Medical science, as you may well know, has a tendency to follow trends from time to time. It’s always based on what they know at the time, but tends to change as time passes. For example, when I was a young child, a visit to the dentist invariably meant having a filling and a rather austere dentist telling you the dangers of eating too many sweets. I remember Mr Rabin, our family dentist, telling me so.
“Young man,” he would say as he snubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray next to the array of tortuous looking implements, “sweets are very unhealthy,” before drilling another big hole in one of my molars and cramming it full of mercury filling. It was like a one man mission to turn my entire set of noshers into a grey, gleaming example of dentistry work.
What’s more, I never realised that I could have anaesthetic until I was grown up and had to visit another dentist. I think Mr Rabin saw it as a way of making a man of me.
“Don’t be a baby!” he used to yell above my agonised screams, his yellowed and ash scented fingers jammed under my nose as his drill excavated its latest cavity. A couple of years ago, I plucked up the courage to ask Dr Gorgeous, our latter day dentist, whether his colleagues in the 1960s received extra money for fillings. I expected him to refute my theory, but he simply shrugged and said, “Yep.”
I was speechless. Mainly because my mouth was full of cotton wool as Dr Gorgeous endeavoured to replace the teeth Mr Rabin had drilled the buggery out of 40 odd years ago.
Then there was the tonsils theory, a method to prevent young people from suffering in their adult life with the inconvenience of sore throats and swollen glands, by simply removing the little blighters.
Thus it came to pass that, at the age of 6, I was struck down with a cold and sore throat and carted off to the surgery to see Dr Marks. He examined me, prodding my swollen glands, sticking a lolly stick in my mouth and making me say ‘Arrr’ before taking his stethoscope and planting the freezing plate in the middle of my chest, listening intently as I concentrated on not squealing and being told ‘not to be a baby’.
“Hmmm. Well, Mrs Randall,” he said, directing the conversation over my head to my mother, “ I think it best if he has these tonsils removed. I’ll send a letter to the hospital to make an appointment; you should hear within the next week or so.”
As he leaned back in his chair and offered my mum a cigarette, I contemplated what this meant. Within a couple of weeks, I found out.
Mum, dad and my sister Janet took me into the children’s ward of the hospital. I’ve always thought that this hospital was called St Stephens, but cursory research doesn’t record any hospitals with that name in the area.
Having been shown to a bed in the children’s ward, I was instructed to change into my pyjamas. Now, as far as I was concerned, changing into pyjamas in the middle of the day was a bizarre thing to do, especially when you’re 6 years old and want to play outside. It wasn’t as if I was ill, the sore throat had cleared up a couple of days after I’d seen Dr Marks. However, it was always unwise to question the requests of my parents, so I dutifully put on my cotton winceyettes and climbed onto the metal framed bed. My mum sat down next to me.
“Now, be a good boy, you’re going to have a little operation. Don’t panic! It’ll be alright!” she said, giving me a big hug, something that was quite a significant event at that time. I looked at Janet, who smiled back.
“Ooo, when you’ve had your tonsils out, the nurses will give you some ice cream!”
Janet was my kind, affectionate older sister, who couldn’t have been more than 18 at the time. She would give me anything, even though I’d ruined her chances at being an only child, robbed her of half of her inheritance and had condemned her to spending her leisure time being my babysitter. I was well aware of her devotion and took every opportunity to take advantage of the situation in a materialistic and mercenary way.
“Tell you what,” she whispered in my ear, “if you’re good I’ll buy you something nice. What would you like?”
I thought for a second, but already knew what I wanted. It had been on my ‘big things that Janet might get me’ list for a while. The TV commercials made it the biggest new thing around. Made by Palitoy/Hasbro, it was an attempt to grab the market nobody had thought of before in the UK. A doll for boys.
“Action Man,” I said. Now, I’m not sure how much money Janet made at that time, but Action Man wasn’t cheap. Typically, Janet never flinched.
“Well, be good then and I’ll see what I can do,” she said, which translated in my head into ‘as long as you don’t burn down the hospital and kill all the other sick children, the Action Man is yours’.
Then she kissed me on the cheek and landed the bombshell.
“See you tomorrow.”
As I tried to come to terms with this, mum and dad followed up with their kisses, embraces and goodbyes. I was being left here alone? I swallowed something hard.
“Be a good boy,” mum said, “do as you’re told. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
She turned to leave, then thought of something else. Turning back, she patted my arm.
“Don’t worry,” she said, looking worried.
I sat in bed and contemplated my fate. My mummy, daddy and sister had gone away, far, far away, leaving me alone. But not quite. There was still Micky.
Micky was my constant companion from as long as I could remember. Me and Micky went way back. He was a knitted mouse, kitted out in grey blue jumper and green trousers, yellow feet and a red school cap sewn jauntily on to the top of his head. I held Micky close and told him everything would be alright. Don’t worry.
Not long after this, a nurse appeared with a big canister on wheels attached to a tube and a rubber mouthpiece.
“It’s time!” she said cheerfully. “I’ll just pop this over your head,” she continued, passing the masks straps over the back of my head. She slowly turned the valve on the canister.
“OK, dear,” she said gently, “ I bet a big boy like you can count to ten. Can you?”
Solemnly, I nodded. I probably made it to five…
When I awoke, it was twilight. Somebody had set fire to the back of my throat. I tried to call out, but could only make a few guttural noises. My head swam and I smelled the strong rubber scent of the mask I’d been wearing earlier. A nurse appeared.
“Hello dear, how are you fee— oh!” she exclaimed, as I puked onto the tiled floor of the hospital ward. I awaited the scolding, but it never came. The nurses were very kind. They cleaned up the mess and left me to rest.
“Hello!” a bright voice said in the neighbouring bed, “what’s your name? I’m Phillip.”
I turned to see a boy with bright blonde hair grinning at me. I told him.
“Who’s that?” he asked, pointing at Micky. I painfully explained who Micky was, how clever and funny Micky could be, how he loved to play all my games and was never nasty.
“Can I hold him?” Philip asked.
I hesitated. What harm could it do? Micky was my friend, it would be kind to let this other little boy enjoy his company for a little while. I handed Micky over. Phillip held him close to his chest, closed his eyes and smiled.
“I like Micky,” he said, “I think I’m going to keep him.”
Cold blood coursed up my body like an oncoming wave. No. No. You can’t keep Micky, I said in my head. Say it out loud! My brain demanded.
“Err, you can’t keep Micky,” I croaked bravely.
“I can. I like Micky a lot,” he replied simply, giving me a cold stare and an icy grin.
“But…” I started, but a nurse appeared once more, holding a plastic cup.
“Here you are, here’s some orange juice. It will make your throat feel better. Drink it all.”
Disorientated and panic strikes, I took the cup and gulped down its contents. Orange juice. Warm orange juice.
Within seconds of the juice disappearing down my gullet, it decided to make an about turn and come back up in a steady pastel stream. This time I managed to decorate the sheets, blankets and the front of my kindly nurse’s uniform. I sat and stared in disbelief as the last remnants of juice dripped from my chin. I glanced over at Phillip, who grimaced, held Micky a little tighter and turned over to face away from me.
The nurse sighed.
“Come on, let’s clean this up,” she said, helping me out of bed and calling for assistance.
By the time I was back into my freshly made bed, they’d decided that it was late and, rather than take a chance with feeding me, decided it was best that I had a good night’s sleep. Tucking me in, my tolerant nurse patted me on the head.
“Sleep tight, mummy will be back tomorrow.”
I dozed off to sleep. When I awoke, the ward was in semi-darkness. The awful realisation that Micky had been absconded by my fair haired neighbour glowered into view. I fidgeted about, wondering what I could do. I turned over and looked at Phillip. He was sleeping soundly. Micky’s head poked out from under his body. It was if he was looking at me. (Save me! Come and get me now before this little boy takes me home!)
I looked around the ward. In the far corner sat a nurse, the desk bathed in light as she read. I made my move.
Don’t worry …
Keeping my eye on the nurse, I slid out of bed and took the three or four paces over to the slumbering Phillip. Gently, slowly, I reached out and grasped Micky’s head in my right hand. Phillip stayed asleep, so I pulled gingerly on Micky’s head, revealing half of his torso. At this point, Phillip took a deep breath and flung out an arm. I froze, waiting for his eyes to flicker open and scream in my face. I felt the muscles in my own face pull back my lips. Please don’t wake up, please don’t wake up…
Don’t worry …
I followed the arc of Phillip’s arm as it rose above his head and behind his back. With a small groan, he turned over and Micky was free. I gathered him up and quietly returned to my bed, vowing never to let anybody touch Micky again.
The following morning, we were treated to ice cream, Phillip and I. Strangely, he never mentioned Micky, who by that time had been carefully hidden from view ‘in a safe place’ under my pillow.
Not long after this, mum, dad and Janet appeared to take me home. More significantly, Janet was holding a cuboid shaped box in wrapping paper. Janet always liked to wrap my ‘occasional’ gifts. Carefully removing the paper, it revealed Action Man in all his glory, in green khakis and a plastic peaked hat.
Mum and dad gathered my things and we left for home. Phillip had left earlier, with a cheery goodbye.
“Say goodbye to Micky, too,” he said, giving me that cold, knowing smile once more.
We returned home with a detour to the local newsagent, where mum and dad treated me to a Sky Ray ice lolly.
Mum and dad are no longer around, but Action Man and Micky still live with me. No, you can’t hold him.