December 18, 2004

Cashews & Monsters

When you’re seven years old and mother tells you to go to bed, go. No, really, this is sound advice. If you don’t, you could die.
I don’t remember what month it was, or even which season. I was getting ready for bed upstairs when my second oldest sister started to chase after me playing monster. Have you ever played monster? That’s when one player puts her hands up in front of her face and with fingers curled up as though they were claws about to reach out for the kill, starts running after second player ~ complete with guttural growling sounds. Player two takes her cue and tries to put as much distance between herself and player one in as little time as possible; fun game when you’re seven and it’s 1962.
Well, being player two, I raced into my bedroom and shut the door behind me. I stood quietly for a moment and listened for the monster. Nothing. When I opened the door to have a peek, there she was rounding the hallway corner in my direction! I ran to my bed in an attempt to find shelter under the covers. On my way there I noticed the handful of cashews I’d left earlier on my nightstand. Who knows what possessed me to toss them into my mouth on my way beneath the blankets, but toss them I did. As my sister burst through the doorway and jumped onto the bed, I gasped … deeply. Within seconds, I was coughing, no hacking all over the room. The partially chewed nuts were not welcome in my lungs at all. I was coughing deeply and could not stop even for a moment. My sister saw how red my face had become and she ran to get our mother.
It’s a strange feeling being unable to grasp your breath. Talk about a total lack of control! It’s altogether different than just sitting and trying to see how long you can hold your breath. You know you’re running the show when you do that. I remember being frightened to death. Mother came running into the room and saw on the floor what little of the nuts had been released from my lungs, but realize we didn’t know yet that’s where they had come from. It was assumed that I had swallowed them, and then lost them from my stomach.
Finally, the coughing seemed to slow down some and I felt a tiny bit better. My breathing was slightly shallow but when you’re seven, you don’t even know the word “shallow” yet, so you can’t accurately describe how you feel. Mother led me downstairs to the couch where she wanted me to sit with her for a little while to calm down. I had been quite upset ~ crying with fear from this awful sensation. We were both yelled at briefly for playing around after I was supposed to be in bed, but it wasn’t one of those big lectures. I know my mother was aware that something wasn’t quite right yet. She was very watchful as I lay on the couch curled up in a ball.
I was exhausted and just wanted to fall asleep but I couldn’t get completely comfortable. Within twenty minutes or so (as told to me by my mother after all was said and done) I was struggling for air again and burning up with fever. I remember feeling as though I had just gotten out of the tub … damp all over. In those days, you didn’t rush to an emergency room but rather called the doctor to come to the house. My mother made the call and I could hear her telling the doctor just what had happened. It seemed like only minutes when he arrived to our house. He opened his black bag and took out his stethoscope and a thermometer. I was wheezing by then, and he knew exactly what to check into.
He spoke to my mother and father for a moment outside the living room, then he used out telephone in the hall. I learned later he was calling a pulmonary specialist to meet us all at the hospital as soon as possible. It seems my left lung had collapsed and the right one was sounding just awful. The doctor went out to his car right after he finished on the telephone and told my parents to follow him.
While my mother was rolling me up in a blanket and rushing around to tell my sisters where we were headed, I could sense her concern. I was still so tired, but now I was frightened once again and I clearly recall having an awful time trying to breathe. Dad carried me out to the car, laid me in the back seat and off we sped, following the doctor to the hospital.
When we arrived, it seemed like everyone there was waiting for me! Nurses rushed around and hooked me up to intravenous immediately. Doctors stood talking to my parents a short distance from where I lay on the stretcher. I was wheeled immediately into the operating room. From here on I recall nothing until I finally came to a day later.
What happened was that a few tiny specks of chewed cashew lodged inside the tender walls of each lung. “Specks” is an adequate description. Nuts do not dissolve. They saved them to show my mother just how tiny they were. Before they could ever get the bronchoscope down my windpipe, my right lung collapsed and I was turning blue. Whatever great force it was that drove my mother to make that phone call exactly when she did and not minutes later, whatever force let the doctor arrive to our house exactly when he did and whatever power let my right lung hold out until I was on the operating table, will be forever greatly appreciated.
Waking up from my sedated state was like a nightmare. As though it were yesterday, I vividly remember an overwhelming sensation that icy cold water was being sprayed into my face. In fact, I was inside of an oxygen tent and my “cold water” was actually fresh oxygen being pumped into the tent. I could barely make out the cellophane images of my parents standing at my bedside. I fought the whole business of being stuck inside this tent from the waist up. My arms were on the inside and the first thing I attempted to do was to push away at the siding. I guess they expected this type of reaction and a nurse was quite available to sedate me once again.
I had developed pneumonia during my little cashew adventure. It’s plain and simple ~ lungs just don’t like to be invaded. Since they had both shut down, oxygen had to be reinserted to get them going again on their own. Oxygen, as previously mentioned, is cold by nature. Cold air being pushed into a set of already disturbed lungs equals pneumonia.
This ordeal was not soon to be forgotten, but I was just so thankful to be home again. From that day and through most of my teens and twenties, I cut myself off from cashews and barely risked eating any type of nuts in their original state at all. No one told me to react this way, I took it upon myself.
It’s only appropriate to add a short but rather incredible story to the end of this piece.
Several months ago I was using my computer at home and received an email from a website called This site connects people to old friends via school message boards and email addresses. The email alert was telling me there were new profiles added to one of the schools I had listed. When I went in to have a look around, one of the new profiles was that of a Milton Edelman in California. “It couldn’t possibly be,” I thought to myself. This was the name of the doctor who came to our house on “cashews and monsters” night. He was our family physician and had also helped bring me into this world. I shrugged my shoulders and shot out an email asking if he was any relation to the dear Dr. Milton Edelman of Staten Island, who later went on to study Psychiatry. I didn’t go into any detail in my email except to say that this Milton Edelman had been my family’s physician for many years. I signed my email complete with my family name.
To my most pleasant surprise, I not only received an email back from this man, but it was the dear doctor himself and he also took the opportunity to ask if I were the same “little girl” who inhaled cashew nuts at my home some forty years ago! He said he remembered my family well and has never ever forgotten that particular incident. Truly, I re-read this email several times and was floored that I could have made such an impression on anyone at such a young age. What a thrill.
When I was fully healed from this accident/illness, my mother told me I’d have quite the story to tell my own children one day. Little did I know I’d end up with so many more!


Blogger Swifty said...

Why should you be so surprised at making such an impression? I bet you've improved with age and are now startlingly impressive. It's just a hunch. Funny how you can you can feel that about people even if you've never met them...

3:51 AM  
Blogger Green-Eyed Lady(GEL) said...

Oh, dear Carol, I wish we did not share life threatening allergies. I held my breath as I read your story. One food I am not allergic to is cashews although I cannot have too many. (The allergic reaction I have to them is far milder than yours.)

The end of your post was a delight to read! Wow! I've had a few people track me down, which spurred me to look up a few on my own. THat is delightful (and unusual) that your dr listed himself there. I'm smiling.
(Is this Don Swift your life partner? He's quite the cheer leader and rightly so!)

12:28 AM  
Blogger Green-Eyed Lady(GEL) said...

duh, he's another blogger. I forgot to click on his name. Still, he seems like he knows you , but ignore my comment. I don't mean to sound nosey and wasn't thinking. I think it's refreshing that bloggers are supportive of each other. I enjoy the feedback on my blog immensely!

12:33 AM  
Blogger happyandblue2 said...

Scary story. I was hoping you made it through ok, tee,hee.
You are definitely one of the most talented story tellers I know. If I could have read your stories in school I probably wouldn't have such an aversion to books.
It is fascinating how things in our lives have impacted others. I guess that means we should always try to be nice to those we meet..

8:29 AM  

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