The people who do not come to church anymore because they say that Mass is boring and is always the same old thing, should have been at the 9:00 Mass last Sunday. As those of you who were there know, I made a rather dramatic exit. I fainted during Mass and got carted off to Northwestern Hospital in an ambulance. It turned out to be nothing life threatening. The older you get, of course, the greater the odds that your collapse is due to a heart attack. But the crew at Northwestern found no evidence of anything other than a fainting spell from dehydration brought on by a sudden onset of a virus. So, they let me go early Sunday afternoon and I spent the rest of Sunday and most of Monday not doing anything productive. I thank Fr. Doyle, who stepped in to clean up at the loose ends at the 9:00 Mass and took care of the 10:30 Mass (which involved a ritual with our RCIA folks) and I thank our Provincial, Fr. John Fontana, who dashed over to preside at the 12:15 Mass (which Fr. Doyle was slated to celebrate). Thanks to all who came up from the congregation to nurse me back to consciousness (whose names and faces I don’t know since I was unconscious) and to Susan Gold and Michelle Gordon who rode with me in the ambulance to the hospital.
This was my first ride in an ambulance in 56 years. My other ride took place when I was in the second grade, and it really turned out to be something serious. I contracted encephalitis, a complication from a case of the mumps. Encephalitis is a swelling of the brain that can leave permanent neurological damage. I realize some of you are thinking right now, “That explains a lot”. Well, permanently damaged or not, I spent five days in the hospital and another three weeks in bed. This was before we had vaccines for measles and mumps. I know it has become trendy in some quarters to question the safety of these vaccines, but based on my own experience I have very little sympathy for that kind of thinking. I wish those vaccines had been around in the 1950’s.
Something else I remember being different in 1961 is that ambulances (at least in Memphis) were still privately owned. If you needed an ambulance in an emergency, there was no 911. You had to go to the yellow pages of the phone book and look up Ambulances. Hopefully there would be an ambulance company located not too far from where you lived and their ambulances were not all in use or the driver on duty had not gone out to lunch. I remember there were horror stories of people having to wait 45 minutes or an hour for an ambulance. Ambulances looked different too. They were basically station wagons equipped with a siren. Decades earlier, if you needed an ambulance, you called a funeral home (This I learned from my mother, whose uncle was a funeral director). Calling a funeral home for an ambulance may see grim and defeatist, but it does make sense. After all, there is not much difference between the service provided by an ambulance and the service provided by a hearse. They both transport someone who is lying down in the back. And, I suppose in the old days, if you were already dead, there would be no need to even stop off at the hospital. So there was savings on fuel.
While on the subject of sickness and hospitals, let me take note of a significant change that has occurred in the last twenty-five years. Once upon a time when you were admitted to a hospital, you were asked if you were a member of a church or congregation. This would be noted on your admissions record. Priests and ministers could thumb through lists of patients at the information desk or the pastoral care office and find out if any of their members were in the hospital. At many hospitals, a volunteer would spend the day calling churches to let them know that a member of their congregation had been admitted and in what room he or she could be found. In my St. Louis parish, where we had a large number of elderly members, I would regularly scoop up the notes that the parish secretary had placed in the “hospital” box and make the rounds of nearby hospitals. Now, with privacy laws, this no longer happens. So, if you or a loved one is admitted to a hospital and would like a visit, do let me know. I’ll visit as long as I am not a patient myself!