My Medical Memoir

by Claude Samton

As I look back at my medical history I recall the events which were painful and caused anxiety at the time. Now, however, as I write about these episodes years later, I remember primarily the humor and interesting aspects of the situation. The old saying “time heals,”I believe to be true.

August 1950  I look in the mirror and notice a large boil on my left shoulder. Worry takes hold. Is it cancer, a bite by a poisonous insect or some incurable disease I’ve never heard about? I call my uncle, Dr. Brunell who lives nearby and is able to see me in the afternoon. I’m shaking with fear as he says, “Hold still, Claude,” and takes a needle to puncture the boil which turns out to be a heat blister.

December 1954  It is a crisp cold sunny day as I drive with my cousin Albert to Sugarbush Vermont to ski. Our old Ford has a problem with the heater which tends to go off periodically. We get to the slope in the early afternoon, strap on our skis and take the chairlift to the top. On the first run down the mountain, I slide on ice and fall heavily on my right side. Feeling extreme pain in the right leg,  I say, “We better drive home.”  The pain is increasing, so on the way back we stop at Pittsfield Mass General Hospital late on New Year’s Eve. The only doctor on duty is a young Indian intern. He carefully examines the leg and remarks, “Hit it, hit it.” I think he’s crazy until I realize he means  “Heat it, heat it.”

May 1958  I’m riding a motorcycle on a muddy road in Ibiza, a picturesque island off the coast of Spain which has no electricity or paved roads. The motorcycle hits a rut and I fall. The bike lands on top of me and I am covered in mud and blood. A coarse looking farmer in a small shack nearby sees me, runs over, takes me into the house, plies me with brandy and proceeds to wipe the mud and blood from my body. After a superficial cleaning, he lifts me roughly on his donkey and takes me into town. We enter a sparse whitewashed adobe house. Inside there is an old man who claims to be a doctor. Through the window I notice animals in the yard outside. The doctor says I need a tetanus shot which he gives me with a foot long hypodermic needle used for horses.

October 1961 I’m very depressed after the end of a love affair. Diana, who is several years older, is totally controlling and tells me what to feel, to think, to eat, and how to dress. I worry that I’m losing my identity but feel trapped between wanting to be with her and needing to get away from the relationship. I have an emotional breakdown and am taken to New York Hospital psychiatric ward. They give me the drug thorazine and several doses of shock treatment which makes me feel like I am dying. I begin to hallucinate and at dinner, I think I am Napoleon sitting at the table with George Washington and Joan of Arc. The three of us have a spirited conversation and solve the world’s problems without Diana.

August 1970   Sheila, my wife, our two sons and I decide to go on vacation to Maine. The past several months had been a period of intensive work for me. As we drive north, I get a pain in the belly. It could be indigestion, appendicitis, or cancer. We stop at a clinic in Maine where the doctor examines me and says, “You have an ulcer which means you’ll need to eat bland food such as milk and mashed potatoes.” I watch with envy as the family eats lobster, which I love, for the entire week. Back in the city I go to see Dr. Shumann, my regular doctor. He examines me and  laughs, “You don’t have an ulcer. It was just a lot of stress after an intense work period.”

April 1974   I feel severe abdominal pain and rush to St. Vincent’s emergency room. I gradually wake up in the men’s ward after surgery and dimly see a priest who is coming towards me ringing a bell, which I assume is for last rites. “Well it’s all over,” I say to myself as I start to sweat and the priest keeps walking to the next ward.

There are seven other patients–a Hispanic man with a bullet in his pancreas, an elderly Italian man who makes gurgling sounds, a bearded man near the door who yells “Help me Jesus” every few minutes. There are three men on the other side of the room who are immobile and a heavy man in the next bed who looks dead. Wednesday evening an orderly comes to the door and announces, “Bingo Night!” Everyone jumps up including the dead guy.

November 1982   After having a stiff neck for weeks, I see Dr. Shumann who doesn’t know what it could be, a chiropractor who adjusts my head and neck, a neurologist who does a cat scan, a physical therapist who stretches various muscles, and an alternative healer who hangs me upside down and pummels me. Nothing works. I finally go to a shiatsu massage therapist who suggests eating macrobiotic rice and beans. It works.

January thru December 1996   It’s a difficult year in which I have girlfriend problems. I go to see a woman who specializes in primal therapy. She leads a small group which meets in a basement on the Upper West Side and screams once a week. After six months I realize the therapist is crazier than any of my girlfriends and I leave.

January 2002 I enter The Hospital for Special Surgery to have my hip replaced. While being prepared for surgery, a nurse puts a big black magic marker X on my right hip. Ten minutes later the anesthesiologist puts a bigger black magic marker X below the first. Finally the surgeon puts the third X below the first two. “Just to be safe,” he assures me.

May 2006   I break my right wrist falling off a standing bicycle. At Mount Sinai Hospital the surgeon inserts a metal plate and sets the bone. He puts my wrist in a rubber bandage and sling. “You’ll be fine in three weeks,” he says. Eight weeks later the wrist is swollen to 2X normal size and I’m having difficulty sleeping. I go back to see the surgeon who says, “Well, everyone is different.”

February 2010   I am diagnosed with thyroid cancer and undergo surgery to remove my thyroid gland at Beth Israel hospital. The following week I’m given a radioactive iodine pill and told to stay ten feet away from everyone for a week, especially pregnant women. As I exit the lobby, three very pregnant women approach me.

October 2014 I go to see Dr. Shumann  for the annual checkup. He examines me and says, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”

I have been an architect who has worked on such projects as Grand Central, a theatre at Tanglewood, and a Trump Golf Clubhouse for which I was stiffed. For the past 25 years, I have also made large photomontages with shows in museums and galleries. Recently, I have written and illustrated six books which are listed at Amazon.