After applications of cigarette smoke, hot water bottles and warmed “sweet oil” drops in my ear did not reduce the discomfort, I was taken to see a doctor. I don’t recall what treatment he prescribed but, since neither penicillin nor sulfa drugs were available for civilian use (both these came into major production during World War II and were used in field hospitals for the treatment of military wounded), I know I did not receive any sort of what we now call antibiotics. Whatever it was, it was not effective, and my ear aches became more and more painful, and I had a constant fever.
By the early spring of 1943, I was very sick, being taken to the doctor almost weekly. It was determined that I had a very severe ear infection (duh!). Eventually the infection became so toxic that it paralyzed the muscles that controlled my left eye and although my ability to see was not affected, I could not move that eye from the straight ahead position, and I had to keep my head turned constantly to the left and use my right eye to be able to see what was on my left side.
This development concerned the doctor, and over a period of several weeks he took a series of X-Rays of my head, perhaps a dozen or more; I don’t know whether it was for diagnostic or treatment purposes. The practice of medicine has changed a lot since 1943. (Long-term effects of many X-Rays in a later post.)
I became gravely ill. My father was called to come home from his base in Grand Junction, Colorado. I was given a blood test and my white cell count was over 30,000 (4,800 – 10,000 is normal in children.) The doctor announced that he suspected that I had mastoiditis, a severe infection of the “mastoid process” which is part of the skull behind the ear. The doctor instructed my parents to take me to the hospital immediately as I was to undergo surgery that evening.
I remember being held in my father’s arms while my mother drove the car, and Daddy carried me into the hospital. I don’t remember anything else until I woke up, sick as a dog from the effects of the ether that had been used as anesthesia during my surgery.
The operation that was performed on me is called a mastoidectomy. In my particular case, the left side of my head was shaved (my hair grew back, but has never since “behaved itself” in that location), an incision was made behind my left ear, and all the infected bone, quite a large amount, actually, was surgically removed (scraped off my skull.) There being no antibacterial solutions to wash the area before the incision was closed, carbolic acid was used as a disinfectant. Ugggh!
I was still very sick for several days. During one of the doctor’s visits, I overhead him telling my parents that had he not performed the surgery when he did, I would have been dead in twenty-four hours.
Last installment tomorrow