TITLE: Adventures of Ron Huckleberry...#28 Working at Vanderbilt Hospital
By gene hudgens
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Ron describes some very special memories.
My dad was very ill and I was not aware of it. We were living in Huntsville and Dad was still working at Red Stone. Mom and Dad had insured that my little sister and I were not worried with the fears they had.
Years later it was explained to me that Dad had never really realized the importance of caring for his health. He smoked heavily, did not get enough rest, and definitely did not maintain the proper diet. As a child Dad had many disagreements with Grandmother about not caring for his health.
As a young adult during the war, Dad never drank alcohol, but he worked hard long hours and all of his friends smoked. When Mom and Dad married Mom began to smoke. Dad loved sweets and Mom often got up at midnight to make a chocolate pie and Dad would eat half of the pie before going back to bed.
In late 1945 Dad began have stomach problems, but refused to see a doctor for a long time. The local doctor treated Dad for ulcers, but his situation worsened. Finally his sister, Aunt Anne insisted that he come to Vanderbilt for a proper exam. He finally did and the doctors quickly diagnosed stomach cancer.
I think Dad was in and out of Vanderbilt three or four times as the tests were run and treatments were tried. Finally the doctors told Mom that there was nothing they could do for Dad. The told Mom she could try to find a cancer specialist, but there were none in Tennessee.
In 1946 few doctors knew much about cancer. Uncle Findley, Dad’s brother immediately contacted a cancer specialist in Chicago. The specialist talked with the Vanderbilt doctors and was told that the situation was acute. Uncle Findley arranged for the specialist to come quickly to Nashville.
Mom said that the next day after the specialist arrived he performed a a very sophisticated test. The attached a dice shaped device to a string. They then measured the distance they needed from his mouth to the place in his stomach they wanted to take a biopsy. They allowed Dad to swallow the dice until the dice was in the correct location. It was programmed to snap shut automatically and secure a piece of tissue.
His stomach was eatten up with cancer and his liver, kidney and other body functions had ceased to properly function.
The specialist stayed in Nashville to treat Dad for 10 days, but there was nothing then that could be done.
Dad died the tenth day...May 16, 1946. Today doctors would have little problem curing his type of cancer.
Dad often asked if the doctors said he had cancer. Mom and the family always no, you will get well. Until he died he suspected cancer, but no one would cause him more worry by telling him he was going to die.
During the three weeks Dad was in Vanderbilt, Mom, Sis and I lived with Grandmother. Aunt Anne lived in Nashville, so I normally spent the night with Aunt Anne. She always went out of her way to keep me occupied, even though she was an extremely busy secretary in the Pediatrics Clinic.
I remember that Aunt Anne could type very fast, even though she used only two fingers, since she had never learned the proper typing techniques. She had two offices. In the small office there were several file cabinets and two or three desks. At that time there were no fancy copying machines and recorders. She had a Dictaphone machine which was a sort of tape-recorder used for dictation. Actually the recording was done on a large wax cylinder. The person dictating had a machine in which he placed the cylinder. He would speak into a small microphone and the words would be inscribed into the plastic as it turned in the machine.
When the dictation was finished or when the cylinder was full it was removed and a fresh cylinder was inserted into the machine. The cylinder did not hold many minutes of dictation and by the day’s end there were normally many used and full cylinders.
A full cylinder had hundreds of minute lines around the cylinder. As Aunt Anne had time to type, she would load a full cylinder into the machine on her desk in the big office. She would wear earphones and type as she listened to the words on the cylinder. The cylinders could only be used once, so when she was finished with a cylinder it was placed into a large box beside her desk.
The embedded lines on the used cylinders had to be shaved before the cylinder could be used again. There was a machine in the small office for cylinder shaving. Once can imagine this was an antique and slow dictation process, but it was certainly better to than have a secretary sit next to a doctor and take ’short-hand’ on a tablet as a doctor spoke.
There was a team of workers that went from office to office during the night to shave the full cylinders and have a new supply ready for the next day. To keep me occupied during the days Dad was in the hospital, Aunt Anne taught me how to carefully and properly shave cylinders. The process was slow and I was occupied for a few hours each day.
Aunt Anne was capable of finding plenty of little jobs to keep me busy a lot of the time. I remember that other secretaries allowed me to shave their cylinders also.
It was the first or second day with Aunt Anne and I was taking one of many walks around the hospital and decided to go to ride the elevator. I observed an elderly man having a problem deciding how to operate the button-panel. I offered to assist him. He was not sure which floor he needed to go to, so I insured we stopped on each floor. I insured that the door remained open as he quickly checked each hall way. It was fun to operate the elevator and I felt somewhat important being the operator.
When I returned to Aunt Anne’s office she asked where I had been so long. I explained the elevator experience. She gave me an approving smile, but cautioned me to be very careful not to upset any of the elevator riders.
Auntie went out of her way as she tried to insure that I was not bored and did not worry about Dad. She and I visited Dad several times each day. I remember that during the first week or so Dad did not look sick. He was always in the bed, but often sitting and reading. He had many friends in Nashville and he frequently had visitors during the visiting hours.
Mom naturally drove to Nashville at least twice daily to be with Dad. Sometimes Grandmother or Granddaddy came with her. Aunt Jane came every day after school or in the evening.
Aunt Anne and I normally left the hospital and went to her apartment an hour after she
was off work. Mom normally CAME by the apartment for a while before driving back to Little Town.
Auntie was always up early each morning doing her chores before going to work. It was a long day for both of us, so we normally went to bed fairly early.
Auntie and the other grownups definitely succeeded in keeping me busy in my child-world.
© GENE HUDGENS
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