Saturday, January 17, 2015

Your Fingers and Toes Won't Fall Off

Long held beliefs and fears are difficult to change.

Getting into the swing of the husband and his retirement (which just means he is between jobs and home since this oil field slump) I was tired of looking at green walls. The temperature had zipped up to a lovely 50 degrees from the below freezing temps that had been gracing our huddled homebound bodies.

Where to go? A day trip. What better place to visit on a warm sunny winter day but a Leper Colony! To say the husband is a bit squeamish when it comes to anything pertaining to an unhealthy condition would be a huge understatement. Seeing skin that is not intact, blood, guts and gore he quickly grabs the remote control and switches the TV to the weather channel. So what do I suggest? "Oh honey, lets go to Carville and tour the Leper Museum." I think he was watching for my head to do a 360 degree swivel. He declined.
A little nagging and cajoling, and we were on our way. 
The drive was lovely. We stopped in Baton Rouge for a snack. Boudin balls and meat pies, just yummy and we were on our way again.
The sanatorium sits close to the highway, a lovely old planation home it's centerpiece. Long covered walkways, used by the patients for recreation on rainy days , lead from one building to another and the complex is huge. A soft yellow stucco used on the walkways softened what could have been very stark and harsh effect of this sanatorium.
Arriving at the guard gate, the husband expected me to be satisfied with gazing at the buildings from that viewpoint. I wanted to go in. The National Guardsmen at the gate requested driver's license to gather information on the form required to enter. This facility is now the National Guard headquarters for Louisiana. The Museum is open to educate people on leprosy or what is now called Hansen's Disease.

The husband parked beneath the Live Oaks and there he stayed. He refused to enter the building. The fear, the stigma of the lepers remains that strong in many people yet. I didn't expect the museum to be much but I was amazed at how many artifacts collected and displayed. This was a huge hospital at one time; doctors and nuns staffed and cared for the patients. Not one staff member ever contacted leprosy from the patients. It is not considered contagious. By 1940 a medicine has been discovered that halted the progress of the bacillum and if caught early, damage to the periphery could be eliminated.
"Your fingers and toes do not fall off" said the guide. "The body absorbs the bone in the fingers and toes." It's a neurological condition.
I wandered from exhibit to exhibit after watching a short film. There were relics from the operating room, the morgue and the registries of purchases to keep the facility operating. Another room held a 4 foot tall spindle with patient charts. Photos covered the walls, much to read and see but eventually I made my way back to the front door and out into the sunlight.

The husband still parked beneath the big oaks, watched and shook his head as I made my way back to the truck. I was surprised that he let me back in or didn't have a disinfectant spray to use on me.

Two patients remain on the grounds and are seen by a doctor and a nurse daily. When the facility was closed after finding the disease wasn't contagious, many of the patients that had lived there all the lives did not want to leave. They were allowed to stay, while some of them returned to their families. Baton Rouge houses 15 of them that chose to leave and had no family to return to. They live in a retirement /assisted living home.
Why doesn't he find this interesting? There are only two places in the USA that house these patients. The states that primarily produce these patients are Louisiana, Texas, California, Florida, New York and Hawaii. There maybe a few other states. I can't remember everything the guide mentioned. The museum is kept open and free to the public to educate them and alleviate the fear of this disease. Now to just get people to enter the door into this information center huh? Though I shared all this information with the husband, he clearly was not interested and remains skeptical and fearful.

Our day trip proceeded to the casino and dinner. We waited out the rush hour traffic and arrived back home at 2100 hrs.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day; the husband only enjoyed part of it; the blackjack tables.

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