Mom handed me one of the penicillin pills we had bought at the pharmacy after seeing the doctor. It was huge! Seeing the expression on my face, Mom scolded, “You’ll be able to swallow it! Just don’t think about it. Put it into your mouth and take a drink of this nice orange juice I bought for you. When you swallow the pill will go down with the juice.”
At age nine, I couldn’t remember Mom ever buying orange juice. I eagerly reached for the small glass. Popping the pill into my mouth, I took a drink. The juice went down my throat, but the pill stayed on my tongue and it tasted horrible! Gagging and retching, I spit the white monster out and Mom caught it.
Refusing to take the pill was not an option. I’d overheard Mom tell Daddy that my strep throat could turn into rheumatic fever if not treated with an antibiotic.
I had barely stopped gagging and drooling when Mom filled a small dish with apple sauce and turned to me with some on a spoon, topped by the soggy pill. Half an hour later, the dish was nearly empty before the pill finally slid down my throat. Feeling shaky from all the gagging and with a belly full of juice and sauce, I wobbled into the living room to lay down on the davenport. The pill not only tasted bad but also smelled nasty.
In the days that followed, I was tortured daily by pill swallowing sessions. It never got easier. Before the end of the week, the odor of penicillin had permeated my entire body. My skin, my breath and especially my urine was corrupted by the bitter, sickly stench.
My next strep throat was treated with a penicillin shot. Although I didn’t like getting the poke, it was less traumatic. The doctor said, “Kathy needs to have her tonsils taken out or she will keep having these infections.”
That evening I slipped into my drama queen persona to whine, “Why me?”
My brother Billy, who was ten years older, answered, “Why not you? This happens to a lot of people.” His response made me feel ashamed. He was right. I resolved to never again question the circumstances of my life.
Mom took me to see Doctor Rivers, who would do the surgery. When I was admitted to the hospital Mom told me, “Your roommate has TV.”
I snapped to attention and questioned in a panic, “Isn’t that contagious?” One of my big sisters was in nursing school and I knew that tuberculosis was bad.
Laughing, Mom answered, “Not TB, she has a television to watch.”
The next morning, I was wheeled into a cold surgical room with pale green tile walls. The nurse said, “You’ll be put to sleep with ether.”
Getting a whiff of the ether, I exclaimed, “It smells like Freezone.” The nurses in the room laughed. I added for clarification, “You know, for getting rid of warts on the feet.”
I quickly went to sleep, but dreamed that I unexpectedly woke and sat up on the surgical table. I clearly saw all the nurses turn toward me with their hands out to make me lay back down. I’ve wondered all my life if it was just a dream, or if this really happened?
When I woke up in my room, my family was there. My brother Billy tickled my foot. I pulled back and gave him a mighty kick in his gut. He was delighted.
My throat hurt. Mom said, “You can have all the ice cream you want.” I loved ice cream, but the cold didn’t stop my throat from hurting when I swallowed.
As an adult, I worked for many years as a Certified Nursing Assistant. An interesting side effect of having had to take penicillin as a child is my memory of how it smelled. The first thing I discovered working in a hospital was that by just walking into a patient’s room, I could tell if they were taking penicillin.