A Letter from Matinicus - Don't Tell The Nurse
Don't Tell The Nurse
By Eva Murray
Illustration by Ted WalshThe Sunbeam is coming this week. They will get to Matinicus, assuming the weather cooperates so that their long flog from Northeast Harbor, by way of Frenchboro and Isle au Haut isn't so difficult as to turn their journey, which is to render aid and comfort to the rockbound, into an exercise in excessive misery and danger to themselves and their equipment. The nurse is aboard. One of the many useful services offered aboard Sunbeam, a sort of a side-benefit along with the telemedicine set-up, is annual testing of one's cholesterol (among other things.) Being able to attend to a few medical details without leaving Matinicus has saved some of us considerable money and allowed several elderly islanders far more access to a physician than they have had historically. All in all, the telemedicine is a very good arrangement (the doctor is on the other end of a two-way video hookup, in real time). The nurse on board is even better, and despite some initial skepticism, it is an experiment that has been proven, and is welcomed and well-utilized by islanders. There is a certain irony, however, to having one's cholesterol checked aboard Sunbeam. Most of us know the Sunbeam best in its capacity as floating cafe. We go there not for pastoral counseling, not for prayer and soft words, not for edification, and often not to see the nurse, even though all of those can be found aboard, but for cookies and pie.
This is their ministry, and they do it well. Never mind what they may think at the main office in Bar Harbor. The Maine Seacoast Mission (thankfully having dispensed with the expression “missionary society,” too easily misunderstood), seeks not to sort out the souls of we the poor benighted savages of Penobscot and Frenchmans Bays, but to bring to us all, heathen and disciple alike, a few of life's “extras.” They represent non-essentials, like school field trips and art lessons, cribbage night and the “all-island supper,” check-ups when nothing hurts and cholesterol tests, and a place to go have pie and idle with whomsoever happens in. Everybody, regardless of history, ethics, or severity of bait smell, is welcome aboard the 'Beam, and there is always something in the cookie jar. With the snack comes no agenda. Captain, engineer, steward, RN, and minister all step in to fill the roles of people just hanging around in the coffee shop, with whom one can chat about the cold or the ice or the price of lobsters (or cross-country skiing or Caterpillar diesels or Kierkegaard or pulled pork in the crock-pot or just about anything else). Of course, we don't have a coffee shop; we have, from time to time, the Sunbeam. Sometimes, we are asked to supper aboard the boat, always a fun time, and never a calorically conservative experience. Suffice it to say, we all tend to over-do it when it comes to Sunbeam desserts. The nurse is a good friend, and she makes an effort not to spoil the fun, but we cannot help but joke while helping ourselves to seconds on dessert, announcing to Mike the Captain and Storey the engineer, “Don't tell Sharon!” Sharon has no desire to be the healthy-eating police, but she is rather caught in the middle, recommending that some of us watch our diets, and maybe even take those little pills. After a meaningful and heartfelt consultation with her and the good doctor on Vinalhaven (through the video conferencing link) we amble out through the galley and are invited by the cook to take some refreshment. Have a muffin, or have a corned beef sandwich, or a slice of pie. Yes, thank you, we most generally will. There are no restaurants on Matinicus. There’s no diner, no truck stop, no Starbuck's, no anything. The only chance we get to hang around shirking work and sipping java in public is twice a month (weather permitting) when Sunbeam is in the harbor. It is exceedingly difficult to resist.
The Sunbeam travels the islands of the Maine coast.Everybody in America it seems, even out here at the bitter end, is convinced of the need for low-fat cooking, and of course, the topic comes up as we chat and visit and eat all the goodies baked by Pat, and before her, by Felicia, and before her, for many, many years by Betty. “Yes,” said one islander, overflowing with good intentions. “I just bought a book on-line, with all kinds of low-fat recipes.” I admitted to having done likewise awhile back, but my efforts toward a proper diet were thwarted by a recurring problem. “What's that?” “Squash.” Huh?” “All those low-fat recipes,” I explained, while digging into a second slab of Sunbeam coffee cake, “have to be constructed of something. I mean, what's the actual mass of material, under all that basil and cilantro? It sure isn't going to be meat, or cheese, or spaghetti...” “No, I suppose it wouldn't be.” “It's usually squash. I don't like squash.” I splashed some more whole milk into my coffee. Sharon the nurse was kind enough to be a few feet away and busy conversing with another islander. I continued. “I don't want to eat squash. I don't want to eat a blue hubbard or a butternut or a buttercup or a zucchini. If it's not squash, it's generally eggplant. Or tofu. Ye gods. And I don't like turnip either. Have you looked at those low-fat recipes? It's all tofu and parsnips. I don't want parsnips. I don't want kohlrabi. I don't even know where you go to get kohlrabi. I don't want to eat lima beans, soy beans, English broad beans, kidney beans, rutabaga, bathtub caulking, Milk Bones, flip-flops, pumpkin soup, spaghetti squash with spaghetti sauce, or for the love of god, seaweed.” “No, I guess I wouldn't either.” Rob the minister wandered over and sat down, smiling in that enigmatic way that ministers who do not espouse things, but rather who listen, tend to do. We rant, they just look us in the eye and say nothing. They know more than they can say, they are all bunged up with confidentiality so the rest of us can bitch and harangue in safety, and they know better than to offer a cookie-cutter philosophy to somebody who lives at the whim of the gale and the edge of a continent. He won't tell us whether we ought to eat the squash or eat the pie. Damn.