So, a few weeks ago I went to the panel on Carville, LA at the Tenn. Williams Fest. They had James Carville, Marcia Gaudet, Neil White, and Jose Ramirez talking about their experiences and books revolving around the National Leprosarium that was built in Carville, LA. I've linked to the author's books above, because they are all really good reads. I've been writing about Carville since 2005 and stopped literally because of Hurricane Katrina. I wrote the book Memorial and Sight Lines instead. But I went back to the Carville book because the Federal government built the morgue to identify bodies found in the floodwaters in Carville, LA. There is a poem in Memorial and Sight Lines that references this morgue.
At this point I have done a ton of research on Hansen's Disease and the history of the leprosarium, but it was wonderful to hear the panelists speak. Primarily, Ramirez's story is touching as a patient at the hospital during the sixties. In his talk, you could still hear his discomfort with the L word (leprosy) and his need to impart the incredible stigma associated with this disease.
Ironically, while all the panelists were cognizant of the stigma and even told stories about the patients' reactions to terms such as "being treated like a leper," an audience member still stood up and asked if there were any more patients in Carville at the "leper colony." I could see all the panelists cringe when the words came over the microphone. Neil White deftly referred to the center by its name as a hospital for the research of Hansen's Disease.
Here are some highlights from my notes:
Ramirez: "There is a great deal to be learned from being institutionalized."
Neil White who was actually a federal prisoner at the hospital during the short time that both patients and federal prisoners were housed on the grounds: talked about the eclectic convergence of patients, prisoners, staff, doctors, guards, etc. A unique mixture not to be seen again.
Armadillo statue on the desk; research center in New Iberia. (Nine-banded armadillo is a carrier of HD, symbol of HD research)
James Carville talked about the sterilization of the mail coming out of Carville. Stamps falling off the Stars.*
(*The Star was a periodical written at Carville.)
Ramirez spoke about the scars in the soul vs. physical scars as well as the impact on his mother and mothers in general who either could not protect their children or who were diagnosed with HD and had their children taken from them.
Gaudet referenced Whitman's "I saw in Louisiana a Live Oak Growing" talking about the large oak near the hospital
No constitutional lawsuits were ever brought by patients who were stripped of their civil liberties while at Carville.
A audience member who as a nurse had never seen a patient with HD prompted Ramirez to mention that most physicians receive 10 minutes of training in regards to HD. Each panelists' repsonse to the nurse was that she proabably had comes across a patient with HD, she just didn't know it, or they were misdiagnosed.
Coca Cola didn't want to supply the glass bottles to the hospital because they might be returned, so they refused return shipments. Patients boycotted Coke for Pepsi and began to use the Coke bottles that couldn't be returned to line the flower beds and walkways. Neil White referenced a patient saying: Coca Cola bottles still a Coca Cola bottle, it's just found a new purpose.
******Sorry for any typos; Issa insists that I hold her and type one-handed.