If You Think Your
First Hospital Stay Was Memorable...
by James L.
When I was a High School
sophomore in Logan, West Virginia, another Phys.
Ed. student fell on the back of my foot during a
class basketball game; fracturing my ankle in a
couple of places.
Fast forward four hours-
Because my family was poor, (and this was the
first year we had not taken out health insurance
at school), I was put in a 8-bed ward to "rest"
until a leg cast could be applied.
Directly across from me,
was another young boy who was already there when
I arrived, and had apparently been in some sort
of accident resulting in his having a row of
black stitches completely across his forehead
from ear-to-ear. My guess, was a car accident,
but we never communicated beyond a smile.
That evening, after my
first taste of hospital food, two men in
suits and ties, along with a teenage boy visited
the boy across from me. One of the men was
carrying a small box under his arm, which he sat
on the patient's over-the-bed table. I said to
myself: "So visitors are allowed to bring in
After greetings and a few
laughs were exchanged, one of the men smiled at
those of us who watched as he pulled the privacy
curtain around the kid's bed; then turned on the
table lamp; transforming the group into dark
silhouettes on the curtain.
Even I knew it was impolite
to eat in front of others, so I smiled, and
continued my preoccupation with telling my Mother
about importing food.
Moments later, I heard and
watched all four members reciting what
sounded to be grace, or a blessing; common
practice throughout the South.
Then, as I stared at the
curtain in disbelief, one of the "shadows"
reached into the paper bag and seconds later,
produced a live snake coiled around his wrist and
arm; prompting the others to "testify",
before passing the snake among themselves;
including the patient.
More scary than bizarre
to me, was how uneventful this appeared to
be by those patients near me, which sent my young
mind into panic mode:
Am I in some sort of
special ward for religious zealots, who's
visitors are going to bring them snakes too? Is
someone going to leave a poisonous snake
behind; to "protect" us patients
through the night?
When my mother and
relatives finally arrived, the first words out of
my mouth, were that somehow, some way, they had
to get me transferred; even if it meant back
out in the hall on the gurney I was admitted on.
I believe the next time I
actually slept, was the following night, and
probably not very much, because I was to be
discharged the next morning, and was more than
ready to check out of this place!
Looking back, that entire
event was a meaningful epiphany: As I lay there
helpless to move, I realized that if I stayed in
West Virginia after I graduated, I would most
likely end up working as a laborer in the coal
mines, and possibly making repeat appearances at
this hospital, since injuries are a common mining
hazard. Or, I could join the military upon
graduation, which I did.