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Frank S. Stefanone: Modern medicine is a wonderful thing

By no means does this tale mean to cast aspersions on the medical profession; it’s just that it happened at a different time and in a different place, before the advent of methods that would eventually make all surgery “painless.”

Growing up in a small town in central Italy in the early ’50s, it seemed that I was spending more than my fair share of time at the doctor’s office, usually with a sore throat or a low-grade fever. Eventually the family doctor surmised that the reasons for my condition were my tonsils, and their removal would surely restore me to good health.

The good news was that a brand-new hospital had just been built in town. However, staffing it was a bit of a problem.

There was, my mother was told, one surgeon who made the rounds, but these were regional rounds, reminding one of circuit judges in the old West who traveled from town to town in order to adjudicate cases. In this case, the “cutter” was in town about once a month. So unbeknownst to yours truly, plans were made for the event.

The day was sunny and warm, with the usual fresh breeze that visited the town, situated between the highest peaks of the Appennines. My mother and my aunt told me that it was a beautiful day for a walk, so out we went, each of them holding one of my hands. We walked through the town park, passed the public square and headed up the hill toward the new building.

As we made our way up the front steps, the realization came to me that this was no ordinary walk. Even at the tender age of 5, it didn’t take long to put two and two together that this was not the place where I wanted to be. I planted my feet in front of the door and wanted to walk no more. The problem, of course, was one of resources and size. Lacking both, I was no match for my handlers, so in we went.

It really did not take that long; there were none of the normal questions about insurance, pre-op preparation, small talk, etc. I will now caution the reader that what follows may not be suitable for the faint of heart.

I was taken into a room and was seated on the lap of a nurse, who locked my legs within her knees and held my arms in hers so that I became immobile. Another pulled my head back and opened my mouth as the circuit surgeon, without the benefit of anesthesia, left his mark.

I will not bore you with details of the pain this caused. I was carried home by my mother, who I’m pretty sure cried all the way there.

The only post-op requirements were no talking – not that I wanted to talk at that juncture – and mandatory sucking on lots of ice cubes along with as much ice cream as I wanted.

I thought of this episode when my children had their tonsils removed 30 years later in Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo. As I stood over them in their private room, sedated and pain-free, I thought to myself: “Kids, you don’t know how good you’ve got it!”

This story has been retold during Sunday family dinners over the years, and it will soon be passed on to my children’s children, whose facial expressions are sure to be a source of laughter around the table.