My father was a doctor. Not a kid doctor -- an old people doctor. So he didn't doctor us, but insisted that my mom, Coco, haul my brothers and me to the pediatrician for annual physicals.
Every year, Coco dutifully tricked us into her station wagon under some false promise. "We're all going to the movies, yippee!" Then she'd cheerfully lie to us as she drove, until one of us smelled a rat and screamed, "We're not going to the movies! We're going to the doctor!"
Oh, the injustice of it all.
We pleaded. We cried. Boy, did we cry! Red puffy eyes, wet salty cheeks, snot bubbling from our noses -- the whole deal. We'd been to the doctor. We had experience. We had good reason to be scared witless.
At the doctor's office, we sat nervously in the waiting room pretending to read Highlights Magazine, trying to control our sobs. We watched innocent and mostly good little children emerge from the examining room with tears streaming down their cheeks.
"McLeod boys," Nurse Curtis called, summoning us into the examining room.
I dove for the carpet and put a death grip on the leg of my chair. While my younger brothers watched, Coco tugged me loose, threatening to dock my allowance.
In the examining room, Nurse Curtis instructed us to strip down to our Fruit-of-the-Looms. The doctor will be in shortly, she said. Nurse Curtis left the room while Coco arranged us in birth order. As the oldest, I was to "go first."
"Sammy," Coco begged. "You're the oldest and I expect you to set a good example for your brothers. Remember last time we came to the doctor? When you fainted out there in the waiting room? We're not having fainting this year. You got that?"
"Yes'm, but ..."
"No 'buts,' Sammy. I don't want to hear any of your 'buts.' You listening? When you faint, it scares your brothers. You hear me?"
"Yes'm, but ..."
Those were the days when shots came in individual syringes -- or at least, that's the way I remember things. There were no drug cocktails. There were separate syringes for tetanus, diphtheria, typhoid, pertussis, and something else I don't remember -- fat glass cylinders filled with murky yellow fluid, fitted with gleaming needles thick as construction nails.
For five boys, that meant Nurse Curtis soon returned to the examining room carrying a giant metal tray laden with syringes -- 25 of them to be exact. Nurse Curtis set the metal tray on the counter where we could get a good look at all the needles.
"So, boys, which one of you is going to get his shots first?" Dr. Lenowitz asked.
Collective sobbing escalated into a full-out wail.
"Sammy's first," Coco barked over the screaming. "Go on Sammy, step up and get your shots."
I broke into a cold sweat. I felt nauseous.
"Now now, Sammy. Let's see if we can't get some color back into those chubby cheeks before we give you your shots," Dr. Lenowitz said. "This isn't going to be so bad." The room started spinning. I felt dizzy.
"I need to sit down," I said. "Maybe I should lie down."
My brothers huddled into a ball, like a school of sardines.
"Sammy," Coco commanded. "Step up like a brave young man and let Dr. Lenowitz give you your shots."
Through my tears, I could see her glaring at me.
Back came Nurse Curtis with a tray of blood-letting equipment -- rubber hoses, razor blades, glass tubes.
I saw dark spots in front of my eyes.
My brothers tried desperately to crawl under the examining table. Coco grabbed them by the waistbands of their Fruit-of-the-Looms and hauled them back.
"Maybe we should let Nurse Curtis get your blood sample, Sammy. Before I give you your shots. Maybe that'll give you some time to calm down," Dr. Lenowitz said.
Before I could let loose a blood-curdling scream, Nurse Curtis grabbed the middle finger on my left hand, squeezed the tip till the fingernail turned purple, dabbed on some alcohol with a cotton ball, said "this won't hurt a bit," and jabbed me with what looked for all the world like the blade on a box-cutter.
I writhed in pain. She took a glass tube and coaxed several pints of my lifeblood into it. I couldn't look. Then I looked. And then I went down hard -- really hard.
I woke up. Nurse Curtis wafted smelling salts under my nose. I lay on the cold, blood-spattered linoleum floor. The cold floor felt good.
I could hear my brothers' mournful cries. It sounded like they were pounding on the examining room door.
Dr. Lenowitz and Coco lifted me onto the examining table. Groggy from fainting, I lay there watching Dr. Lenowitz extend my right arm, insert a tiny needle into my forearm, and inject a bubble of clear fluid under the skin. A trickle of blood found its way into the bubble and floated around in there like a little glob of lava-lamp goo.
I passed out again.
When I woke up, my brothers had escaped the examining room. They were running around the waiting room in their Fruit-of-the-Looms, hollering like banshees. Nurse Curtis ran around after them, trying to coax them back.
Dr. Lenowitz stood, looking down at me, shaking his head. Coco glared at me.
"Nice example," she said.
TO BE CONTINUED ...
If you'd like to read more of Sam's musings on life or buy a copy of his latest book, BIG APPETITE, visit his website at www.sammcleod.net