Chapter 5: Ashby’s Illness–1938-39

Ashby’s Memories

The summer of 1938 I built lime kilns and burned them. Sometimes I helped spread lime that farmers bought from me. Before school was to start (while helping to spread lime), I got a boil on my cheek. I dressed it carefully, but it got infected and caused a blood-stream infection, pneumonia, osteomyelitis, and empyema. I went to the hospital instead of teaching. Ruth’s sister Lydia taught for me and gave us half her salary. She taught over 1 1/2 years while I was recovering, for which we were so thankful.

Not only Lydia, but many, many were extra good to us. The first Christmas when I was sick, the communities of Jarvisville and Morris gave us food and enough money to put electricity in our house. Lydia’s husband, Oris Stutler, wired our home free of charge.

Ruth’s Memories

The summer of 1938 we managed to get through without having to borrow money. (In those days, school teachers received pay only during the months they taught.) However, Ashby took sick the latter part of August and had to go to the hospital on August 28. His Dad and Mother were living on a farm near Sutton, but she left everything and came to stay with the children. I went to the hospital with Ashby.

At first they made me leave the room when the nurses needed to do anything for him, but he would not let anyone touch his right leg to move it but me–so they always had to come and get me. They soon let me stay with him. The first night Susie stayed with him, and I went to Salem to Lydia’s for the night, going back early the next morning.

They found that Ashby had infectious pneumonia, pus on his lungs, and a very sore upper right leg. Only one doctor in the hospital thought he had any chance to recover because no patient with his kind of pneumonia had ever recovered and they only expected 50 percent of the empyema patients to live. This one doctor (Dr. H. H. Golz) took his case and finally pulled him through. At that time the only thing they knew to do was put him in an oxygen tent. The tent covered the top half of the bed; he could have only his hands out from under the cover. He could not eat, so they fed him through the veins. We had to keep a record of all the water and fluids he took and get all down him we possibly could. He was only out of the tent long enough to give him a bath and change his bed.

After the first night, they gave me a room in the same wing he was in and gave me three meals a day. Susie continued to stay at night. The doctor asked her if Ashby had any bad habits. She said, “Doctor, he does not even swear.”

They gave him a blood transfusion almost every day. Orville had no trouble finding donors. In all, he had 27 blood transfusions and used 26 tanks of oxygen. They made seven incisions around his leg near the hip but could not determine what was wrong. Each morning the doctor would say, “He is no worse. That is a good sign.” They did think the trouble all came from a staphylococcus germ getting into the blood stream from a boil on his cheek.

Since Ashby’s leg was so sore that he could not stand to have it moved, they put him in a cast from his waist to his toes. The other leg they put in a half cast to his knee to hold his foot straight.

After four weeks, the doctor said, “He is better. He will make it.” Dr. Haines said, “I don’t know what kind of a hell of a fix he will be in.”

By that time we decided I could sleep on a folding cot by Ashby’s bed at night and Susie would not need to stay.

O. B. (Orville) was teaching in North View. He stopped in every morning and evening to see how Ashby was and to ask if he could do anything.

Lydia had not taught since she was married; but when Ashby took sick, she persuaded the Board of Education to let her teach in Ashby’s place until he could return. His salary was $150 per month, and she gave us half of it. I don’t know how we could have managed without that and Grandma Randolph’s help.

Our Seventh Child Arrives

Near the middle of November, we decided I had better come home. Lucille and Leola Van Horn came to stay with me and Grandma stayed with Ashby. I was home just one week when Beth arrived–on November 21. She did not give us much warning, so she beat the doctor here by more than an hour.

When Dr. Golz heard Beth was here, he said Ashby could come home for a while. He got here November 23, the day before Thanksgiving. What a lot to be thankful for!! In those days, when a baby arrived, one had to stay in bed for ten days. I usually made it a point to get the darning and mending all caught up while I had to stay in bed. This time, since Ashby was in one bedroom and I was in another, some kind soul got the idea to fix up two checkerboards and number the squares on each. They opened the door between the rooms so we could hear each other. We each had a full set of checkers. One would say what checker to move to a certain number, and we would both make that move. Then the other would say what one to move. We passed away a lot of time (even if I did lose most of that time for mending). It was much nicer when I was able to be in the same room with him.

More About Ashby’s Illness

Dr. Golz came out every week to see how things were going. That cast really caused a lot of trouble. Ashby was just sure it was full of ants and they were crawling every place. It especially annoyed him under the knee. I took a knife and cut out a good-sized piece until I could bathe it under there and use powder or lotion. That eased things for a while. I kept making the hole a little bigger.

In January the doctor wanted him to go back to the hospital for more tests. When they took the cast off, it was not hard to see why it felt like ants were in it. The skin was nothing but scales–all dried up. What a mess!

Mother Randolph had had her fill of hospital life while she was with Ashby before Beth was born. She said she would stay here and keep things going, so I took Beth with me. Arden and Olivine Bee lived in Clarksburg (his mother was an aunt of Grandma Randolph). They said I could stay there nights, and they would be happy to keep Beth through the day while I was at the hospital with Ashby. They gave her a bottle. He only had to stay one week that time.

About the middle of February the doctors had decided that the hip trouble was bone cancer. They thought if they amputated he would have at least five years of comfortable existence. Ashby agreed to have it done if I stayed with him. Orville and Lucille wanted to keep Beth while we were at the hospital (they had never had a little girl). Grandma Randolph had enough to do taking care of the rest of the family.

This time Ashby was in a semi-private room. He wanted Susie to go to the operating room with him. Since she was a registered nurse, they agreed to let her stay with him. Because they had found no pus in all of the incisions they had made, they were sure it was bone cancer. But when they amputated, they found pus that ran out on the table and even onto the floor. Then they knew it was not cancer–but osteomyelitis.

When they brought him back to the room, they had his cart elevated at the foot and his head hanging down off the end of the cart. Four doctors and two nurses were with him. They were giving him a blood transfusion and also feeding him through the veins. I don’t think I will ever forget that sight!

The other patient in the room asked to be moved to another room immediately. (The sight of Ashby just about scared the life out of him.) That turned out to be good (they let me sleep in that bed and they also brought my meals to me). I am sure it was much easier being right there day and night for both of us.

Ashby improved right along, but his left leg had been straight for so long that the knee would not bend. It had to be broken loose. Getting it to work again was a long, painful process.

Orville continued to stop in every night and morning. He massaged and worked with the leg every time he came. The doctor told the nurses to work with it often, but he told Ashby not to let anyone hurt it–so Ashby would not let the nurses touch it.

After about four weeks, Ashby was doing very well and things at home were needing some attention. Ashby agreed to get along in the daytime if I would stay with him at night. That worked real well, for Lydia would meet me at Wolf Summit every morning (I could get a streetcar to there) in time to take me home and get back to school at Jarvisville on time. In the evenings she would come and get me, take me to the streetcar, then go on home. (I don’t recall how I got there Sabbath and Sunday nights, but I got there.)

By April Ashby’s stump was nearly healed. His leg was very slowly recovering, and they decided to let him come home. He had been having shots for pain in the hospital and had to switch to pain pills when he came home. We lived through, but we will skip that part, now.

One Sabbath morning while I was giving him a bath and shaving him, he lifted his foot just an inch or two off the bed. Then for several weeks, it seemed each Sabbath morning he could do something he had not been able to do before.

O. B. and Lucille had persuaded us to let them keep Beth until school was out the following year.

When garden time came, we thought we could manage, so Grandma Randolph went back home. I know Grandpa was glad to have her back, but I am equally sure he never once complained about her staying. He undoubtedly was the most patient man I ever knew.

That summer Ashby learned to use crutches. It was not easy. He thought that if he could be up at my home for a week, he could learn to walk on their long front porch. Main came down and got him one Friday evening. By Sunday he decided he wanted to come back home. We were surprised but well pleased to have him back.

In April of 1940, Ashby thought he could teach again. There was a long flight of steps down to the schoolhouse–also a bank down to the playground. He had not learned to manage that on crutches alone, so I went with him every day. He kept me busy all day helping some of the slower ones who needed extra help. I enjoyed it.

That summer Ashby was able to sit outside wherever we were working and watch us. I don’t think I ever looked up and waved to him when he did not wave back–whether I was hoeing, pulling weeds, or cutting filth. Sometimes I would try to get him to stay in the shade, but he would always say, “If you can work in the sun, I can surely sit in it.”

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