Discover why I wore a mask & gown and washed my hands to save my life, 59 years ago!
No Bunk’s 2nd Anniversary
Today, is the 2nd anniversary of the book launch for my family business memoir, No Bunk, Just BS (Business Sense): 50 Timely and Timeless Truths Business School Cannot Teach You!
So many memories have flooded my brain. My life dramatically changed after that wonderful event. However, little did I know that one of the final stories in the book would remind me that I am again wearing a mask and diligently washing my hands to save my life, 59 yeas later.
I had written several stories about my parents helping to save other people’s lives.
However, after writing those stories I realized I had one more significant story to tell.
A serious illness
In December 1960, only a few weeks after my parents had returned from their first business trip to Europe and the United Kingdom, I recall walking into our family room and seeing my parents sitting on the couch together. My father’s arm was gently wrapped around my mother’s right shoulder. My mother sat quietly with tears in her eyes, I was sure she was going to tell me something horrific about my father’s heart condition.
“Daddy, are you OK?” I asked.
“I am OK,” he said. “It is your mother who is sick and going to the hospital for tests.”
My thoughts and emotions swirled as I attempted to process what my father had just said. How could my mother be so sick that she was crying?
Those tests were performed with Lab-Line equipment, which my father donated to all the labs at Gottlieb Hospital near our home, and confirmed that my mother had tuberculosis (TB). The doctors believed she had contracted it during her recent travels overseas.
In 1960, the Lab-Line business network had grown to include the University of Chicago. Through my parents’ business relationship, my father was able to have my mother admitted to a special TB section of the hospital where the TB research was being conducting.
On the Monday morning after the winter holiday school vacation, I started the week at Oak Park River Forest High School, and my mother started her 6-month residence at the Albert Merritt Billings Hospital, which at the time was one of four hospitals that formed the University of Chicago Clinics.
I distinctly recall my mother telling me that my father refused to have her admitted to a TB sanitarium.
At that time, Lab-Line was only 8-years-old and my father depended on my mother, his life partner and business partner, for day-to-day and critical decisions. Most mornings, my father drove almost an hour from our home to check on my mother and discuss Lab-Line business with her, speak with her doctors, and then drive 30 minutes to Lab-Line. Depending on my father’s schedule, he would leave work early to drive back to the hospital to see my mother and afterwards drive home to have dinner with me.
Wearing gowns and masks and washing our hands
Each Saturday and Sunday, my father and I would spend most of the day visiting with my mother and discussing Lab-Line business. Before we went into my mother’s room we were required to put a white hospital gown over our clothes and wear a white facial mask, because TB is highly contagious. When we left her room, we had to deposit our masks and gowns in a special waste basket outside her room and thoroughly wash our hands.
Our weekend routine
On Sunday evenings, we routinely dined at the Tropical Hut, which was a famous Hyde Park, South Side of Chicago restaurant. After dinner, my father and I would deliver take-out dinners from the “Hut” to my mother and nurses on the TB floor and say good-night to my mother.
One of the many responsibilities I took over from my mother was packing my father’s suitcase for Lab-Line business trips. My mother had precisely instructed me to carefully pack my father’s tie, shirt, pocket handkerchief, socks, and shoes together with the appropriate color suit. No errors could be made. My father was color blind and could not coordinate his attire. She was afraid he would embarrass himself.
I could not kiss my mother
During my mother’s stay at the hospital, I celebrated my 16th birthday. Family and friends organized lovely planned and surprise celebrations and gifts. Nevertheless, when people asked me what wanted for my birthday, my answer was always: “I want my mother to come home cured! I want to kiss my mother!”
After 5 months of trial and error with a new TB medication, including one dosage that paralyzed my mother, the doctors and my parents determined that the medication was not working. The only option to cure my mother’s TB was a 10-hour experimental surgical procedure. Before her operation, the doctors allowed my mother to come home for a few days. I remember how joyfully normal life felt knowing my mother was at home. However, I was jolted back into reality on the first morning I was leaving for school.
“Love you. See you later.” I said before naturally leaning forward to give her a hug and a kiss good-bye.
“Sheila, remember I cannot kiss you.” she reminded me.
We both began to cry. I bolted out the front door, running and weeping all the way to meet my friend Alice Kaufman to catch the school bus.
The walk to and from the bus stop and the bus ride to school was not the same as it had been before my mother’s TB diagnosis. Alice and I usually walked and sat on the bus by ourselves.
Students were afraid of me
There were students who did not want to be near me because, either they had heard about my mother having TB and/or their parents had told them the news, and they were afraid to come in contact with me. I was grateful that Alice and a few other close friends, their parents, and our neighbors were properly informed and knew I was not contagious.
The morning my mother underwent the 10-hour experimental surgery to remove the diseased upper lobe of her right lung, my father, my Aunt Charlotte (my mother’s younger sister), and I anxiously waited in the hospital’s surgical lounge.
The doctors had previously informed us that one team would be cutting under my mother’s right breast, around her side, and up her shoulder blade to remove the upper lobe of her right lung. Another team would remove the TB-diseased lobe. Finally, another team would close the extensive incision.
I can still visualize myself sitting between my father and my aunt and listening to the different doctors’ periodic surgical reports. We all were elated when the last surgeon reported that my mother had survived the surgery and the procedure was successful.
A complete recovery
My mother was a healthy and determined 44-year-old woman who recuperated so quickly that she returned home in 2 weeks, instead of the normal 4 to 6 week recuperation period. My father had my Uncle Sydney and Aunt Helen, who owned an interior design company, beautifully redecorated my parents’ bedroom for my mother’s homecoming and recuperation.
My mother made a complete recovery. She became an active member of the Chicago Lung Association, practiced a consistent respiratory therapy regime, and was careful about environmental changes and challenges to her ability to breathe properly.
My beloved mother lived to be 84-years-of-age and was able to enjoy her life that was abundantly filled with loving blessings from her family, friends, and Lab-Line.
Writing the NO BUNK chapters and editing others’ Lab-Line memoirs reinforced my treasured knowledge about my father’s and mother’s generosity to help others in need of medical assistance with their Lab-Line equipment and business network of doctors, researchers, health care facilities, and medications.
When I think about all the previous Lab-Line reminiscences, the most momentous and life-changing was my father’s Lab-Line connection to the University of Chicago.
It was the connection that saved my mother’s life and the love of my father’s life!
I hope you found my parents’ love story inspirational and educational!
We all have challenges we must overcome. Sometimes, loving relationships, personal and professional connections, and/or health care procedures can save our lives!
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Please Spread the Word
WOW. Had no idea. What an amazing story and I loved the picture of your parents. You know I still have my orange Lab-line pen that Uncle Al gave to me on a visit with my grandparents. Love to all
Dear Linda, Please forgive this delayed reply. I am delighted that enjoy the story about your Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Al. I love your story about the Orange Lab-Line pen my father gave you. My parents always enjoyed their visits to you you, your parents, and grandparents! Love and Healthy Hugs, Sheila