the loop drive in front of Manzanita Hall, made a point of remaining silent as she got out, and then peeled away.

I was 23, handsome, had a nice ride, and had two tickets to a show that would be like no other.  I called up a few different friends, but all had something going on and could not join me for the show.  So I went to see Isaac Stern, front and center, all by myself–except for the few thousand other strangers who filled the seats at Gammage.  What a show it was!