I was born in the Good Shepard Home. It is not a hospital. It is a home for unwed mothers. My mother was “paying” for either giving in to her boyfriend or giving in to her own desires to be really close to somebody. I had my tonsils out in Dr. Smith’s office on West Main St. The aesthetic was ether administered by a nurse. I cut my right index finger on the lid of a Habitant Yellow Pea Soup can. Three stiches in Dr. Smith’s office.
I wasn’t in a proper hospital until I contracted pneumonia in Biloxi Mississippi. I was in the Air Force. And despite the treatment prescribed by my instructors and fellow airmen, lots of Jack Daniels, I went to sick call and was admitted to the base hospital. X rays and listening by the doctors placed me on an eight bed war. Alone. Alone with seven really, really neatly made beds, old Life magazines and a crappy radio stuck on a country station. My visitors, doctors, nurses and orderlies brought examinations, shots, medication and meals wearing masks. I was there for three weeks. I had a lot of time to think. Every day I spent in the hospital was a day out of school and pushing my graduation farther away. When I got out I tried to catch up and failed.
Leaving Biloxi brought me to Rantoul Illinois. I aced school. When assignments were given out I had most time in service so I went to Japan, for two years. I perfected drinking and carousing. When my our was over I made every attempt to get an assignment close to home. An aside: If the military does something nice for you they will do something equally or twice as bad to keep the balance. I was sent to Minot Air Force Base in Minot North Dakota. It was legendary behind Tulle Greenland as an armpit assignment. The base was run by the Strategic Air Command, that didn’t help. When I got there the wind was blowing, that never ended. In time I learned the base commander was a prig and under the thumb of the local ministries. There were no stag nights. For non military a stag night is compose of cheap beer and steaks accompanied by strippers and music interspersed by dirty comedians. Not very PC. But essential in a place where the town is more than ten miles away and the townsfolk aren’t really all that friendly except when you helped their economy. A guaranteed chick magnet was a yellow Dodge Duster or a pick-up truck. I had neither. I drank and became depressed. Depressed to the point I tried to hang myself. My roommate walked in and I was transported to John Moses Hospital in downtown Minot. I was kept in a room with a bed with no sheets or pillow for three days. My meals came delivered by an orderly who had me back against the wall. He’d put the tray on the floor, back out and watch me eat with a plastic spoon through a window. Then he’d reverse the process. When they let me out I wandered around on the ward and was under supervision. A step too close to an open window brought a nurse. I met a girl, she was sick. Something internal she couldn’t explain and the staff couldn’t put a finger on. She wore a Honeysuckle perfume. We fell in love. She was married to an Airman from Maine. There was nothing physical between us but the staff tried to keep us apart. They learned she had a calming effect on me. I talked to her about strings she had that tied her to her husband. I was transferred. She sent me a letter to my next hospital, thanking me for reminding her of the “strings”. It was Honeysuckle scented. I kept it for thirty years.
I was transferred to Wichita Falls Texas. It was a proper psychiatric facility. There were medications, tests, one on one counseling, field trips and lots of meetings. It helped. The staff cared and they wanted me healed, cured was impossible. I learned to manipulate the day pass system to go to the bowling alley to drink 3.2 beer. It wasn’t a good thing to do but at that time anything was a release from the ward. I stayed there six months. I was discharged back to Minot for my last month of military service. I was given barracks duty and generally shunned by everybody. I got what I wanted, an Honorable Discharge. No had to know about Texas unless I told them..
I got home and into college. My drinking was controlled. Until a family dinner. I got into an argument with my father. It had been brewing. There was wine. As a family who sold liquor there was always wine. I might have stormed out telling the assembly to F**k off. I might have hit a few bars, okay eight. I closed a bar and was headed home I had a feeling my clothes would be on the front lawn. somewhere between the bar and my house I decided “F**k it. I’m going to kill myself.” I tried to drive my 1963 Ford Galaxy through a 200 year old tree. The car was totaled, I got stiches in my head and right ear. I was admitted to New Britain General Hospital. I told the doctor what I’d tried to do and he made note. I was watched and visited by psychiatrists, they asked questions. A Catholic priest visited, he wasn’t really too thrilled with my choice and gave me a minisermon on what God wanted and Jesus’ views on the subject of suicide. College students usually don’t have hospitalization insurance and viewing my relations with my father I wasn’t on his. I got transferred to the VA Hospital. Treatment was intense, sessions, meetings and Thorozine. (Google it) I had weekend passes and spent a lot of time alone. I was there two months and when I was discharged I was introduced to outpatient treatment.
I moved along. My ups and downs were medicated away. I had a session with my therapist. When I arrived I wasn’t well. Some questions and a consult with a psychiatrist I was sent home to pack a bag a d return the next morning. I took the bus in and was admitted. It seemed I was in need of a tune-up. I spent six uneventful weeks watching my fellow patients. On my last visit the patients weren’t too far removed from the Vietnam War. This time the crazy had time to ferment. The prior vets were PTSD, these guys were refugees from divorces that trashed their brains, drugs, jobs that burned them out to the point they had no proper direction and the World in general.
The next time came courtesy of the VA. Back to New Britain General. My therapist had determined I was bipolar. She prescribed Lithium. There were no follow up blood tests that would have shown my kidneys weren’t getting rid of it. I almost didn’t make it. An ambulance ride. and a memorable question “What’s the black dog doing in the emergency room?” It got me a 23 day coma a psychedelic recovery in ICU and a $90,000 bill. The VA picked up the bill but not without some grief, like delivering piles of bills from service providers and collection agencies to a tiny office hidden in the recesses of the facility. It wasn’t a hospital anymore, it had been demoted.
An umbilical hernia, in my case looked like an awning for my navel. I don’t really remember getting it or it causing me trouble. But as all good things sometimes bad stuff happens. The hernia went septic. The fever and stomach pain brought me back to the VA facility (not hospital) and ambulanced to West Haven VA. I was admitted, fed fruit salad at 7:30, visited by students and doctors, wheeled into surgery a 10:30 and had it fixed by a team from Yale-New Haven Hospital. Yup, that Yale. Four weeks of sucking smuggled ice and not being fed. I had thirteen stiches inside and six staples in my navel which has given me a very interesting scar.
I’m fighting with the VA again. It started a while ago hit a peak Friday. I was pissed Saturday, calmed down Sunday and overreacted today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll try to compromise. This is not a hospital story, it’s a contest with two sides that don’t want to lose even though both sides might be, hell they are wrong.
See you tomorrow.