The Holy Terrors of Holy Week
by Elske Schmied Knoke
(Oak Ridge TN 37830)
My children were always close to me. When they were very young, I was a stay at home Mom, so when something happened to prevent my being with them, the two younger boys reacted in such a way as to make it embarrassingly clear that they missed me.
It was on a March Saturday in 1956, years before mandatory seat belts, child restraint seats, or safety glass in all windows, when our station wagon was totaled and three of us landed in the hospital. I was whisked up to bed with an oxygen mask, while our four children were taken to be examined. Fortunately, the two older ones were only shaken up and bruised. But the younger two who were sitting on my side of the car, were badly injured. My husband remained at the accident scene.
Five year old John, his face lacerated by flying glass, and his younger brother, Don, with compound fractures of both tibia and fibula, were admitted to the pediatric ward of the 50 bed Catholic Hospital. When the physician who examined Don came to have me sign operative consents for both boys, he said he asked our three-year old what his problem was. “Don’t you know?” said Don, “I’se got a broken leg!”
The following day, Palm Sunday, and each day thereafter, one of the nursing sisters from the pediatric ward came to my room to update the boys’ condition. I was still in pain from having been thrown from the car and landing in the muddy ditch, my lung punctured by broken ribs, so I wasn’t thinking clearly. Apparently, during the first few days the boys were also confused and lethargic after their surgery, but on the third day, Sister came into my room smiling.
“Your sons are getting better,” she said,”but we’ve had to remove their call buttons, since they keep buzzing to call the nursing staff in. You have some little imps, there.”
The following day she was still smiling, but not quite so broadly.
“We had to take the boys’ pillows away from them this afternoon. First, John threw his pillow into the bed of one of the other boys and before we knew it, there was a grand pillow fight with all four boys making noise and tossing pillows around.”
I was becoming embarrassed by my sons’ behavior by now, but it was all I could do to catch my breath as it was. My fractured ribs were too sore for me to laugh, not that it was a laughing matter. And there wasn’t anything I could do. My husband was busy caring for our other children at home, shopping for another car and dealing with the various insurance companies involved. I thanked her and dozed off.
By now it was Wednesday, the middle of Holy Week. I realized that the food served in this small Catholic hospital reflected that fact with its emphasis on meatless meals. I wasn’t hungry and slept much of the time. It was the first time I had been away from my family and was lonely after my husband’s brief visits. Then late Thursday night, the evening nursing supervisor knocked at my door and entered, looking rather concerned.
“I’m sorry, but there’s been an incident involving your son, Don,” she said. It seems that when a new aide was told to take his temperature, she took it orally, he bit the glass thermometer and they couldn’t find the mercury. He was in X-ray, the sister said. Later she returned and reported that his films didn’t show anything abnormal. I don’t know whether they ever found the missing mercury.
I now dreaded the sight of any nursing sisters entering my room, never knowing what to expect. The boys were obviously getting better, for which I was grateful. But I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.
During Holy Week, we adult patients all had many visitors, including Girl Scouts who brought Easter cards for all of us. But when they visited the youngsters in pediatrics, they gave them baskets of goodies with Easter candy and colored eggs.
It was a harried nursing sister who visited me the following day, apologizing profusely and explaining she had asked the boys’ doctor to discharge them as soon as possible. It seems that after John and Don ate some of their candy, there was a general free-for-all in the ward with a grand jelly bean fight resulting in the candies covering the floor and the hall of the pediatric unit. It was obvious that my young sons were the chief perpetrators. And all this happened during the second week that we lived in this small town in Wisconsin.
My unrepentant holy terrors went home the following day.