Friday, November 5, 2010

In Life: Short Moments With Enduring Impact

The actual moment of living occurs in a flash drifting into memory where it lives for eternity. The event almost forgotten. The people seen only briefly live on in our minds although never seen again.

In 1946 I had to have elective surgery for flat feet because at the time the thought was if it was not done then I would collapse in my middle twenties. This thought is not held today but back then the Orthopedic Surgeon convinced my mother to have it done. The New York Hospital for Orthopedic Surgery was on Fifty-Seventh Street near the Fifty-Ninth Street bridge. The operation would cause me to miss grade 7B. The arches on both feet had to be broken and reset. The Achilles tendons had to be severed and reset, and bone scrapings from my right shin had to be utilized. I'd be in casts for three months and had to learn how to walk again, no rehab centers then. We got off the BMT subway this late August day and stopped at a Woolworth's where my Mom let me have whatever I wanted before entering the hospital. I had A BLT with mayo and a vanilla malted, which I can still taste it was so good. We entered the hospital and I was prepped for the operation the next day which took a little more than three hours. The anesthesia used was gas or so I was told and it wasn't bad during or after. My mother saw the surgeon after. He was twitching so badly she was sure he had botched the whole thing. He didn't. I was placed in a semi-private room with an older man.

The room, two beds were faced in opposite direction. I looked out at the hall way and he looked out at an apartment building across the street. The nurses used to come in to sneak a smoke. They stood in the bathroom and I'd yell "Chickie" if a supervisor was headed in our direction.The mornings held diversion since across the way apparently, a young woman would emerge from what we guessed was her morning shower unclad and dry herself in full view of my room-mate and the nurses. They all laughed gleefully and when I would attempt to get a view they stopped me since I was too "young" for the view.

My room-mate was a window washer. Back then the window washer would step out on the ledge and hook himself up to hooks on the frame of the building. My window washer was up high when he did this one day and the frame came out and he fell many stories landing on his feet breaking many bones causing him to have what seemed like ever lasting pain and many operations. With all his problems he cared for me. He always made sure I was taken care of properly and reassured my parents that the nurses were doing a good job. My first nights after the operation I must have been in a lot of pain and he stayed awake until I was fast asleep. I wasn't always nice, kind of a snotty kid, yet for some reason he put his pain aside and wanted to care for me even though he was bed bound. I was due to go home on a Saturday and all I was looking forward to was my mom's spaghetti and meatballs, which I missed greatly. That Thurs. night when being visited by my family my brother got me a vanilla malted and I drank it voraciously. Early Fri. morning around three I woke up throwing up all over the place. My room-mate called the night nurse and I had a fever. A few hours later with my mom present a Doctor from Roosevelt hospital examined me and determined I had to go to his hospital to have my appendix removed. I cried like a baby, which caused everyone Doctors and nurses, my room-mate and his wife to cry. I knew I wasn't going to have mom's spaghetti and meatballs this Sat.. I requested that I be given gas and not ether. My Doctor agreed.

My only ambulance ride as a patient was taken and it was kind of exciting. We got to Roosevelt Hospital which had no available semi-private rooms so I was placed in a ward. This was kind of scary, a lot of beds with grown men who I didn't know. I was prepped and brought into the operating room on a gurney, remember I had casts on both legs up to my knees. I was quite a sight. I remember the hospital lights going by quickly as I was being wheeled on the gurney. Another first which I hope is never repeated. The Anesthesiologist placed something over my nose and mouth and the first breath I took I knew my Doctor had lied, it was ether and it was terrible. I grabbed at the mask to pull it off but then apologized and succumbed to the darkness. I woke up in the ward with my mom and pop by my bed side. I remember going in and out of consciousness. I told my Pop I knew he had to go to work the next day so he could go home. I asked my mom to stay. She said the Hospital wouldn't let her. I suggested she hide under the bed. Then there was darkness again. I woke up in the middle of the night, many times, very thirsty and having the dry heaves. Everytime I woke up there was this guy standing over me, helping me making sure I didn't tear my stitches. He was like my surrogate mother and I trusted him completely. I woke the next morning feeling a lot better and this guy came over to me to see how I was doing. We talked a bit and this I remember, he was concerned that I was young and alone with two operations in two weeks. He assured my parents he would look after me. I asked what he did and he said very proudly that he was a Hobo. He made it plain that he was not a Bum since a Bum was looking for a handout while Hobos rode the rails from town to town looking for work so they could survive. Hobos were very prevalent during the Great Depression since so many couldn't find work. Robert Mitchum, who was a very good actor rode the rails when he was very young and never hid the fact that he was a Hobo. Later that day they took me to a semi-private room. Later that week I went home and had my mom's spaghetti and meatballs. And it was very good.

I never saw these two guys again. My window washer room-mate spoke to me once on the phone since he was interested in how I was doing. I was too shy and stupid to be able to thank him for all he did. The Hobo
disappeared from my view as quickly as he appeared. I never had the chance to tell him how much he meant to me during my night of hell. Two people who came into my life at a time of great need when I was most vulnerable and felt most alone, then disappeared never to be seen or heard by me again. I shall never forget them. I don't remember their names but I know who they are; certainly God's Angels sent on a mission of love. I would bet that many of you have these Angels in your lives also.
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