May 10, 2005

Back to Babies

It’s the summer of 1975 and I am locked away in my room on the 11th floor of Columbia Presbyterian’s Babies Hospital. Well, not exactly locked, but when they leave you in pajamas, and in that neighborhood; I wasn’t going anywhere. Besides a barrage of doctors, interns and nurses, my days were filled with visitors. My parents dropped everything and commuted each day from Long Island. My grandparents also made frequent trips in. As each day passed, and the news of my ‘ordeal’ spread, I started receiving cards and gifts. It was lovely, not only was I very touched by the outpouring, but I was having Christmas in July.

My single was a twelve year olds equivalent of a swinging bachelor’s pad. My folks either brought or bought everything to keep me entertained. I had a tv (no, television wasn’t automatically in every hospital room) a portable record player (yes, for the last time, honest to goodness vinyl albums) a small tape recorder and LOTS of food. On the walls of the room was the growing collection of get well cards as well as a poster of the group Chicago (it came with the album….scroll back if you missed that).

I had daily appointments for various testing and each time someone would appear to wheel me down. I decided that I needed to travel in style, and was soon given a long sleeve black t-shirt made to resemble a tuxedo. I also had my grandfather’s top hat. It was one that you could collapse, and then snap open. So now when I travelled around the hospital I was cool. In actuality they didn’t know what to make of me, and often thought I was supposed to go to P.I. At first I didn’t know what it meant, but just chuckled and corrected the orderly. However, I later asked, and it turns out that P.I. stands for Psychiatric Institute.

One day one of the interns was given what should have been an easy task. He had to take blood. I wasn’t scared of giving blood; they used ‘butterly’ needles which hurt less and weren’t as scary as a long needle. However this moron, I can’t tell you his name, Dr. Krantz, got the needle into me, and I was looking down, when I suddenly saw dark red oozing onto my pajama bottoms; he’s forgotten to put a tube on the OTHER end of the needle. I had my own blood pouring out of a vein, all over me. It was a nightmare. Little did I know then that it would take me over 20 years to recover from it.

Since this was a pediatric hospital, patients ranged from infants to my age and a few even older. For most of that summer, I was the not only the eldest, but the one where the nurses went to grab a piece of candy. With so many little kids around, it was often noisy, even from my suite. When a patient was being ‘observed’ they would stick the kid in a covered bed (thus foiling any escape attempts) . One night a kid, maybe 5 or 6 was in the ‘hallway bunkhouse’ and at 3am decided to start singing. “ABCDEFG…..” at the top of his lungs. At first I tried to ignore it, however it was soon clear that he had no intention of letting up. So I got up and went into the hall to deal with it myself. Here was this young kid, locked in his bed-cage, and here was I a nearly 6 foot older guy. I thought that alone was my advantage. However, when I told him to be quiet, it just strengthened his resolve.

We all know that little kids often need to be approached with tact and guile. So I thought, and decided to use reverse psychology. So I said in my sweetest 3am voice, “ok, now it’s time for big boys to go to sleep…ooooookay?” It worked similar to using an oil soaked rag to put out a fire. So I thought again, and came up with an approach that I knew would work. Again I put on my sweetest voice and said clearly and plainly, “if you do not stop singing, I am going to kill you” and with that I pivotted and walked back into my room. And there was silence. I’m not sure, but I’ve always wondered if that kid’s name was Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Kasinsky….

One day a boy, about my age moved into a room down the hall. I was looking forward to having a friend who didn’t watch Sesame Street or eat strained peas. There was a common room where we were able to go and play a few broken toys, play the out of tune piano or use the record player (yes, for goodness sake, records… big round flat, black things that made music) I had a pile of 45’s in my room and I offered to let this new guy hang on to them and listen to them on this phonograph. He seemed pleased, and the next day there was a commotion in that play room. It seems that after I’d left, instead of playing the records, this kid thought it would be fun to ‘frisbee’ them out the window. Here we were, 11 stories above the street, and imagine the fun of being sliced in half by a spinning vinyl disk. Not only did he toss out all of my records, but a glass ashtray and a few other heavier items. He very quickly disappeared from Babies 11. I imagine kids who toss items out onto unsuspecting bystanders are either put into rooms on the first floor, or are invited to run for mayor.

To end this chapter on a high note, a large envelope arrived one day and when I pulled out the contents, I discovered an 8x10 photo of my hero, Tom Seaver. [if you don’t know, he is a hall of fame pitcher who played for the Mets. When my grandfather got tickets for us at Shea, he did so on days when Seaver was expected to pitch) Written on the picture were the following words, “Get well soon to a real fighter” and of course, his autograph. That went up on the wall and was certainly as potent as any pill in making me heal.

Posted by bbrother at May 10, 2005 08:39 AM | TrackBack

hee hee hee... albums and 45's. Now I don't feel so old... try using the term 8 track. :)

Seriously, when I was much less than 12, I adored Chicago.

Posted by: ethne at May 10, 2005 12:59 PM

When I was about 12, my mother was dating a fella named Gene who worked for the Mets. (I don't remember in what capacity, though.)

So, one evening Gene stops by the house with another couple. As soon as I saw him I thought "Dam but that guy looks like Tom Seaver."

Then I saw his wife/date. "Wow but she looks like Nancy Seaver."

My mother, Gene and "Nancy" went into the kitchen to chat while "Tom" took a seat in the living room just across from me. I had the TV on and he didn't glance at it. He was facing me, with a beer un his hand.

We never said a word to each other. I just kept thinking "Dam but that guy looks like Tom Seaver".

After a while they all went out to dinner. To this day I have no idea if Tom Terrific was sitting in my living room that night just waiting for me to recognize him.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at May 10, 2005 09:01 PM
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