Cresson TB Sanatorium Remembered
I received the following story from Loretta Johnson Obusek in May 2010.  Her address is:   
1647 State Rt. 885, Jefferson Hills, Pa.  15025

Hi Chuck,


 I read your story when I was on my son's computer.  I typed in ‘Cresson TB San’ as I had done a few times before and came up with your story!


I'm Loretta Johnson Obusek and I was in Cresson San from the middle of May l960 until around the 7th of October of that year.  I was 22 and, like you, also born in 1938 (January 3lst).  I was always underweight and didn't quite weigh 90 lbs. at the age of 22 and 5' l" tall.  


I was born in McKeesport, PA and lived with my parents, Oscar and Mildred (Vadas) Johnson, until I married in April of 1963.  I was born with red hair that turned auburn through the years and then slowly grayed as my dad's hair did.  I'm half Swedish on my dad’s side and half Slovak on my mum's side of the family. 



At the time I was into my third job following graduation from McKeesport High School in 1955.  I was only 17 and l/2 when I graduated High School and worked at the Carnegie Library in McKeesport for a year and a half.  Then I went on to Westinghouse Bettis Atomic Power to make more money.  I was laid off from there after a year and eleven months when the reactor job was finished and collected unemployment.  I then got a job at the Penn State McKeesport Campus in the office.  I had to leave there after only about 8 months to go to Cresson San.


I had an x-ray in 1959 from the mobile unit near our church and got a post card to see the family doctor and had to get another x-ray at the hospital.  I had a bad cold with bronchitis before the x-ray and I never had a cough after that cold or at the san.  From there I had to see Dr. M. Hadley at the TB Clinic at McKeesport, PA Hospital because I had a shadow on my lung.  TB was very prevalent in McKeesport and the surrounding area, so the clinic was busy.  I was still able to work from that winter until spring, but the shadow wasn't getting better so the doctor wanted me to either stay home or go to the San to have medication and rest to cure!   I believe Dr. Hadley picked Cresson San instead of Pittsburgh Leech Farm Hospital because it was out of the city.  (Leech Farm was the site of the city TB Sanatorium located in the East End section of Pittsburgh).


The week before I left for the san the visiting nurse, Jackie, came to our home to give me my first streptomycin shot.  She was so nervous as I was her first patient and she made all the arrangements for my trip to Cresson.  I went into downtown McKeesport to buy the cotton pajamas as required on the list of items she gave me.  There was very little in necessity items but mum and dad and Doris brought me writing paper, pen, and other items the following week.



Oh Chuck, everything you wrote echoes what I went through that morning we drove to Cresson.  My dad had family in Houtzdale and Clearfield, just 40 miles north of Cresson, so we knew the area well through the years.   I sat between dad and mum and I don't think we said a word.  It was around the middle of May and there was snow on the ground up there!  My folks had to leave as soon as I unpacked my suitcase and saw where I would keep my belongings in the little cubicle.  That night I cried when the lights were turned off at 9 p.m. and the girls and women said "The Lord's Prayer". 


I had an x-ray and the dentist checked my teeth the morning I arrived before going up to the ward.  I was only in the middle ward (I believe it was B) a short while until my preliminary tests were checked out.  The young woman in the next bed gave me a candy bar later that first day and the nurse told me about the schedule.  That wasn't hard to get used to for I always adapted well to new jobs.  She did say all the women had to wear their housecoats or robes when out of bed for we had to be discreet.  There were male aides around all day and they brought our food trays.  We weren't allowed to wear shorty pajamas which were the fashion in the 50's.  But the girls in the wards downstairs got away with wearing them for we saw them in the summertime outside on the lower patio, now and then, and no housecoat on!  One of those girls in that ward was a relative of Arnold Palmer who was starting out his golfing career and everyone knew his name!



The doctor always made rounds in the morning, usually during our hour rest time and was very cordial.  My doctor was Dr. Anna. Kreicbergs, who was either Austrian or German. Her husband lived there at the san and he brought around the library cart through the wards.  He was quite elderly as I remember him.  Our nurses were wonderful but I can remember only one name.  She was Mrs. Huber who got married that summer after I was admitted.


I had two tests that were not very easy to take.  The first involved swallowing a rubber tube, which was impossible for me to do.  When Dr. Kreicberg's assistant did this procedure, she was very gentle but had to thread it through my nostril!  Yuk.   Needless to say, I had tears streaming from my eyes from gagging.   Yuk again.  But it was over fairly quickly and that was the one and only time, thank goodness.  It was a procedure to test stomach juices, I believe. 


Then came the morning I was to have the bronchoscope inserted through my mouth to take snippets of tissue for testing.  They gave me a pill the night before and in the morning to relax me.   They took me in the big old wooden wheel chair down to surgery.  While waiting for my turn, a young man in a robe talked to me to reassure me that it wasn't that bad.  Well the man that was in room before me was making all sorts of loud noises.  When it was my turn, they sprayed my throat with something to numb it inside.  And when I was on the table I heard the doctor say, "We could have used a smaller one on her."   Of course, I wasn't able to say anything or move about so I couldn't HIT anyone!   I couldn't make a sound.  The young man who talked to me was recuperating from surgery and he was an immigrant to the U.S. from Hungary.  That was the time, I believe, after the Hungarian revolution when so many people left.  I don't remember his name for I only saw him for those few minutes.  When they took me back to the ward and my bed and helped me in, I dozed the rest of the day and didn't get up until suppertime for a meal as I didn't want lunch and there had been no breakfast.  What an experience.


I never got to be outside on the porch as they said the sun was bad for us with the medication.  I had the same medicines as you with the PAS (for a short while), Isoniazid and Streptomycin shots (given the same way on your bed).  A few times we had to go to the nurse’s office when they were short-handed and stand for the shot.  Of course, the blood spotting ruined our PJs for the morning and we had to change.  We even washed out own PJs (no laundry service) and that would be more often when we put fresh ones on the a.m. and then got the strep shot and had blood spots.  Oh, yes, we washed out our own pajamas, etc. and had an ironing board in the bathtub room.     


I was on the 2nd floor and in the end ward (I was only in the middle a short while as I didn't have positive sputum).  I did go to a supper meal for a short time before being released; but liked eating by my bed better.   The dining room was a bit depressing as was the walk through the lower tunnel as I remember.   And no one from my floor was going for meals, so it was lonely.


I was in the back corner at the end of the ward and those windows showed just pine trees and the other side the parking lot.  I was content there, but wanted to be outside walking on the nice days.  The only time I was outside was before my release when I was allowed to go with others to the theater building to see a movie.  I only remember it was a Doris Day film.  And it was a cold evening and our night nurse lent me her lightweight spring coat!


When I was moved to the end ward they also moved my belongings to the other end of the washroom so the women in the 2 wards were separated a bit.   We weren't allowed to take showers for the hot water wasn't good for us.  And the shower area was the 'smoking room' for the women who couldn't quit.   And the smoking was just overlooked by the staff.


When we were allowed to take a bath it didn't go over to well for we had to clean out the tub with a gritty cleanser and the tub felt like sand when we got in it.  Yuk!  So we continued our sponge baths in our little cubicle every morning.  The young women aides were always there to help us by scrubbing our backs.  We had our own pan of hot water waiting for us, so they worked hard!


Once a week they changed our sheets and we helped by washing off our table and chairs as they handed us the wrung out cloth.  No sweat.  I didn't mind the routine as my greatest fear before going to the san was that I would have to stay in bed all the time and use a bed pan.   To my great relief that wasn't so! 



Yes, I made a lot of friends and had to live with women of all ages, from one 18 years old that was being tutored to get her high school diploma to many in their 70's and older.   So I learned to live with them and we got along.  Also many delightful black women and one in her 20's, who had children, that ran away.   She was terrified of the needles and her bed would shake, rattle and roll when she had to get her shot.


There was another Johnson in our ward, Anna Mae (I was Loretta Mae).  One time when the technician came to take blood I was walking down our hallway and when he asked for "Johnson", I asked “Which one”?  Well he wanted Anna Mae and I had to go into the shower area to tell her she was wanted.  She came reluctantly for she didn't like the needles.  Oh, Anna Mae was my complete opposite for she was black and very 'well built' and reminded me of Hattie McDaniels who played Mammy in "Gone With the Wind"! 


One scary incident in that ward was a woman across from my bed who got sick during the night.  Her bed was remade and empty in the morning.  She wasn't there for she had died suddenly.  It was very sad for all of us, but she was older and a grandmother.


One of the married women in our ward was from the Blairsville area and she was allowed to take an overnight with her husband in Cresson.  I didn't know about the secret meeting of married patients.   


The women I wrote to after I was discharged were older and have since died, of course.



I was very lucky that I had so many visitors off and on through the week and would be surprised.

My parents and sister came up every Sunday even though it was a 2 hour drive.  Dad would take mum and Doris to church and she would have a roast in the oven.  They would eat their dinner and then drive to see me in the afternoon, bringing me a beef sandwich!  We were blessed to have such loving families.  Whenever I needed a bit of cash or something from home I had to call on the pay phone between the 4 wards and call collect. 


Dad's relatives came from Houtzdale and Clearfield about once a month during the week.  And the professors from Penn State McKeesport Campus stopped on their way to or from the Main Campus.  There were both men and women instructors because the McKeesport Campus had nursing programs in many of the area hospitals around Pittsburgh.  The students would also come, for a few had transferred to State College.  I was really touched because I had only known them from August of the previous year.



As for the food, I didn't like the meat as it wasn't as my mum made it and too fatty most of the time.   So I ate all the vegetables and potatoes.  And we must have had desserts, but I remember most the ice cream and the male aide who would always give us more!


Milk!  Now that was another story for I detested white and liked chocolate.  Also if you didn't drink it right away it would get warm in that paper cone cup.  Yuk.  But I learned to have Fig Newtons or some other kind of cookie for we had a small bread box on the shelf under our night stand.  And I learned to eat the corn meal mush for breakfast with lots of syrup.  I also missed having hamburgers on the grill for picnic days and French Fries.



The TV was in the lounge room way at the end of the floor, past Ward D.   When I tried to watch the Academy Awards one evening the room was packed and there was no place to sit.  Besides that, the TV was small!  I never went back and did without TV all those months.


It could have been that same evening that I met a lovely woman, Ina Tantry, who was in one of the small private rooms.  There were about three on that whole wing).  Ina had been a patient years before and recuperated and stayed on to work at Cresson.  But then one winter she was walking to services at Grace Chapel and fell on the ice and shattered her hip.  They found out she had TB of the bones (which I had never heard of) and was bedfast after that for her hip never healed.  From then on I was with her every evening from after 7 p.m. until about 8:45 when I had to get back to my ward and get ready for bed.  Every Sunday evening I would share the delicious roast beef sandwich that my family would bring or any other treat I had.  She also did huck toweling embroidery and taught me as I started on it.  We shared lots of laughter and stories and, after my release, lots of letters.  Ed and I visited her at Cresson after our marriage in 1963 and also later when she was transferred to the Chambersburg area when Cresson was emptied of TB patients and also after that when she had to transfer to the Lutheran Nursing Home in Hollidaysburg.  It was a very sad day when I learned of her death when an Easter card was returned to me.  Written on the outside was just one word, “Deceased”.


All we had was the radio earphones and we were not allowed to listen during our 2 hour afternoon rest as we had to lie flat in bed with no reading or handiwork.  I did sleep part of that time and then, after rest period was over, the nurse would come around to take our temperature.  I listened to Mass on Sunday mornings but soon gave that up for Father Byrne talked about sin and nothing else in his sermon every Sunday. I talked to myself about that and decided I was there for a cure and was not in any way or form sinning!  It was not uplifting so I listened to the Protestant service instead.


I enjoyed doing the occupational therapy and the therapist started me on making leather belts.     I made men’s and women's belts in brown and white for a short time and then got into embroidering huck toweling.  I made towels for decoration, dresser scarves and two purses.  (Note:  Click on the following link to see examples of huck embroidering: ). 


I had a few meetings with Mr. Richard Acciavatti, Director of Rehabilitation Counseling, before going home.  He wanted me to work a few hours a day at the san.  I believe he needed someone to do typing for him.  But Dr. Kreicbergs said I would be going home very soon and it wasn't necessary for me to work at the san. 



The only other time I cried was near the end of September when they told me I would be going home.  But then it was delayed a few weeks because I had to have another deeper x-ray.  My case had to go before the doctors review board again before I could leave.  That night the evening nurse helped me to be strong.  I needed an aspirin for a headache and Dr. Anna Kriesburg questioned that in the morning when she came on rounds!  But I persevered for the next few weeks and my aunt drove up with mum to pick me up because dad was working.    


Going home down the driveway to Route 22 there was a man walking with a suitcase.   Aunt Florence stopped the car and I asked where he was going.   He was going to try and get a bus on the main road to go home to Monongahela City; close to where we lived!    She said to get in and later we stopped for lunch on the way home and knew where he could get a bus to Mon City!      He wanted us to let him off there as he truly appreciated the ride.  And I don’t remember his name!


When I returned home one of the students from the McKeesport Campus came to visit and he took me out for pizza at the Elbow Room Restaurant /bar.  That restaurant is still in the same place and I still like their homemade pizza dough!  It was the recipe of the owner's mother and she was still living.


The first night home that October was wonderful and my bed sheets felt so silky and luxurious!     We had extremely clean sheets at Cresson San but didn't know the difference until we returned home.


I missed my cousin's wedding in June 1960 as I was at the san.  I had been asked to be a bridesmaid, for the first time.  Glenn's fiancée, Joan, and I went shopping with her friends in late winter, probably early March, to pick out dresses in Pittsburgh.  I put a down payment of about $20 on mine and never got to wear it or even get the dress.  But they came to Cresson to see me after their honeymoon and Joan gave me a pearl necklace and earrings like she gave the other bridesmaids.    And this year they are celebrating 50 years of marriage.   


I have had no trouble with TB since, but my case was minimal compared to yours.  I did take Isoniazied for a short while after returning home after my release and had check-ups for about 2 years after.  Once at Dr. Hadley's Clinic I had to make an appointment with his private nurse.  She had my folder open and I could see the letter I wrote to him after my first day at Cresson.   I had to write it with pencil as I had no pen yet.  Neat.     


I went on to marry Ed in 1963 and I had Karen in 1965 and Ken in 1969.   Ed and I lived with his mother in Clairton for 4 and l/2 yrs. and then bought his uncle and aunt's home here in Jefferson Hills, a short distance from Clairton.


I didn't imagine I would be in contact with someone that had been at Cresson and have fun talking about it.   Maybe when I'm all finished writing about my experiences I'll have it all put to rest.  But it was a positive time for me and I learned so very much living with all those women.

1.  Two photos of Loretta in 1955, the year she graduated from McKeesport High
2.  Left:  Loretta in 1959, a year before she went to the san.
     Right:  1963 wedding photo of Loretta and
     Ed Obusek, with Ernest Voss and Doris Johnson.
3.  Left:  Mark, Karen, Loretta, Ed and Ken in October 1999. 
     Right:  Ed and Loretta at her 50th class reunion in 2005.

4.  Loretta on the porch in October 1960, the only photo taken of her at the san.  



5.  A poem written for Loretta by Mary Jane Dildine .




6 & 7.  A farewell card signed by her friends and given to Loretta when she was discharged.



8.  Signatures on the above card.
Chuck Felton Note:  Loretta wasn't able to attend the 2011 reunion, but Peggy and I were able to visit with Loretta for several hours before the reunion at her home in Jefferson Hills, Pa.  The photos below were taken during that visit.