Breaking my Collarbone
In Peace Corps in 1964, sharing a motor scooter with Kent Keith, I had the use of it every other day. Should my assigned time have been the next day, I would have never broken my collarbone.
On the scooter, I was on the way to Bukit Nanas Convent School to rehearse the school choir, when, in a round-about (traffic circle), I was hit and knocked to the pavement by a bus. The problem was not connected to the fact that, in Malaysia, one drives on the left side of the road. I believe that the bus never saw me on my Vespa.
I remember picking myself and the scooter up, dragging it to the side of the road, and even ordering an orange crush at the adjacent street restaurant. This is the last I remember until I was at the hospital. I vaguely remember seeing the orderlies taking a man out of a hospital bed to make room for me. I was too “out of it” to complain. This bed was in the 3rd class ward where all motorbike accident victims were sent. Somehow, I ended up with a butterfly bandage and I was sent home the next day.
Almost immediately, I was notified that my mother and dad were both in a hospital in Dallas. Mother had been visiting a sister when she needed hospitalization. Dad, who was on his way to see her, had had a serious car accident, and was not expected to live. Peace Corps Washington paid for me to visit him.
Many hours later when I arrived in Dallas, the broken bones of my shoulder were poking through the skin. My brother, Dick, took over. Thank goodness. All my life, I had resented being bossed by my big brother. At last, I began to appreciate him when he made all of the arrangements, through Peace Corps Washington, for me to see a doctor and to have an immediate operation to pin the bones together. Now there were three Howards in the same hospital.
When my sister, Emmalu, found out that I didn’t have any pajamas – only a sarong which I normally slept in – she asked if she should buy me a pair. I said “no, I will only be a patient for three days, but I would like some pralines.” Not only did she bring back the pralines, but she also brought me some rat poison that I had asked for to feed the rat that I had seen in my flat in Kuala Lumpur before I left. The pralines were wonderful.
After my first day as a patient, I was allowed to visit my mother and father. The hospital gown didn’t cover up all that needed covering, so, I also wore my sarong which went from waist to ankles. To complete the ensemble, I wore my floppy sandals. As I walked down the hall, all but the dying came to their hospital room doors to see me! In fact, we became waving acquaintances. (Unfortunately, I have no pictures from that period. Those shown are recent.)
On one of my trips to see my father, who was in a coma, I found my four brothers and sisters standing in the intensive care waiting room where I joined them. We were in the midst of a hushed conversation when some little lady weaseled her way in the circle, looked at me, and asked, “What are you? Some sort of religious nut?”
My mother was soon to be released from the hospital and with little hope that my father would ever recover from his coma, I contacted Peace Corps Washington about my returning to Malaysia to finish my remaining nine months tour of duty. I was shocked to find that they weren’t sure that it was worth sending me back for such a short time. They wanted to contact Peace Corps Malaysia before making a decision. I spent 24 hours worrying about those things for which I had commitments. Among them was a concert and a radio appearance with the Boy Scout Choir and my unfinished bibliography on Malay Manuscripts that the University of Malaysia planned to publish. What a relief the next day when they reported that Peace Corps Malaysia said “if he can walk, we want him back.”
Arrangements were made to have the pin in my shoulder removed a couple of months later in Kuala Lumpur. I packed my sarong, another bag of pralines and the rat poison and returned with vim and vigor.
Two months later I returned to the hospital in Kuala Lumpur to have the pin surgically removed – this time to the first-class ward. This went smoothly except for the enema that was to ministered by a young female Tamil Indian nurse. I believe that I was her first orang puteh (white) patient. It was hilarious. We both got to laughing so hard that I’m sure that she reported that it was the first unconsummated enema that she ever gave. The pin came out.
I’m sure that the reader would think that this would be the last of my collarbone experience, but no, there is a post script.
Months later, back in the States, I was still experiencing some shoulder pain. I had recently arrived in St. Louis to begin my new job at Washington University when, on a Saturday morning, I was passing a medical center. Even if I knew no doctors in St. Louis, I suddenly thought that I should have a doctor look at my shoulder. I wheeled into the parking lot. At the elevator, I looked at the list of doctors, pointed at one of the names and said to myself, “I’ll take you.” Upon entering the office, the receptionist asked “what can I do for you?” I explained my problem, whereupon she said “this is the office of an obstetrician.” Rather that going back to the board at the elevator, she suggested someone in the proper field.
The verdict was that when they sliced though the skin, many nerves, vessels, etc., had been unceremoniously severed and were trying to reach other. Even today they haven’t given up their quest.