… Though Not All in the Hospital
By Jeff Salter
When asked my most unusual hospital experience, I didn’t have many to choose from. Other than my brief stay after a 1953 tonsillectomy, this experience – of some two to three weeks in the Spring of 1959 – has been my ONLY hospital stay … so far.
My initial diagnosis was yellow jaundice. I was told it involved my liver. To a third grader that didn’t make any more sense than the later diagnosis of hepatitis. Now, you should know, back in those days the medical folks only had ONE type of hepatitis – it was what it was – as opposed to the half dozen types which have been parsed out in more recent years. We’ll call mine ‘infectious’ hepatitis, since I most likely caught it handling hospital debris which was dumped out in the open, just a couple of blocks from my house.
Other versions in the family lore: that I caught it from a water fountain at school. This theory took hold because some other kids in our school also had hepatitis at about that timeframe. Theory Three: that I got sick because my Dad took us swimming in the Bogue Falaya River during February … and that story began only because my Mom had advised him to wait for milder weather.
Life in the hospital
Small parish [county] hospitals in the late 1950s were fairly devoid of frills anyhow … compared to today’s standards. But we were a one-income family of five and my Dad’s meager salary came from being an ordained Chaplain.
Yet somehow – and rather miraculously, it seems to me now – there was never a patient in the other half of that two-person room. [That was convenient, because I had all my STUFF piled on the other bed.] So I had a ‘private’ room at a ‘semi-private’ rate.
The other small miracle was that my room had a TV. In those days, TV was an additional charge, probably a whole dollar per day extra, so it would have been out of the question in our financial straits. I no longer remember for sure, but I think my grandmother may have forked over the extra several dollars for a couple weeks of TV. Oddly, the single show I remember from those 2-3 weeks was “Edge of Night” a drippy soap opera which made absolutely NO sense to a third grade boy.
I truly hated the frequent blood tests, and the glucose drip (which was constant, at first). Later they switched to small, chalky pills which were incredibly difficult for me to swallow. One day I palmed the pills and later tossed them in the trash can next to my bed. Whether the nurse found them, or if my Mom spotted the pills … I’ll never know. But after that point the nurse wouldn’t leave the room until I actually swallowed the pills. For a while she crushed up the tablets and put them in some thick syrup; later she used ordinary water (not nearly as pleasant).
Ever the writer, I composed a short essay entitled, “Why I Hate Hospitals.” [You can imagine the vitriol …] My Dad later typed it for me, but I don’t think it has survived.
I had been a very active kid, at an age when everything was done at a full-tilt run. To suddenly be confined to a hospital bed for 2.5 weeks was unimaginable. I had visitors, including my wonderful school teacher, who brought me assignments and somehow worked it out that I could still graduate with my class. Also our pastor, a very kind friend of my Dad’s, and the mother of one of my best friends. My older brother was too young to get inside, but he brought our family dog to the window and I got to pet Spottie through the opening. My grandmother also visited often.
But the brunt of keeping me entertained fell on my Mom. She brought me some oil paint-by-number sets, different kinds of puzzles, and likely some of my cowboys and Indians (or soldiers). I also had cards, a few comic books, and some real books to read.
Released to Purgatory
Once released from the hospital, I was not allowed to return to school right away. Don’t recall for sure how long, but let’s say it was a week or two. For additional weeks, I was finally allowed to attend classes again, but was not supposed to get “over-heated”. [Ha! Didn’t they realize that third grade boys STAYED over-heated?] Worst of all, I was compelled to take a REST after school each day. A rest? That meant no running around and playing! Well, I did actually remain in my room, but I was determined not to rest … not one iota.
One of my incarceration activities was using a make-shift ‘rope’ to lasso objects elsewhere in the bedroom I shared with my brother. But my primary M.O. was to cook up ways I could ESCAPE this detention cell. I’d stuff things under my bed covers and try to make a dummy in the bed, so that if I ever did escape, they wouldn’t realize I was missing until ‘bed-check’ much later. The first thing I learned: though people in the movies did that bed-dummy trick speedily and very convincingly, my process was tediously slow and would not have fooled a blind Mom.
I even worked out how I’d get out the window. Of course, I never actually escaped.
Well, I could go on, but you get the idea. So, what is YOUR unusual hospital or doctor’s office story?
Nice post. The experience must have been really traumatic if you can still remember so many details. My husband went through a similar experience when he was six, but he’s the type to block unpleasant memories from his mind, so he wouldn’t be able to tell me anything. As for me, other than my own birth, the only times I’ve been a patient in a hospital were the two instances when I gave birth. And other than the intense joy afterward, there’s nothing unusual to write about there.
Well, Patty, funny thing about my memory. Had I not written many details of this matter in 1983, when I composed the first of two volumes of family history & ‘biography’ … I prob. would not recall anything more than: “was in hosp. for hepatitis.”
But in 1983, my memory of childhood experiences was still quite fresh & richly detailed.
Thanks for visiting today.
Jeff,I am glad this has a happy ending.Looking back , I bet you can see your parents’ side of this, and imagine your own reaction should the child be yours! (God forbid).
They never put me in a hospital,but I had a lot of illness as a child. My elementary principal was a very hard woman and I often had unsympathetic teachers. Childhood experinces shape us whether we are conscious of them or realize their effect. I know that when I get upset that the scholastic part of of grandchildren’s schooling is not as strong as I’d like, I stop to appareciate the fact that they ARE learning a great deal with people who are generally compassionate and considerate.
Can you imagine the scene with your brother and Spottie today??? There are no windows that open in hopsitals, for one thing. When my brother was in the hospital,(and nearly died ), I was 10 yrs old; you had to be sixteen to visit in the Children’s Ward. As soon as he was well enough to sit up,our father lifted me to a screened window so I could see him.He smiled broadly but I still remember his very formal,”Hello,Tonette!”.My mother made him lie back down very soon,(he was very weak)…of course the nurses knew nothing of this blatant flaunting the rules!
Yes, Tonette, today many hospitals will allow toddlers & even infants into the rooms.
I think that’s too much, frankly. I’d rather see an age limit like first grade, perhaps.
As for my teachers, I had many wonderful ones over the years. That particular year, it was Miss Netterville … and I’ve spent some 5 decades trying to track her down to thank her. Finally got in touch in April this year and we’ve corresponded since.
I LOVE that you found your teacher….there is one l’d love to find…
Somthing which really touched me, as Miss Nett and I resumed our relationship after 55 years: she had wondered, several times over the years, whatever became of ME!
And you made her proud,I’m sure.
I think she was quite honored that I took the trouble to look her up … to thank her.
Wow, you had it pretty good for being in the hospital. TV? Not me. I was only in the hospital for a couple days as a kid (for a tonsilectomy) and only remember my bratty little brother in the next bed. Sigh.
You must have had a passel (passle?) of homework to catch up on!
I still have three distinct memories about my tonsilectomy in 1953 — the ether mask coming down over my face, waking up and being given ice cream, and waving (thru the window) at my Dad & Brother who were on the sidewalk way below our hospital floor.