As Dr. Frank Mayfield was leaving Tewksbury Institute, he accidentally collided with an elderly floor-maid.

To cover the awkward moment Dr. Mayfield asked, "How long have you worked here?"

"Ohh...almost since the place opened," the maid replied.

"What can you tell me about the history of this place?" Dr. Mayfield continued.

"I don't think I could tell you anything...but I could show you something."

She took his hand and led him down to the basement under the oldest section of the building and pointed to a small prison cell. "That's where they used to keep Annie."

"Who's Annie?"

"She was a young girl who was brought here because she was incorrigible. You know...nobody could do anything with her. She'd bite and scream and throw her food at people. The doctors and nurses couldn't even examine her or anything. I'd see them trying with her spitting and scratching at them. I was only a few years younger than her myself and I used to think, 'I sure would hate to be locked up in a cage like that.' I wanted to help her...but I didn't have any idea what I could do. I mean, if the doctors and nurses couldn't help her, what could someone like me do?

"I didn't know what else to do, so I just baked her some brownies one night after work. The next day I brought them in. I walked carefully to her cage and said, 'Annie, I baked these brownies just for you. I'll put them right here on the floor and you can come and get them if you want.' Then I got out of there just as fast as I could because I was afraid she might throw them at me. But she didn't. She actually took the brownies and ate them.

"After that, she was just a little nicer to me when I was around. And sometimes I'd talk to her. Once i even got her laughing. One of the nurses noticed this and she told the doctors. They asked me if I'd help them with Annie. I said I would if I could. So that's how it came about that every time they wanted to see Annie or examine her, I went into the cage first and explained and calmed her down and held her hand. Which is how they discovered that Annie was almost blind.

"After they'd been working with her for about a year...and it was tough sledding with Annie...the Perkins Institute for the Blind opened its doors for her. They were able to help Annie and she went on to study and became a teacher herself.

"Annie came back to the Tewksbury Institute to visit, and to see what she could do to help out. At first the Director said they didn't need here...but then he thought about a letter he'd just received from a man with an unruly daughter who acted like an animal. He'd been told that she was blind and deaf as well as 'deranged.' The father was at his wit's end...but he didn't want to put her in an asylum. So he wrote here to ask if we knew of anyone who would come to his house and work with his daughter. And that is how Annie Sullivan became the lifelong companion of Helen Keller.

"When Helen Keller received the Nobel Prize, she was asked who had the greatest impact on her life and she said, 'Annie Sullivan.' But Annie said, 'No, Helen. The woman who had the greatest influence on both our lives was a floor maid at the Tewksbury Institute.'"

-Thanks to Mike D. Kutzie for this timeless tale. It was adapted from a true story told by Leah Curtin, R.N. in Nursing Management Magazine.