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Were my troubles over? Not quite yet. In September of 1958, Wednesday evening, I had a delicious supper, but lo and behold I threw it right up. That was strange. Ma, what did you cook? My stomach could not stomach it. Tried to eat something we knew was good. I ate again but this came right up too. I tried to drink clear water. Same thing, it would not stay down. "Oh well, forget about it. Go to sleep. Tomorrow things will be better."
But did things get better? No way. Same thing - no matter what I swallowed, it all came back out. I did not feel sick at all, but I began to get hungry and especially thirsty. Friday morning, Jab Decker, a buddy came over while I was in bed. "Jab," I said, "I will give you five dollars if you will shoot me. I feel so rotten." "No," he said, "but I will stab you. A gun makes too much noise, the neighbors may hear it." "No, Jab, no stabbing in this house. Who's gonna clean the bed sheets?"
Yes, we joked for a while but it really was not funny. Ma said,"I'm gonna call the doctor." Which she did. Doc said, "He probably has the flu. Give him some aspirins and keep him in bed."
Saturday around noon, Ma called again and told doc that I was deteriorating to the point I was ready to depart this world. He said, "I will be right over." In no time at all, he was over. He looked at me and decided to take me to the hospital himself. No time to wait for the ambulance. By now, the doctor had decided that I was struck with acute appendicitis. But to make sure, they made me drink some kind of paint thinner, so they could take an x-ray picture to prove it. However, that did not work because as soon as I drank this stuff, I threw it up again. "Well, okay, we will go ahead and take his appendix out."
Right after they poked me with a needle, I lost all contact with the world. When I woke up, several people were standing around my bed, also oxygen bottles and stuff. I said, "Aha, are you gonna operate now?" One nurse said, "No, it is all over with. We are just seeing how you are doing." "Fine, thank you!"
It turned out they had been working on my innards for several hours. First, they were gonna take out my appendix, but when they looked at it, there was nothing wrong, so they put it back in and sewed it up. Now what? Somewhere there was a restriction. Why not take the whole plumbing system out so we can find out? Yes, in time, Dr. Dayel, who handled the knives, told me he removed 12 inches of the small intestines which had been totally plugged. He explained I was probably born with it, but it took that many years to give me trouble. Now back to the healing process.
When the nurse told me it was all over, I sensed something was different. It seemed I had an enormous pile of bandages or blankets covering my belly. And I became aware of what seemed like a big steel claw tearing on my inside, like it was trying to rip out everything that should be left alone.
Great big drops of sweat were forming on my arms. I was amazed how big they became, like little marbles, without rolling away. I studied them for hours. Later on, I started to complain to the nurse and asked her if the doctor was missing a knife, because I was sure something was carving at my tender insides. She said, "No, but I will give you something to ease the pain." I was very grateful, because a whole new world opened up for me. A world so beautiful no words can describe it. I was transferred to a paradise under water, so pure it was clearer than sunshine, colors many times more beautiful than the rainbow. I was there, I experienced the fantastic array of colored gold fish moving around in the most graceful display I never thought possible.
Next day, reality came back and I was again in the old hospital on Riverside Drive. When Ma came to visit me, it seemed to hurt her more to see me like this, than it hurt me. Poor Mom. When the steel claws came back to wrench and tear on my innards, the nurse gave me another dose of the same stuff, and again the pain totally disappeared and I went back to the same unbelievable world of fantasy. However, this was the last shot of Morphine I got, no matter how much I pleaded to help me get rid of this awful pain. She said, "If you got any more of this drug, you will get addicted to it, and that will be worse than the pain you experience now." "Thank you, nurse, I grasp."
The Welland Fair was on at this time of year. From my hospital bed, I could see the lights, and hear the music of the street organs. Ten days later, I could go home and recuperate there as long as no complications set in. I laid around for several days with a drain tube sticking out of my tummy, apparently to let the nose drippings and sweat drops from the confused doctors find their way to the outside. When they pulled this last obstacle out, I went straight back to the old me again in a short time.
One very good thing came out of this mishap. I stopped smoking. I was raised in a society where smoking was practically a must. If you did not smoke, you were considered an odd ball, or someone too cheap to buy cigarettes and offer one to your fellow man. I tried twice before to stop, but both times the addiction won out over common sense. But this time, I was of course too miserable for some time. When I got better and the craving came back, I told myself, "I did not smoke yesterday. I will not smoke today, but tomorrow I will have a smoke, only one more day without a cigarette. I can do it." This lasted for about half a year, then the longing started to ease somewhat, but it took two full years before I really could say, "No more," and meant it. Thank heavens, I was cured.
Appendicitis & Appendectomy from Health Communities, 17 Aug 2011. What Is Acute Appendicitis?
Appendicitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment by Verneda Lights and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, Healthline. Medically Reviewed by Nancy Carteron, MD, FACR, March 8, 2017.
Hollywood and Smoking: A Brief History by Kasia Pilat, Paste Magazine, July 23, 2010.
Smoking and Hollywood: A Complicated History by Kevin Fallon, The Atlantic, July 25, 2010.
Hollywood's Responsibility for Smoking Deaths by Joe Eszterhasaug, New York Times, Opinion Pages, Aug. 9, 2002.
Why should Hollywood quit smoking? By Robbie Collin, The Telegraph, 1 Apr. 2016.