Tuesday, December 14, 2021

An Interview with Ohio Author Dr. Carolyn Bailey Lewis, Ph.D.

An Interview with Ohio Author Dr. Carolyn Bailey Lewis, Ph.D.

Dr. Lewis offers wisdom to nursing home care in her new book Love and Loss: The Storied Nature of Nursing Home Care. Her book has received great acclaim since it’s release. I first met Dr. Lewis at my barn office for a video session. She is confident, sincere, and passionate about living. 

From the inside cover: The author weaves between pain, postponement, and purpose to reveal the intricacies of care in nursing homes and how individuals, families, friends, and health care providers are affected. Included are what it means to be a lucid insider, the state of care, nursing home laws, services, stories from workers and individuals, the necessity of Bingo and therapy animals, a student’s take on abuse, how nursing homes responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for volunteering and advocacy.

Welcome, Dr Lewis!

GM: What is the premise for your new book Love and Loss: The Storied Nature of Nursing Home Care?

CBL: The thread running throughout is how pain and postponement can lead to purpose. We rarely know why certain life-altering events occur. As events surfaced that began to shape and remake my life’s narrative, causing me to spend time in nursing and rehabilitation, I decided that my story, unusual and unique as I thought it was, would benefit others while growing older, dealing with a disability, or being challenged physically or mentally due to an accident or life’s course. I realized that what happens to me is not always for me. Seeing through the circumstance and knowing that my journey might benefit someone else, is the bottom line. Having spent time in six nursing and rehabilitation centers and seven hospitals over 26 years provided me with the inside story on how to navigate what is frequently unknown about nursing home care. The waters can be murky and decisions difficult to make. I wanted to write a book that would bring clarity to nursing home care — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

GM: What was the catalyst that inspired you to write your book?

CBL: After a series of events — spinal cord tumor, paralysis, rehabilitation, setbacks, intensive care, life flights, blood pressure drops, urinary tract infections, high white blood cell counts, bleeding on the brain, kidney stones, gall bladder surgery, sepsis, blood transfusions, plasma exchanges, a femur break,  and EMS, doctor visits, emergency room, and physical therapy too numerous to count, I woke up about three one morning, looked at the ceiling and said “What, Lord?”  I was growing weary in the journey and was seeking answers. My undergraduate and graduate degrees are in Journalism. I heard clearly, “You’re a journalist, write the book.” 

“What book?”

“You’re an insider, tell the story. You’re lucid, write, and tell your truth.”

So, between setbacks over the past four years, I researched, interviewed, and wrote — adding to my narrative the experiences of others in nursing home care.

GM: What do you hope people will take away from your book?

CBL: That much of the mystery of nursing home care and rehabilitation will be revealed. That people of all ages have a guide to make informed decisions about nursing home care, how to navigate the process, what it entails, and how to advocate. I also stress the importance of volunteers, visits to loved ones in nursing care, and what to look for if one has to decide nursing home care is best. That life is about purpose as Mark Twain wrote, “The two most important days in your life: The day you were born and the day you discover why.” That there are people in nursing care who need support, visitors, volunteer assistance, or a listening ear. That health care providers in nursing homes do extraordinary work for minimal pay and support, particularly nursing aides. That the system needs to be examined and overhauled to benefit the residents and the front-line providers.

GM: What are you currently writing?

CBL: Hotel Thelma: Its Life and Legacy. A “colored” woman in 1947 getting a loan from the bank, buying land, building a hotel that would also house a restaurant, a grocery store, and apartments was unheard of in one of the most racist towns in West Virginia. She was pioneer of mixed-use development before it was popular. Her hospitality and food attracted people from all cultures, distances, and walks of life. She took care of folks in the neighborhood and never turned away someone needing a room or food, even if they didn’t have money. This was a woman who prepared boxes of goods each Christmas for those she knew who were in prison and for the needy. She freely gave to her church and to her community, and also catered meals to churches, parties, and fraternal organizations. 

This woman was Thelma Marion Witten Stone, “Mama Thelma,” my great aunt who raised me in Hotel Thelma from my age of six months old. She was actually everybody’s “Mama” – an entrepreneurial woman for her time. Her business spirit came from her mother Jane Witten who owned Jane’s Greenleaf Restaurant on Bland Street in the ‘30s. 

Hotel Thelma was a happening place. Squarely built and situated on the edge of the East End community, the building was across the street from the huge Norfolk & Western rail yard, approximately 15 miles from the nearest coal mine, and within walking distance of Bluefield State College. The hotel and restaurant were never empty during the late '40s, the '50s, and until the late '60s. In the ‘70s, the majority of the Hotel’s occupancy were regular roomers and those who occupied the apartments Mama Thelma added on and made from some of the rooms. Part of the restaurant was turned into a grocery store.  

I had an inside look and was part of its growth and influence. Railroad workers, coal miners, college students, various cultures, all, came to enjoy the food, the atmosphere, and the jukebox. She didn’t believe in processed food. Everything was fresh from the slaughterhouse, the fish market, and the produce warehouse. We made those trips every Saturday morning – rain, snow, or shine. She also had a garden and even scalded chickens and wrung their necks in the back yard.

Of course, she could not do everything alone. Many relatives and people lived and worked there over the years – cousins, aunts, uncles, college students, neighbors, or anyone needing a job.

We hosted the entertainers of the day who were on the chittlin’ circuit such as Ike and Tina Turner, Fats Domino, James Brown, Sam Cook, Bobby Blue Bland, Etta James, and Little Richard, among others (my Aunt Edith styled Little Richard’s hair). They all would perform at the Bluefield Auditorium, a venue where “colored” people could entertain before integration.

Hotel Thelma was in the Green Book for travelers. Mama Thelma passed away in 1981, but her legacy lives on.                                                            

GM: What are you currently reading?

CBL: Re-reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta was an African American woman who developed cervical cancer and whose cells would not die. Her cells have been used for scientific experiments and in efforts to cure diseases, including polio and COVID-19 vaccines. Her He-La cell line is one of the most important in medical research. They were used to study the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones, and viruses on the growth of cancer cells without experimenting on humans. My regular reading is the Bible and devotions from Our Daily Bread. 

GM: Who is your favorite author?

CBL: It’s a tough call. I like Maya Angelou and John Grisham. Maya for the way she relates and writes about lived experiences. I first fell in love with Grisham’s The Firm and then I learned he wrote A Time to Kill. His books have clarity and intrigue. I like novels that are page turners and keep you engaged.

GM: Do you have advice for novice writers and those looking to publish their first book?

CBL: Take the advice offered by your publisher because they have experience. Novice writers might think they know what works and what looks good, but what novice writers want might not be the best for the book. Keep in communication with the publisher and work to meet timelines. Review the contract or agreement carefully so as not to miss any crucial items. Find a publisher who has a track record for fairness and author support. Talk to others who have published to avoid any mishaps. Don’t go for perfection as you write or the book will never get completed. Just write – you can always go back and fix any problems before publishing as you are going to edit the manuscript to the nth degree, as well as your professional editor.

GM: List 10 things your readers may not know about you...


•I developed a blister on my finger from writing so much as a teenager.

•My first job was as a three-year-old wiping off tables in my mother’s restaurant.

•My second job was managing my mother’s grocery store as a teenager after school and during the summers.

•My third job was at a funeral home in accounts payable.

•I was a friend of PBS’ Fred Rogers and remain friends today with Mr. McFeely (Speedy Delivery, David Newell) of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

•I’ve been to Sesame Street in New York and have pictures with Big Bird, Gordon, and Elmo; I met Muhammad Ali in 1979 and have his autograph.

•I am an ordained minister — I can marry, bury, baptize, and give the sacrament of communion. I’ve married about 25 couples, buried about six people, baptized about 10, and given the communion sacrament to over 200.

I danced with James Brown on the stage when he performed in Bluefield, West Virginia, on the “chitlin’ circuit” in the late ‘50s.

•I love word games, especially Scrabble and Words with Friends, game shows, trivia, and sports.

•I play the flute, the piano, and sing. 


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