Saturday, July 25, 2015

Gut Feelings Part Six, The Chemo begins

I was up bright and early on the morning of May 27, arriving at the  oncology department at around 8:30 AM.  I was nervous, anxious and in desperate need of unloading the cup of coffee I’d had earlier, so went in search of a restroom.  I found one down the hall, seated myself in the stall and was nearly scared out of my wits when I heard a great whooshing noise- the stupid toilet was flushing violently with me sitting on it! Quite unnerving! I returned to the waiting room and was telling Mr. G about  the scary experience when I was summoned to the lab, where I was weighed, had my blood pressure and temperature recorded, and then was  asked, “Do you have a port?” Out came syringes, tubing and a can of icy cold stuff they sprayed on the port area before sticking in a needle with tubing attached then using a syringe to withdraw blood.  I turned my head during that part because I’m a wimp. After they taken all the blood they needed (which seemed like a lot to me at the time) they flushed the line with a saline solution, handed me a little plastic cup and told me they needed a “sample.” I wish they had told me that before the experience with the wildly flushing toilet. Thank goodness they directed me to a rest room that had a normal, non-threatening toilet that flushed only when the flush lever was pressed. I returned the tiny sample to the lab, asked for a copy of the blood work results and was told to go down the hall to the treatment room where the doctor would meet with me.

Dr. Vance, the oncologist went over the results of the PET scan and an earlier blood test that showed my CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) level as 8.7, quite a bit above the normal level as a result of the cancer.  She said we were using a more aggressive form of chemo in an effort to shrink both the rectal and liver tumors.  She was pretty confident that I was a good candidate for either a liver resection or for ablation to get rid of the liver tumor. We discussed the possible side effects from the chemo, one of which is peripheral neuropathy, numbness, tingling and cramping of the hands or feet, often triggered by cold.  Thank goodness it’s summer! After she checked my heart rate and   such, she sent me across the hall to the infusion room.

  There were several people there already, including one very young teen-ager who was apparently there for her first treatment too and an older woman, a baseball cap covering her bald head, who was in a very good mood because this was her final treatment. 

 I picked out a chair and the nurse came and gave me papers to read, describing what drugs I would receive, what side effects to expect, etc. She then stuck a name label on me and began to hook up bags to the line going into the ports.  The first infusions are of corticosteroids and antiemetics to help prevent nausea and allergic reactions to the chemo drugs.  When it’s time for the actual drugs to be infused, which in my case are Oxaliplatin, Avastin and Fusilev, the nurse donned a sterile gown in addition to the gloves and hooked up the bags containing the chemo drugs.  Since there is an excellent wifi connection in the clinic I was able to pass the time by reading and watching a video on my Kindle Fire, checking in with facebook, unplugging the pump attached to the IV stand and wheeling it into the rest room.  Evidently, all of the liquid   being pumped into me was overtaxing my walnut sized bladder.   By the time the four hours were up, I was pretty adept at navigating the IV stand past the other infusion patients, around the corner past the nurse’s station and into the rest room.

Finally, the bags were empty and the nurse once again donned her sterile gown and gloves and brought out a portable pump that I am to wear around my waist for the next 46 hours. The pump is inserted into a pocket on a waistband after being hooked up through my port. We were able to run the tubing  under my shirt to avoid  having it catch on something and get pulled out This pump will infuse a drug called   Fluorouracil (5 FU for short) into my vein over the next 46 hours. I was instructed to return to the clinic on Friday morning to have it unhooked.  After some final instructions: stay out of the sun, do not drink or touch anything cold, do not reach into the fridge or freezer without gloves, avoid people with  colds or coughs, etc. I was sent on my way. Here’s a pic of the pump- it reminds me of the jetpack Wonderman wore, but other than that Wonderman and I have little in common! 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Gut Feelings, Part 5

My port placement was scheduled for May 19 at 6:30 in the morning, about the same time that Brian was scheduled to fly back to Illinois.  Fortunately his brother, Jonathan , was able to drive him to the airport  that morning.  Mr. G and I arrived at the outpatient surgery  clinic in the hospital, filled out some paperwork and waited, along with a roomful of other patients.  A hospital worker came out and   said a prayer (this is a Baptist hospital) and shortly thereafter I was called back to prep for the procedure. After disrobing (isn’t that a lovely word?) I attempted to  don the gown they had provided but had a devil of a time trying to figure out how to get it on- it seemed designed for someone with  more than two arms. With some help from the nurse I finally got in on, along with some lovely little fuzzy lime green socks.  The anesthesiologist came in   to ask questions about my health and the surgical nurse hooked me up to some monitors.  I was finally wheeled across the hall to the operating area where I was transferred onto a narrow table.  The doctor came in to tell me not to worry; they were going to take care of me.  I wasn’t actually worried up until that point. I told him I’d heard mafia bosses say the same thing in movies and it wasn’t a good thing.  The anesthesia nurse began cracking jokes as she   put some tubes up my nose and soon I was out like a light. I woke up in the recovery area, where someone came around with a portable x-ray machine, and  put a metal plate   under me.  I discovered later that this was to make sure that the port catheter  was  placed properly in  the vein.  All went well  and I now have this funny  hard bump on my upper chest.  It reminds me a little of the stories of  alien implants and I envision it one day coming to life and  trying to break through my skin. What is really neat, though, is that from now on, no more needle sticks for blood tests or injections- it will all be done through the port.  Another neat thing was that I was not allowed to drive, lift anything (not even a skillet, the nurse said) or exert myself for a week, so Mr. G had to wait on me hand and foot.  I  played that part for all I could get out of it! Mr. G was  good humored, though.  He bought a package of little plastic minion figures and told me to call them when I needed anything!

Once home, I phoned Dr. Vance’s office to let them know the port was in so they could set me up with the portable pump and coordinate with the radiology dept.. A nurse came on the phone and told me the plan had changed and I would not be getting the radiation therapy after all and would be coming into the clinic for infusions on a different chemo regimen of  several drugs in addition to the 5-FU.  This of course, freaked me out, since they didn’t give me a reason for the change. Dr. Vance phoned me back, apologized for the lack of communication and explained that the PET scan showed that the spot on my liver was indeed cancer – metastasized from the rectal tumor.  Under the circumstances, she and the radiation oncologist had decided that the best course of action would be to try to shrink the tumors with a stronger dose of chemo and forgo the radiation for now.  My first chemo treatment was scheduled for May 27 at 8:45 in the morning. I was told to expect to be there for 4 1/2 hours. I was also told that the copay for each chemo session would be between $600 and $700 dollars.  That came as quite a shock,  but the clinic’s financial adviser told me there was a foundation that covered the  co-pays for eligible patients and that she would put in an application on our behalf, so I kept my fingers crossed.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Gut Feelings, Part 4

I met with the medical oncologist, Dr. Vance, on April 29.  I had blood drawn, asked for a copy of the results for my files, and was weighed.  I’ve lost weight, was down to just over 81 lbs. Dr. Vance was concerned about the spots on my liver and said she wanted to rule out liver metastasis so she scheduled a PT scan.  She explained the treatment plan to me, which called for the drug 5-FU (Fluorouracil) to be delivered via an infusion pump worn 24/5. Once I have the port in place, I’ll go to the clinic on Mondays to have the pump set up and return on Fridays to have it removed. She said she would work with the radiation oncologist to coordinate the radiation therapy with the chemotherapy. The PET scan was set for May 11 and the appointment with the radiation oncologist for May 12.

I was given a set of instructions to prepare for the PET scan, including what to eat and not eat and was instructed to avoid strenuous exercise such as jogging or weightlifting.  Since I have become more akin to the tortoise than to the hare lately,  this should not be a problem.

The night before the scan was scheduled I had a dream that I lit up the scanner like a Christmas tee and knocked out the power to the entire wing of the building. Needless to say, I was a little apprehensive!  I arrived for the PET scan and was shown into a small room with a reclining chair.  The technician asked some questions, then injected me with radioactive glucose into  my arm.  He   accidentally dropped the syringe on my leg, which meant my pants were now radioactive.   He brought me a pair of scrub pants to change into. I think they were designed for someone built like a linebacker, but I dutifully put them on, cinched them as tight as I could, rolled up the legs and waited in the chair for an hour while the radioactive stuff seeped through my body.  I then waddled across the hall in my Bozo the Clown pants  and climbed onto the scan table. If you close your eyes in a PET scanner, it's easy to imagine you're on a farm listening to noisy machinery while a neighing, whinnying, snorting horse tap dances all around you. At least that was my experience. The whole experience took a bit longer than the CT scan but wasn’t too bad and the power didn’t go out, after all, thank goodness!

The next day I met with the radiation oncologist, who  gave me yet another digital rectal exam,  and explained what the radiation would involve. I was directed to a lab where  another CT scan and I was marked to show where the  radiation beams  were to be directed. I mentioned to the  doctor that I’d  had a PET scan the day before, and his nurse suggested that the results might be available on the computer, so she  pulled them up.  I sensed, from the expression on her face that all was not well, but they didn’t say anything and I, uncharacteristically, didn’t ask because I was determined to enjoy the next week.  Our son, Brian, was due to arrive that afternoon from Illinois and would  be leaving the day I was scheduled to have the port placed. We did enjoy that week, we fitted in a  ball game to watch the Birmingham Barons play at Regions Field, and a Sunday afternoon spent enjoying blues music by Earl Williams at Daniel Day Gallery downtown.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Gut Feelings, Part 3

It’s been about three weeks since my last blog post.  Good grief- that sounds like I’m in a confessional: “. . . My last confession was three weeks ago.”  It has been a month and a half since the colonoscopy, and those weeks have been, for lack of a better term, interesting and educational. And not much fun.

We met with the surgeon on Friday, April 10, two days after the colonoscopy. He told us that the biopsies had come back positive for adenocarcinoma, rectal cancer.  He said that treatment would involve working with an oncologist to set up a treatment plan to shrink the tumor so that it could be removed surgically.  He also said that because of the location of the tumor, he would most likely have to remove the anal sphincter also, which would require a permanent colostomy.  Not the best news to hear.  Then, I guess he decided that seeing the pictures from the colonoscopy wasn’t good enough and he wanted to  do a digital exam of my already  very sore  rectum. After that wonderful experience I decided that I cannot be held responsible for any bodily harm I might inflict on the next person who approaches me wearing a lubricated latex glove! After that ordeal he said he wanted me to have a CT scan to see if the cancer had metastasized. The scan was set for the following Tuesday and I was told not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before.  That instruction probably wasn’t all that necessary; I had pretty much lost my appetite by then, anyway. The doctor said he should have the results of the scan a  couple of days  after it was done and to call for the results.

We arrived at the radiology department at the hospital for the CT scan at 7:30 AM.  After registering, I was given a  16 oz bottle of clear liquid contrast material to drink.  It wasn’t exactly delicious, but it definitely tasted better than the colonoscopy prep stuff! After about an hour I was called back to the scan area, where they took blood to check my liver function. Then had me get on a table and inserted an IV to administer more contrast material just before running the test. This was my first experience with a CT scan and I was a little apprehensive, but it wasn’t bad at all.   The table I was on rolled in and out of a doughnut shaped opening that rotates around, taking x-ray images.  Every once in a while a robotic voice would tell me to “breathe in, hold, release.” It didn’t take all that long, and we went home to wait for the results.

I began calling the doctor’s office but didn’t hear back from him until the following Monday- six days after the scan. The wait was quite harrowing, actually, as one’s imagination tends to go into overdrive imagining  what the results might be.  He apologized for the delay, told me the scan showed my lungs were clear but there were some small spots on my liver, the largest being about a centimeter, that he wasn’t overly concerned about them as they were most likely harmless hemangiomas, not liver mets. He said he would have the oncologist’s office call me to set up an appointment to discuss a treatment plan which would include both chemotherapy and radiation therapy to run about six weeks. He said   he would  do the surgery to place a port for the chemo after I met with the oncologist and that  another CT scan would be done after the therapy to see if and how much the tumor had shrunk.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Gut Feelings, Part 2

April 13, 2015
Mr. G and I arrived at the hospital for the colonoscopy just before 7 AM and signed in. Horror of horrors, they took my picture for their records.  I should tell you that although I had not been told to remove my dentures for the procedure, I decided not to wear them because there was a chance they would get lost or damaged if I was asked to remove them at some later time. So there I sat, toothless, as they aimed the little camera  at me. I did NOT smile and say “cheese”!

We were then told to go to the GI/Endoscopy Lab Department down the hall and around the corner. Once there, Mr. G and I were called to go through the door to the department admitting area.  He was asked to sign a paper saying he would be driving me home and would not allow me to drive myself. I signed all sorts of papers, including one that gave permission for the doctor to review the procedure findings with Mr. G, since I would be under the effects of anesthesia and wouldn’t remember much anyway.  Then they took me back to a large area with curtained cubicles, pulled the curtain and told me to take off my clothes except for my shirt and socks (hooray- no cold feet!) and climb up on the table. 

A nurse then came around to ask me a zillion questions, as she input info into the computer she wheeled into the cubicle.  She hooked me up to a blood pressure cuff, stuck about five little sticky patches with electrodes on my chest and upper abdomen, and inserted a port for an IV.  Thank goodness she was good at what she did and was able to get what she needed on the first attempt so I didn’t feel like a pincushion that had been stuck once too often. Then an anesthesiologist came around, all smiling, and asked how I was. Stupid question and I laughingly told him so! He assured me they would take good care of me and after a little more banter I was pretty much relaxed by the time a nurse came to wheel me to the procedure room. 

The GI doctor who would be doing the procedure came in, asked me a few questions and told me what would be happening. A nurse hooked some wires and tubes to me, put an oxygen tube in my nose and told me to slide towards her a little. Meanwhile an anesthesiologist was cracking jokes with me and saying what a tiny person I was and how they would give me anesthesia through the IV.  That’s all I remember.  I never even got a chance to watch the tube traveling through my colon.  Which, come to think of it, may not have been such a bad thing since I had already researched the whole thing and even watched a few videos of colonoscopies, including one of Katie Couric saying that she had a “pretty little colon.”

The next thing I remember is waking up back in the little now uncurtained cubicle, with the worst gas pains I have ever felt!  They told me they would pump some air into my colon during the procedure but nobody told me they would blow me up like a giant balloon! The nurse told me that once I passed some gas I’d feel better and to that end she put me in a wheelchair, pushed me to the bathroom and had me walk a little before getting me settled on the toilet.  Nothing!  No gas would pass and I began to feel that I would either throw up, pass out or explode, or maybe all three simultaneously. She wheeled me back to the cubicle, got me a nice warm blanket because by that time I was   shivering quite a bit, and we tried again later.  Meanwhile, there must have been a whole symphony of gas toots going on all around me because I saw other people who had come in much later than I had being wheeled out fully clothed, ready to be discharged. I developed a bad case of fart envy as I lay there!  Meanwhile poor Mr. Grace was being told the results of the colonoscopy.  I had written out a list of questions for him to ask, but in typical  fashion, he  forgot to do that and told me later I could ask them myself on Friday. Seems they found two polyps and removed them, found some mild diverticulosis in the sigmoid colon and a “huge” tumor in the rectum. Four biopsies were taken and the GI doctor told Mr. G we would need to see a colorectal surgeon, who was actually there in the hospital and had seen the results. The surgeon said he would have the biopsy results back by Friday so we made an appointment to meet with him at his office early Friday morning. The nurse had shown me the same pics and the doctor came around to talk to me.  I was still groggy, but could see that the pics of my colon did not show that I had a “pretty little colon.” It was actually quite gross looking, to tell the truth.
Meanwhile, the gas   was still there and they became concerned enough to wheel me down for an x-ray to make sure there were no perforations. The trip to x-ray department, getting on and off various slabs, etc. seemed to help dislodge the gas because next time I was taken to the loo, you could hear the explosion for miles! The gas was released from bondage at last! The nurse and I almost did a happy dance!  Although the gas wasn’t all gone I felt good enough to get dressed and go home finally and they wheeled me out to Mr. G who had been patiently waiting in the car to pick me up.  He said they had sent him out earlier, and then told him to come back in when they sent me for x-rays.  Fortunately, he only had to pay once to exit the parking lot!

Once home, I lay down with a heating pad on my abdomen and all was right with the world once more. I was even able to eat some grilled fish, baked potato and green beans for dinner and some delicious strawberry cheesecake for dessert.  I felt pretty good all day Thursday and figured this colonoscopy thing wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be.  One odd thing, though,  I began to itch and discovered that I was still wearing the five little electrode patches.  I wondered just how they showed up on the x-ray if they did show up!

I know that folks  tend to run when someone says, “I had surgery,  let me show you my scar,” but for those of you who are turned on by gross stuff here are some pics.  Be warned, though, they are pretty gross.
The middle row, pics  4-6, show the two polyps they removed.  Pics 7,8 and 9 are the pics of the tumor.   In 8 and 9 it reminds me of some kind of evil ninja turtle.

There were 16 pics in all but I thought I’d spare you any more trauma. Stay tuned for part 3.

Gut Feelings, Part 1

April  12, 2015

I’ve lived with weird gut problems most of my adult life. So much so that I can tell you exactly where every public restroom along any given route or in any public building is and how long it takes to dash to it from point A, B or C.  Eating out was a problem because I was never sure just what might trigger an attack. But I learned to live with it and life went on more or less normally with a minimum of embarrassing incidents and accidents.

Some time back, though, I began to develop other problems. I hate going to the doctor and rarely do so unless something seems broken, so I self-diagnosed myself with bleeding hemorrhoids and constipation. Last month, I decided that hemorrhoids didn’t last that long without letting up and maybe a doctor should check me out.  Our family doctor had died within the last year so I ended up going to a new doctor I’d never seen before. He did a blood work up, then donned his latex gloves, well lubricated, to do a digital rectal exam. That was SO much fun! He figured I was about  20 years overdue for a colonoscopy so he had his nurse schedule one with a gastroenterologist. The colonoscopy was scheduled for three weeks away. Meanwhile, the results of the blood test showed I had no anemia but I did have high cholesterol so he phoned in a prescription for a statin without discussing it with me. The more I read about statins, the less I liked the idea, and it seemed my levels were not in the danger zone, so I decided to delay starting them until after we saw what turned up on the colonoscopy, and then he and I could discuss whether there was some other way to get the cholesterol levels down without the statins. That at least took my mind off worrying about the colonoscopy.  I had heard so many horror stories about that particular procedure that I was ready to call if off more than once during that three week wait.

I got a little package in the mail from the gastroenterology clinic telling me my procedure was scheduled for April 8, this past Wednesday. In the package was a prescription for a laxative with the  innocent sounding name of Nulytely, plus instructions to buy another over-the-counter laxative pill.  I was to go on a clear liquid diet on Tuesday, the day before the procedure, take two laxative pills at 2 PM, mix up the wonderful prescription powdered drink with warm water, then pour half of it out (I was beginning to like these directions already!) then divide the remaining liquid, refrigerate it and begin drinking the first half, which amounted to a liter, at 6 PM, drinking a glass full every 10-20 minutes until the first liter was gone.  Then I was to wake up at 3AM and drink the second liter. That sounded doable.  I mean, how bad can two liters of a mixture of polyethylene glycol, table salt, potassium chloride, bicarbonate of soda and lemon-lime flavoring actually taste? 

As it turns out, it really didn’t taste all that bad- unlike the blue Gatorade I bought to supplement my liquid diet- now THAT was gross tasting stuff!  The first liter of the prep stuff wasn’t so bad. I had read all kinds of horror tales about the prep and how it was the worst part of the whole thing, etc. but I’d also read some helpful hints on the Colon Cancer Alliance site. They suggested checking with your doctor and going on a low fiber diet five days before the colonoscopy, which I did. One of the forums had some helpful advice about buying Depends, in case you couldn’t make it to the bathroom in time.  That turned out to be very good advice, because once that stuff hits, it hits hard and fast. Mostly I camped out in the bathroom- even set up the charger for my Kindle and downloaded a few books to keep me occupied. More advice was to get the softest toilet tissue you could find and some baby wipes, along with some diaper rash ointment. All those hints paid off in spades. In an attempt to fool my stomach into thinking it was getting solid food, I ate lime Jello.  If I never see another bowl of lime Jello it will be too soon! That first round of the prep liquid really wasn’t all that bad, except for the fact that every time I moved or walked I could hear all the liquid I’d drunk sloshing around and I was pretty much glued to the toilet seat. I think I flushed at least ten pounds of my already skinny self down the toilet! Given that the adult human body is 55-60% water, I figured that if this colon cleansing kept up much longer Mr. G. would open the bathroom door in the morning to find a collection of bones  surrounding the toilet, with all the flesh and muscle liquefied and flushed away!  I was finally able to feel confident enough, with the added security of a Depends, to go to bed, with the alarm set for 3 AM.

I didn’t need the alarm. The sloshing and rumbling kept me awake and by 2 AM, I’d convinced myself that sleep wasn’t really necessary. At 3AM I drank the first glass of the last liter of prep stuff. It wasn’t going down quite as easily as it had the night before, and try as I might I got only half of it down before it tried to come back up. By then it was 4 AM and I figured if I wasn’t supposed to drink anything after 4, we were done for the morning. I was well on the way to flushing away what little was left of myself and became concerned that the trip to the hospital could get kind of messy.  Mr. G. must have felt the same way, because when I went to get in the car, I saw that he had covered the passenger seat with an old packing quilt, “just in case”.  So there we were at  6:15 AM in the car, going down the driveway when all of a sudden  water began to pour into my lap! It had rained heavily for a few days, and oak catkins had clogged up the drainage channels for the moon roof causing the deluge.  I had Mr. G stop the car so I could get in the back seat.  The roof still leaked in the back but I didn’t feel in danger of drowning back there.  As it turned out, the quilt was a good idea for protecting the seat- but not in the way Mr. G. had planned. :-D  My first thought was that this is a most inauspicious start to the day! However, we arrived at the hospital without incident. The “procedure” will be the subject of my next blog entry.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Part 3: From Maligned and Mistreated to Married and Free

At around 3 PM on the twenty-third of August, 1842,  seventeen prisoners in the Crime Class shop  at Cascades Female Factory  began to dance and sing, refusing to stop when ordered to do so.  The women could have been protesting the fact that they were denied access to the Crime Class Yard because the authorities  were determined to prevent communication between the women prisoners  and the workmen doing repair and construction work in the buildings. This was not the first time the women had rioted; there had been several riots over the years and the leaders  became known as the "Flash Mob."  The riots were the result of overcrowded conditions, poor food rations,  protest against the use of solitary confinement and other harsh forms of punishment for  infractions,  which  at times included   rations of bread and water while in solitary,  neck irons, and    head shaving. Sometimes the women seemed to riot from  sheer boredom and frustration. This particular riot went on for several hours before the prison superintendent called in constables who were able to separate the rioters from the other prisoners.

One month and one day later, on September 24, 1842, Jane Ogden and her fellow shipmates arrived and were processed into the Cascades factory.  Even though there was another riot five months after her arrival, there is no indication that Jane Ogden participated, nor is there any  record of her being the subject of any disciplinary action for the first nine or ten months of her sentence.  It is likely that  after an initial period at Cascades, she was hired out  as a servant to  a local freeholder, a common occurrence with the female convicts.

However, on August 23, 1843, on the anniversary of the 1842 riot, Jane was written up for “foolery and insolence” and was   reprimanded.  One month later she was charged with being absent without leave and was “severely” reprimanded.  She seemed on a downhill trajectory, her infractions becoming more serious and her punishments more severe.  She received six days in solitary confinement for drunkenness later in September 1843.  In April 1844 Jane did  apply for and was granted permission to marry a William McGee, but I can find no record that the marriage actually took place.  However, Jane  did not lack  for male  “companionship” because in early September  of that year her sentence was extended by six months at hard labor for  “harbouring a man in her master’s house.”  There is no  mention of who the man was nor whether he, too, received  punishment.

 Gay Henriksen, in her paper,  “Women Transported: Myth and Reality” writes that the convict women were much maligned as a group.  John Hunter, Governor of New South Wales in the late 1700s described the convict women as a: “…disgrace of their sex, are far worse than the men, and are generally found at the bottom of every infamous transaction committed in the colony.” The cleric Samuel Marsden saw the  female factories as “…a grand source of moral corruption, insubordination and disease, and spreads its pestilential influence through the most remote part of the colony.” As to the activities of the women, he saw them as “…destructive of all religion, morality and good order.”  The  convict women found few champions among their own sex either, as shown by  the attitude of   the writer Louisa Anne (Mrs. Charles) Meredith,  who wrote, “Their inherent propensities to do evil, every shape of vice and depravity seeming as familiar to them as the air they breathe…”

Despite these attitudes,  the authorities saw marriage as having a calming influence on  the prisoners, both male and female, and in the case of the female convicts, marriage relieved the prison authorities of some of the responsibility of providing for the women.  Women outnumbered men by a ratio of roughly  39 women to every 100 men,  so women, even convict women,  had a good chance of receiving a marriage proposal, and many female convicts applied for and were granted permission to marry. 

After she finished her term of hard labor, Jane managed to stay out of trouble  for the next  six months. Then in August of 1845 she was absent without leave and  sentenced to ten days in solitary confinement.  Again in November  1845 she refused to work and was  again  sentenced to hard labor, this time for 14 days. But never again did she get written up for “harbouring a man,” and on April 18, 1846  Jane Odgen and John Lovell requested and were granted permission to marry. The marriage took place on June 5, 1846  in the Brown’s River parish church. 
The marriage record, unfortunately, proves that the John Lovell  who married Jane could not have been  my ancestor, since this John Lovell was only 23 years old at the time of the marriage.  John and Jane  lived, after their marriage, in  Huon, Tasmania, about 38 km (about 26 miles) south of Hobart.  Jane went on to receive her Certificate of Freedom  on July 17, 1851.  A notation on her record, written in the same ink and by the same hand as the  notation of  her freedom,  mentions a surgeons report of “one boy, George 3 months” but I haven’t been able to  find out   when or where he was born, nor what became of   Jane, John and George after 1851. I can only hope that  after all her  difficulties Jane found some satisfaction and happiness in her  new life as a free woman, wife, and mother.

Jane Ogden was just one of nearly 25,000 women transported to Australia as criminals between 1803 and 1853. The large majority of the women, despite popular perceptions, were not hardened criminals, n were they prostitutes, lazy and depraved. Most of them were poor, and had been convicted of petty theft, often made   necessary by the harsh economic conditions of the times that saw many  with little food and few, if any, resources. Less than  ten per cent  of the transported women had multiple convictions and more than sixty-five per cent had no prior convictions  when transported.  They were not a threat to the national well-being, but they were useful  to a colonial power in need of settlers.  The majority of the women were of child-bearing age with nearly sixty-five per cent being under 34 years old. They brought many skills and occupations with them, including   spinning, weaving,  and sewing  in addition to skills in housework, farm work and child care.  In addition, they brought with them, despite  all accounts to the contrary, what the government considered a “civilizing influence” upon the men in the colony.

These women,  transported against their will to Van Diemen’s Land, were maligned and often mistreated,  but not  only did they survive,  large numbers of them triumphed over adversity. These former convicts  settled down  in their new lives and founded families. They and their descendents went on to become the farmers,  shopkeepers,  business  and professional people who helped build the Tasmania of today.

Images from digitised records held by the Archives Office of Tasmania  
Female Convicts Research Center
Statistics of Tasmania 1804 to 1850, population figures annually.
 Life in Van Diemen's Land Factories, Dr Trudy Crowley

Monday, October 06, 2014

Part 2: Strumpets and Survivors

Matthew Burnside, the surgeon  aboard a convict ship transporting females from England to Van Diemen’s Land, described one of the women in his charge as “ a notorious Strumpet and a most dangerous Girl.”  Burnside further declared that  “ . . .  repeatedly I have been obliged to put her into Irons and confined her in the Coal-Hold ... Hard labour or solitary confinement ought to be assigned to her .. .”  Indeed, once they arrived and began serving their terms in Van Diemen's Land many of the  women did rebel against authority and were, in fact,  assigned to  hard labor and solitary confinement.  Jane Ogden  was one of those women.  

Jane Ogden and  her fellow shipmates were destined for one of the  “Female Factories” that had been  established in  Van Diemen’s land to house female convicts, to provide them with both a place of employment and a place of punishment.   The factories also served as hiring depots; most of the women were sent into service after initial processing and evaluation. At the time Jane Ogden arrived in Tasmania in 1844, however, the assignment system was being replaced by a  probation system in which the females would serve six months in the female factories, after which they were classified as probation passholders and  hired out to employers, from whom they  were to receive an annual wage.

The first female factory  in Van Deimen’s Land was the Hobart  Town Female Factory, built in 1821. Within just a few years, though, it was evident that the factory was  overcrowded and  that conditions there were entirely unsatisfactory. There were only two sleeping rooms to  hold fifty-five prisoners, and those rooms were unventilated.  There was only one yard,  in full view of executions being carried out in the jail next door.  Escape was fairly easy, and frequent;  sickness  was rampant and the death rate, particularly for infants born to the prisoners, was high.  Fortunately for the  women prisoners arriving in the 1840s, conditions were somewhat improved by the  addition of a larger facility. An investigation, into the conditions at the Hobart Factory  found numerous problems, and in light of the increasing number of female convicts being transported,  it was obvious  that a new  facility was needed. The site of a failed distillery in a valley near South Hobart was purchased in 1827, and  building began on  what was to become the Cascades Female Factory. The facility opened in 1828 with one yard consisting of 6 sub-yards including a nursery, kitchen, hospital, accommodations for three classes of prisoners, plus a chapel. A second yard was added in 1832 and eventually, as more women arrived, three more yards would be added,  with  solitary cells, punishment yards,  and washing yards. Yard 5 was added in 1853, the final year that female convicts were transported. The location was by no means ideal, being located in an area of damp swamp land, which contributed to the ill health of many of the women and children who lived there. It was, however, one of the longest running penal institutions in Tasmania. Cascades finally ceased operation as a female factory in 1856 and is now a national historic site.

When the women arrived  at the factory they were issued clothing consisting of: 1 cotton or stuff gown or petticoat, 1 jacket, 2 aprons, 2 shifts, 2 caps, 2 handkerchiefs,2 pair stockings and 1 common straw bonnet of strong texture. Whether those clothing items were replaced or  whether they were expected to last for the duration of a prisoner's sentence is unclear.  The women were also  separated into three classifications, according to their crimes, and designation of that class was sewn onto their uniforms. 1st Class convicts wore the uniform without any distinguishing mark.2nd Class convicts wore the uniform with a large yellow C on the left sleeve of the jacket.3rd Class convicts wore the uniform with a large yellow C in the centre of the back of the jacket, one on the right sleeve, and another on the back part of the petticoat.

Jane Ogden’s name  appears on the list of prisoners who were held at Cascades. I can find no indication of what classification she was assigned upon arrival, but it appears that she spent some time at least as a Class 3, and although I was unable to find a record of exactly when she was   placed in service, it appears that she was a servant in a private home by  August, 1843, which is the first time any disciplinary  problem was noted.   Whether or not any of her  activities   justified her being referred to as a “strumpet”  isn’t clear, but, judging from her conduct  record and register,  Jane was not a complacent, quiet and orderly  prisoner  at all times, but she survived whatever conditions and punishments were heaped upon her.  Stay tuned for  more in my next blog post.
Archives Office of Tasmania, digitized records
Dr. Trudy Crowley, Life in Van Diemen's Land Factories
Gay Hendrikson, Women Transported: Myth and reality, paper presented at the National Archives of Australia, Canberra, June 14, 2009