It was a fairly common practice back in the late 1940’s, 50’s and ‘60’s. Mothers hauling their young-uns, en masse to the doctor to “get your kid’s tonsils out. Adenoids included at no extra charge!” (The adenoids part may or may not be true. It sounds snarky though). Our family physician, Dr Hegg performed these tonsillectomies routinely right in his small, downtown office. Many kids in our elementary or junior high had their tonsils removed. The medical community felt it stopped a lot of infections. My Mom set up such an appointment one day in the early 50’s for my brother and sister. Mona was about 8, Larry about 5. The reason I was not included in that day’s festivities was because I was 1.
I don’t know how many sore throats my sibs had before Doc suggested getting rid of those unruly balls in the back of their throats. Penicillin shots were doled out to combat serious throat infections but I think many of these constant infections stopped once the problem tonsils were removed. Mom brought Mona and Larry home after a few hours and nursed them through their recovery. In a few days they were feeling great.
Doc Hegg’s office was about 2 blocks away. I walked to it many times by myself. I was never afraid to go to Doc’s office. Once again I had woken up that morning with a fever and terrible sore throat. Mom would take my temperature, give me an aspirin before she went to work. Doc Hegg’s office didn’t offer set appointments. You stepped into his outer office and sat down on one of the U-shaped bench seats and waited your turn. As Doc called “next,” the person closest to the inner office door went through it. Then the rest of us ‘wait-ers’ would shuffle forward, moving ever closer to said inner door, leaving room by the outside door for the next sicko to start the waiting process. I can only remember a couple instances when someone went-in-out-of-turn (a lot of dripping blood or a broken bone accompanied this particular person. The rest of us were uneasy/queasy with this poor dude’s mishap and just wanted him taken care of and out of sight). Mom would call me at home from work and tell me it was time to walk to his office and get a shot. I dreaded the shot but hated being sick worse.
After the age of 8, I routinely ended up parking my butt in Doc’s office’s last seat, especially during our long winters. People who knew Mom and Dad would talk to me sometimes, trying to make me feel better or offering comfort because I was alone. The only part I was nervous about was the actual shot-which hurt, but I knew by tomorrow I would feel a lot better. Doc was a bit gruff, mumbling and chain smoking as he cared for Rock Valley’s patients. I never had money when I went to see Doc but Mom would stop by in a few days and pay for the shot and office visit.
After a couple years of penicillin shots every couple months, Doc thought it was time to have my tonsils removed, but he no longer did tonsillectomies in his office. (His namesake, Hegg Memorial Hospital’s groundbreaking would not happen for another 5 years). Doc did surgery at the Le Mars hospital about 40 miles away. He called Mom and offered several dates to choose from for my tonsillectomy. I would stay in the hospital overnight. Probably the biggest concern was their use of ether for anesthesia. It was well known for causing nausea and vomiting, not the best solution after just having your tonsils removed.
But I did great. Wasn’t sick afterwards and got pampered and treated to cool foods that went down easy. When I was awake and alert a volunteer came to my room pushing a decorated cart. I think she was surprised that I was 10 years old instead of 5. She explained every “kid” who’s a patient at the hospital is offered a small gift to pick out from the cart for being so brave. Problem was these ‘gifts’ were geared towards someone younger than 7. Hokey little stuffed animals that bordered on embarrassing for this big 4th grader. But I couldn’t let this opportunity slip away either. If they were offering me a present, I was taking something off that cart. I chose a little blue and white stuffed doll with an elastic strap sewn on the top of her head. A small plastic O-ring was stitched on top so it could be hung somewhere for babies to grab and tug, developing their dexterity. That little doll hung on a nail in my bedroom until I left home. Now she sits with most of Larry’s toys in an antique cabinet. I just love my little baby toy because of my bravery.
When Mom came to the hospital late the next morning, she asked if I felt well enough to stop somewhere for lunch on the way home? “Sure do. This sore throat’s nothing compared to the ones I’ve had. Let’s go.” So we drove to Sioux Center and stopped at a restaurant in town. Mom looked the menu over carefully, searching for soups, jello, puddings and other soft foods. She said I could have a malt if I ate it with a spoon instead of a straw (no sucking for a few days). I ordered a hamburger and French fries, best food I ever ate. Slid right down the hatch-no problem. I hadn’t felt that good in a couple years.
What a change when I had my kids during the 70’s, just 15 years later! Tonsillectomy’s were no longer encouraged but were frowned upon. I’d never really thought about that common childhood surgery until Joshua, our middle kid was school age. That poor boy was sick all the time. He’d just get over a throat infection and finally finish a round of antibiotics when I’d walk in to check him late at night and his room smelled like he was baking 4 loaves of bread. All yeasty and sour. He’d be running another fever, his tonsils swollen, inflamed and coated grey, covered with a moldy gunk. He suffered through mononucleosis, an enlarged spleen which kept him bedridden for a couple weeks, all because of his enormous tonsils. But Dr. Miller was required to document Joshua’s infections to ‘prove’ his tonsils needed to be removed before he could recommend surgery. I’m pretty sure he had to have 6 throat infections within a 12 month period before they took out those loathsome things. Our other 2 kids had sore throats on occasion but nothing like the miserable years Josh had with them from age 4 to when we finally got the go-ahead to get them taken out.
Think Josh was 8 when his tonsils were taken out and felt about the same way I did afterwards. So happy not to be sick all the time. In the months following, he grew several inches and gained 10 pounds. Surprised at how hard he could play and how much food he could eat. So Hubs, Shannon and Adam still have their tonsils but for Josh and his mom that tonsil train was a trip worth taking…
3 thoughts on “The Tonsil Train…”
Great story Denise. Dr. Hegg took my tonsils out also. I was not having problems with mine but my brother Phil was so it was decided that I would have mine out at the same time. Two for one. Our surgery was in Le Mars also with gifts from the nuns on that cart. I remember many times sitting in Dr. Hegg’s office with Bonnie to get our 8 yearly hay fever shots. One a day for eight days. He also delivered all 3 of us kids. Great picture of Dr. & Polly Hegg. They went to our church. Thanks for the story & memories of our small Iowa town!
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Haha Greg, you are the first one to comment that Doc removed tonsils from a kid who WASN’T having a lot of throat issues. I thought I had some recollection of nuns when I was in the hospital and your gift/cart memory confirms that one too. Dr. Hegg didn’t deliver me because he insisted mom deliver in the hospital so she changed to Dr. Locke when I was about to be born. Then she switched back to Hegg. I think the picture of Doc and Polly was in a book written by Doc’s kid that I bought a few years ago. Looks like it was kind of a formal affair, maybe a special anniversary or wedding of one of their sons. Thanks so much for reading and commenting…
Yikes! No pampering you guys when you were young! I hope Larry and Mona had some type of anesthetic. I can’t believe you were just trucked off to the doctor by yourself when you were right. My sister had her tonsils out when we were kids. Definitely in the hospital and under anesthesia. I don’t think she felt great after the operation. Seems she was on quite a bit of sin for a couple of days. I feel sorry for your son. Sounds awful. My son Mark had recurring tonsillitis for a couple of years. The doctor told me to try giving him yogurt. He loved it and didn’t have another throat infection for years.