Thursday, October 20, 2016

Time in a Bottle

As I enjoyed a leisure moment with a crossword the other day, both a mug of coffee and a snoozing cat within reach, a clue in my puzzle  -- “old time anesthetic” --  gave me a bit of a shock. The answer easily worked out to “ether” but I have terrible memories of ether, you see…and, most importantly, did all this make me “old-time ” too?

I’d recently seen a movie with Richard Widmark (first clue that I actually might be old---how many remember him?) made two years before I was born in which, portraying a troubled surgeon, he toiled in a dim operating room that had nothing plugged in. 

There were no glowing monitors, screens or beeping machines anywhere in sight. Besides a patient on the table, there was a doctor with a scalpel and a nurse in high heels and a winged white cap. They might as well have been wearing animal skins; the doctor cutting open his patient with the jaw bone of a mastodon. Upon realizing that I’d entered the world just 24 months later, I was horrified. How did we survive without all the equipment that checks all the equipment that checks us? Was there even electricity in the delivery room?
Actual operating room from the 1950s.
And now, the Times’ Crossword Editor is smugly referring to something I vividly remember as “old.” What in the name of Marcus Welby (clue #2) is going on here??

I'm pretty sure this was my nurse.
Based on the then accepted medical trend of yanking tonsils willy nilly out of small children, my mother decided that, at the age of three, mine needed to go. And, while I cannot remember if I’ve eaten breakfast, I can actually tell you all about how I was blind folded, thrown into the trunk of a car and driven to a tonsillectomy mill somewhere in Brooklyn. Once there, I was terrorized by a staff of supposed medical personnel straight out of a Bette Davis (clue 3) movie once she got old and was relegated to playing lunatics who loved pushing invalids down flights of stairs.

Taken into a large room with nothing but a padded table in the center and placed upon it, it was from this vantage point I accessed my captors. Uncertain as how to handle this mystifying abandonment by a mother I’d entirely trusted until this very moment, I spotted the only other thing in the room---on the floor, in a corner, was a small, innately terrifying brown glass bottle with a rubber dropper cap. My strategy immediately became clear.

True story.

I morphed from a docile victim into a small feral animal intent upon escape. Leaping from the table, I ran from corner to corner eluding the doctor whose lower face was already obscured by a surgical mask but was soon caught and strapped down. 

The scary bottle was uncapped and a washcloth was placed over my face into which was squeezed dropperfuls of what I later learned was the “old-time anesthetic” that now fit into the five spaces of seven across in my crossword puzzle. I soon blacked out but later awoke to find that my tonsils had been stolen. My mother later tried to appease me with unlimited ice cream but, inexplicably, never apologized for either the abduction or subsequent tonsil-snatching.

Don't be curious, George. Run!

As we all know from watching Grey’s Anatomy, medicine is no longer Richard Widmark and a nurse wearing a pointy bra (clue 4). It’s high tech and magical and anesthetic is no longer administered by a deranged hobo in need of a few bucks for his next bottle of rot gut. 

The irony of my tonsil removal by sadists who, likely, had no medical degrees, is that as the only regenerative tissue in the body, if tonsils are not properly removed, they will grow back. And, guess what--mine did.

So, friends, when you come across that word in a crossword, think of a tiny Susan Says cowering in a corner and begging for mercy. You can send money for psychotherapy care of this newspaper.Thank  you in advance.

*Okay, I wasn’t blindfolded and thrown into the trunk. Everything else in this memory is accurate.
Hello, I'm Marcus Welby!

1 comment:

  1. I never had my tonsils put, but my mother kept me home from school one day, took me with her to the doctor; I thought it was her appointment - I was 5. Suddenly sweet old Dr. Walsh stabbed me in the arm with a GIANT needle. I got a tetanus shot! Man, my arm hurt for 2 weeks afterward, and I made a promise that I would always tell my children what to expect from the doctor - which I have kept. I adore my mother and I know why she didn't tell me, but that memory is seared into my brain! I don't think it is too much trouble, even if the child is upset and very stubborn (all 3 of mine, to tell them what's going to happen to them.