Thursday, August 08, 2013

Roads Not Taken Part Four

Back to our program in progress after that good news yesterday of my improved prostate PSA score.

My Mother made an appointment with our family doctor, a small, humorless and disagreeable man named Dr. Samuel Specter of Coatesville, PA.  Yes, I spelled out his whole name because I want his treatment of me on the record....forever.

Not my actual doctor but very similar in appearance and attitude towards  me

Dr. Specter looked at my papers and examined me and then pronounced that I had a hernia.  I had a hernia?  Not that I knew of.  In his usual irritated manner he told my Mother "He were born with a hernia. He didn't pass your Army physical because he has a hernia.  His hernia is inactive but could become active during the strain of physical activity during basic training and the Army doesn't want the expense for treating him.  He cannot join the Army until he has an operation to repair his hernia." 

Dr. Specter scheduled me for surgery to repair my hernia.  I didn't have any say in the procedure, they decided for me.  I was damaged goods and I should be fixed.  That was "Fifties" thinking.

On June 21st, 1959 I had my surgery to repair my hernia.  This was the first surgery I had since I was nine years old when I had my tonsils taken out.  I remember at that time I was knocked out with ether.  All I remember before going out was sinking into a black and white spiral.  This time I was knocked out without the B & W spiral.  However, when I woke up I had this tremendous pain in my left abdomen.  It felt like I had been slashed with a sword.  Actually, I had been cut open on my left abdomen right through all that muscle.  It was the same as if I had been on a medieval battlefield. Damn it hurt!  

As I came out of my anesthesia haze, I saw my Mother sitting beside my bed looking at me.  She said they had operated on me and the operation was a "success." 

I was in the hospital for the next nine days. On Tuesday June 30th, 1959 I was discharged from the hospital with a huge bandage on my left side, which I had to change daily.  It still hurt like hell.  I was so sore.

Chester County Hospital - where I was born in 1941 and almost died in 1959

I was given instructions to "go easy" and not to walk too much and definitely don't do steps.  Thus I began my convalescence from this very invasive hernia surgery at home.

One week....two weeks....three weeks...gradually the soreness of the gigantic cut in my left abdomen subsided only to be replaced with pounding headaches.  Since I wasn't allowed much physical activity I attributed my headaches to my lack of exercise and sitting around our house all day eating family size bags of potato chips and boxes of Whitman chocolates.  I was bored. 

Yes, I ate everyone - I ate so many boxes of chocolates those days that I haven't eaten any since

My weight ballooned from 160 to 202 pounds.  My headaches got worse.  At time my headaches got so bad I couldn't even stand up.  I had to lie eat my potato chips and chocolate candy.
Me, 17 years old and 200 lbs - my heaviest weight ever

When my headaches got to where they felt like an anvil banging in my head, my Mother took me back to Dr. Specter.  He was annoyed (as usual) and said nothing was the matter with me.  I believed him.  After all I was lazing around the house, stuffing my face and getting no exercise.  He said I should get more exercise. 

We went home.  My headaches became worse.  We went back to the, two and then three times.  The last time we visited him he shouted to my Mother "There's nothing the matter with him!  It's all in his head!" 

We returned home again.  By now I was popping aspirin like Pez tablets, hoping to alleviate the pain of my splitting headaches (which I can remember so well even to this day).  I had to lie down, I could not stand or walk; the pain was that great.  I actually believed the doctor that it was "all in my head." 

Then one night, I awoke in the middle of the night and my headache was gone.  I turned over in bed and I felt something sticky on my side.  I smelled a sickeningly sweet odor.  I thought I had the biggest wet dream ever.  I turned on the light.  What I saw in my bed, what I was lying in, was a huge mass of purple and red pus.  My incision was open!

I panicked.  I thought my guts were going to fall out if I got out of bed.  I called for my Mother whose bedroom ajoined mine.  She came in and looked aghast at the mess in my bed.  I was confused and scared.  I wasn't in pain but my foot look incision was opening and closing like a mouth everytime I moved.  I was in shock.

My Mother called the ambulence.  It was about three o'clock in the morning when the ER people snaked their way through our narrow ranch house to my bedroom.  They placed me on their gurney.  Again, I was so afraid my insides would fall out.  I only had my tee shirt on.  I had removed my underwear because it was soaked with that sickenly sweet pus.

The ER guys took me out of the house and slide the gurney with me on it into the back of their ambulence with the flashing lights twirling around.

They roared out of our driveway, down Hopewell Road, then Creek Road into Downingtown.  By now it was about five in the morning and people were starting to stir for a new day.  The ambulance went screaming down Lincoln Highway (Route 30), right through the center of town.  It's funny to think of it now but my main concern then was how embarrassed I was to be riding through the center of town in this ambulance with only my tee-shirt on.  Of course my lower extremeties were covered with a blanket but still, why did the ambulance have to have all glass windows on BOTH sides?

Note:  this is the type of ambulance they took me to the hospital in - glass windows on both sides right through the center of town! Not like today's ambulances which look like Brink's trucks. (Disregard Buddy Ebsen and David Canary at the beginning of this video and the Los Angeles Freeway.  This was the only You Tube video I could find that had the same kind of Cadillac ambulance with the see through windows that took me through the center of my hometown, sirens screaming and lights flashing so everyone could see me!)

After the ambulance careened through the main street of Downingtown it continued onward to Rt. 322 and the Chester County Hospital in West Chester, the hospital where I was born 17 years earlier.
Chester County Hospital - West Chester PA - the beautiful Mediterranean style building where I was born in 1941

When the ambulance arrived at the hospital I didn't go through the main entrance but instead the ambulance went around the back and entered the hospital through a below ground level garage, the "Contagian Unit."  I still remember the sign outside the entrance:



Hospital contagion ward similar to the one I was put in 1959 - very 1930's

I didn't remember the rest of the diseases, all I remember is that they were listed in alphabetical order and if I didn't die of what I had I surely would die of something I caught in the Contagion Ward. What I do remember clearly was that I couldn't get out and the windows were wire mesh.

This is how I would receive visitors during my month long stay in the contagion ward. 

Next up, the highly infectious and contagious disease that shot me like a wet wad out of a cannon into the hospital Contagion Ward.


pat888 said...

Ron - I had to skim over some of this quickly - I admit I have no stomach for incisions and open wounds. And the irony of your doctor saying it's all in your head - about your headaches. But 202 pounds - you - that's hard to believe.


Jon said...

Ron, what an incredible story!! You have me riveted to my seat, in shock and pain. I feel like I'm there.
Don't keep us waiting in breathless anticipation. Hurry with the next episode!

Amanda said...

Poor Ron! That doctor was a real SOB! No compassion or empathy. He must have lived a really miserable life and didn't deserved to be called Doctor!

nitewrit said...


Ah, the memories of kneeling outside by your window to speak to you. Lots of entries in my mom's diary of our visits to you there. But you made it and you were able to go in the Army. We both could have checked out early, you then, and I in 1948 0r 49 from burst appendixes. My experience was similar, except I didn't get infected or contagious.


anne marie in philly said...

I had my tonsils out in that hospital in 1960. NASTY ASS PLACE!!!!! I would NEVER go back there!

Ron said...


Believe me, I have no stomach for incisions either. I think in one of my previous lives I must have been killed or wounded in battle with a sword because I have an irrational fear of sharp instruments, especially knives. Me at 202 lbs? I could carry the weight because I was 6'4" at that time but I did feel very uncomfortable. When I finally got into the Army six months later I dropped me weight to 160. After the Army I got as low as 145 but that was really too low. I would like to get back to 160. I'm 170 now.


Ron said...

Sometimes even I have a hard time believing what happened to me. I think back on those days like it was someone else. There is more to come. It gets more unbelievable.


Ron said...


Years later Dr. specter apologized to my Mother. He never did apologize to me. He wasn't a very nice person and definitely had no bedside manner plus I believe he was incompetent.


Ron said...


Ah yes, I remember all the times my Mother had to knell on the ground outside that "cage window" to where my bed was just to visit with me.
I thought I would never get out of there alive. I seemed the only way to get out of there was to die like what happened to that 13 year old kid who was in the cubicle next to me.

Ron said...

Anne Marie,

We just missed each other! I got out of that hospital in November of 1959.


Anonymous said...

OH MY GOD! How awful! So glad you burst open before it killed you!

Peace <3

Ron said...


You're ahead of me. That's the next chapter, if my incision hadn't busted open it would have killed me because that infection would have gotten in my blood stream. I found that out several years later.


Jon said...

One more thing, Ron - thanks for the long, wonderful comment you left on my "Are We Still Friends?" post. It was greatly appreciated.

Anonymous said...


Hope there was a law suit which brought about an apology and a FAT check ! That's malpractice on the part of the doctor and hospital.
My guess would be non sterile instruments; doctor did not scrub properly; or he left something in there - oops ! that's where that sponge
went that was on the floor abter that last hemroid repair ! His license should have been pulled. Let's hope you got a new doctor after
that ordeal ! Funny you're telling this after my hernia repair last fall. But, I was taking antibiotics post op surprised you weren't? That
doctor was a quack!!
Can't wait to hear "the rest of the story"....
Stuart in FL

Ur-spo said...

cool ! bubonic plague! awesome !!

Randy in NEB said...

Ron, The SO CALLED doctor sound like a real Quack!! I'm glad you made it out alive. I'm glad you're here to talk about it. Even after 50 years plus it's still scary to think about! In November of 1959 I was 6 months old, just starting out.

Ron said...

And don't forget leprosy. That was also on the sign. That's the one that really freaked me out.


Ron said...


Dr. Specter was a terrible doctor. From my vantage point now I can see that. Back then in the Fifties, the Great Unwashed was brainwashed to believe and follow whatever the doctors said. Of course now I view doctors with a lot more skepticism.

You were only six months old in 1959? If I had met you then I really would be robbing the cradle. :)


Ron said...


Back then in the Fifties the general populace was brainwashed that doctors were Gods and whatever they said was to be followed without question. Then when they screwed up, no thought was EVER given to suing or even asking for an apology. I remember back then that all I thought about was if and when I was ever going to get out of the hospital. The last thought in my mind or my Mother's was suing the doctor, which of course today we would do without question because Dr. Specter ignored my complaints and grossly misdiagnosed me. By the way, he didn't perform the operation, it was some young Pakistani or Indian doctor. I remember him visiting me the night before the operation. And no, I wasn't taking antibiotics post op. What saved me was all the aspirin I took. That burst open my incision. I'll write about it in my next posting.


Ron said...


You are absolutely one of my favorite bloggers and people. Absolutely. My likeness for you has nothing to do with being gay (or straight). I just think you're a fine, talented, compassionate and unique and very interesting person. You don't have one false bone in you. I like that.