Friday, April 19, 2013


My six year old grandson, Andy, had an emergency appendectomy a few weeks ago and had rather a long siege of it.  After a day or two of complaining of a stomach ache and running a temperature, he worsened during the night and was taken to the emergency room.

After the surgery, he was removed to the children's ward and one or the other of his parents stayed with him until he was ready to go home.

The appendix had burst and he did not respond well to the antibiotics.  He would shuffle around the hall on command, but felt miserable and kept a temperature.  An infectious disease specialist was called in and things were changed.

A new antibiotic was substituted and a gastric tube was inserted.  (There was strenuous objection from Andy about this procedure and three adults were needed to hold him still.)

Finally, he started to improve, temperature going down to normal and, best of all, the removal of the dreaded tube.  He could eat real food and enjoy his many visitors.

I was in awe of the children's ward and all it's new gadgets and high-tech equipment.  First, each child had his own small room with bed, chair, private bath, television set and, in Andy's case, a machine which contained a combination of antibiotics and painkillers which he could activate himself by pushing a button.

Six years old and the child had his own fix.  His temperature was taken by a state of the art thermometer gently inserted in the outer ear!  His IV stand stood in attendance by his bed.  Nintendo games were wheeled in daily.  The juice cart made its rounds often and was needed to supply sustenance for innumerable cousins and friends who visited at all hours. Indeed, as far as I could see, there were no strict visiting hours.

The night before he went home, he took me down the hall to show me a marvelous playroom for ambulatory kids.  Drawings and pictures adorned corridor walls and bright balloons hung at the nurse's station.  How could he bear to leave?

I could not help but think back on my own appendectomy and compare it with Andy's.

Mine took place fifty-five years before in a small but respected hospital in northeastern Pennsylvania.  I was eight years old and had had a persistent pain in the lower abdomen for several days. 

My mother decided to take me to the doctor and, after a rude poking around and a sticking of my finger with a needle, I was taken to Shipe's bookstore and allowed to buy the very latest Honey Bunch book.  That all but made up for the trip to the doctor.

That evening, my mother gently told me we were going to Danville to the hospital.  This brought tears, but off we went.
I was nervous on the twenty mile ride from Shamokin, but my parents tried to keep me calm.

At the hospital, there were a lot of lights and corridors and nurses going by and, finally, a little room where I had to take off all my clothes and put on a hospital gown.  Then a nurse began to shave my stomach.  Why, I wondered.  What was there?

"Is it going to hurt?" I remember asking my mother.  "No," she answered soothingly at the same time as the nurse said briskly:  "Of course it'll hurt."

I started to cry, but there wasn't time to think about it as I was wheeled into the operating room.  There were big lights and people with masks on and a funny looking cone-like thing was put over my nose.  It smelled awful and I was told to breathe in and count to ten.  I didn't get far at all and remember lots of exploding stars.

I awoke in a small cubicle and asked for water as soon as I saw a nurse.  I promptly threw this up and then was given ice chips to suck on. 

I was finally taken to a big, dimly lighted room with eight or ten beds occupied by sleeping children.  I was carefully lifted to one of the vacant beds and, after one more look around at my new home, I went to sleep.  This was the children's ward and I was to stay there for a week.

When I woke, it was morning and nurses and orderlies were bringing breakfast trays.  I looked around at all of the children, some getting in and out of bed, one with a cast and one child hidden in the corner with tubes and IV stands around and a curtain partially drawn around his bed.  I found out later that he was very ill and, at visiting hours, one of his parents would bring his cocker spaniel around to the window so that he could look out at it.  He wasn't expected to go home.

I hurt some and had a big bandage on my stomach with a lot of adhesive tape.  I wasn't allowed to get out of bed for almost the whole week that I was in the ward.  I had to use the bed pan and that brought a lot of moaning and groaning and complaining on my part.

There was a strict visiting hour after lunch and my mother came faithfully every day with some little gift or other and stories about our cocker spaniel.  This visit, however, always seemed to make me tired and I invariably fell asleep before the time was up.

The big event of the second day was my first real food.  At last!  The tray was brought in, the cover removed and I saw a soggy piece of bread swimming in milk.  This was called milk toast and was supposed to be a treat, but, hungry though I was, I disliked it intensely.  I was glad when real food was brought in for the next meal.

There was a big table in the center of the ward with picture books, jigsaw puzzles and other things to play with.  I longed to get to it.  Since I could not, I entertained myself with looking at the other children, laughing at the two boys who threw a ball back and forth during what was supposed to be nap time and, finally, reading my Honey Bunch book.

A day or two after I was brought into the ward, I made friends with the girl in the next bed.  She was older than I--at least 10 - and lent me her book to read which was a Judy Bolten mystery.  It seemed very grown up to me and I loved it.  Honey Bunch was forgotten.

I don't remember any treatment other than an occasional pill and a check on my temperature and the big bandage covering the cat-gut stitches.

The day before I was to go home, I was told I could get out of bed.  I was so wobbly on my feet that two nurses had to assist me to the longed-for table in the middle of the room, but I did it.

I said goodbye to the other children in the ward and was taken back home in the car.  It was good to see familiar surroundings and say hello to Timmy, the dog.  He was always polite and friendly, but he was really my father's dog.

I took a lot of naps during the first days home and walked around bent over for awhile.  Finally, I visited the surgeon again and had the cat-gut stitches removed.  I went back to school and was a celebrity for a week or so.

In the beginning, it was scary and painful for both Andy and me.  Not really a fun time.  I have told Andy that he could show his scar in school for Show and Tell and that my scar is much bigger than his even though we aren't going to compare.


  1. Your mother's style of writing really pulls you in. I'm really enjoying it! I'm from Shamokin, but I live in Mount Carmel now.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Leslie. I'm glad you are enjoying these little stories.

      Four summers ago I visited Shamokin for the first time, and took pictures of my mother's old houses. A very picturesque little town.