Count me along with pretty much everyone else who is awash in nostalgia with the tear down of the Central Kansas Medical Center. Some readers probably have fond reflections about becoming moms on the birthing ward. Or seeing their parents discharged after a life-threatening emergency and greeting them with balloons, tears, hugs. Or perhaps being present when it was dedicated so many years ago.
Mine are different than that.
My interactions with the hospital were, well, unpleasant.
I recall Dr. Niederee–who while wildly talented, was never anyone would use in the same sentence with “great bedside manners” – pumping my stomach for something I gulped down. Pills of some kind or another. Probably the lid to the baby aspirin was open and I was still a toddler and my sister ran around yelling, “Matty ate some pills! Matty ate some pills!” I still remember fading into unconsciousness and Doc Niederee standing over me and muttering something like, “What the hell were you thinking!”
Niederee was a surgeon and our town needed two–McAllaster was the other one—so an audience with him was like the Pope hearing your confession. Small towns were desperate to hang onto the good ones and they were both in that league.
Back then everyone has their stomach pumped. It was part of your medical history. Height?, Weight?, Year of stomach pumped? Great. Next.
There were other physicians in town who, like our surgeons, were iconic leaders. Guys – they were pretty much all men—they were named Replogle, Anderson and Holt. Before insurance cards and deductibles and co-pays and a 1,000 other headaches that are part and parcel of health care, doctors were able to fulfill their one true mission – to ask the questions: How do you feel? Where does it hurt?
For the reader under the age of 40, these were men who would make Dr. McDreamy on Grey’s Anatomy look like Pee Wee Herman. Men in the league of Marcus Welby, and Dr. Kildare. I could go on and on but by now if you are under 40 you are probably on Google searching these names. “Wow! There were no Kardashians then! How did people survive?”
I know. It was a difficult time. Our television reception depended on the size of the aluminum foil hovering over the T.V. set.
Jack Holt was an internist and for years the only one in town but he did the physicals at St. Pats. We stood in line, dropped our pants and coughed. It was awkward, horrible but you had to do it to play baseball. Who knew there was an epidemic of hernias in third grade? Replogle was kind and gentle; the kind of man you wanted to hug. His bedside manners made up for what Niederee lacked.
There were other personalities like Doc Sayler who always had facial hair, and Dr. King whose name lives in infamy in my mind since he supported Ramona in labor for yours truly while Larry was in court somewhere, someplace.
These physicians had the smart kids. They did more than build the hospital, they and their spouses like Ms. Cavanaugh chaired the school boards and library boards and birthed the children who shaped the top 10 percent of the GBHS graduating classes.
I was found somewhere near the bottom.
In those golden ages of CKMC, nuns would circulate in full habit. It was less a hospital and more of a cross between a convent and a town hall. Everything was an overnight stay. The nuns of course were charitable and if you couldn’t pay, you didn’t. “At one time the rates for an overnight stay were 21 dollars. Then it was increased to 23 dollars” dad told me.
Yes, times were different. We lived in a haze of smoke, surrounded by lead paint and no one heard of a seat belt. I could recite the other truisms – no diabetes, no hand-wash, and we ate food dripping in Mayo. We rode bikes. We had fun. We got hurt. Life went on.
I have other memories. Like the time I had my leg broken playing Evil Knievel with John Holt. We were jumping a ramp. It collapsed. I broke bones. Just like Evil. Doctor Reif Brown was out of town–he was the orthopod—and so they took me to Hutchinson to be fixed. They set the bones and shipped me back to GB. I was in the hospital on like day four, and they took an X-ray and the nurse told me in a crowded elevator, “Your bones are all over everywhere.” The elevator was brimming with other visitors and everyone pretended not to listen. It was like telling someone “Yep it’s cancer. Your life sucks right now.”
A day later Brown went back in and “fixed everything” with a couple bone screws that thankfully don’t activate the TSA screeners. And he did fix everything. My leg has been perfect ever since. My knees, hip, and shoulder on the other hand? Issues.
Dr. Anderson was our family physician. World’s nicest man. He gave me advice about life and told me, when I was heading to KU, “Watch and listen and don’t take notes. When you stare at your notepad you are not thinking.” Great advice. My kids didn’t take notes either but it was for a different reason. It’s hard to write when you are snoring.
There were many leaders in the community in this era – Beahm, Degner, Polson, Evans, Jones to name a few.
Candy stripers worked there. Today if you said to someone – hey let’s hire a bunch of buxom high school seniors to wear striped outfits and with no training send them to the hospital to do things, they would commit you to Larned State. They were cute and fun and had long hair like Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. My sister was one.
If you worked as a Candy Striper e-mail me. I have a column in your future. E-mail me – email@example.com.
But the best memory was discovering the tunnel which ran underneath Broadway. For a kid who was exploring the unchartered waters of GB, there was nothing like it. A tunnel that ran from the convent underneath the street to the hospital. My brother Marty and I were on our bikes and found it. We rode our bikes through it and we ended up in the basement of the hospital. It was super cool secret. We were in the inner circle with the nuns and maybe the maintenance men at the Convent.
I miss those days. We all do.