Yachta Mache - 6
One of the perks of being an officer in a uniformed service, was going to the Post Exchange - PX - for cheap items. I bought a bedspread, a stereo, lots of records, including Man of La Moncha, and various other bits and pieces to make my life more interesting. Our Fort Wadsworth PX was about a mile and a half down Bay Street, the main drag in our part of Staten Island. I drove there once. I
can't remember how I happened to have a car – perhaps I rented it for the day, but probably somebody lent it to me. But I can truthfully say that I drove in New York City.
On a cold Tuesday, November 9th, 1965, we saw a sight that few people have. Manhattan was in a black out. Our view from the hospital was of Manhattan , and we were used to seeing the skyline lit up every night when we went back to the nursing home. But this night, it looked like that area had been erased from the world. We went up to the roof of our home to have a better look – and it was just as black and empty from up there.
We later read that over 30 million people and 80,000 square miles were left without electricity for up to 13 hours. The cause of the failure was human error that happened days before the blackout. Maintenance personnel incorrectly set a
protective relay on one of the transmission lines between the bits of generating system on Niagara. The safety relay which was to trip if the current exceeded the capacity of the transmission line, was set too low. At 5:16 p.m. Eastern Time, a small surge of power caused the wire to trip at far below the line's rated capacity, disabling a main power line. Instantly, the power that was flowing on the tripped line transferred to the other lines, causing them to become overloaded. With no place else to go, the excess power then switched direction. Station after station experienced load imbalances and automatically shut down. For some reason, Staten Island was not affected, nor nearby New Jersey. The next night everything looked normal again.
I had a blood relative who lived in New York City and his mother, my aunt Rose, told him that he must invite me to his apartment. So he did. Cousin John Szarkowski, who died a few years ago, was a very famous man. He was the director of the photography section of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. He's also written loads of books. (When I was recently in Oregon, Margaret gave me two of them which she had found at a charity shop. The original price on each was $100.) I didn't remember ever meeting him before – he was my half-sister Kathleen's age – so 17 years older than me. He and his wife Jill invited me for dinner one Friday in November.
John's apartment was on 5th Avenue overlooking Central Park. Now, I know that that was a very prestigious address, and I should be very impressed. But in those days, I just thought it was a big apartment in an old not very attractive brick building. (I also was unimpressed with Cambridge colleges and Stonehenge when I first saw them.)
You might think that remembering a meal that I had fifty years ago must mean that it was very different. But it was chicken. The reason I remember it so well, is because it was Friday. I had never in my life intentionally eaten meat on a Friday, being a good Catholic. But the alternative was to embarrass my hostess and ruin
the evening, so I did eat it, and never said a word, except thank you and how tasty it was. We also had our salad after the main course, and then cherries for desert. John and Jill had a baby, Nina, and she was playing happily in a playpen when I arrived. She was put down to sleep before we ate.
John played the clarinet, and he knew that I was a pianist, so he got out some music and we had a little concert. It went well and was great fun.
Then he showed me some of his photographs, and although they were very good, I am sure, again being naive and stupid, I just thought they were nice photographs. He did tell me something that I never forgot – and probably it was the nicest compliment I ever received. He said I had an interesting face, and it would be fun to take my picture. He never did, but I guess our common Polish noses was what he spotted in me.
It turned out that I had to be on duty on Christmas day that year, so couldn't go home, so John and Jill invited me to spend Christmas with them. But I chose not to go, and as I was working, I did have a good excuse. Aunt Rose had sent a present to them to give to me, a half slip, and they forwarded it to me.
Probably a summer or two later, John and Nina had another baby, whom they called Alex (the name of John's and my grandfather). When Alex was two, they took a trip to see Aunt Rose, John's mother who lived in Wisconsin. Rose was babysitting Alex, and he was jumping on a bed, and he fell off, cracked his skull, and died. Jill refused to ever go back to visit with Rose, and for years she was very depressed. They did have another child, a girl, called Natasha, but I never met her. And Jill never forgave Rose, nor did Rose forgive herself. John went to his mother's funeral on his own.
About this time I developed a bladder infection. I didn't want to go to see a doctor and hoped it would cure itself, but I was getting up four or five times each night to make the long cold trip down the hall to the toilet.
Finally I went and was given an antibiotic, but it wasn't cured in the prescribed time, so I was sent for a series of examinations. I had an intravenous pylogram. They injected a dye which then was traced as it entered and left the kidneys.I could feel heat in my blood vessels as the dye travelled along them. They x-rayed this, and it apparently caused quite a stir among the medics working in that department. At dinner one night, one of the medical interns told me that my x-ray had been the subject of their lesson – and I had a medulary sponge kidney.
Here's some more science for you. Medullary sponge kidney, also known as Cacchi-Ricci disease, is a birth defect where changes occur in the tubules, or tiny tubes, inside a fetus’ kidneys. In a normal kidney, urine flows through these tubules as the kidney is being formed during a fetus’ growth. In medullary sponge
kidney, tiny, fluid-filled sacs called cysts form in the tubules within the medulla—the inner part of the kidney—creating a sponge like appearance. The cysts keep urine from flowing freely through the tubules. Symptoms of medullary sponge kidney do not usually appear until the teenage years or the 20s. Medullary sponge kidney can affect one or both kidneys. Urinary tract infections are frequent. One is 5,000 in the US has this problem.
I was proud of being an interest specimen – but scared about what it might mean, so I looked it up in my medical dictionary, and it was scarey indeed. But he'd made a mistake. I did have something wrong, but nothing as serious as that. I have four kidneys. Each appeared to be fully formed.
"It's extremely rare for additional kidneys to be complete. One in a million is probably about right," said an expert.
The condition is caused by a glitch in the first trimester, when the developing kidneys split in two. It is more common for these "duplex kidneys" to split only partially, or to grow a second ureter (the tube that drains urine into the bladder).
Duplex kidneys occur in 1% of the population, the most common complication being infections caused by urine flowing back up to the ureter.
So I was scheduled for a dilation. This is usually done by passing a thin plastic rod (boogie) into the urethra with a local anesthetic. Rods of increasing thickness are gently inserted to gradually dilate the narrowed stricture. The anesthetic wasn't totally effective in controlling the pain. I called the doctor later, telling him I was bleeding. “I'm not surprised,” he said. “Your urethra was the size of a small knitting needle and now it's the size of a pencil.” And after that I didn't have any more bladder problems. I went back to work that afternoon and the Miss Warner, the boss, was very impressed with me.