Imagine a school system that sent an gravely sick seven year old child home by herself when her moaning disrupted the classroom.
Imagine a teacher not bothering to call the mom that her child was obviously distressed. Or, if she did in fact tried to call but failed to reach someone, made no other arrangements to ensure the sick child’s safety.
Imagine that little girl walking home from school by herself with a headache so severe she was afraid she was going to fall off the sidewalk and into the street.
Imagine this child banging her head against the cool wall next to the locked door of her apartment when no one came to open the door because that was the only thing she could think of to try and ease the brutal pain in her head.
That child was me on a late spring day in the year 1976.
The morning after the enormous headache caused me to collapse barely conscious into my bed, my mom knew something was terribly wrong. She tried to wake me up, but to no avail. Then, she noticed I had peed in the bed.
She immediately called Dr. Dieterli, the local physician she had known since childhood. It was he who had tended to Regina, my mom’s sister, who became ill after a polio vaccination, and later died. Ironically, Regina was also seven years old, the same age I was when that enormous headache rendered me into a coma.
In those days, doctors still made house calls in Swiss towns like mine. When my mom reached Dr. Dierteli, he came quickly to our apartment. He took one look at me and declared that I needed to be transported to the hospital immediately. Then, he left without calling an ambulance.
To this day, my mom is incredulous at his actions. She did say he came by weeks later to ask how I was doing and admitted that perhaps he should have called an ambulance.
After the doctor declared me extremely ill and then departed our apartment, my mom sprang into action. She arranged childcare for my younger sister and brother by jumping through more hoops than you can imagine (which I will illustrate more in the memoir itself) and called her father to come and get us. He was the only one she knew who had a car.
My own father was at work in a bank in downtown Zurich. I have no idea how or if he was contacted, or who contacted him, or even when. There were only dial telephones back in those days, and no answering machines…
My grandfather arrived and after my mom finished dealing with child care, they took me into the car and drove to the Kinderspital in Zurich. Mom bundled me up and sat in the backseat with me.
The children’s hospital, about a half hour’s drive from my town, wasn’t exactly uneventful. Imagine a shaken, elderly man driving his adult daughter with her comatose child in her arms to the hospital, recalling his own loss of a child, Regina, due to a sudden illness.
Thankfully, my mom was able to reach him and he came to help her out.
However, my grandfather somehow got disoriented and managed to get lost once he was near the hospital’s vicinity. He had to pull over and ask a lady for directions on how to get to the entrance. Luckily, she was a nurse who was on her way to work at that hospital and gladly accepted the invitation to be driven there by my grandfather.