Kids in Sick Bay

Days of convalescence from illness were something of a luxury for kids in my house. When I lay in bed with the mumps at the age of ten, I recall the curtains being drawn—in proper obeisance to a life-threatening illness. Although sickbay precautions were consistent mainly with my self-pitying attitude, the mumps siege was actually no fun. My jaws ached. My head hurt. But the discomfort was offset by the special treatment I got as an invalid.

My mother followed a certain routine when I was sick in bed—not feigned sickness to get out of school, but really sick with observable symptoms. (This excluded a fever which originated when a thermometer was laid skillfully atop a bedside radio).

I still recall the green mug she used on such occasions, filled with ice and a cool drink. I never saw it taken from the cupboard for any other reason. “My sick cup” I called it. Accompanying that was a bent glass straw. I don’t see glass straws around anymore, but we had them in the early 1940s. To bend the straw, Mother held it over a candle flame until the glass softened at the right point, whereupon she bent it to an acceptable angle.

sick kid in bed

If a cold was my problem, she fixed a tablespoon of lemon and honey, to be taken every few hours. If a headache accompanied my symptoms, she brought me an icepack for my forehead. The only entertainment allowed in sickbay was my radio, tuned into soap operas. “As the World Turns” was still in business in those days. The brightest part of convalescence focused mainly on maternal silence regarding ingratitude for my many blessings.

When she did lecture, I believe it gave her feelings of power and control that she lacked elsewhere in her life. The monologue was delivered with her standing 6 to 8 feet from me, making direct eye contact, and speaking in a drillmaster’s voice. Why my father failed to object to these noisy interruptions at his hearth, I have no idea—except that, even though he was an autocrat at heart, he avoided open warfare. Only when my infractions of family rules were judged to be sufficiently severe was he called in. In these situations, his admonitions consisted solely of his talking and my listening—not much different from audiences with my mother. Should I try to interject any defense, I was told that it was my job to listen, not to talk. When I was bold enough to point out that father’s advice was in conflict with what he practiced himself, he rejoined my impudence with the aphorism, “It’s your job to do as I say, not as I do!”

Taken altogether, the discomfort I experienced in sickbay was worth it. The freedom from family obligations was a release. The pampering was delectable, as was the freedom to listen to radio soap operas—an unhealthy form of entertainment in my mother’s opinion. There are days when I wouldn’t mind returning to that convalescent milieu.

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