THE EARS HAVE IT by Thomas Parr
When I returned to school after a spell in hospital the teacher looked at me in amazement.
“Why on earth aren’t you dead?” she asked.
Being only six years old at that time, I could only murmur, “Sorry, Miss.”
That was the welcome I received after the Grim Reaper had leaned over my hospital bed, and decided that I was not important enough for him to bother about.
I met him again later in life, and still he rejected me. I am beginning to know how Lazarus felt when he returned to the land of the living.
The doctors had told my parents that my chances of recovery were virtually nil. I had mastoiditis, and both my ears had become infected, Three serious operations were necessary. Aware that I had only two ears, I wondered what the third operation was for. Did the doctor intend to give me an extra ear?
Perhaps, because my two ordinary ears are not well, then I need another one to make me hear properly.
One doctor was so sure that I was a gonner that, so I learnt later, he asked my Dad if he belonged to the Co-op, as they did a very inexpensive funeral. Dad was a man of few words, but I can imagine that he found plenty to describe exactly how he felt at receiving such a suggestion.
The strong aroma of antiseptic and cleaning fluid almost made me choke as I was carried into the hospital ward. To my indignation I was undressed and put to bed straight away, and it was only the middle of the afternoon. What had I done to deserve that? It wasn’t my fault that I was ill.
The matron at All Saints Hospital at Gillingham abolished visiting hours as far as Mum and Dad were concerned, and even arranged for a bed in a side room for their use if they wanted to stay the night until my condition improved from practically dead to critical. The year was 1937, and in those days Matron ruled the hospital and when she said ‘jump’ everyone, including the patients, jumped.
I have no memory of the operation. I do remember the pain afterwards. My head was swathed in bandages until I looked like an escapee from a horror film.
When it was time for the doctors to do their rounds I would start screaming and burrowing under the bedclothes. I knew they would unwind my bandages and make my ears hurt.
One such doctor would ignore me and walk past my bed; I would relax, thinking my dressings were not going to be replaced that day. But the moment my head emerged from the bedding, he would swiftly double back, and my bandages were off and my ears examined before I could let out a yell.
It seemed to me that all the nurses were Irish, and they spoiled me something rotten. One would always find time to sit with me if the pain made me cry.
It seemed that the hospital had no children’s ward. I was the only youngster in a room full of adults.
Some of them were not bedridden, and they would often shuffle across the polished floor to my bed and talk to me until shooed away by an indignant nurse.
After visiting hours, the nurse would descend upon the ward and every bedside table was swept clear of flowers, fruit, bars of chocolate, and whatever else the visitors had left for their loved ones. The flowers were taken away, but other items deemed harmless were stowed in the bedside drawers.
They did not rest until the ward was returned to the pristine condition demanded by the matron.
The men would secretly drop a sweet or half a bar of chocolate on to my bed as they walked by. This practice was strictly forbidden, and it became a great game for the men to see how often they could tuck a sweet under my covers without being seen by the nurses. I could only suck the sweets because it hurt my ears to chew anything, but I persevered, and am sure that I left the hospital heavier than when I had entered it.
Eventually I was well enough to receive visitors and could sit up and take notice of my surroundings.
Mum and Dad showered me with regiments of toy soldiers and bandsmen, whilst Aunt Ivy gave me cowboys and horses. She told me that she had a distant relative who had immigrated to America.
“He and his friends live in covered wagons and they ride in a circle and fight off the savage Indians all the time,” she would tell me. “He and his friends live in covered wagons and they ride in a circle and fight off the savage Indians all the time,” she would tell me.
Aunt May, who didn’t get on with Aunt Ivy, replied with tribes of copper coloured Indians brandishing tomahawks and bows and arrows. She did her best to make her Indians numerous enough to overwhelm Ivy’s cowboys
One memorable day the doctor removed the dressing from my cringing head, and it didn’t hurt very much. Then to my amazement he actually smiled at me and went away without replacing new dressing.
Suddenly everyone seemed to be shouting at me. I started to cry until Nurse Bridget explained that for the last six weeks my ears had been covered with heavy bandages, so I had been more or less deaf all that time. Now I could hear properly again. Some time later a nurse said that I could get out of bed for a few minutes if I wanted to. Wonderful! Life was worth living again.
“I can visit all my friends in the ward and tell them what it is like to be able to walk.” I said. “I bet they’d be interested.”
Without waiting for nurse to help me, I swung my legs over the side and slid off the bed. I fell flat on the floor.
“My legs don’t work,” I yelled. When nurse saw that I was not hurt, and when she could stop laughing, she helped me to my feet, just as Matron and her retinue entered the ward. There was an awful silence, and I was swiftly lifted back into bed with the sheets smoothed over me until only the top of my head showed.
I soon became able to walk unaided and even stood still whilst the doctor minutely examined my ears.
The day of my discharge coincided with St Patrick’s Day.
When my parents arrived to collect me, I was fully dressed and my pullover was covered with sprigs of shamrock and clover, put there by the nurses after obtaining Matron’s permission, of course.
I remember that at least two of them were crying as I toddled out hand in hand with Mum and Dad. I couldn’t understand why, and when I asked Mum, I saw that she was crying too. Before that time I had only seen mother in tears when she was peeling onions. I didn’t understand what the tears were about.