The summer I turned 11, a health problem developed involving my blood and my kidneys. It all started out with a mosquito bite on my ankle. It itched, I scratched it, and of course the skin was broken and a sore appeared. Being a kid who lived within a block or 2 from the Mississippi back-waters, and having had multitudes of mosquito bites, it was no big deal.
Somehow this particular mosquito bite became a big deal. I suspect that the problem began when I went wading in a creek over at Olive Branch, Illinois, while visiting my cousins. We loved to wade in the creek across from their house to look for craw-dads and minnows. I don’t know for sure the source of the water and streams running into that creek, but back then there were no regulations regarding pollution. The open sore on my ankle was a prime target for germs and bacteria.
When I got home from visiting my cousins, Mom noticed that my ankle was swelled and that I was limping a little. She didn’t notice the open sore and assumed that I had somehow sprained my ankle. To give my ankle extra support, she put one of those thick, tan-colored ankle supports on my ankle. It stayed on my ankle for several days, maybe even a week, I don’t remember.
Meanwhile, underneath the support bandage, the mosquito bite had turned into an infected open wound, unbeknownst to me. I really didn’t pay that much attention to the situation.
Around this same time, I had noticed that my urine had turned a pretty pink color and did not realize that this was not a good sign. I just liked the pink color and did not mention it to anyone. As the days went by, the pink got darker and eventually turned a dark red. Still, I was not alarmed and did not make any mention of it.
One day I went into the bathroom and forgot to flush before leaving the bathroom. My mom went in immediately after me and then came back out and asked me about what she had just seen in the bathroom. I told her that that was the color of my urine. She immediately called a doctor and he told her to bring me over to his office right away.
We went to Dr. Seabaugh’s office (Russell Seabaugh, I think). He took one look at the urine specimen we brought in and told Mom to take me straight to the hospital and not to stop at home to get pajamas.
It turned out that, according to the doctor, that sore on my ankle was the source of the problem. It had become infected and then, being covered up, was not able to heal from the inside out; so, the infection entered my bloodstream causing blood poisoning. From there, the infection spread over my body through my bloodstream, and landed in the most susceptible part of my body, my kidneys. I was diagnosed with acute nephritis, an inflammation of the kidneys.
Nowadays, an antibiotic would be given and the patient would be right back to normal within a short time, a few weeks maybe. But, back then, it was a totally different story. I was given sulfa drug, put on a salt-free diet, and restricted to bed-rest indefinitely, with absolutely no physical activity. I was not allowed to attend school for the entire school year – 6th grade
While I was in the hospital, I didn’t really feel all that bad, so I was up running around the halls bare-footed. The nurses were always sending me back to my room but I really didn’t want to stay put. After all the tests were finished Dr. Seabaugh came in one day and wanted to talk to me and my mom about what they had determined the problem was and what the prognosis was. I think maybe he wanted to get across to me how important it was that I be on complete bed-rest and follow all his directions in order to get well. He told me that there were 3 possible outcomes of the disease: 1. complete recovery, 2. chronic nephritis which I would have for the rest of my life, or 3. death. He assured me that he believed that I could completely recover IF I complied with his directions. When he put it that way, you better believe I was going to do whatever he said!
So, I stayed in my bed, I ate no salt, I took my medicine, and I rested for an entire year. And I was scared…..every night I would pull the covers up over my head and beg God to let me live. I promised Him that if He let me live I would be good for the rest of my life. (He did let me live but I didn’t keep up my end of that bargain…..bargaining with God is useless I found out later in life. Once I was better, I did try hard to be good, but failed miserably.)
As you may imagine, in a year’s time, I became as weak as a wet noodle. I couldn’t even walk from my bedroom to the kitchen without great difficulty. My recovery was extremely slow and I was isolated from the rest of the world for the most part.
Since I was not allowed to attend school during 6th grade(1961-62), a teacher was assigned to come to my home and give me my school lessons. Her name was Mrs. Slinkard. She was a very heavy-set woman who struggled to get up the steep flight of stairs in front of our house. I suppose she was middle-aged, because she had some gray hair. Her hair was cut short and she always wore a house dress, as most women did in those days. She had a very pleasant personality, and was a gentle soul. She and I became close and she spoiled me by bringing me gifts. She would often bring me cookies from the bakery and once she brought me candy made from maple syrup that she had bought when she went on vacation to another state. I looked forward to her visits. She didn’t come every day, maybe once or twice a week.
Mrs. Slinkard loved me and I loved her. My step-father had a dislike for Mrs. Slinkard. He always treated her nice to her face, but would call her names and make fun of her when she was on her way up the stairs to our front door or on her way back down the stairs when she left. He would also pretend to kick her in the rear end when she was going out the door. Of course she did not realize this because she had her back to him. (I seethed with anger silently every time this occurred, which was every time Mrs. Slinkard came to our house. I was too afraid of the consequences to confront him about it though. )
While I was on bed rest for the year of 1961-62, I listened to the radio – KXOK St. Louis, MO. Johnny Rabbitt was the famous deejay for that station. I can still remember the station jingle: ♫Kay-ay-ay-ex-oh-kay-ay, Saint Lou-iss, Mizz-oor-ee♫. I listened to that transistor radio all day every day and into the night. If anybody wants to know the words to any hit rock n roll song of 1961 0r 62, just ask me. I memorized every word to every song that was played on that station for that entire year. If I could be guaranteed only questions about those songs, I could win Who Wants to Be a Millionaire easily. Unfortunately, this vast knowledge is pretty useless except for when I am with my buddies from Cape and we are doing the oldies but goodies sing-along. (Yes, I am talking about you, Patty Turner, and Donna Niemeier, my old dancing buddies) But I digress. Back to my sick bed story.
My mom’s old boss from Deneke Drug (on Broadway) had a daughter named Joy. At one time in the past we had lived in the summer house on their property at Fairview Place, aka Estesbrook (private drive). Joy had a set of Nancy Drew mystery books which she loaned to me while I was bed-ridden and I read an entire book every day. I was crazy about those stories and soon finished the entire series.
I learned how to paint by number and how to embroidery that year also. My mother purchased a china tea set (which I still have in my closet) for me that year and she served me my meals in those teeny, tiny dishes. I thought that was just about as good as it got having my very own set of dishes. They were so attractive too, with pink roses painted on them. I actually had a salt & pepper shaker that were about an inch long. Of course I couldn’t use the salt shaker since it was doctor’s orders that I eat no salt. Mom made sure that none of my food was salted when she was cooking.
I had a baton that I had found in a creek back at Fairview Place and I knew how to twirl it. During the year that I was supposed to be on bed-rest, I also would twirl that baton. Now I did it lying down so I thought that made it ok, but, alas, my baton disappeared when I was caught by my grandmother.
When summer came the doctor allowed me to lie outside in a lounge chair, then gradually to take short walks. At first I had to stay in my own yard, but, eventually I was allowed to go for a walk down the alley 1 block. I was able to go back to school beginning in the 7th grade. For the next 4 years, I was allowed to attend school but was not allowed to eat salt and had to continue the medication. P.E. was not allowed until I was 14 or 15.
Even while I was recovering from this illness there was both physical and emotional abuse at home. My mother was working every day but my step-father was a construction worker who was often on unemployment. Even when he had work it was dependent on the weather since his work was outdoors. When he was home, he was drinking.
One day soon after I came home from the hospital he came to the doorway of my room with some envelopes that had just come in the mail. He had been drinking and said to me with a disgusted look on his face and a snarl on his lips, “I wish you would hurry up and die so I could quit paying these medical bills.”
His words terrified me. I remembered the doctor telling me that I could die from the disease I had. When my step-father said those words to me I came to the conclusion that I was going to die and that my mother was too afraid to tell me. Until the doctor allowed me to start taking walks I really thought that I was slowly dying. That was the real reason I put the blankets over my head every night and that was the real reason that I started trying to bargain with God to let me live.
When I began taking walks down the alley, I cannot put into words how thrilled I was! I had been allowed to live and I was so very thankful. I no longer took for granted being able to be outdoors and to see nature in all its glory. I started noticing things that I hadn’t paid any attention to before, like the sky and the trees, flowers, birds, all the beauty that had always been there but that I had not really seen. It was exhilarating to be back among the living!