|A Novel By Max Rabinowitz|
|After a while I got used to seeing all the doctors, psychologists and social workers. Because I was considered the smartest kid in the entire building they flocked around me. I was articulate and could easily explain what was happening to me, so a lot of times I was given strange pills and then asked dumb questions like "How do you feel now?" after I was flat on the floor being sick or fading into unconsciousness. They gave me red pills, green pills, orange pills, blue pills, yellow pills, purple pills, pills, pills, and more pills. I consumed more colors than a box of crayons. Capsules too, and liquid medicines. But the most interesting thing came later.
Doctor Masti called me to her office one day and told me that the children's unit was getting a fantastic new machine to help some of the kids get well. She asked me if I would like to see it. Being the dummy that I was, I agreed. We went down the corridor to a big medicine room on the first floor.
The room was very large and very clean. Right in the middle of it was something that looked like a submarine. Dr. Masti explained that this was called an iron lung. She said that it was for people who had trouble with their breathing. She then asked me if I would like to help all those people get well, and me, jerk number one, said that I'd be glad to help. She told me they needed someone to get inside the iron monster and tell them how it felt while they adjusted it. None of the nurses or attendants could do it because that particular model was meant to be used on young people's lungs. She finished by saying that if I would help them with this problem I could have all the ice cream that I wanted. I was hooked - ice cream and me were partners. I volunteered in a hurry.
They had me take off all my clothing except for my under shorts and then they opened up that monster. I climbed inside and stretched out. There was a kind of rubber diaphragm that I stuck my head into and it fit tightly around my neck. There was a plastic dome over the part where my head was and built into that was a mirror so that I could look up and see what was behind me.
There was also a two-way radio so that I could talk to someone on the outside. When they started the machine I heard a high-pitched whining sound which gradually faded off. Then the machine filled up with pressure and I felt the air being forced out of my lungs. I breathed very deeply and I felt the oxygen rushing all the way through me. It seemed as if the air was going all the way down to my toes and it was real fun. The machine whined again and the whole cycle was repeated.
I heard someone talking above my head and then I noticed that the sound was coming out of the two-way radio box. Doctor Masti told me to try to hold my breath while the air pressure built up and I did my best, but the darn thing forced the air out of my lungs no matter how hard I tried to hold in.
I was asked to move and I tried that too, but it wasn't easy to do because of that diaphragm around my neck.
I followed a few more instructions like wiggling my toes and all until Dr. Masti said that it was enough. Then she let me have it. She said that a prolonged experiment was essential and that I would have to stay inside that thing for awhile longer. She wouldn't tell me how much longer. I slept, ate, and lived in that machine for two whole weeks!
There were a few bright moments while I was inside. One highlight was when a student nurse came into the room to read to me. She'd sit down and read into the microphone so that I could hear her over the noise of the machine. One night, when she thought I was asleep she got undressed to change her clothes before going off-duty. With one eye open I watched her through the mirror over my head. It was real neat cause she took off everything except for her bra and panties and I could even see where she had hair between her legs. I waited for a minute and then I started laughing at her through my microphone. She turned red all over. Then she grabbed up her dress and put it on real quick. She said that I was a "dirty little boy, "but I didn't think so because at that time all I could do was laugh at her nakedness. I didn't know what to do with a naked girl anyway. I wish I had known then what I know now because I could have said some real choice worlds to her about the whole thing. All in all it was about the funniest part of the whole deal.
When they finally let me out they did keep their promise about the ice cream. Unfortunately, I wanted more than I was able to eat and I got sick as a dog.
Medical experimentation was a regular procedure at the hospital and many times we were given pills or medicines that didn't have names yet. The labels on the bottles said SKD Laboratories, X-233, or something like that. I remember one guy who died after they gave him some kind of experimental pill. All they did was to take his body away and make sure they didn't give anyone that particular pill any more.
I received all kinds of pills and I learned their names. The orange ones were Thorazine. The reds were Taractin. White was Mellaril. There were smaller pills like Equinal (Miltown), Phenobarbital, Pentobarbital, Sodium Seconal, Sodium Tuinal, Valium, Chlorpromazine, and Paraldehyde and on and on. I spent many years trying to overcome the cumulative effects of all these varied drugs, but to this day I find it difficult to sleep and most of the time I am jittery.
The primary reason that we could be subjected to such treatment was that we were all but hidden from the outside world. Very few people ever saw us and most of them were in some way connected with the operations of the hospital. Once in a while we would have contact with outside people and some of those occasions remain vivid in my mind.
Floyd Patterson, the famous heavyweight champion, came to talk to us one day. He told us how harsh his life had been and how he had managed to overcome it all and go to become the world champion. I spoke to him personally and felt that he was really a great man. To me he will always be The Champ.
There were other boxers that came to visit us too, like Rocky Marciano and Rocky Graziano. Both were swell guys and they didn't treat us as if we were all crazy or something. I did notice that Marciano was visibly startled when a guy in our group had an epileptic seizure, but he didn't comment and took it right in stride.
Once a guy came in to see us that was a big TV star even though you never did see him on the screen. They called him "The Whistler" and he was the guy that did the theme for that show. He was a nice guy, too. I guess that just about everyone that came to see us from the outside world was all right. The only problem was that they would never believe any of us when we told them about the kind of treatment we were receiving. They would just look at us in a pitiful fashion, as if they had been warned that we were sick little boys and girls who would make up stories. The only one from the outside who believed us was Floyd Patterson and he only believed us because he had gone through similar experiences in his life. Maybe that's why I liked him so much and why I still do, even though he's not really the champ anymore.
There were groups and organizations that came to see us, too. I remember some of them like the B'nai B'rith, Hadassah, The Elks, the Knights of Columbus, the Lions and a real nutty group that called themselves the Odd Fellows. These people used to come inside and throw parties for any guy that was having a birthday. It was great therapy because it gave us the feeling that there were some who cared about us and who remembered that we, too, were human beings in need of that kind of love.
Once we found ourselves in a bind. There weren't any birthdays coming up for three months. Without birthdays we wouldn't get to see these good people. What we did may seem criminal and wicked to those who don't understand our position but it was our only alternative. We told the Knights of Columbus volunteers that there were three guys who were having birthdays, one each month, and that they should come for them. Of course, none of those boys, including myself was really having any birthdays during that period. We hoped that the group wouldn't check our records. We were lucky and had those three parties. We found out later that the Knights knew we were lying to them, not because they had checked our hospital records, but because one of them remembered that my birth date was in December, as I'd had a party the previous year. The man who told me this also told me that the reason they went along with us was that they all knew how very badly we wanted those parties. I am still touched deeply by that knowledge because those volunteers made life livable for us, simply because they cared, really cared.