Thursday, June 4, 2009

June 1944

At this time in 1944 I was three months, and a week or so, old, and just home from a month in an isolation ward in a hospital, finally cured or cerebro-spinal meningitis, which my parents told me many years later could have killed six people. My Mom was not allowed to hold or nurse me because I could have infected and killed her. I found out much much later, that what kills or maims (blindness, deafness, retardation) the meningitis patient is the fever the body sets up to kill the bacteria.

Pop and Mom told me that some of the medical staff wrote me off: "Go home and start another baby; everybody loses one." But thanks to a stubborn Norwegian, Doctor Karlstrom, who never stopped trying, and a stubborn Polish priest, Father Szymanski, who never stopped praying, I survived. May they rest in peace.

Pop and Mom told me that what eventually cured me was sulfa, a drug not available to the civilian public at the time. Pop wangled some from his Army rifle company's medical officer, and sent or brought it some to Doctor Karlstrom. The doc took out some of the infected spinal fluid and replaced it with a sulfa solution. I think he figured he had nothing to lose, and it worked, and here I am.

(Postscript from 2001 or so: a neurologist told me that no studies had ever been done on the long-term aftereffects of meningitis because there aren't enough survivors to do a decent study on.)

It makes me think a lot about the old Catholic or Christian adage that I heard a long time ago, that God puts each person on earth precisely where and when he or she can do the most good for His plan for humanity.

Anyway, that's one of the things I think about in June. The other two are the liberation of Rome on June 4, 1944, and of course the landings on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

In the mid- to late 1950's, when war vets from all sides were publishing memoirs, I read a lot of the books that Pop had on his shelves (now on mine), particularly Bill Mauldin's Up Front, Audie Murphy's To Hell and Back, and Ross Carter's Those Devils in Baggy Pants. (I now have over 250 books and documentaries on WWII, by the way.) I'm not sure that it was good for a 10-to-13-year-old boy to read those stories, but I did, and the impression they left with me was that warfare is horrible beyond imagining, but sometimes it is necessary.

(My generation had Vietnam, and that war cost me six buddies that I know of, but that's another story.)

What happened in June 1944 is long ago; some of it was far away, some of it was as close to me as myself. But all of it has left its mark.

God bless America, and God bless those who put on her uniform.

No comments:

Post a Comment