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The Aroostook Medical Center (TAMC) is Celebrating 100 years of service and they are celebrating with a parade and community picnic on Saturday, June 9, 2012. You can learn the details on TAMC's website.
As a trustee on the Presque Isle Hospital Building Committee and eventually as the Hospital's Administrator, Phin Ellis played a large role in facilitating the construction of a new hospital and the move from the old building to the hopital's current location. You can read about these events in chapters 20 & 21 of Call Me Phin.
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 23, "Premonitions? Perhaps," which tells the story of Fred Gates and the beginnings of a tradition that lives on to this day at TAMC.
"My memories of Fred Gates, a fine gentleman, go back to my high school days. Not long after beginning my sophomore year, I became acquainted with the people at Union House, a hotel located near Dr. Hagerthy’s home.
The hotel was operated by two proprietors, Mr. Junkins and Charles Sleeper. Mr. Gates was married to Charles Sleeper’s daughter. Although Mr. Gates did not live at the hotel, he often assisted with the chores.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, when we had open roads, Mr. Gates was employed as a wingman on the state snow plow, which passed my home in Castle Hill. It was often necessary for the plow to be out nights during bad storms.
Many times, I would be up doing the barn chores when the plow passed by. I learned they only went down a mile or two below my home before turning and heading back toward Ashland. Another state plow from Presque Isle plowed the remainder of the State Road.
One cold blustery morning, it occurred to me that the men on the plow had been out most of the night and perhaps they would like to have a hot cup of coffee. They had passed my house and I knew they would be back in about half an hour. I hustled around feeding the stock in the barn then hurried to the house and put on a pot of coffee.
When the plow returned, I was standing beside the road waving for them to stop. At first, they thought there’d been a telephone call for them. I told them I thought it would be nice for them to take a break, come in and have a cup of hot coffee.
Mr. Gates and the driver of the plow were so pleased with the coffee and the doughnuts I served with it, that it seemed they could not thank me enough. This was just the beginning. Many other “coffee breaks” followed.
About the middle of August, 1956, I crossed paths with Fred Gates again when he was admitted to the Presque Isle General Hospital. I was administrator of the hospital at the time. Although he was now an old man, little did I realize his life’s journey was about to end.
I noticed on his admission form that he would be eighty years old on August 18th. I asked Mildred if she would make a birthday cake for one of the men who used to appreciate the coffee and doughnuts served to them on some of those cold stormy mornings, years ago. Mildred thought this would be a kind thing to do and agreed to make the cake. She frosted it, wrote happy birthday on it and decorated it with candles.
On the morning of August 18, I took the cake to the hospital and placed it on my desk. Some of the nurses spied it and asked, “What’s up?” I told them of my plans to present the cake to Mr. Gates. I said, “I became acquainted with this gentleman many years ago. When it is convenient, I would like to have several of you nurses come along with me. You can sing Happy Birthday.” Never in my life had I seen anyone so surprised or so pleased. He shared the cake with the nurses and thanked us over and over.
Later that morning, some of the nurses came to my office and allowed that this was one of the nicest things they had ever seen done for a patient. One of them said, “Mr. Ellis, Mr. Gates told us about your high school days and how you worked so hard to get through school. He seems to have forgotten about his illness and wants to talk about the good things in life.” During the next several days, I always found the time to stop by and say good morning to Mr. Gates.
On the night of September 5th, I was very restless all through the night. I thought I heard someone calling my name. Several times, I got up and went to the door to see if someone was there. I got up very early and had completed the chores when I got a premonition that I was wanted at the hospital. I kept this to myself for fear Mildred would say, “Don’t take your work so seriously.”
As soon as I’d eaten my breakfast, I hurried to Presque Isle. I entered my office and found a memo lying on the desk. It read, “Mr. Gates has been calling for you all night.”
It was not six-thirty, the night crew was getting ready to leave and the day shift was coming to work. There were so many things to check on that I didn’t go to see Mr. Gates right away. About eight o’clock, a nurse came running in saying, “Please come and see Mr. Gates. He wants you.”
I went to his room and sat by his bedside. He said, “Phin, I want to tell you something. It is something I have wanted to tell you for quite a few days. I’ve been thinking about the little birthday party you had for me. Really, it was wonderful and the best thing that has been done for me. It has made my stay here more pleasant.” He reached for my hand and continued on saying, “Thank you again, Phin. What you have done for me perhaps you can do for other patients while you work here at the hospital. I’m glad to see you this morning and I hope you have a good day. I’m sort of tired this morning. I didn’t rest much last night. Help me fix this pillow under my head and I’ll have a good rest while you go do your work.”
About noon, a nurse came and said, “Mr. Gates has gone into a coma.” This condition lasted a few days and Mr. Gates died on September 9th without regaining consciousness.
Mr. Gates’ appreciation of the cake impressed me so much that I decided to carry out his suggestion and do this for other patients.
From that fall of 1956 until I left the employ of the hospital on December 31, 1962, every patient, except those too ill to be disturbed, who had a birthday while they were a patient in the hospital, received a cake. The nurses always sang Happy Birthday to them when it was presented.
Many of the cakes were brought from home but sometimes I would purchase one at the grocery store and have the kitchen frost and decorate it for me. We averaged more than one birthday a week.
Mr. Gates suggestion was carried out and I have always felt that each recipient appreciated the gesture just as much as Mr. Gates did."
Today, the tradition of the birthday cakes is overseen by none other than Phin Ellis' own granddaughter, Stephanie. As part of her responsibilites as Coordinator of Nurses, she continues what her grandfather started in the Fall of 1956.
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