St. Margaret’s – The Trips

Chicago – Drinking Buddies

Working out acceptable contract terms took so long, that Susan wanted us to start the design process even before any agreement was reached.  Thus we began study trips long before we had a contract in hand.

Sister Susan, Klein and Tribrook decided that we and key hospital personnel should visit other hospitals to see existing facilities which illustrated certain arrangements advanced by the designers.  Klein suggested two hospitals in Houston, where their offices were located, and which Falick and team had designed under the name of their former employer.  In the 1970’s, Houston was on the cutting edge of hospital design innovations.

Tribrook recommended a pair of hospitals in the Chicago area near their national headquarters, and this was to be our first excursion.  Sister Susan, her group from the hospital and I flew to Chicago on December 3, 1976.  Besides Susan, our party included Associate Administrator Chip Denton, and four young nurses who served as heads of department.  We were met by three Tribrook staffers who worked out of their Chicago office.

We reached Chicago on schedule, and upon arriving at our hotel, Sister Susan announced that everyone had 15 minutes to reassemble in the hotel bar for a discussion of the next days’ events.  I dutifully reported a short time later, and we all sat around a large table while the good Sister proceeded to drink us under the table, ordering round after round.  I was too macho to give up in front of the four nurses, and just knew that, despite an empty stomach, I could certainly hold my liquor as well as a nun.  Well, I couldn’t.  After two hours, I staggered out completely soused, barely able to walk or talk.  Sister Susan just smiled as though she was drinking iced tea.


Chicago – Deadly Longjohns

From weather reports on the tube, my wife May had ascertained that a terrible cold front would greet us in the Windy City.  From all reports, the temperature there would drop to 5 degrees below, the coldest it had been there in 25 years.  May bought me super thick thermal “longjohns” from Sears and made me promise to wear them.

Thus early on the morning after our arrival, we set out from the hotel, with me terribly hung over but snug in the never-worn-before thermal underwear.  We traveled in rental cars through snow and slush to Ingalls Memorial Hospital in nearby Harvey, Illinois.  It was absolutely frigid, but I was well prepared.

We reached Ingalls without mishap and to my pleasant surprise, the hospital was warm as toast.  In fact, it was warm as hell.  Yankees keep their buildings steam heat hot in winter.  We started our tour and I struggled manfully to live down the night before and to impress Sister Susan and her nurses with my hospital acumen.  I led our column as we proceeded from department to department.  After an hour of this, I began to feel weak.  I grew so hot I thought I would faint.  I knew that with another five minutes of this I would die.  Frantic desperation clouded my judgment.  It was the thermal underwear and I knew I had to get out of it.  That minute!

I drifted back to the rear end of our procession and began to nonchalantly turn doorknobs as we passed on down the hall.  After ten or so tries, I found an unlocked janitor closet and stepped inside.  Apparently no one noticed.  In 45 seconds, yours truly shed his suit, stripped down to socks and shorts, ripped off the longjohns, and dressed again.  I wound the thermals up in a tight roll, tucked them under my arm, and casually caught up to the group.

I like to believe that none of them ever realized what I had done, or even suspected that I had almost expired of heat prostration right in their midst.  I shudder to this day at the embarrassment I would have faced had someone opened that door and found a 50-year-old man all but stark naked in a foreign janitor closet.  Horror of horrors, suppose I had been discovered there by Sister Susan!


Chicago – Wild Ride On The Expressway

Because I was not driving, I had paid scant attention to where we had gone in Chicago, nor had I even bothered to consult a map.  I did notice that the expressways were heavily salted and that the wheel spray turned our windshield an impenetrable white every few minutes.  Windshield wiper action only made it worse.  Only the wiper washer spray gave any relief.

As late Friday afternoon approached, we had completed the hospital tours and were standing in the snow outside the Tribrook office somewhere just outside Chicago.  It was dark and the five-o’clock traffic turned the nearby expressway into a solid sea of red and white lights.  Suddenly, Sister Susan declared that she was not going back to Montgomery with us, but instead would go north by train to Milwaukee to visit her parents for the weekend.  The Tribrook people quickly volunteered to take her to the train station.

“Here!” she shouted as she tossed me her car keys.  “You take the rental car back.”  I was aghast and protested, “I don’t know where we are, or where the airport is!”  “Just follow the other car,” Susan shot back as she drove off.  With that, all the nurses jumped into the other car with Denton and he barked, “Follow us!  We’re running late!”

There was no time to get the feel of a strange rental.  The lead car was already disappearing into the heavy expressway traffic, moving fast.  I slammed my car into gear and shot after them.  I found out later that we were some 20 miles from the airport with 45 minutes to make our flight through rush hour traffic and 5 inches of salted snow.  As soon as I slid into the expressway traffic, the windshield salted up, but I knew what to do.  I hit the wiper wash button.  Nothing happened–it was out of wash solution!

There I was, going like a bat out of hell, suddenly totally blind.  For the second time that day, I was sure I would die in Chicago.  Driving in snow was not in my repertoire even under the best circumstances, certainly not at high speed on a 9-lane expressway in five- o’clock traffic, with a completely translucent windshield while lost in unfamiliar surroundings.

Just as my life was to flash before my eyes, I noticed a one-half inch wide strip of clear windshield glass right above the very top of the wiper blade arc.  Standing up in the car I could see the road through this slit, and again roared down the expressway in pursuit of the pace car.  Then I found I could get short-term relief by pulling up hard behind an 18-wheeler at 50 mph and allowing its spray to wet my windshield so that the wiper blade could clean it.

It was hard to stand up and drive without over-depressing the accelerator, but somehow I managed the feat.  When we finally reached the airport rental return lot, I was completely disheveled and the five passengers in the other car could not understand why I was so exhausted and distraught.  We reached Montgomery without further incident.




Debakey had received world-wide acclaim for his heart transplants. He even appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine.

Two weeks later we were all in Houston, Texas, visiting a pair of hospitals suggested by the Klein group.  I have little memory of that trip, having just absorbed a lifetime of traumas in Chicago.  I do remember watching Michael Debakey, the famous pioneer heart surgeon, perform a heart transplant.  And I indeed remember our arrival at the hotel in Houston and Sister Susan’s command that we immediately join her for refreshments in the hotel bar.  The bar meeting was obligatory wherever we traveled, be it Chicago, Houston, or St. Louis.  That woman could sure hold her liquor, and in these later trips, I knew better than try to match her drink for drink.






-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)

This is one of many St. Margaret stories. The rest can be found here.

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