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Thursday, 15 May 2014

Tapioca and Chocolate Pudding

By Maureen Browning

A stomach ache so painful that I couldn't begin to sit up on the hard wooden chair in the waiting room in the hospital. It was mid-October 1948, and at nearly seven years old, I was too big to sit on my mother's lap and too miserable to sit beside her and lean over onto her lap. So I decided to lie down on the cold linoleum floor by her chair curled up in a fetal position.

As Dr. Swinghammer began the exam, firmly but rhythmically pressing up and down on my sore tummy with the pads of his fingertips, he soon announced to my mother that there was was a “hot” appendix inside my belly. It would have to come out.

I didn't understand exactly what he meant. All I wanted was for my stomach ache to go away.

I tried to listened to Dr. Swinghammer as he assured my mother that surgery would be safe and easy. Surgery was a word I did not know. But when he continued to explain that an appendix was only about the size and shape of a little finger, I was suddenly reminded of my dad's finger – the one he didn't have.

During a high school football game, my dad caught a pass, was tackled and fell to the ground. Another player stepped on his hand and the metal cleats of his shoe crushed the little finger on my dad's right hand.

I guess I was about four years old when I asked my dad about his missing finger. He rather bluntly told me that the doctor had to cut it off because it had been broken and couldn't be fixed.

Now I understood. My appendix would have to be cut off. I was terrified.

As I was being wheeled down a long hallway on a gurney, I lost sight of my mother and by the time I was lifted onto the operating table, I was desperately begging for her. I was told the rules would not allow her to be in the operating room. I began to cry.

The people all around me were wearing white clothes and masks. One of them tried to put something over my nose and mouth. I jerked my head from side to side and started to scream while turning and twisting on the table. Then another one held my head still and others around me held my arms and legs down.

I continued to struggle and scream. I was still screaming when suddenly I smelled the ether – the horrible, pungent, stinging smell of ether. It stuck in my throat and burned like fire. I could not breathe.

When I woke up hours later, I could still smell the ether. Then the retching began and I couldn't make it stop. My throat was on fire and my stomach hurt worse than ever.

Huge tears rolled off my cheeks. More than anything, I just wanted to go home. Finally, the retching stopped and I fell asleep.

When I woke up, a nurse was standing over me with a glass of water and a huge white pill to swallow. After several tries with her instructions on how to swallow the pill, and to her dismay, I choked every time.

Giving up, she decided to crush a pill and mix it with sugar. I swallowed that bitter mixture with water and within seconds it came right back up. Then she mixed a crushed pill into some slippery mushed up cherry Jell-O. It was bitter too, but it stayed down.

Over the next few days, I slept most of the time. The nurses continued to bring my crushed pills in flavored Jell-O until one day a nurse surprised me by mixing them in puddings. It took me only minutes to discover that my favorites were tapioca and chocolate.

A week later, I was well enough to go home. As I followed my mother up our back steps into the kitchen, I immediately noticed the aroma of her homemade caramel- topped cinnamon rolls. That wonderful smell helped mask the odor of the molecules of ether that still clung to the membranes in my nasal passages and throat.

The rolls were on the counter and there were two bowls of pudding, one of tapioca and one of chocolate on a shelf in the refrigerator.

Finally I was home without a stomach ache and without my appendix. To this very day, I still love tapioca and chocolate pudding.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a great story. My surgery for said naughty organ was much less exciting. Thanks for sharing.

MB, good story, brought it all back...it was my tonsils...
and they force fed me sulfa, which I was allergic to..

I can still remember that horrible smell of ether just the way you described. I had some when my tonsils were taken out. About 5 years old. You described this very well. To this day I cannot stand that odor.

I also remember it well.

I had appendicitis when I was 10 years old in 1939.I was rushed to the hospital in Philadelphia which was a very big deal then.

The ether smell you describe
is one I will never forget.It made my throat sore,like yours.

To add to the similarities in our stories, my Mother whipped up some delicious chocolate pudding and I also love chocolate pudding to this day.

You brought back a lot of nice memories to me with your story. One memory is that my little sister would not go out to play the whole time I was in the hospital because she told my Mother that all the neighbors pestered her and gave her such an argument over "How's Nancy? How's Nancy?"

I still have my appendix, but I lost my tonsils at age 4, and I remember having an out-of-body-experience during the surgery, to this day. I got lots of ice cream!

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