Surgery Broke My Life Twice
Stick and Stones can break bones and Words can break a life
Part 4 (Surgery broke my life — twice)
Can words spoken to a “pre-aware” child “break its life? Our life can break good or bad. Broken dreams, broken promises and perhaps one of the most difficult to mend, a broken heart. On the other end of that “see-saw” we “catch a break” and get a job we wanted or an entertainer gets a big “break” into show business, or the best one yet — “Break Fast”. 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. In Part 3 a former “monster” became a “beautiful friend”. And, here in Part 4, how words and actions during a child’s age of pre awareness produced breaks on both ends of that spectrum.
…I looked up at a clear sky and thought, “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”.
Not only was I able to look at BRGH that day, I looked forward to seeing that big blonde building when we had occasion to drive past. In a dramatic change I began going to visit people in hospitals and looked forward to it. When I heard a siren on Airline Highway I didn’t go inside. I remember thinking “I hope they are ok”. (Until I moved away to go to graduate school in Oklahoma, I always thought a siren meant an ambulance.) I was glad I wasn’t afraid any more.
By the time I graduated from Woodlawn High School (1963) I had overcome a fear of atomic bombs and fear that a mole on my left had had moved suggesting I had cancer, I also developed a confidence that a siren did not mean that someone was coming to take me away and hurt me. By the summer of 1966 between my junior and senior year at LSU I had also gained confidence that US Agriculture Scientists were going to provide more than enough food to meet the needs of a rapidly growing global population.
That summer I was privileged to spend a couple of weeks with my Dedaddy (and Mimaw) in Little Rock, Arkansas prior to going on to St. Louis for a Danforth Fellowship program in which I would meet other young men from land-grant schools, many of which would be working on that food production crises. But an experience with Dedaddy impressed me with the impact words and actions can have on people.
Dedaddy was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1960 and was given six months to live. He served as interim pastor in Anchorage, Alaska the first year or so, then was interim at my home church (Parkview Baptist) in Baton Rouge and was the speaker at my high school graduation in 1963. He continued to minister to seniors at First Baptist in Little Rock even as his cancer metastasized in his bones, particular his hips. Even with the pain he talked with a velvet smooth tone as his face smiled from his silky white hair to his round, soft chin. I traveled to Little Rock to spend two weeks painting the carport and trim of their blonde brick home, and servi when he needed to go somewhere. I did not know it was going to be the last time I would see him, but he left me with an indelible impression that influenced how I lived my life from that day forward.
I was called in from my painting one morning and told to clean up as I’d be driving DeDaddy to the hospital to visit with an elderly patient My grandmother (MiMaw) was not happy that he was going as DeDaddy was in a lot of pain. But, Mrs. C. was to have surgery that afternoon and was scared. She asked for “Dr. Caylor” — and was distraught when told “Dr. Caylor is unable to come”. Mrs. C. wanted to cancel her relatively minor surgery (I don’t remember what it was, but at DeDaddy said, “no surgery at her age is minor”. He had told the pastor that visited with Mrs. C. to tell her that he would be there before her surgery. I helped DeDaddy to his car, got behind the wheel and did my best to avoid bumps in the road. I did not like seeing DeDaddy wince with pain when I did.
WE arrived at the single floor center where Mrs. C was a patient. DeDaddy walked slowly with his cane in his right hand and me holding his left elbow. When we got to Mrs. C’s room, DeDaddy stopped. What he did next not only sent chills down my body that day but they revist me every time I describe what happened.
I was not sure DeDaddy would be able to go into Mrs. C’s room. I thought he had stopped to catch his breath. And, he had, but not as I suspected. With a short closing of his eyes, he pulled his body upward until he was 6 inches taller. He took a deep breath, leaned his cane against the wall and tapped on her door. We heard “come in” and, with a smile on his face and not a HINT of a limp, Sunshine walked into Mrs. C’s room. I went weak in my knees and slumped against the wall unable to stand on my trembling legs. I watched as DeDaddy took Mrs C’s pale, frail left hand in both of his, patted gently with his right hand and saod, “It’s going to be alright. Mrs. C. I want to pray with you”. I don’t know what he said in the short prayer — except for these final words. “Thank you Lord for watching over Mrs. C”. I saw that woman’s face go from panicked, scared and frightened to peaceful, calm and happy. All would be ok now.
DeDaddy turned and walked toward the door, he stopped and turned back, smile still on his face, and nodded as Mrs. C seemed to already be sleeping peacefully. DeDaddy walked out of the room without a limp, and, as the door shut behind him, slumped into my arms. My hands and arms trembled as I felt his light bony body under his now too big suit. I put him in his car and drove him home. He slept peacefully most of the way. He was in pain but I didn’t hear him complain. My DeDaddy had brought peace and harmony into Mrs C’s room that afternoon. And he did it with an inner strength that he believed (and I believe) was put there by God. I think of that day when my days seem tough and I want to complain. I remember, “It’s going to be alright. Thank you God”.
While in graduate school at Oklahoma State University I was asked to be interim pastor of Stillwater’s Christian & Missionary Alliance church. I was successful in part because of my DeDaddy’s example and the notebook of his sermon notes that gave me ideas.
By the late 1970’s my first marriage was in crisis (a book unto itself!) and Lana and I started 4 years of marriage counseling and therapy. My final two years involved me driving to Shreveport for some Gestalt group therapy twice a month. I was returning from one of those sessions and listening to Dennis Waitley’s “The Power of Winning” tape series when I had an epiphany. Dennis was talking about how what we say to our children can impact their lives. One example he used was regarding a phrase sometimes used by parents of the baby boom generation, “Go play in the traffic” (when a child was being particularly bothersome).That same child would then be scolded when they ran into the street after a ball or were standing too close to a curb on a busy downtown street. It was not just “confusing”, but a feeling of not being wanted was implanted in a child’s memory bank, even when they were unaware of those words being spoken.
I heard the story of my being born with a scrotal hernia many times. I saw a picture of me sitting on our Byron Street home with a “thick padding of diapers” I asked mom how many diapers she put on me and she said, “you only had on one diaper — that was all you” (and she was not talking about penis endowment either). Apparently I had enough intestine where it didn’t belong that i looked like I had on several diapers. In mid-1940’s doctors would not do hernia surgery on a newborn. In fact, we had to wait until I was two. During that wait Mom was under instructions, “don’t let him cry” if at all possible. Want to know how to quiet C. Reid McLellan, Jr.? Yep, you guessed it! Put some food in his mouth.
I think I may have been concerned about the population explosion and no food because if I did not have food I would not have a way of soothing my troubles. But that was minor compared to what was to come.
Once I was two-years old, surgery was scheduled. It would be at Baton Rouge General Hospital and one significant element of the 4 days post surgery recovery would be that I would be given a penicillin shot every 4 hours (they didn’t have it in another form at the time). So, every 4 hours a nurse would come to my room in her starched white uniform and a “chubby” 2-year old would scream bloody murder as he was stuck with a needle over and over.
My dad wore starched white shirts to his job as a new Chemistry professor at LSU. Mom tells that she would have a blue shirt at the hospital for him to put on because if he walked into the room with a starched white shirt on I would become hysterical and not let him touch me!. Picture becoming clear now?
I pulled to the side of I 20 near Arcadia, Louisiana and saw a vision in my mind. A round, little two-year old toe-head boy in a hospital baby bed, ambulances with sirens wailing coming in at all hours of the day and night — and not long after that noise, a white clad nurse or doctor came to use that boy’s buttocks as a dart board. I was 37 years old and I sat behind the steering wheel of my Toyoto Tercel and I cried for that little boy. He wasn’t a wimp, sissy or coward. He didn’t have an irrational fear of sirens. Little C. Reid was a boy that had suffered pain over and over being told, “it’ll be ok” — and to “stop being such a baby” –hell, he WAS a baby! No telling what else might have been said.
I had not been afraid of sirens for over 20 years — and yet I still didn’t understand what had happened. My life had been “broken” as a 2-year old. I lived “broken” until I was 15.5 and an appendectomy patched the break. Twenty years later I learned some things that finally healed that break.
I changed how I talked with my children from that day forward. You can ask them if they noticed. I noticed. And I am still aware of how my words can influence others, maybe the “break bad” or they use them to “break fast”.
Words and actions stopped me from playing football in the ninth grade. And, words and actions helped me become a most valuable basketball player for Woodlawn High. And words from my Dad resulted in my BS degree choice and the single most important career decision I ever made. Those and more coming soon.
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