Recently I was hospitalized for a day because it was the fastest way to get some fresh blood. I told them I didn’t want to spend the night and would check out when they finished with me even if it was 2 o’clock in the morning.
As it turned out, it was 2 a.m. when they wrapped up, and I drove home immediately. I’ve had some odd experiences with hospitals, you see, and I didn’t want to take any chances.
The first time I ever set foot in the business side of a hospital, I was 19 and a fresh-faced Navy recruit. The boot camp dentist who examined us must have gotten paid by the yank, because teeth were flying. I had to part with a molar I had grown accustomed to.
He couldn’t coax the bleeding to stop, but by then there was no going back. He stuffed my mouth full of gauze and had me admitted to the base hospital for the night.
The adult side of the hospital was full, so I was put into the children’s ward. They gave me a pair of Navy pajamas – blue, extra large, one – and placed me in with an unruly bunch that included several babies, a child trussed up in some sort of cage, and the teenage son of an officer who had run away, overdosed and was now coming down.
The next morning, before I could get sprung and back to my barracks, the hospital brought in a magician for the kids. I was technically one of the kids that day, so I had to join the group in this Mandrakian farce.
The magician must have been the brother of the sadistic dentist, because he thought it would be fun to involve the big kid with the fat face in a trick. Holding my baggy pajama pants with one hand to keep them from falling, I trudged miserably to the front of the group.
I could have sworn I had no money with me, but thejolly man in the black top hat managed to finesse a jangling fountain of pocket change from my nose into his palm. The kids loved it, but I was in no mood for cheap tricks. Through the wad of gauze in my sore mouth, I said:
“Gee, mithter, doth that mean my noth ith the root of all evil?”
“Sit down, kid,” he snarled from the side of his mouth, and my show business career was over.
That was fine with me, but I still had to get back to my barracks. The base rule was that anyone not in marching formation could not walk but must double-time; that is, trot. That Florida spring was hot, so by the time I had run across base to my barracks, I was sweating and my mouth was throbbing.
No sooner had I collapsed on my bunk when an officer entered the door. My shipmates were out marching, and since I was the only one home, he proceeded to bawl me out for taking it easy. I tried to explain about the hospital, but I wasn’t very intelligible, so I showed him my sick chit.
“Well, sailor, you don’t have to double-time when you’re sick. Carry on.”
And he was gone. So was my love for hospitals.