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Chief medical advice from family: Get better

Jacques Kelly

Jacques Kelly

February 10, 2001

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IHEARD this week from my sister, the mother of the twin girls who just turned 3. All her children (she has three) are down with the sort of childhood maladies that arrive in the late winter. Her washing machine is working overtime. The children just aren't themselves. Or are they?

She told me that my nephew, despite a sour stomach and high temperature, was up and ready for a sick day's lunch.

We laughed at what could have deteriorated into a depressing situation. And reminded ourselves at the family attitude toward ill health: Get over it - and fast.

For a family who always seemed to have a full slate of medical appointments, we took no joy from time spent under the weather.

Healing, health and medical science loomed large in the household where I grew up. The key to good health, the adults said, was a cheerful outlook and a certain skepticism of the medical profession. Not that they slammed the medical profession. Aunt Cora, after all, was the mother of a respected Baltimore surgeon.

Cora was our chief healer. And she was pretty good at it, too. Her medicines were chiefly baked egg custards, fresh-squeezed orange juice, toast and chicken broth, all brought to your bed on a tray decorated with a scene of Mount Vernon Place in the 1850s.

The rule was, when you started to ask for special dietary treats to be shipped upstairs, you were well enough to come downstairs and take your place at the table. Once there, if you were wrapped in convincing pajamas and robe, you might get what you wanted.

There could be much tableside discussion about real troubles - heart, cancer, gall bladders and the like. But there were two dreaded words: hospital and operation. Those terms were discussed with the sort of gravity reserved for World War II.

In matters of severe sickness, my grandmother was the house chicken. She did not like hospitals and had to be ordered inside them at gunpoint. She did, however, do her duty when my grandfather suffered a heart attack. She regularly spent her time at Sinai while he was in the coronary unit.

Once he returned home, she vowed: never again.

I often asked my grandmother why she so feared hospitals. She replied with a set of frankly weird and chilling stories about the medicine she had witnessed as a young woman growing up in Baltimore. I don't think I would ever want to go back to the Broadway doctors' offices of the 1890s she recalled.

She also told me of her own pregnancy and delivery of my Uncle Edward Jacques, for whom I am named.

He was delivered at Calvert Street's Mercy Hospital in 1918. I don't know why she consented to a hospital stay - but she did.

Once her baby was declared OK, Lily Rose escaped. She got up and left, telling her husband to make good on the bill. She was out of there, as only Lily Rose could exit a place she did not like.

As for her health, Lily Rose never again was in a hospital as a patient. And, by the way, she never drank or smoked. She also lived the longest of all her siblings.