By Arthur H. Gunther III
Suffern, N.Y. -- In a flash-by moment when suburbia was knocking but there were few housing development doors yet ready to open, my dad hustled a 1939 gray Dodge west on Route 59 in what was then rural Tallman, on the way to Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern. I recall looking at the hamlet firehouse and not seeing many other buildings except the Polo Inn restaurant and what is now the Tallman Bible Church. Traffic perhaps included one other car on this late December 1949 day.
I was just past age 7, in the second grade at the Airmont School, and I was heading for a free tonsillectomy at Good Sam because my father knew the doc (Dad was, among his 26 jobs, a licensed practical nurse). I needed the procedure because I kept getting colds, the whooping cough and other respiratory infections, and in those days they yanked the natural germ filters out of your throat.
I was thinking, as the lumbering car rolled down a two-lane, deserted highway, that I would rather be in school, not exactly the normal wish, except that this moment was not normal anyway. I was scared, though so very ignorant of what was to take place that my focus was on the ice cream (vanilla) that was promised and a peacoat my grandmother was to give me. And since this was just after Christmas, well, an extra gift or two maybe were worth the tonsillectomy.
In those pre-suburban days, Good Sam was just one building, big enough, but no wings added to more wings, as the facility has since morphed. Sister Miriam Thomas was in charge, and just as tough as her assistant, Sister Joseph Rita. But both were smiling at this frightened young fellow.
I remember getting my own room and asked to take off my clothes, which was confusing since I had just put them on. But what did I know of operations? I also did not know how to tie the hospital gown, which was way too big.
Off we went to the operating room, where everyone, including my father, were in white. They would not let me walk in, but rolled me on a cart, cool enough. So was the anesthesia, which was administered through a mask. I was asked to count to ten, and I thought, gee, I am in first grade, and I can do more than that. I got to just three and then I seemed to wake up instantly, as if nothing had happened. Confused, I tried to ask when the doctor would make his move, but I could not talk. There was some pain and much soreness.
My father had expected to take me home after an hour’s recovery, but since the tonsils were greatly inflamed and I also had an enlarged adenoid cut out, I began to hemorrhage. I was to stay the night. Which I did, in a room by myself, in the half-dark, half-light that is a hospital, amid sounds of talking staff and scurrying people.
I had trouble getting to full sleep, with a kindly nurse coming in every hour or so to take my temperature and sometimes give me a derriere shot. As I once again tried to sleep with a really sore throat, I heard “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” being sung by Gene Autry. The Johnny Marks tune, originated by Harry Brannon, had just hit #1 for the “Singing Cowboy.” (Gene Autry was my favorite cowboy in 1949, a year when youngsters called them heroes.)
With “Rudolph” on, I must have quickly fallen away, for I soon was awake and getting dressed, headed home to ice cream and a peacoat. Today I can never hear Autry’s rendition of “Rudolph” without thinking of a long-ago experience made easier in country time by kind nurses.
The writer is a retired newspaperman.