It wasn’t like I never heard of him before, but Winston Churchill always seemed a caricature to me. I knew he was a great man but it wasn’t until I started reading his autobiography and other biographies that I realized his greatness. His courage on and off the battlefield inspired me. He became my mentor and hero for a short time. His life fascinated me.
It was 1985 in the middle of my Churchill Period just after my Eisenhower period that I was diagnosed as having gallstones. If I had been in my Woody Allen period, there would have been no way they were going to get those stones out of me.
My wife made an appointment with one of the local Surgeons through the doctor that employed her. The smart money was on me never accepting a diagnosis that would entail the removal of my gallbladder. My last operation, which I had no memory of and I’m sure, did not have my consent, was a tonsillectomy. Dr. Hans Morsch explained how important the removal of my Gallbladder was. He used diagrams to show me how the procedure was done.
I asked myself “What would Winston do”? The country was in no great need of my services and the company I worked for would survive without me for a few weeks. If Churchill could stand in the middle of a World War 1 Battle field with his maps spread out and bombs exploding around him, without any concern for his safety, how can I have the least reservation about having this operation?
I arrived at the hospital the night before my procedure with the best of Churchill under my arms. I put the books on my nightstand and waited for the anesthesiologist to come by. He appeared late that evening dressed in a finely tailored silk suit that only an anesthesiologist could afford.
Dr. Kumar happened to be an Indian, not Native American. I hoped he didn’t see my shrine to Winston who fought vigorously to keep India under British rule. If he did, there was no mentioned of it and I sure as hell wasn’t going to bring it to his attention.
I told Dr. Kumar what I thought he should know and he told me what he thought I should know, which was that I wouldn’t be awake for the procedure. After he left, I did what Winston would do. I made the rounds and visited the troops in the surgical ward, inspiring confidence.
My wife was amazed at the new me as only a few weeks ago she was living her life with Woody Allen. She liked her Winston and hoped my being an extremely slow reader would allow this show to last.
The operation took 27 minutes which is about the time it takes me to open my car door on a cold winter day. I was told the surgeon could perform this operation blindfolded. This I believe because I awoke with an ugly scar on my forehead, which wasn’t there before the operation.
The hospital gown was so skimpy that it covered very little; if you’re not careful you moon a person every half-hour. After awhile none of the nurses recognizes you by your face. One time I could have sworn I heard one of the nurses say, “how is the ass in room 754 doing?” What can I say; I never got the hang of closing those gowns.
At night was when all the fun began. I know this for a fact; that’s why I refused sleeping pills. But I could never get into the party atmosphere with an IV hooked up to my arm. Did you ever try doing the twist with one of those things on one arm and your other arm trying to hold your gown closed?
My stay in the hospital was only three days, this may seem long by today’s HMO standards, but three days wasn’t even enough time to make any lasting friendships.
Back then, the minimum was five to 10 days for a hospital stay. The care was marvelous, what little I got.
It usually takes the staff at least five to six days to do any real harm, so I got out with a few days to spare.
Winston Churchill has receded into my past, replaced by other well-known people. Churchill was clearly the man to be emulating during the time of my operation and any time of crises for that matter. The timing was perfect. When I returned home from the hospital, I sat in my favorite chair with the warm sun shining on my face, said, “Thank you and goodbye” to Winston, and opened up Neil Simon’s autobiography.