Author of the famed book The Egg and I wrote this memoir about her time in a sanatorium when she caught tuberculosis in her thirties. She had to quit her job and leave her young children at home with her mother, not knowing if she would even return. The place sounded very dismal. No talking, laughing, even reading in bed! Sponge baths only once a week, hair getting shampooed even less frequently. Her greatest complaint was simply being cold all the time, even when hot water bottles were brought to her bed, they were lukewarm at best. The main treatment at the time (1930’s) was very strict bed rest- and there were a number of unpleasant-sounding surgical procedures that were done to intentionally collapse the lung in order to make it rest completely. I can’t imagine having to lie absolutely still in a bed for weeks or months on end. She mentioned quite a few patients who had been in the sanatorium for years. Rumors abounded among the patients of who had died, what type of surgeries or treatment they’d had, etc. Sounded like nothing was ever explained to the patients- where they were going when a nurse arrived with a wheelchair, what the results of tests were, what the doctor thought after evaluating their condition, etc. Always kept in the dark- and then lectured to constantly about the rules.
Well, eventually she healed enough to be allowed to sit up in bed for a short period of time per day, which was gradually extended until she earned the privilege to walk to the bathroom, or down the hall, or have a bed outside on the porch, etc. She gives lively character sketches about her fellow patients, roommates, the nurses and staff- sometimes not very complimentary, of course. Oddly enough, what I found most interesting about this book was simply reading about treatment for a disease that doesn’t seem to be a huge problem anymore- how archaic and long-suffering it sounded. How dismal the outcome for so many. While I could tell the author was attempting to put a humorous spin on everything, I only chuckled a few times, I didn’t really find it funny even when I knew she was exaggerating. It just felt- kind of dull. Might be my mood. Of course she was relieved to finally be declared healthy enough to go home- but then had to face a difficult adjustment period, still finding more to relate to with her prior roommates from the sanatorium- she stayed in touch with a few- disgruntled that her family hadn’t cleaned out the room she was going to stay in, and alternately annoyed or embarrassed that many people shunned her presence in public, fearful she was still contagious. It’s interesting for a glimpse into the past, but I didn’t find it much more than that. I think I ought to read it again at another time.
I can’t imagine going through this kind of long term treatment and being kept in the dark for months and months about your own condition and prognosis. That would be the worst thing about being confined to that kind of facility, I think…oh, and not being able to read a book in bed? Well, that would drive me nuts. How in the world did these people pass the time?
I remember a neighbor of ours when I was a kid in the ’50s suddenly being sent to a place like this and how his family tried to keep everything as secret as they could because of the stigma and fear still associated with that terrible disease. And that was some 20 years after this book was written.
A lot of the patients just slept, it sounds like. Some hid magazines under their blankets but got in serious trouble when it was found out. I don’t know why reading was considered something that would cause strain, but it seems that’s what the doctors thought. Or the nurses wanted complete control. It sounds like this particular sanatorium was kind of a charity organization, the patients were only expected to pay what they could afford. So conditions were not the best. Amazingly she recovered in less than a year and was home again- when most stayed over a year or much longer.
Even with the attempts at humor, this seems like such a depressing book. I can’t imagine being required to stay still in bed, not even being able to read. Torture!