When I was young I would count the scars on the back of my mother's hands. They were less than an inch long, slightly raised, and paler in color than her skin, almost translucent. Counting them was like trying to count pennies in a closed jar.

It was 1954 when nineteen-year-old Arline Leibowitz packed a bag and left her parents and three siblings behind in their Long Island home. She moved into a dorm at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital to pursue her dream. She was a beautiful woman with a radiant smile and bright blue eyes and donned the requisite nurse's uniform with the pride of an optimistic and oft-times idealistic young woman on her own for the first time. Think a post-war country steeped equally in euphoria and agony. Think Florence Nightingale. The uniform was white--white shoes and thick white stockings--the skirt form-fitting, and the nursing cap stiff and fitted to keep her hair in place and to add to the modesty the profession was meant to evoke. Almost seventy years later, Mom still has the cap, as well as the black wool cape that was her nurse's winter coat.

The medical profession was very different in the 1950s than today. Amid the country recovering from the wounds of war, there were medical successes. Jonas Salk developed a polio vaccine, which was improved by Albert Sabin. Artificial heart valves were used for the first time. An outbreak of the Asian Flu was thwarted through the quick thinking of healthcare professionals. Nurses lived at the hospitals where they received their educations. They were required to look, act and dress a certain way, and to smile no matter how difficult a situation. They did not learn how to start IVs or how to draw blood. They served meals to patients from rolling carts. There were no masks, or PPEs. No PICC lines. No gloves. At night, the nursing students were the only staff on duty at the hospital. Think stewardess of the skies rooted on the ground.

"Tell me about the scars on your hands," I say to her now.

As usual, the TV is tuned to one of her murder shows. They mostly start the same way. An innocent couple on a date are walking along a city street, or two kids are playing in the woods, or a young woman is rushing home from work to celebrate the news of her pay raise with her best friends. They turn a corner and the camera zooms in on their wide eyes and oval-shaped mouths. Here it comes, I think. It has become a sort of art form for me. As the person screams, so do I. I have to admit my shriek is lame. I'd never make it as a howling extra in one of mom's murder shows but I pretty much have the tone and length of the screech down pat. Mom pretends to ignore me but her lips are upturned. 

"Wait for it," I say.

And there it is. The money shot. The mummified corpse, or the twisted body, or the tragic expression of one never to share his final secret. I think I'd play a good dead person.

"Gross." I turn from the dripping blood.

Mom isn't phased. Never has been by gore.  

As Danny and Baez navigate the New York City streets to hunt down a killer, or Sam, Callen, Kensi and Deeks fight to keep L.A. safe, I turn to mom.

I've asked her to tell me about the scars on the back of her hands before but every now and then I like to ask again. Each time I learn a little more about mom's nursing career and a little more about her.

She looks at her hands. "Well, when we used to pick up a patient I would put my hands under his back and the other nurse would put her hands under him on the other side and I would get scratched by her fingernails." 

"And that's how you got all those scars?" I had never heard that explanation before.

She continued, "I had a friend and her sister, her older sister, was a graduate of Bellevue Hospital. Each hospital had their own cap so you could tell the hospital by the cap. I always thought how great that was and that was why I became a nurse. I loved the uniform. White Swan was the name of the uniform company and grandpa got me all my uniforms. I had six uniforms."

"Was it a good career?" I asked.

"The greatest." 

That nineteen-year old nursing student was evident in her still radiant smile and ever bright blue eyes. My money shot.

"There was nothing else I ever wanted to be," she continued. "I loved taking care of patients. 

She looked at the scars on the back of her hands and appeared to retreat into the past. Then, she reached forward and pumped antiseptic lotion into her palms, back to the present.

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Joanne Lewis Blog




joanne lewis

When Joanne Lewis is not practicing law, she is writing. She pens murder mysteries, historical fiction and historical fantasy books and is the author of several award-winning novels. As an author, she hopes to entertain, to educate, and perhaps to enlighten. As an attorney, she is most proud of her work as an assistant state attorney and as a guardian ad litem representing the best interests of children.

Her books are available on Kindle, as paperbacks, and as audio books.

Her latest release is Bee King, a historical novel that is about the first person in the United States diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and takes place from the start of the Civil War until 1910. Just like the people who inhabited Five Points in lower Manhattan during the 1800s and the turn of the century, Bee King traverses the pentagonal streets where abolitionists battled copperheads, immigrants clashed among social, religious and political strife, and doctors and psychologists strained to help patients. Told in Five Points (sections), Bee King is dramatized through conventional literary devices as well as through newspaper articles, a manifesto, and other non-traditional tools.

The Forbidden trilogy consists of the novels: Forbidden Room, Forbidden Night, and Forbidden Horses. Forbidden Room is her best-selling novel.

In Forbidden Room, the first book in the Forbidden trilogy, new attorney Michael Tucker has few clients, yearns to be like his famous grandmother and cannot afford to move out of his parents' home. Sara Goldstein is an heiress accused of killing her uncle. When Sara hires Michael, he gets the chance to defend an innocent person, a beautiful lover and notoriety like his grandmother. But is it more than he asked for? Is Sara innocent or is she a murderer?

Forbidden Night, the second book in the Forbidden trilogy, delves further into Michael and Sara’s complicated relationship, as well as into Soldier Boy’s psyche, into their family histories, and into the creation of the carousel horses. The question posed in Forbidden Room, the first book of the Forbidden trilogy—Is Sara innocent or is she a murderer—is answered.

Forbidden Horses, the final book in the Forbidden trilogy, travels to the eighteenth century and takes place in Austria to reveal the troubled history of the creation of the carousel horses.

Michelangelo & Me is a series of five novellas in the genre of historical fantasy.

In the first book of the series, Michelangelo & the Morgue, seventeen-year-old Michelangelo defies religious and political powers in order to capture a serial killer who is murdering the artists of Florence. In Sleeping Cupid, the second book, Michelangelo’s believed-to-be lost statue narrates his journey from fifteenth century Florence, Italy until the present day where he lives in an attic in a sleepy Florida town. Future books in the anthology include Space Between, School of the World and Michelangelo & Me.

The Lantern is a historical novel about a modern-day woman's search to find a girl from 15th century Florence, Italy who dared to enter the competition to build the lantern on top of Brunelleschi's dome. Across time and space, three lives collide as they battle abuse, disease, fear and prejudice in pursuit of their dreams. Along the way, they intersect with some of the most famous figures of the Renaissance including members of the Medici, Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello and a young Michelangelo.

Wicked Good, a different kind of love story, begins in Bangor, Maine. Fifteen-year-old Rory is not defined by his diagnoses of Asperger's syndrome and Bipolar Disorder and lives life to the fullest. Archer, his adoptive mother, is Rory's biggest fan. Rory searches for his birth parents to find out why he is the way he is. He discovers his roots in Salem, Massachusetts where the Salem Witch Trials had occurred, and in Gloucester, Massachusetts where fishermen went down with the Andrea Gail during the Perfect Storm. He also learns his true roots are closest to his home in Bangor. As Rory discovers truths about himself, Archer learns about herself too.

Make Your Own Luck is the unforgettable and moving novel of Remy Summer Woods, a young attorney who refuses to believe thirteen-year-old Bonita Pickney killed her father, Patrick Pickney. Remy risks her relationship with her own father as well as her life to prove Bonita's innocence. Along with learning what happened the night Patrick was murdered, Remy discovers hard truths about her family and herself.

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