Saturday, February 15, 2014

5 Week Tonsillectomy





Never one to procrastinate, I got started real early on my death - by almost dying as I was being born. I was a breech birth, feet first, with my umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. 

So - my 'at bat' this time around was almost over before I saw my first pitch. I don't have any lasting side-effects of this experience, except that when I get tangled up in my earbud cords I freak. the. fuck. out. 

Two years later, Easter Sunday 1967, I was doing an egg hunt with my siblings and cousins in Grandma Johnson's backyard. I was wearing a white blazer, a red dress shirt, black and white checkered short pants, red knee socks and black patent leather shoes. No, I had nothing to do with selecting this ensemble.


Anyhoo, we have a situation. (I mean, besides the fact that we are celebrating the Death of human Jesus and the rise of zombie Jesus by carrying plastic baskets and looking for sugar coated sugar bombs in shrubbery.)

My head-to-body ratio has never really changed.
No, the problem is this: I am not having any fun with the Easter egg hunt. I am so hot that I can't see straight, let alone find any eggs, and my cousins are obviously helping me out by cheating. My Mother felt my forehead, jumped back, grabbed Grandmas thermometor and I registered 108. So she ran next door, asked to borrow their thermometor, and yep: 108 degrees.

At the hospital I was diagnosed with "Won't Last The Night", and the next morning I was upgraded to "Future Vegetable Matter".

And so began my 5 week Occupy Hospital to have my tonsils removed.

Go ahead and read that last sentence again, slowly. Or read this one: 5 week inpatient for a tonsillectomy. Why? The doctors couldn't get my fever down, and you can't operate on a child until their temperature is stabilized.

Long time readers of Angus-land will know that I have a very freaky body, and I am immune to almost every drug you can throw at me. But the doctors tried anyway, for days on end, while I continued to charbroil at a steady 108, which should have turned me into the kind of person who would wear checkered short pants in public.

Would I wear this outfit today? I probably would.
Eventually, every single doctor at Saint Francis Hospital threw up their hands in defeat. My superpower ability to overheat could not be thwarted!

That is, until in desperation they brought in the ancient emeritus surgeon, who remembered when Saint Francis Hospital had hitching posts out front. He took a long look at me and then threw a dirty look at all of the assembled degrees around us, and growled "Get me a bathtub - full of ICE".

He threw me in and held me under while I screamed bloody murder. My parents first left the room, then the waiting room, and then they had to leave the hospital grounds completely. I was that loud.

I melted most of the ice, but it brought my temperature down. Until, that is, they took me out and dried me off. Then it shot back up to a relatively doable 104 or so. Not enough to pan fry my brain anymore, but too high to operate with.

So back in the tub I went, several times a day, for four and a half weeks. Plus shovel fulls down my throat and freezing cold water up the other end as well.

Tonsil Toddler with Joni (age 7) and Mike (age 14).
Michael is apparently expecting a flood at any moment.
During this month of refrigeration they also tested out many other anesthetics and medicines on me, including a "stop-a-water-buffalo" shot of sodium pentathol, after which I continued to stare at them blankly and play with my legos.

What they learned was that all of these experiments failed to make the slightest dent in my temperature or consciousness. What I learned that nurses were warm and doctors were cold, so when I saw any doctor at all, I freaked. the. fuck. out.

What got me through this ordeal, besides visits from my Mom, was my favorite stuffed animal. And it says something about this future pagan that my familiar was a snake. Pot the Nake was his name. (Hey, I was 2 and having trouble with my 'S's.)

The only problem was that my immune system was shot and I couldn't have anything non-sterile around me. So they centrifuged my best friend. Poor Pot was never the same after that, but I was glad to have him.

Pot the Nake, soaking up the sunshine this morning. 
After 5 weeks they had finally stabilized my temperature and also found a gas that would knock me - or a mastodon - out.

And here's where this story gets weird. No, really!

The question is: Where was my Father during all of this?
(And this is why I write non-fiction. If I put this next tidbit into a fiction story your suspension of disbelief would fall right through the floor......)

The five weeks of me being hospitalized had been rough on my Dad, and his ulcer had perforated. Ouch! So while I was on floor #2 about to have my stomach operated on he was on floor #4 about to have his tonsils removed.

Yeah, pretty much the template for MadMen.
This is a year later (1968), and my Dad still
looks a bit haunted. But I'm a happy camper!
Whoops! Did you catch that? Did I mention that my Dad and I had the SAME NAME? While Junior was screaming bloody murder in my last bathtub full of ice, Senior was on a gurney being wheeled down to Surgery for a tonsillectomy, babbling hysterically about the paperwork screw up that had just happened, terrified that they were about to gut me like a mackeral in search of my 'ulcer'. 

His nurses weren't buying it: "Don't be a baby, Mr. Latham - everyone gets their tonsils out at some point. It will all be over soon......"
"No, really! Think about it! He's only 2! He just eats, poops and plays with Legos. His life is not that stressful!!

Eventually he convinced them to pause long enough to just check the ages on both of our operations. Whew! Quick thinking, Dad! Thanks!

When I was sufficiently frozen they whisked me into Pediatric Surgery, snipped out my infected tonsils, my fever never returned and we both were released the next day. Ta-da!

I turned down all offers of ice cream though.

And in fact I did not eat cold food for years after that.

Carolyn and Bob in 1978. Would you
like some coat with those lapels, sir?
Angus McMahan
angusmcmahan@gmail.com
@AngusMcMahan

P.S. I fact-checked this story with my Mom, who just emailed me this follow-up: "I was having lots of problems at home while you were away. Fortunately I had an understanding boss.  
  • Mike came down with the stomach flu and managed to throw up everywhere for several days. He was not a good patient. When he was not throwing up, he was yelling for me to get him something.  
  • About 2 weeks into this I took Joni to the dentist for a filling. Turned out she was allergic to the anesthetic and her face was so swollen. She was pretty sick for a few days.  
  • Then our dog Pooch fell off the back porch and dislocated her leg. So it was off to the Vet with her.  
  • Toward the 4th week your Dad was throwing up blood, but refused to go to the doctor. So I had to finally haul him to the hospital too. 
  • The good life. (And yes, since you asked, I AM listening
    to music on headphones while I write this.)
  • About 2 days after you came home I tripped and broke my big toe.  
I called Grandma Margaret to come over and take charge. I went to bed and slept for 3 days."

P.P.S. Strangely (and yet typical of me), my appetite did not diminish in the hospital. In fact over the 5 weeks I gained weight. This was the cause of some consternation amongst the medical professionals, especially since the little girl next to me in the Pediatric ward was losing weight at an alarming rate. 

A bit of sleuthing by the nurses showed that after they dropped off our trays and left the room, I was climbing out of my little bed and stealing all of her food.

So that's one way to get a private room in a hospital.

(All photos are from my apparently endless supply of embarrassing pics. The second one, [me reaching for the egg] says, on the reverse, in my Grandmothers perfect Palmer Script handwriting: "The Day He Almost Died")

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