It was 1957, and I was living in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey. I was five years old. My throat hurt, and I was having trouble swallowing. My mom wasn’t too concerned, and told me to stay in bed while she brought me cold drinks to soothe my throat. It didn’t work.
A quick call to the doctor, and arrangements were made to have him come to the house and examine me later that afternoon. In those days doctors made house calls, and they arrived with their black bags full of just about everything they needed to cure all ills. I was suspicious of the bag, and wanted to look inside to see what mysteries were there, but I didn’t dare ask.
I was propped up in my parents’ bedroom, and the doctor came in and began to poke and prod me everywhere. Finally he told me to open my mouth, squished my tongue down with a tongue depressor, and shined a light into my throat. Tonsillitis was the verdict. It looked bad, because he took my mom out of the room to speak with her privately. Even at my age, I knew that was not good.
The doctor told my mother that I had a severe case of tonsillitis, and would need to have my tonsils removed. The problem was, my tonsils were so swollen and infected that the doctors couldn’t operate. The infection would have to come down before I could have surgery.
Bringing the infection down involved antibiotics, and the best way to give me the medicine was with a shot in my butt. I was getting shot number one that day. The doctor told my mom that he’d come by every day with another shot for me until the swelling went down and my parents could bring me to the hospital. In my memory it seems to me now as though the doctor came for weeks, perhaps months, but in reality, it may only have been a week or so. When you’re five, your perspective on pain and time is a little bit different, so it seemed like he gave me a shot every day for years. I’m sure that’s the reason I’m terrified of needles to this day.
The swelling finally went down, and on the day of my last shot, the doctor told me I’d be going to the hospital to have my tonsils taken out. He explained that this was a good thing, because although my throat would be sore when I got home, I could have all the ice cream I wanted. To me this sounded like a very good deal. It was also the first time a doctor lied to me for my own good. Be very wary of doctors giving you what seems to be good news.
Finally the day arrived, and my parents brought me to the local hospital for my surgery. I don’t remember much about my arrival except that I was walking down what seemed to me to be enormous hallways built of stone. Before long they had me in my hospital johnny and in bed in a room with eight other kids my age. My parents were talking to me, but I didn’t hear anything they said; I was looking around the room at all the activity taking place.
At one point, a gurney arrived for the kid across the room from me. He was all smiles as he hopped onto the gurney and two nurses wheeled him away. Okay, I thought, if he’s smiling it can’t be too bad. Sometime later the gurney arrived back in our dorm room, and the same two nurses lifted the kid back onto his bed. His arms were dangling at his sides and his eyes were rolled back with just the whites showing. Oh no, I remember thinking, they killed him. Well, they’re not going to kill me!
The gurney was now coming for me, and I fought the nurses as though the angels from hell were coming to drag me directly to Lucifer—kicking, punching, and screaming as only a terrified five year old can do. They strapped me down and we headed out of the room.
Sometime later, I woke up to find myself back in my bed in the dorm room. My throat really, really hurt, and my parents and the doctor kept asking me questions. I tried to answer, but the pain was too much, and I could only make small croaking sounds. No matter. Soon enough my father carried me out to the car and my parents brought me home. My ordeal was finally over, and I was safe.
Safely ensconced in my parents’ large bed, I figured it was time for my reward. Ice cream! My mother came into the bedroom with an enormous dish of chocolate ice cream and said I could have as much as I wanted. My throat still hurt so badly I could barely swallow, but even today, chocolate ice cream just makes everything better.
Maybe hospitals aren’t so bad after all.