Friday, May 3, 2013

Of Tonsils And Riots

I threatened here to write about my tonsillectomy experience some day. Today is some day.

I was one of those kids who got tonsillitis. A lot. Usually along with an ear infection. My mom never had to tell me to wear a hat outside in the winter, because I KNEW what it would do to my ears (and I had a bunch of really cute hats, all crocheted - it was the late 60s - early 70s, after all). In fact, my right ear hurts RIGHT NOW just with the memory of all those sore throats and ear aches of my childhood.

I used to scream and cry and hold onto the coffee table with my toes to keep my mom from taking me to the doctor, because, inevitably, there would be a penicillin shot in the end (no pun intended).

Eventually, our family doctor decided it was time for the tonsils to come out, which was certainly not uncommon during that era. Surgery was scheduled for April 10, 1968, at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Kansas City. It was five days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I was seven years old.

The Lorraine Motel, Memphis

I went to school as usual on April 9, the day before my surgery, but my mom told me not to get a lunch, because she and my dad would be there to pick me up and take me to the hospital before then. I told all my classmates how I was leaving to get my tonsils out. I was hot shit.

Lunch time neared, and my parents didn't come.

The class went to lunch, but I didn't get a tray. Just sat there sadly, waiting.

My classmates began to mock me, saying I was lying about getting my tonsils out.

Finally, my parents arrived, having been delayed when my dad couldn't leave work when he had planned. I wasn't a big ol' liar after all. 

Once at the hospital, we went to the admitting office. It was pretty much the same long, boring process it is now (computerization has NOT sped up this process one itty bitty bit). My suitcase was beside us, and I pulled out the Raggedy Ann doll my Grandma Mary had given me because of my surgery. She had a music box inside her (Raggedy Ann, not my grandma). I had Raggedy Ann in my lap for all of five seconds when I dropped her onto the hard tile floor.

I snatched her up, checking her over for injuries. I then tried to wind up the music box.

And it was broken.

She's had a rough life....

It was a very sad girl that was taken up to the 8th floor of the hospital. My bed would be in a ward with room for eight children. My side of the room had three beds and a crib. The crib and one bed were empty. We were immediately greeted by the occupant of the other bed, a girl named Charmaine who was a year younger than I was, had half of her hair shaved off under a large bandage, and was there because she had been hit by a car and suffered a skull injury. Although, if it weren't for the fact that half of her head was swathed in a bandage, you would never know anything was wrong with her, as she hopped around the room and talked non-stop.

My parents settled me into my bed and gave me some gifts, which included a Magic 8 Ball - sweet! Charmaine sat on my bed while I opened my gifts and chattered about the other kids in the ward, one of whom had had her tonsillectomy earlier that day and was still sleeping off her anesthesia.  As we were playing with the Magic 8 Ball, a nurse came in the room with a wheelchair and the tonsillectomy patient was loaded sleepily into it and wheeled away.

I was awestruck. A wheelchair? I'd get to leave in a WHEELCHAIR? This was the life! It almost made the Raggedy Ann incident okay.

Charmaine, who had been in the hospital for some time, took me down the hall to visit the playroom. All the hospital personnel knew her, and she pretty much had the run of the place. The playroom was a big bore, and I wanted to go back to our room and get in bed with my Raggedy Ann, my blankie and my stuffed dog (creatively named "Snoopy"). But when I got there, Snoopy and blankie were gone. Panic and tears again, and after a little searching, my mom found them under the crib in our room. That little prankster Charmaine hid them. (I think we can all begin to see how she might have been capable of darting out in front of a car and getting hit.)

It cost extra in those days to have access to the tv in your hospital room, and my parents did not have the kind of money to spend on something like a tv for the few short hours I would be in the hospital. But the parents of a child on the other side of the ward did pay for one, and my parents  kept disappearing over there to watch something that was unfolding in Kansas City.

See, that was the day of Dr. King's funeral. And since his death, there had been rioting in cities across America. Chicago. Baltimore. Washington, D.C. And now, Kansas City. It began with a student march outside City Hall, protesting the government's failure to close schools on this day. The deployment of tear gas on the protesters by police was the catalyst to two days of rioting, resulting in five deaths and nearly a hundred buildings damaged or destroyed.

Some of these buildings were within blocks of the hospital.

 My parents finally, reluctantly, had to leave me and go home. They were terrified of leaving me in the hospital. On their way to our home in the suburbs, they met the National Guard in their armored vehicles, entering the city.

I didn't understand exactly what was happening or why, but I did know that Charmaine and I could stand at the big north-facing window by her bed and see fires glowing. And I would run over and peek at the tv coverage until the mom turned it off so it wouldn't scare me.

My parents came back early the next morning for my surgery, driving down heavily guarded streets, mindful of the possibility of snipers, a smoky haze in the air. 

My surgery was uneventful. My recovery even more so. Then things started to go downhill.

As I was coming out of the anesthesia, my throat was very sore, and I was given a little bowl of Jello.

Lemon Jello.

Who, exactly, gives a 7 year old kid LEMON JELLO?

I cried, and everyone thought I was crying because my throat hurt. I couldn't talk, so I couldn't explain the tears.

Soon, it was time to send me home, and I brightened up inside. Finally, it was time for my wheelchair ride! A nurse came in the room with the wheelchair as my parents gathered my things. My dad then turned to the nurse and said, "She's fine to walk. She doesn't need the wheelchair." 


Crying silently, I shuffled out the door and down the hall with my parents. We got as far as the nurse's station when I threw up.

(That would be the second time IN MY LIFE for this to happen, the third and final time being three years later.)

My only thought was that NOW I would get that wheelchair. But instead of the proffered wheelchair, my dad said he would just carry me, and he did. I continued to cry silently.

I certainly recovered physically from the tonsillectomy, and apparently, in record time, because I asked for, and ate, bacon the very next morning.

But I've never forgotten watching the tv coverage that first night of the riots, nor seeing those flames out the hospital window, not understanding the "why" of it any more than I understood why my parents thought it would be a good idea for me to walk out of the hospital instead of ride in a wheelchair.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Linking to Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop. Prompt #1 -  How old were you? Share one of the first news stories you remember caring about.


  1. And now that you're grown, do you understand why? (I don't.)

    1. I understand the civil unrest a lot more than I do why my dad wouldn't let me ride in the wheelchair.

  2. Oh, I can't even imagine how long that night must have been for your parents. I'm guessing they didn't sleep much. Funny how some things change, but others, sadly, don't.

    1. I can only imagine the horror of seeing all those National Guardsmen heading into town as they left. I seem to recall that they locked down the hospital at some point that night, but I may be wrong about that.

  3. Wow, Dyanne, what a story! I don't know how your folks had the strength to leave you. I think I would have bolted myself to a chair or something.

    1. I'm not sure, either. It was a different time. Hospital rules probably said they had to leave, so they left.

  4. Your hospital stay was certainly at a bad time - I can understand why your parents were worried about leaving you at the hospital!

    I don't blame you for being upset that they offered you lemon jello. I didn't think anyone ate plain lemon jello, I just thought they used that in recipes!

  5. OMG. I was promised an endless supply of ice cream after my tonsillectomy, and I gone none! I'm still bitter about that. Did your Raggedy at play "Twinkle, Twinkle?" Ours look very similar.

    1. I don't remember what song she played, because she only got to play it for, like, a week before I dropped her and broke the music box.

      Obviously, I, too, have bitterness issues stemming from my tonsillectomy. I had to have a baby before I got to ride in a wheelchair!

  6. You certainly were hot shit for getting your tonsils out. What I want to know is why they even created lemon Jello? Yuck.

  7. You certainly were hot shit for getting your tonsils out. What I want to know is who had the bright idea to even create lemon Jello? Did anyone ever think that it looks like pee? Eww.

  8. Great post, Dyanne. My favorite books are the ones written from a perspective of a child, while the significant events in the world about them are explained through that child's experience (Elizabeth Berg, Laura Moriarty, Mary Ann Tirone).

  9. Some things change and some remain the same, it seems. This was really a great story and pretty appropriate in timing. I feel a little sad about all of it. Including the lost wheelchair ride and the lemon jello.

  10. I got my tonsils out when I was 8. I got no gifts. I did have an out of body experience while coming out of the anesthtic where I was floating up near the ceiling watching myself below. Didn't stay in the hospital overnight. Don't remember a wheelchair ride, but probably had one.
    I also remember the riots in Detroit, but the 1967 ones, not after Martin Luther King was killed. I was out of town with my cousins and we drove back into the city. I spent the riot at my grandmother's, a block from where the riot started on 12th street. National guard riding down our street with guns. smoke everywhere.