Friday, August 09, 2013

Roads Not Taken Part Five

Life Saver

On Monday morning, July 13th, 1959 I ended up back in the hospital, the contagion ward located in the basement of the Chester County Hospital.  I arrived at about five a.m. in the morning.  I was sure I was on my way out of this world.  Even though I wasn't in pain (thank God), I was falling apart because my incision was open.  I wasn't whole.  

Hospital ward similar to the one I was in only the windows weren't as big, the were small, and high up an covered with write grates

I don't remember a whole lot about the sequence of events the next day except that different doctors came by to "take a look" at my open incision. Sometime after my placement in my bed, which was only separated by a curtain on either side from the hospital beds on either side of me, a nurse came by to clean out my "wound."  Oh how did it stink. It was full of pus.  Even that word sounds icky.  

Taking a look
I was told not to move around.  A nurse gave me a bedpan to do my "business" in.  I refused to use it. I told her I would walk to the bathroom.  She told me I couldn't.  Well.....if you know me you know I didn't take her direction.  I didn't use the bedpan (and in fact have never used a bedpan), I walked to the bathroom.....very carefully.  I didn't want to open up my wound anymore than necessary.  It was such a strange feel because seeing my incision open like this I thought I should be hurting but I felt nothing.  That side (left abdomen) was numb and is numb to this day.  All that scar tissue.

The doctors informed my Mother of what I had.  Interesting that the doctors never inform the patient of anything.  My Mother told me that I had a staphylocuccus infection, commonly known as a "staph" infection.  

What types of diseases are caused by Staph?

Skin infections (see above) are the most common type of disease produced byStaphylococcus. Staph infections of the skin can progress to impetigo (a crusting of the skin) or cellulitis (inflammation of the deeper layers of skin and connective tissue under the skin, leading to swelling and redness of the area). In rare situations, a serious complication known as scalded skin syndrome (see below) can develop. Inbreastfeeding women, Staph can result inmastitis (inflammation of the breast) or in abscess of the breast. Staphylococcal breast abscesses can release bacteria into the mother's milk.
When the bacteria enter the bloodstream and spread to other organs, a number of serious infections can occur. Spread of the organisms to the bloodstream is known as bacteremia orsepsis. Staphylococcal pneumonia predominantly affects people with underlying lung disease and can lead to abscess formation within the lungs. Infection of the heart valves (endocarditis) can lead to heart failure. Spread of Staphylococci to the bones can result in severe inflammation of the bones known as osteomyelitis. When Staph bacteria are present in the blood, a condition known as staphylococcal sepsis (widespread infection of the bloodstream) or staphylococcal bacteremia exists. Staphylococcal sepsis is a leading cause of shock and circulatory collapse, leading to death, in people with severe burns over large areas of the body. When untreated, Staph aureus sepsis carries a mortality (death) rate of over 80%. Although not common, Staph aureus has been reported as a cause of chorioamnionitis and neonatal sepsis in pregnancy, but group B streptococci are the most common bacterial cause of this life-threatening condition for the fetus.
Staphylococcal infections are contagious and can be transmitted from person to person. Since pus from infected wounds may contain the bacteria, proper hygiene and hand washing is required when caring for Staph-infected wounds.

Folks, I could have died of this staph infection.  I found out later that if my incision had not busted open, the staph would have entered my bloodstream and I would have died of sepsis.  The only reason my incision busted open was because of all the aspirin I was taking for my splitting headaches.  Note: I wasn't taking aspirin because my doctor recommended it but because I needed something to alleviate my excruciating headaches.  Yes folks, aspirin saved my life.  No help from my doctor.  To this day, I take a daily aspirin, occasionally more when needed.  

I forgot how long I was in the contagion ward.  Maybe my friend Lar can refresh my memory, he visited me often.  Note:  Larry just refreshed my memory of the dates.  I left the contagion ward on Friday July 31st, 1959. What I do remember before the first of my three surgeries was what happen the second day.  I couldn't sleep the first night at the hospital because of the moaning of the 13 year old boy in the bed next to me, separated only by a curtain.  The next morning, when the nurse came by to clean out my incision, I told her "I couldn't get any sleep last night because of all that moaning."  She brusquely told me "You won't have to worry about that anymore, he died last night."  I found out later he died of meningitis.  I felt so guilty.  I didn't complain any more, not even when the 56 year old man on the other side of me, who had gangrene of his foot who was also moaning in pain,  tore off his toenail and threw it over his partition and landed on my windowsill.  I left it there.

Nurse Ratched

Two things I remember clearly, I was very bored during my multiple week stay.  I forget how long I was in the contagion ward.  I remember reading the whole book "The Mouse That Roared" and I looked forward to the bland, Jello meals that the hospital provided.  I also remember the visits through my wire caged window to my sub basement quarters from my Mother and my friend Larry.  No one else visited me.  I was convinced I would never leave that contagion ward.

Eventually I did leave after my surgery.  Didn't last long though, my infection came back and I was returned to the hospital. This time my Mom drove me to the hospital for my next stay.  At least my second stay I wasn't in the contagion ward.  

I had my third surgery on Sunday October 18th, 1959. I was discharged again from the hospital on November 7th, 1959, two days before my 18th birthday.  Happy birthday!

I remember that the room costs $20 a day which I thought was very expensive (this was 1959 before the medical establishment figured out they could make a LOT more money by "unbundling" the medical and hospital bills.

I went home again and the infection came back.  I went back to the hospital again for yet another operation.  

Candy-strippers who were going to help me plan my escape from the hospital

I had spent most of the summer of 1959 in the Chester County Hospital.  The month was November. The weather was cold outside.  I thought I would never get out of the hospital.  I was depressed.  There were two candy strippers who used to come by my room (I had a semi-private room now) and attempt to cheer me up.  I wanted to leave the hospital.  I became very friendly with them.  They were going to help me "escape."  

Here's the plan:  I was going to catch the Short Line bus and go home.  Only one problem, I didn't have any clothes.  I only had my pajamas, bathrobe (which I still have!) and slippers.  They were going to get me a coat to put over my bathroom and pajamas but couldn't shoes for me.  I couldn't see me getting on the bus in the cold weather with only slippers.  I was sure the bus driver of the Short Line bus would catch me and turn me in.  We aborted my escape.

Turns out two weeks later I was "released".  I went home in December.  After three surgeries my infection finally didn't come back.  I got the all clear.  

In a few weeks before Christmas my Mom and I went to the Army recruiter in Coatesville again to get a new departure date.  My hernia was gone and I was qualified to join the Army.  My induction date was set for January 27th, 1960.  Now to await the date that I will never forget the rest of my life.

By the way, this series of blog postings is turning into a biography of my early years so I'm thinking of changing the title of future blog postings.  Any suggestions?

Out of the hospital and ready to join the Army - 1959

Me and my Girlfriend of the Moment, Virginia Maurar, out dancing November 13th, 1959 in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.  This was when I was at my heaviest, 203 lbs.  Fat Face. 

My friend Larry (who is providing me the dates of my hospital entries and expulsions from his mother and grandmother's diaries) with my girlfriend Virginia "Ginny" Maurar and me (on the right.  This was my "chunky" period when I put on a lot of weight, November 1959.  


  1. What an ordeal! I know the expression "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" is true, but you are really lucky to be alive, and sane!

    1. Nadege,

      That six month ordeal was my biggest life challenge until 2006 when I almost didn't sell our Pennsylvania house and we had two mortgages going on at the same time and almost face financial ruin. That episode of my life is still too painful to write about.

      I'm going to get back to my regular blog postings now for awhile. I'll pick up later on my Life Story in a few days (or weeks.)


  2. Anonymous11:28 PM

    Wow Ron, That's a tale! Now, when some 17 yr old googles "hernia operation" ( just told he has one ) he will get the read of his life.
    All I can think of is the Pirate Photo of you with the sword thinking your scar must about that long!? You're probably numb there cause
    the surgeon cut your nerves. My recent hernia area -right side- is numb too. No numbness on the left - that doctor (Doctor Young from
    the North Miami Hernia Institute) really knew what he was doing. After your story I'm glad I survived, myself. My cousin was not so
    lucky. He had to have many repairs and re-repairs through his life.
    You are very correct about Doctors being the God figures in the 50's and 60's! When you consider the level of medical care today
    they really didn't know that much back then. Your mother must have been worried sick, no sleep either.
    Well, now it's the Prostate fight! Round 1 sure looks good for the little radio active pellets. Does that have to be redone at some time?
    I will no doubt have that fight as my father had Prostate cancer.
    Stuart in FL

    1. Stuart,

      Surgery back in the Fifties was more like butchery. What a sloppy job they did on me. I'm lucky I survived but I will bear the scars the rest of my life. I've been reluctant to trust doctors ever since.

      No, the seeds can't be redone and if they could, I wouldn't go through that again. Too much side effects damage done this time. In fact, if my prostate cancer comes back I'm screwed because they don't even want to do surgery to remove the prostate. I'm still not sure the reasoning but I wouldn't have it done anyway. At my age (72 this year), I'll ride out whatever good years I have left. I've had a good life and I'm not going to ruin it at the end by and endless succession of medical treatments.

      I hope you're the exception to getting prostate cancer in your family Stuart. You really don't want to go through this.



  3. ron's way; I did it ron's way.

    1. You better believe it honey.


  4. You are fortunate that you did not bleed to death either before or when your incision came apart. Aspirin is a powerful blood thinner. If the infection had not entered your blood stream, I still don't understand why you had such severe headaches with the infection. The blood-brain barrier is pretty powerful.

    I assume that Dr. Specter was not your initial surgeon. That hospital must have been full of quacks!

    1. David,

      The aspirin saved my life because it caused my incision to break open. I was told that several years later by different doctors. If the infection had gone into my blood stream there would have been no Bloggerpalooza last year.....or next year.


  5. Anonymous1:29 AM

    Oh my! I am regular blog follower, although I have never posted. This story had me feeling all icky!! Glad you made it out all right. That certainly was an ordeal.
    Ready to go back to hearing about cute guys and the life you share with Bill. Lol!
    Love the blog,

    1. James,

      Great minds think alike! I had already decided to go back to my regular blog posts about "cute guys and the life I share with Bill." Next blog posting and welcome to my blog!


  6. "Roads Not Taken" had me breathless and riveted to my seat. What an incredible story! I don't know how you were able to survive such a ghastly ordeal - - I'm sure the tenacity of youth was on your side. As you said, staph infections are extremely dangerous and the mortality rate - especially back then - was extremely high. ( I'm always amused by those apt accompanying illustrations that you come up with).

    I don't know how you summoned the strength to go into the Army so soon after such a close call with the Grim Reaper. Anyone who says gays are sissies should read this. And anyone who is considering a hernia operation should read this (a very feeble attempt at humor).

    There were so many "Quack" doctors back then (hell, there still are). My grandmother always maintained that the graveyard is filled with doctor's mistakes.

    I won't be brash enough to suggest a new title for your future postings. I'm sure you'll come up with a good one.

    1. Jon,

      You and I know there are no more gay "sissies" than there are straight sissies. As matter of fact, I think there are more straight sissies than gay sissies. Gays by definition have to be stronger just to survive. I will never forget it was the drag queens at Stonewall who had enough of police harassment and fought back the police, not the leather guys.

      Why did I go into the Army after my operation? I never thought there was an alternative. I felt it was my duty and also I wanted to get my obligation out of the way. I didn't want to get a job with the threat of a draft hanging over my head. I especially didn't want to fight a war but I would have gone if told to do so. Chickening out wasn't an option either.


  7. Ah, Ron. What to do ..what to do? Watch a Tarantino film or read "Roads not Taken - Part Five". Of course I opted for the latter - lots of character development in that one. Boy, what a segue of events to have to endure. I had my appendix out when I was around 30. I know one has to often take what comes but I admit I hope and pray not to have to undergo the knife again. A very belated "way to go" for getting thru all of that.

    1. Pat,

      I still have my appendix. Gall bladder too. Hope I keep them.



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