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Childhood misadventures and memories of Dr. Price

MRI's, CT scans, x-rays and angiograms - the older we get, the more those terms become familiar to us. But when was the last time you had an old-fashioned fluoroscope?

I was four or five the last time I had one. Chewing on things like little rubber dolls and fingernails was an "unattractive habit," according to mama. She tried to discourage me from putting non-food items into my mouth, but how else can a little kid tell what things are made of, if you don't taste them? Many interesting things invited a bite or a taste, like the tangy popsicle stick after the frozen orange flavor was gone, or the salty-sweet coated paper lining the Cracker Jacks box, or the chewy wax bottle once the syrupy contents were sucked dry.

But I have to agree, the nickel shouldn't have been one of those things. That metallic flavor was very different from anything sweet or salty, you couldn't suck any further taste out of it, and it was entirely too easy to swallow accidentally. Which is what I did, much to the dismay of my mother. I had to tell her; after all, I wanted my nickel back. A nickel would buy something good, like a tootsie roll or two, and I didn't come by too many nickels in those days.

Mama's reaction was a bit extreme, I thought. "Oh my Lord, what did you swallow?!" Bundled into the car in a flash, down to Dr. Price's exam room we went. From there I was rushed over to a strange room at McLeod Infirmary, conveniently located next door to the doctor's office.

Lying still on that hard table was scary, especially when all the lights were off. And then came the stern admonishment from normally jovial Dr. Price: Go home, lie in the bed and read comic books, don't play outside, don't run or jump or do anything fun for several days, and things will "work themselves out." And of course they did, in due time. I quit trying to use my taste buds to determine the make-up of inedible objects for a while after that.

Several years and bouts of sore throats later, Dr. Price made a pronouncement to me with a smile as he prepared a penicillin shot: "Next time you're in here with tonsillitis, we're going to yank those tonsils right out." That was the last time I was in there with tonsillitis! Believe me, whenever I got a sore throat after that I never let on to anybody. I may have snuck into the bathroom and gargled with salt water a few times, taken an aspirin or two, but no horrible tonsil-yanking for me. I wasn't sure how they went about it but it didn't sound too pleasant. I didn't intend to find out.

I made it from grammar school to junior high without too many misadventures, until the amazing ambulance ride from school to the hospital one afternoon. Sometimes with a head cold I'd get a tickle in the back of my throat, caused by a swollen soft palate. I'd learned that if a tickle evolved into a cough, I could easily stop it with a few sprinkles of table salt. Accordingly my pockets usually held one or two little salt packs (like you get with french fries), and just a bit of salt licked off the palm of my hand would do the trick.

This particular day I was all out of salt when the tickle started. Soon a cough developed, and after a couple of minutes I couldn't stop coughing. I tried to tell the teacher I needed some salt but she thought I was nuts. Cough, cough, salt, please get me some salt, cough, cough! Instead she got me a cup of cold water, which just made things worse. Worried by then, she did what any responsible teacher would do: she sent for an ambulance. Now, in those days, there was no EMS - ambulances looked a lot like hearses. I was a real star, coughing my head off while the attendants in white uniforms laid me out on a stretcher and loaded me in the back of that long white car. My fellow students watched and waved as off we went to McLeod Infirmary, probably thinking they'd never see me again.

Of course by the time we pulled up to the emergency entrance at McLeod, the cough had run its course. I guess I'd sweated enough from all that coughing that licking my damp salty palms was enough to stop it. There at the hospital door was my anxious mother, who soon understood the problem - a simple cough triggered by a simple tickle, the whole thing avoidable with a simple application of table salt. No matter, I was there, Dr. Price was there, and I had to be checked out for the sake of the school officials. After a brief listen to my lungs, a look down my throat and a "tch, tch, tonsils still there, hmmm?" I was declared fit to go home. My star status was dimmed somewhat when I turned up at school the next day none the worse for wear, several salt packets stowed in my pocket.

Well, today I seldom have sore throats or coughs that can't be stopped with a sprinkle of salt. But I do still have my tonsils, thanks to Dr. Julian Price's penicillin shots - or his yank-'em-right-out promise, depending on your point of view!

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