Sticks and Stones — Part 3

Stick and Stones can break bones and Words can break a life

Sticks and Stones (Part 3)

We all know the saying from which this title was “paraphrased”. We know that it ends “Words can never hurt you” Some that have been subjected to mean spirited vocal abuse might argue the veracity of that quote. In Part 1 I wrote about being “life-or-death” afraid of an Atomic Bomb and Cancer. In Part 2 I exposed my “irrational” fear of Sirens and my July 1961 emergency appendectomy. Here in Part 3 a former “monster” becomes a “beautiful friend”.

As I walked out Baton Rouge General Hospital’s doors into the humid July heat of Baton Rouge, I felt bad. I didn’t want to leave. I knew I’d be back. I was still sick. Though our softball team had won it’s first round game I did not feel good and did not attend a second round game that weekend. I felt so bad on Monday and Tuesday that I asked Dad to come sleep in the boys bedroom with me. I don’t know if he stayed all night, but I know he was there as I burned from within. Mom called doctors and they said, if his fever (102 -103) is not down by Wednesday bring him in. It was still high on Wednesday and I was returned to Baton Rouge General Hospital. I was not “scared” of BRGH (as I had been in Part 2), but I was angry at that big blonde monster. I didn’t like nurses, orderlies or anyone walking down the hall that looked like they were hospital staff. Even a cute volunteer “candy striper” didn’t get a smile. I was Sick (with a capital S). Surgery was scheduled for Thursday morning (Dr. McVay was off on Wednesday afternoon). I was given antibiotics, possibly pain meds, and I am sure a sedative. I was NOT a happy boy! (Remember this is my side of the story — I was probably whiny, pale and lethargic.) As I remember, surgery was scheduled for Thursday morning. When a doctor came in Thursday morning I was given some bad news. Dr. McVay had gone fishing the afternoon before. He apparently slipped and fell on a log seriously injuring his back and was in another room in that same hospital — as a PATIENT! I moaned, I wanted to pound my fist on the covers, but I was to weak. I slumped on my pillow wondering if this was how I was going to die.

I am hazy on exact times of the following events. We were told Dr. McVay’s partner would be doing the surgery, and he would have to rectally examine me before surgery to know exactly what he would be dealing with. (Surgery was apparently going to consist of an incision inside my rectum and a drainage tube inserted to allow intraperitoneal infection stuff an exit.) This doctor was booked for Thursday so examination would be Friday morning and surgery that afternoon. My energy was nearly gone. I was sad, hurting, defeated! My body was fighting with itself and I couldn’t do anything about it.

Mom was always strong when faced with a “traumatic event” — especially with one of her six kids. Seeing her oldest son, the “tough one”, the one that caused her to cry, “No, No not another boy” when my middle brother was born 21 months after me, broken, with little fight left, was more than she wanted to handle by herself. Around lunch time, Mom placed a call to Anchorage, Alaska where her father, my Dedaddy, was serving as interim pastor. She came back into the room reassured. She told me, “I talked to Dedaddy and he said he would say a prayer for you this afternoon”.

I drifted off to sleep. That same morning/afternoon an elderly gentleman was brought into the room. With him was an entourage of nurses and family with intravenous bottles, tubes and beepers. I remember the activity as though I was dreaming. I barely noticed the families’ tears or hushed whispers.

At 4:00 I woke up. The room seemed brighter — sunlight was streaking through the window near my bed. I heard a siren and quickly got out of bed and went to my window to watch an ambulance drive down the entrance ramp three floors below and under the Emergency canopy. I could see feet and legs scurrying on the shadowed asphalt and caught a brief glimpse of a stretcher as a patient was unloaded and rushed out of sight. I felt great! A cute nurse (probably 10–15 years older) came into my room and asked what I was doing out of bed. I told her I was well. She gave me some medicine and I flirted with her. As she left I followed her down the hall teasing her about something and telling her I rode horses (that was only “pick-up” technique I knew). A stern looking (much older) nurse gave me a “get back to your room young man”. I was pretty sure I saw a twinkle in her eye.

I went back into my room and hurried to the window as another siren came blasting into the drive way. Nothing to see this time as it pulled farther under the canopy. It was then that I sat on my bed and noticed my roommate. He appeared very old (I think we later learned he was 80). His skin was a chalky white with a blue undertone. His head was still but muscles of his face squeezed his eyes and mouth closed. He was not conscious but he was in pain.

Mom returned (she had gone to lunch when I slept I think — maybe home to make sure everything at home was ok) and wanted to know what I was doing standing by the window. I told her, “watching the ambulances come in”. I realized that I was not scared of that sound anymore. Mom was worried about my infection and demanded I get back in bed. I told her, “I’m well!”. “We’ll let the doctors see about that”, was her reply. “In the meantime, don’t be chasing the nurses or candy stripers down the hall!” (Apparently “Nurse Stern” had tattled!)

“Mom, I feel good. This man next to me is dying. I can smell it. You think they can move me to another room?” She shushed me but agreed and went to find a nurse to ask about a room transfer. A bit later I was told that there was one room to which I could be transferred and it was in the “children’s ward”. At fifteen and a half I was still a “child” but I would be in a room with an 8 year old. Was that ok? You bet!!

After some friendly banter and laughter with the 8-year old I got a good night’s sleep. Dr. McVay’s partner came to the room Friday morning for the examination. Surgery was scheduled for 1:00. I told him, “Doc, you aren’t going to have to do surgery. I’m well.” He parroted Mom’s statement, “I’ll be the judge of that!” . What ensured would make a Three Stooges comedy routine. Doc put a glove on his right hand and told me to lie across the bed with my pajama pants down around my ankles. He lubricated his index and second finger and attempted to insert them into my anal sphincter. “Relax”, he would say. “I’m as relaxed as I can be, Doc”. He got some more lube and PUSHED at the opening. My bed rolled six inches across the floor! -Dr. McVay would have been aggravated and probably fussed at me. Doc started laughing as did I, and with each failed attempt we were almost in tears. He managed to get the tip of his index finger in to the second knuckle and called it! “Examination completed!”. He told my Mom that he had seen the charts and test results. “He had a massive intraperitoneal infection just 24 hours ago, and he doesn’t have one now. Sometimes these things just happen. Sometimes we call them “miracles” “.

It was at that moment that I felt a chill. I sat on the bed with a private smile on my face. I didn’t care if others believed it or not. I KNEW what had happened. My Dedaddy prayed, and I got well! Maybe it was the antibiotics I was getting. Maybe it just took that long for my immune system to kick that infection. I don’t care! That all came together when Dedaddy prayed.

I was released that afternoon and remember looking up at the clear sky and thinking what a beautiful day. It was just as hot and humid as it had been the week before, but a happy, healthy teenage boy had just received a big “break” in his life. As we drove out toward Florida Boulevard I looked back at Baton Rouge General Hospital, that former monster, and thought, “What a beautiful building”.

That’s an interesting story, right? But it’s not over, yet. I was a different person, confident (some might say a bit cocky) and will tell some of those stories later. But, it would be 20 years before I would realize what had broken in my life in July 1961

Come back tomorrow (or the next day) and discover what I learned 20 years later that convinced me that words and/or actions not consiously remembered “can break a life”!

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