My hospital bed was in the children's ward. Most of the new arrivals after my surgery seemed to have had appendectomies or tonsillectomies, and every time the nurses brought in a still unconscious patient, straight from the operating room and reeking of ether, I became extremely nauseated.
As soon as I was judged to be out of danger and on the road to recovery, Daddy had to go back to his base. But he drove to Albuquerque on Friday, leaving after his full work day, and showed up at my bedside around midnight, bringing a few pieces of peppermint candy and an orange. He peeled the orange with the small pocket knife he always carried, then broke it into sections and fed it to me, piece by piece until I had eaten the whole thing. The nurses, knowing his situation, set up screens around my bed so we would not wake the other children, and let him stay as long as he wished. He would tell me stories and jokes and try to cheer me up. I was very homesick, and I missed my Daddy. He would come again on Saturday, then drive back to his base in Colorado. I was in the hospital about ten days, during which two weekends occurred, and he made the trip twice.
I know that my mother must have visited me, also; unfortunately, those visits are not part of my memories. Sometimes I wonder why I don't remember them.
Insofar as I could determine, the nursing staff of St. Joseph Hospital was comprised entirely of Catholic nuns, dressed in full, shoe-top-touching black habits, with wimples, veils and all. Being a good Southern Baptist child, it was probably the first time in my life that I had seen a nun in full regalia. I’m quite sure the surgical nurses didn’t wear habits, but I don’t recall seeing any of them. All the floor nurses were nuns; and more sweet, gentle and dedicated persons you could not have wished for.
After about five days of bed confinement, one nun was assigned to give me some physical exercise (I was very weak, already having been in bed at home for some time before the surgery) and to teach me to walk without turning my head to the left. I remember her taking her hands and straightening my head as we walked in the halls. She also made me exercise my eye, the controlling muscle of which had been restored to full function several days following the surgery. I was lucky; sometimes the muscle paralysis caused by mastoiditis is permanent.
When I was released from the hospital I returned home, but did not go back to school, which had only a few more weeks left in the year. I remember that my mother was concerned that I would have to repeat the second grade since I had missed so many days of the school year. Her fears were allayed; I was deemed to have learned what second grade students are required to know, and was promoted to the third grade.
I had always been a skinny child, but during my illness, I had lost quite a bit of weight and was about 15 pounds lighter than I should have been at my age. Part of my post-surgical treatment was extra nourishment in the form of malt, considered at the time (and in some parts of the world, still) to be a wonderful dietary supplement. I ate Horlicks Tablets by the fist-full, drank milk with extra cream and flavored with Horlicks powder, and at least once a week (sometimes more often) I was treated to a "malt” from one of the local dairy’s ice-cream bar (made with extra ice cream, chocolate flavoring and extra malt.) The flavor of malted milk is still one of my favorites, and I try to keep a jar of Horlicks "nourishing food drink" in my cupboard.
Even after all those extra calories, I gained only about five pounds, and remained "string bean-scrawny" until I was in my mid-forties -- then it all caught up with me!
I lay about eating and drinking and basking in the sun, generally being treated like I had been snatched back from the jaws of death (which I had been), but the special treatment came to an abrupt halt when school started in the fall. I’d received a “clean bill of health” report from the doctor (with the caution to keep water out of my ear), my hair had grown back, and it was once again business as usual. I’m sure my mother was happy not to have to coddle me anymore, and even more glad that I had no more ear aches.
As a result of the surgery, my skull has a very flat spot behind my left ear. If that spot is rubbed gently, it sounds “hollow” and a bit drum-like. It’s a wonder that my hearing was not affected. To this day, I can tell no difference between the hearing in my left and right ears. I know that my skull is not as strong at that spot as it is elsewhere on my head, and I have had some concerns during my adult life about the possibility of sustaining a blow to that area. I’m sure it wouldn’t take much of a hit to go straight into my brain. (Can you tell I watch too many Forensic Files and Dr. G., Medical Examiner programs on TV?)
Back later with another tale.