The Personal Histories
Darvil Burns McBride & Josephine Phillips McBride
ILLNESSES AND NEAR DISASTERS
I disobeyed mother when five years old. Contrary to her instructions, outside on a cold winter day, I waded into the irrigation ditch to play in the water with no thought of getting out soon. With shoes and socks soaked and pants wet up to the knees, I had a great time. Back in the warm house after being outside for an hour or more, I still felt chilled. But, I kept right on playing in the wet clothing just the same.
By night-time, I came down with a terrible case of croup (Inflammation of the respiratory passages, usually from bacterial or viral infection. Much mucus fills the passages causing labored breathing and a continual raspy hoarse cough). I slept what little I could in a bed prepared for me next to the warm kitchen stove. It seemed to me that Dad stayed with me most of the night working to keep me as comfortable a possible. I remember that twice he took me up in his arms holding me close, as he prayed for me. I remember mother kneeling close by during one of the prayers. I don't remember the words, but both told me later how very sick I had been, and that they indeed feared I might lose my life.
At eight years of age I came down with typhoid fever. I felt so sick that it is difficult to explain. I would be told later that the doctor feared I was going to die then also. Mother would remind me several times through life how she and Dad prayed for me. I was never aware of Dad offering the prayers, but Mother remembered and told me he pleaded with the Lord saying that He couldn't take me now, for I had a purpose in life that yet must be fulfilled. Mother explained that after he offered up the pleas, his demeanor showed the certainty of the faith he had of my survival.
Completely bed ridden, I lingered in and out of fitful sleep fraught with fever, chills and nausea. I could hear the neighbor children, my friends, outside whooping, calling and running, having so much fun. After what seemed an eternity to a young boy, I began to regain strength.
A year later, diphtheria strangled me in its grip. It affected me like croup. Many nights I was so congested that I could scarcely breathe, even though the family constantly provided special precautions to spare me its severest complications. I felt as deathly ill as I had with typhoid not knowing at times whether I would survive or die. Tenuously, then tenaciously, I held on, and again I survived.
Before, between and after these awful life threatening diseases, I was attacked by all the other childhood diseases: chicken pox, measles, mumps, and whooping cough, along with reoccurring bouts of the common cold and flu. Just being in the grip of so many illnesses, each too prolonged, was enough. The time consuming convalescent periods became unbearable, persistent thieves robbing me of what should have been extended times of childhood fun.
Sad but appropriate, and much to my embarrassment, I was referred to by the family and others as the sickly one of the bunch. I had always loved to jump, run, and play games and all kinds of ball, but for so long, only short intervals of it were allotted me. And, my life would soon be threatened again.
In the year of 1918, the infamous, pandemic, influenza virus spread throughout the entire world affecting virtually every family on earth. Its decimating affects would hold all peoples at bay for many months. Numerous were the feeble as well as the strong and healthy of our friends and relatives that lost their lives. Yes, it too caught me up in its gaping maw, during that former day of little medical knowledge. Scores of millions perished, for its cause and treatment had not yet been found. All of our family eventually was infected with it, starting with one until all were down except my mother. Why she didn't fall victim to it we'll never know, but she didn't. How we'd have all survived it I don't know either, the Lord surely provided us "our" Angel.
Again I would survive. However, as I lay there for such a long time, slowly recuperating and consumed in deep thought, while my young friends outside played on, I made the childish but sincere vow of a tormented boy. I vowed that if I could ever be well again, I would exercise, run, train, practice and participate in all the sports, games and athletics I possibly could. I would strive to become stronger and healthier even to the point, of attaining superior physical excellence.
Although other milder disasters would befall me, I would realize that lad's desires. Even though I could not be the very best in everything, with the exception perhaps of basketball; I would enjoy some excellence as an athlete in all of the sports I would stay in fine health and condition throughout the rest of my youth, my young manhood, my prime and even into the Saturday evening of my life.
On the road home from spending a second summer in Flagstaff to renew my teaching certificate, we decided to enjoy an alternate though longer rout for some sight-seeing and a change. We headed toward the Coronado Trail, a more easterly route which would take us through beautiful pine tree and lake country eventually dropping down the tortuous but scenic trail into Clifton. Well into the trip, we arrived at Hannagan Meadows late afternoon in time to find a real convenient camping place, and prepare a country supper before dark.
After a pleasant night, morning found us refreshed and ready to travel. We were nearly packed ready to leave. I had seen a few cottontail and a lot of sign. As Jo finished odds and ends I suggested that I take my 22 pistol, scout around a bit and see if I could bag a couple of those hop-a-longs. We could take them to Jo’s sister’s place in Clifton and enjoy a cottontail meal together, and maybe even spend the night. Eleanor and Scott were living there at the time, Scott being employed by the Mining company as a surveyor.
Though Jo thought we should get started promptly, reluctantly she told me to go ahead. As I strolled through the pine forest, I saw up ahead a huge pile of randomly stacked logs sort of piled helter-skelter across each other. Approaching close, two rabbits scurried for safety into the pile. From experience, I knew that if I bounced on top of the whole, it might spook the bunnies into daring an escape which would give me a prime shot at them. Well, one soon broke out dashing away. I shot and missed. Further bouncing failed to dislodge another, so I decided to look further a field. About half way down a log suddenly rolled under foot causing me to twist around which action sent me straight back toward the ground. I instinctively put my right hand around behind me to break the fall. I hit the ground hard. My hand beneath me bore the entire brunt of the impact.
The instant pain I experienced soon subsided to a numbness. Carefully getting to my feet, thinking that maybe I had done no serious damage, I hopefully took a look. The three bones of the hand leading to the first second and third fingers looked as if their fractured ends were trying to poke their way through the skin of the back of my hand. The sight dizzied me; nausea swept my stomach. Immediately I staggered to the nearest tree where I sat against its sturdy trunk taking several deep breaths. As the nausea began to pass, I figured I should try to set the bones while the hand was still numb.
I wasn’t completely without experience, for I had helped my scout master set a compound fracture in a boys arm while a senior scout. And, I had watched the procedure a couple of other times. I reviewed in my mind the how-I’d-have-to-do-it. Satisfied I was up to the task, and since the pain was minimal, I firmly took hold of the index finger; pulled straight out while my index finger guided the jagged bone down into place. I proceeded the same with the other two, each time feeling raw bone grinding against raw bone as I adjusted the three into what I thought to be pretty good alignment. After another breather to let some of the shock pass, I groggily got myself up and made my way back to camp to face Jo. She was “put out” to say the least. Nevertheless, she became immediately cooperative, and I appreciated her feminine sympathy. However she was a bit more aggravated than I realized at the time, for, even to this day, she hasn’t let me forget that I should have given more heed to her protests when I suggested a rabbit hunt when the serious business of getting home lay ahead of us. For a splint, she helped me break a board out of a discarded box, then helped me wrap the injured member to it the best we could with what we had at hand.
And with all things finally ready, much to her dismay, Jo suddenly realized that she would have to drive to Clifton. Such would have been her last wish, but here, on this dangerous mountain road, that had taken its share of lives; with a determination far beyond desire, and a prayer on her lips, she slipped behind the wheel. Jo had never driven mountain roads, and her dismay at the task hadn’t subsided when we found that our brakes were in poor shape. In the auto of that day, the emergency brake lever jutted from the car floor, up between the driver and passenger. With my left hand, and with what little brakes Jo had left, keeping it in first and second gear (first was too slow and second too fast,) I managed to control our downward path with the emergency lever, which had no connection to the hydraulic system, but was only mechanically operated. Nervously, steadily and prayerfully, we managed the decent down that six miles of treacherous road to Clifton.
Cottontailless, but eventually arriving at Eleanor and Scott’s place, Scott insisted that we stay the night and visit the mining company doctor first thing the next morning. And that’s what we did.
First thing in the morning found us at the company hospital. X-ray taken and developed, the doctor soon came into the room where I waited. In his hand he carried the film. He held it under my nose and said, “Here’s what your hand looks like.” Then he asked, “Who set the bones and applied the splint?” I admitted I had done it myself. I had been sweating out this moment, for doctors always insist that one protect the injury and get to a doctor as quickly as possible. I feared that my unprofessional handling of the break might make the setting more difficult for the doctor. He asked me to describe my hand before I set the bones. He listened as I told of the sight of the displaced sharp edges appearing as if they wanted to cut on through the skin: “Well,” this doctor said, “You did a good job. We’re not going to try for anything better. We’ll just put it in a cast and send you on your way.”
Surprisingly it healed well, and without close examination one doesn’t notice the slight raise on the back of my hand. It has never been a problem. Unless I draw attention to it no one knows the difference.
While the cast was in place, I continued to hunt with the pistol which was a recent purchase that I had just begun to enjoy. I became so accurate with my left hand, that I was slow to change to the right after removal of the cast.
Continuing with some of my other discomforts, I guess kidney stones have been the biggest medical problem of my adult life. Beginning around the age of 30 to 35 years, I have been plagued with one about every 10 years. After much excruciating agony I had been able to pass them, all but two. One torturous culprit lodged in the middle of the urinary tube and refused to budge another inch. However, it had exposed itself to the doctor’s probing instrument, and it finally gave up without much protest. I watched the whole process on the very monitor guiding the doctor, which told him just when to operate the little pincer on the end of the probe.
The one that gave me the big problem showed up in 1975 while we lived on San Pasqual in Pasadena. Built like an anchor on a modern cruise ship, that jagged intruder hooked one of its many claws over the edge of the urinary tube to become a permanent resident, cutting off 75% function. With it still in the kidney probing was out; surgery the only option. I begged for time to try dislodging it. The urologist gave me ten days; he said to wait any longer could damage the kidney from pressure buildup. Before the week had passed, having tried every maneuver and endured excruciating pain, I conceded defeat and went to the hospital where I stayed for ten days, recovering from successful surgery.
One day as the doctor changed the bandage I noticed a paper clip lying flat on my stomach about two inches from the surgery wound. When asked what such an unlikely thing as a paper clip was doing there under the bandage, the doctor pointed out the thin length of wire that came from inside me fastened to the paper clip. He explained that catheters have a tendency to slip, that in my case it was urgently necessary that it remain exactly in place, that wire and paper clip were his own invention for keeping it in place. Then thank heaven for his parting remark, “I’m the only one that knows how to properly remove it.”
About one o’clock A.M. a couple of nights later, two nurses came into my room and announced that they had been instructed to remove the catheter. When they said instructed I supposed they meant they had received special instructions form my doctor on how to go about it. After a few minutes, with some preparations made, one of them began to pull. Immediately I stopped her and said, “What about the paper clip under the bandage?” Both looked at me in a dumbfounded manner, and in unison said, “Paper clip!” I said, “Yes! the paper clip and wire that’s holding this damn thing in place!” Seeing the astonishment and disbelief registered on their faces I told them to remove the bandage and have a look. One said they had no instructions about replacing the bandage tonight. They quickly gathered up their gear and left.
More than upset when that afternoon I told Doctor Blake about the unnerving episode, he quickly examined me. I could see his relief to find things still normal. He assured me he would be looking into the reason for the error, and added, “Those numskulls must have gotten into the wrong room.” (Please accept my apology, this is the first time I ever talked about my operations.)