The chapters which are numerical are factual. The chapters which are alphabetical are fiction, though in some instances the fiction modestly drapes what is factual. I will post one chapter a week, alternating factual and fiction.
I was twelve years old. It was December and cold. I had spent most of Saturday outside the Acme Market with my wagon. Along with a half dozen other boys with wagons, I wanted to haul groceries for people who had been shopping. Otherwise, they would have to carry their groceries to their home while walking in the slush and patches of ice. Some of the boys had regular patrons who looked for “their boy” every week. Other boys were more aggressive than I was in asking to haul the person’s groceries even before they went into the store.
I think that I only had two or three persons for whom I hauled bags of groceries that day. It was very cold and windy. We huddled up against the wall outside the store trying to keep warm. The previous store manager had allowed us to stand inside the store where the grocery carts were lined up. The current manager would not allow us to come inside. He didn’t want us to “bother” the customers.
The next day, I was sick and in the days following, I was sicker. My throat was red and swollen, I was running high temperatures. I had strep throat. After that, my joints became inflamed. My father was furloughed from work and my parents had no money for a doctor or medicine.
Someone told my parents about a Jewish doctor, Dr. Moses, who they were sure would come to the house and see me. He did. He prescribed sulphur drugs at first and gave my mother the medicine. His tentative diagnosis was rheumatic fever. My symptoms differed from the usual. My joints were red and inflamed but they were not swollen. For that reason, he wanted me to be admitted to the hospital.
At that time Johns Hopkin Hospital was conducting clinical trials of a drug (?ACTH?) to treat rheumatic fever patients. He told my parents about it and let them make the decision, but he advised against it. Some years later, persons who had been treated with that drug developed serious complications. Instead, he arranged for me to be admitted to Sinai Hospital.
I was in a children’s ward with at least twenty children in the ward. It was one of their charity wards. Children whose parents could afford it were in semi-private rooms on the same floor.
Electrocardiagrams were new technology. Every day a technician would roll the EKG machine up to my bed. It was in a wooden cabinet like a fine radio. She would attach a dozen or more wires to various parts of my chest. When she started the machine, a strip of paper would roll out. After she was finished, a doctor would look at the paper and put marks on it with his pen.
There was a machine which required the patient to swallow barium while the doctor was watching a life–size screen. The nurse mixed chocolate syrup with the barium which made it taste like a chocolate flavored mud pie.
Every day or so a doctor would come to my bed with a dozen or more medical students standing around. He would rapidly give a summary of the symptoms which led to my hospitalization. He would pass around some of the EKG strips and explain the places he marked. He would always pull up my gown and point out that although my joints were red and hot to the touch they were not swollen.
Christmas was near. The younger children wondered if Santa would be able to find them. They wanted to know why there was no Christmas tree. One boy, who was a know-it-all, said, “You dummies. There ain’t no Christmas tree because this is a Jewish hospital and Jews don’t have no Christmas.”
Were we ever in for a surprise. The day before Christmas, we were taken into the large room next to the ward where sometimes there were meetings for the doctors and nurses. In the room there was a piano, a floor to ceiling Christmas tree, and enough tables and chairs for all the children. The children from the semi-private rooms were also brought in.
One of the doctors sat down at the piano and began playing and leading us in singing Christmas carols. A lot of others doctors and nurses were there singing. One of them read the Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel and another read “T’was the night before Christmas.”
After that Santa Claus came. His bag couldn’t hold all the presents. His elves followed carrying more bags. The presents were all really nice. I’m sure that none of us children on the charity ward would ever expect to receive even one present so fine. The dolls the girls received were large, in boxes and with exquisite clothes. Every child received three presents. After that there were refreshments. The nurses made sure that each child only received food their charts allowed, but they did it so unobtrusively that no child was embarrassed.
Several hours after the party, my parents came for me. I was discharged and went home.
I was on orders to stay in bed. I found out months later that the rheumatic fever had left a hole in my heart and bed rest was the only treatment they knew for it. With rest the heart might heal itself. I was supposed to stay in bed and only get up to go to the toilet. My mother brought my meals to me. She tried to keep me in bed, but I was always jumping up to get something, or to torment my sister when she was home.
It was driving my mother crazy trying to keep me in bed, much less, resting. My maternal grandmother Stalnaker lived and worked in Washington, DC. She told my mother about Christ Child Farm in Rockville, Maryland, a convalescent home for children. A woman who lived down the street had a phone and allowed my mother to use it to call Christ Child Farm. She had an automobile and offered to drive us there when they told my mother they would admit me.
Christ Child Farm was out in the country. (I think it has now been engulfed by Rockville, MD.) It was probably a two hour drive from Armistead Gardens. It was a huge wood frame two story house surrounded by a large lawn and a farm. It had been established by an elderly woman so crippled with arthritis that she seemed almost in a ball. I saw her twice when she came to visit. She lived in the house and managed the farm until she became invalided. She was a devout Catholic and was said to be very wealthy.
On the first floor of this huge house were offices, a kitchen, a dining room, and the classroom. Upstairs were three dormitory rooms, a doctor’s office, toilets, bathtubs, and sinks. I was in the boys’ dormitory. There were about ten beds on either side of the large room and there were windows along one wall and one window on the end. I was in the last bed on the right. Across from me in the last bed on the left was a boy about my age who had one lung collapsed. He was quiet and agreeable. His name was Donald. During the day, he always wore “farmer jakes.”
A woman doctor came about once a week. Shetold me that I had a hole in my heart caused by the rheumatic fever. She said the best treatment was strict bed rest so that the heart could heal itself. For a couple months I was in bed or on my bed all the time except to go to the toilet or to wash up and brush my teeth in the morning. I think once a week I took a bath. Instead of tooth paste, at each sink there was a dish with baking soda and salt mixed.
Once, there was a priest who visited us from one of the eastern European countries. I think it was Romania. He gave each of us children a rosary. He told about the poor women of the village who strung these rosaries to earn a few cents to feed their children. Donald and I were twirling the rosary we were given around on our fingers. Mine hit the metal footboard of my bed. The rosary broke and beads went flying all over the room. I’ll never forget the sight of that old priest weeping and crawling around on the floor picking up those sacred beads.
After a couple months, I was allowed to go downstairs for meals and for school. I could walk down the stairs slowly, one step at a time. Going up the stairs I had to sit on the step, count to ten, then lift myself up to the next step, count to ten, etc.
Meals were in a large dining room with several large tables. School was in one room with all grades in the same room, although the younger children must have had school at a different time or place. As I remember, there were only the older children in my class. The teacher was a nun but she wore a suit and blouse, instead of a habit. She taught us well. I skipped a half grade when I returned to public school.
When warm weather came, I was allowed to go outside. I wasn’t allowed to run. I could swing if I didn’t jump off of it. My parents weren’t able to come and see me often because of the distance. Once one of my uncles who lived in Washington brought them to see me. Another time Uncle Don and Aunt Delania brought my parents and grandparents to see me.
About June or July, the doctor said that my heart had healed enough that I could go home if I would rest and not be running around. When my parents brought me home, there was a surprise to help me take it easy. They had bought a Muntz 16 inch, black and white television!