Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD
(1910 - 1995)
I was asked to write about growing up in Berlin in more detail since
it differs considerably from the American experience.
I was born in
the north-east part of Berlin in 1910. It was a part of the city that
was inhabited mostly by blue collar and white collar workers and small
business people. This section was built after the Prussian-French War
[Franco—Prussian War] (1870-71); after this war,
the German Empire under Emperor William [Wilhelm] I was founded. The streets
in my neighborhood were named after victorious [German] battles; for example,
I lived at Metzerstrasse, corner Weissenburgerstrasse. The streets were
wide and often lined with trees or even a central promenade. The houses were
five stories high, as was usual in Berlin, and most facades were sandstone; the
wide portals were framed by imposing mystical pseudo-Greek figures. However,
once one walked though this grand entrance one came to a backyard, which was
surrounded by the so called Hinterhauser, which were more modest even
primitive dwellings, whose apartments often lacked private toilets and bathrooms.
The house I was born and grew up in was a corner house facing a small
park, Senefelder Platz, where a statue honoring Alois Senefelder, the
inventor of lithography  was installed. We lived in a six--room
apartment on the second floor (considered the third floor in America
[the ground floor was not a “floor”]).
The rooms were very large and had high ceilings. We had cold
running water, but no hot water or central heating. Each room had a
large stove which almost reached the ceiling; they were faced with
majolica tiles. Although beautiful to look at they were very difficult
to heat. Early in the morning the maid would light a fire the briquettes
in the stoves; the briquettes, consisted of pressed coal dust, and
each one weighed a pound. They were carried up the stairs
to our apartment by the coal delivery man, one hundred pieces at a
time, and piled in a dark corner of a closet.
The entrance to the apartment
was through a wide door into a good sized foyer. The door was lined
on the inside with iron sheets painted brownish-red to prevent any
break-ins, which were quite common after The First World War. A corridor
ran the length of the apartment form the foyer to the kitchen with
doors leading to the various rooms. The kitchen was about 20 by 15
feet, its floor was covered with small blue and white tiles and the
walls, half way up, with Dutch tiles. Two large windows looked out
on a court yard. There was also a small chamber, the larder or speisekammer, which
had a window; all food was stored in it. We did not have an icebox
or a refrigerator. The kitchen was cool in the summer and freezing cold in
the winter, and my mother would wear several layers of wool clothing, woolen
stockings and heavy shoes when she was busy in the kitchen. Next to the kitchen
was my parents’ bedroom;
then my father's office and a waiting room; the corner room was the
dining room. It had five large windows, and in the winter it was impossible
to heat. Later on [date not specified] my parents added a small anthracite
stove in one corner of the dining room. This stove sufficed to heat the room.
On the upper part of a large sliding door, there were large etched glass panels
decorated with a landscape depicting swans in a lake. The imagery was designed
in Art Nouveau style, which was modish for that period. The door led into the
Salon which was used only when we had guests, since the dining room was spacious
enough for a couch, armchairs, and a dark oak closet that reached to the ceiling
and peculiarly enough had mirrors at the top. I have seen this kind of furniture
in America in the Roosevelt home at Hyde Park. The Salon had a balcony which
we used in the summer having our meals outside, enjoying the sun and the evening
breezes. When my parents needed another room so that I would have a room of
my own, the waiting room was divided by a wall making two medium sized rooms
of one large one. I also had my own balcony.
I was born in my parent's bedroom,
my father and an uncle, who was also a physician, and a midwife were
in attendance, and also a wet-nurse, who for one year supplied the
mother's milk. I never drank from a bottle. When I was grown up I was
told that after the wet-nurse left I was given a bottle but used it
for play. I learned immediately how to drink from a glass. As was common
at that time a nursemaid took care of me. Even when I started school
a governess would come in the afternoon to supervise my homework, and
when I was smaller, she put me to bed. This may sound as if my parents
were very distant, but this was not the case. We ate our meals together
and we went on visits or outings on Sunday.
The first World War started
in July 1914. I vaguely remember when that occurred. [My mother was
four years old in 1914.] We had been vacationing in a mountain resort
when suddenly everybody started to disappear; we too took an overcrowded
train to return to Berlin. My father, at that time, was in his late
forties and was not called to serve in the army, but he had a very
busy practice. I can still remember that in or about 1916 an epidemic
of small pox broke out in Germany, probably introduced from the Eastern
front, where typhus and typhoid were rampant. At that time we had only
enough briquettes to
heat the examination room and my parent's bedroom. My father vaccinated patients
with four vertical incisions about a quarter of an inch long in the
was still the method taught me in medical school in 1934. Then the
patient was sent into the bedroom to sit on chairs until the vaccination
dried. In the midst of all this to-do in the room, I sat at my little
desk and learned to write the alphabet, my mother sitting next to me
saying "up, down." I still have
my first book where I wrote my letters. I remember it as a very cold
winter, and in school we sat with our coats and gloves on.
Now I must
explain the school system in Berlin, which may have been different
from those in other German cities. From the beginning, boys and girls
were separated. We started school at the age of six. As far as I know
there were no public kindergartens, although some private ones may
have existed. The first day of school was a very traumatic for me.
I cried and the other children stared at me.
The school system consisted
of two distinct branches. One branch, the Gemeindeschule or free trade
school, was intended to prepare a child for a trade. Entry began at
six and continued until the fourteenth year, when graduation occurred.
No foreign languages were taught; emphasis was placed on the three
R's, and on history and geography; science education was minimal. Students
who had studied at the Gemeindeschule continued
their education in trade schools. The other system consisted of relatively
inexpensive private schools; scholarships were available for children
who could not pay the fee and who were intelligent. Girls went to lyceums
from which they graduated at age sixteen. Afterwards, many attended
special schools which trained them as secretaries, nurses, teachers,
and so forth. A few girls would continue their education in a Gymnasium;
for example my class consisted of only eight students. Graduation was
at nineteen. French, English, Latin, advanced mathematics, history,
philosophy, and Geography were taught, but only rudimentary chemistry,
physics and biology. To graduate one had to pass the dreaded Abitur
examination, which was written and oral. After graduation from Gymnasium
one could attend any university in any field one wished.
a Gymnasium, which they often left at sixteen and entered the business
world in one way or another or they would continue their education
until the age eighteen or nineteen, when they, too, had to take their
When I was seven years old, I became seriously
ill in the fall of 1916, having gone to school from the beginning of
spring of 1916. I probably had a septic sore throat --sepsis was not recognized in
developed into a kidney infection. In pre-antibiotic time the condition
was considered incurable. Looking back at the treatment it was really
heroic and I must have had an excellent constitution to survive it.
When my temperature became extremely high I would be wrapped in linen
sheets that had been soaked thoroughly in ice cold water. Then I was
administered hot tea with lemon and covered with several blankets to
make me sweat. This treatment is mentioned in the earliest medical
texts and changed little over millennia; in the twentieth century antibiotics
revolutionized treatment and brought about favorable outcomes. As the
fever subsided, the patient in a very weakened condition.
I recovered after several months, but had to keep a special diet for
many years. I lost half a school year and in September 1917 transferred
to a school near home. There were over forty girls in one class and
I made new friends. My favorite subjects were history and German. I
adored my history teacher, a tall buxom blond blue eyed woman, a typical
Aryan ideal. I scratched her initials E. K. on my desk, on every windowsill
and in other places. I would get up early in the morning in order to
stand at the trolley--car stop, waiting for her arrival. She must have
been an excellent teacher who awoke in me a love for history, and inspired
me to read history books far beyond my age. In contrast to her, I hated
and feared my English teacher. When she came into the classroom I forgot
everything I had learned at my lesson at home. All through that year
I had terrible nightmares and slept poorly, but nobody noticed. I later
found out that several other pupils had also gone through this ordeal.
When my mother went to school for one of the parent-teacher interviews,
she told me how much that particular teacher liked me, and, as a matter
of fact, I was her favorite pupil, but it was too late, and I was glad
when the following year a new teacher replaced her. After four years
at this school, I transferred to the Gymnasium, which was about a twenty--minute
walk from home in a rather rundown neighborhood of Berlin; it was there
that I encountered the seamier side of the city. After a while I knew
every prostitute along the way; they pursued their trade beginning
early in the morning. The prostitutes never bothered schoolchildren.
Beggars, however, would ask for handouts for these were hard times. Inflation
in the early twenties had caught up with us.
In 1918, Emperor William II fled
to Holland and a revolution began, starting in Hamburg and Kiel, harbor
cities; sailors were the first to revolt. A few years later a book
by a well--known author was to be published, Der Kaiser Ging,
Die Generale Blieben (The Emperor Leaves, the Generals Remain).
In hindsight, that the revolution was not thorough enough, since
it allowed generals like Hindenburg, who later became president of
Germany, and Ludendorf, the right--wing leader of the Deutschnationale
Party, to take
over the government and to let Hitler and Nazism grow wild until, eventually,
they took over the government of the country.
Before I continue my
account of my school years, I want to go back to my childhood, my parents,
and my family.
My mother was born and grew up in a small town
in West Prussia close to the Polish border. She had an older sister
and a brother. As a child she was sent to attend a lyceum in a nearby
town and only came home for vacation. She was a beautiful girl with
long blond hair, blue eyes, and a fine cut face. I still have her school
certificates; she received A's in all her courses. When she was sixteen
she was sent to Berlin to live in and attend a girl's pensionat in
order to learn the fine arts of being a lady. She was called back home,
however, when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and dying.
That year left an indelible impression on her. Her older sister had
married young and moved away; her brother was studying medicine in
Berlin, and she was left alone with her father who wanted her company.
Her friends had married and had left the town; it must have been a
lonely youth, indeed, until she married at the age of twenty three,
which was considered rather late at that time.
My father, too, grew up in a small town, but the family was large
and there were lots of young people around. He, too, was sent away
to attend a Gymnasium, and here, too, I have my father's certificates!
He was an average C student, and there are comments that he did not
work to his full capacity and was inattentive. However, he graduated
and attended medical school.
In Germany, you could study at a different university each semester,
if you wished; my father took full advantage of this provision. He
was in Munich, Griefswald, Wurzburg, and Berlin; he received his degree
from last-named university. His certificates indicate that he studied
with the most famous medical scientists of his day, including Rudolf
He opened his first office in a small town north of Berlin,
near the North Sea, where he built up a general practice, driving around
in a horse-drawn buggy drawn and accompanied by a
dachshund. He did small surgery, obstetrics, set bones, and pulled
teeth, which he enjoyed most of all. But life was lonely, especially
for a young Jewish doctor; he decided to move to Berlin, where he opened
an office in a working class neighborhood. His office was on
the main floor of an apartment house, which was rather uncommon in
Berlin. A woman, Frau Schmidt, kept house for him, cooked, and took
care of him, and, from the stories I heard later on he seemed to have
enjoyed a pleasant bachelor life. His nephews, being of his own age,
used my father's residence when they went to Berlin, and often would
enter the apartment through a window, when they did not have the key.
When my father was forty he gave up this lifestyle to marry. There
was a big wedding party, and I still have the printed menu with the
wine list and the names of the songs that were played. My parents settled
in Berlin in the apartment where I was born and in which I grew up
until I left for America in 1935.
As I have written before, my father was a general practitioner, a good
old--fashioned family physician who took care of patients day and night.
It was a rare night when the night-bell attached to the downstairs
entrance did not ring. My father would look out the window, the person
would call out loudly that somebody was sickl and would wait in the
street until my father got dressed, took his medical satchel, and went
downstairs to accompany the caller to his home. I never heard my father
complain about his disturbed sleep.
A general health insurance, die
Krankenkassen, had been introduced by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck
in 1871. This was in response to a certain restlessness among the workers
and white-- collar workers, including civil servants, . . . . . [for]
a comprehensive health insurance, which also included sanatoriums,
mainly for tuberculosis patients, and “recovery” homes,
where patients would be sent often after a serious illness or operation
by his treating physician. These kinds of institutions are still very
common in Germany and are usually connected with spas today. Later,
after the First World War, private health insurances developed but
never became significant. Medical care on the whole was not very expensive.
However, I can remember when the physicians went on strike against
the general health insurance in the early 1920's, when they were very
poorly paid. The patients had to pay in cash, since paying by check
did not exist and only after I came to America did I learn about checks.
My father never kept an account book. He had a calendar on his desk
and would write down, without recording names, the sums of money he
received. When, much later he had
a tax examination, the examiner threw up his hands and said he had
never seen such book--keeping, but he did not have to pay any additional taxes.
If patients could not pay he would never refuse to treat them or send
out bills. He relied on the honesty of the person and I think in the
long run in paid
When I was a child, my father liked me to accompany him on his
rounds of visits. These were neighborhood calls, and I enjoyed going
with him. When we arrived at the patient's apartment house he would
take me to the nearest candy store or grocery, buy me some sweets,
and ask the owner to let me wait in the store until he picked me up.
So we would go from one patient to another, and I would reap my rewards.
Until the end, my father remained a dedicated physician. When, in January
1937, my parents visited us in New York, a representative from the
Jewish council in New York visited us to urge us not to let my
parents go back to Hitler's Germany. But my father refused to stay: "Whenever
Hitler will not allow me to practice anymore there will be many Jews,
who will need medical help. I have to go back," he said. Who could
have believed that Hitler would kill everyone of them in concentration
camps. Luckily, my father died in December 1937, after a gallbladder
surgery, otherwise he would have perished in a camp together with his
patients. My mother joined my husband and me in Brooklyn in May 1938. In
my childhood, the most significant event was the First World War. All
I that I can recall when it started were flag-lined streets flags that
were put up after each German victory and when the German army was
victorious when it marched through Belgium and northern France. Then
that stopped. My father only hung the flag of Turkey, a German ally, from
the window. He was an ardent democrat and hated the Emperor and all
that he stood for. The allied blockade made itself felt, and soon the
German people, especially in cites began to starve. Rationing was introduced
early and long lines formed at groceries and butcher shops. I don't
remember ever going hungry, but daily fare consisted of potatoes
and turnips. Cakes and bread were baked with and from turnips; even
today I cannot eat turnips and their smell makes me slightly sick.
Bread looked gray and lumpy with a wide water streak under the crust,
since bakers were allowed
to use a certain amount of water in their dough. Milk never had cream
in it, and when I left in 1935, dairy farmers were allowed to put a
certain percentage of water into the utensil into which milk from the
cows was gathered. The first time that I saw a bottle of milk with
cream on top before the milk was homogenized was after my arrival in
New York. No wonder I did not like to drink milk. During the time I
was very sick in 1916-1917, I was allowed an extra ration of sugar
and butter. My father insured that all sick and elderly patients had
extra food by filling out forms for them. But food was hard to come
by. My mother canned fruit and vegetables when they were in season.
Sugar was non-- existent and a substitute was developed. The substitute
of butter, margarine, was white and could only be used for cooking.
Luckily, we had relatives living on farms in the countryside who could
provide us with some additional food. We would occasionally receive
a larger package of chicken or geese or a homemade salami which helped
to get some variety into our diet. Fruit was plentiful in its seasons,
but I knew bananas and oranges only from pictures; only years after
the war they became available at markets. We froze in the winter.
It seems the winters were harder in my youth. Frostbite of fingers
and toes were common, and in school we often sat with our coats and
gloves on. By November 1918 the war was over, followed by the revolution.
By then I was 8 years old and can remember exactly what happened.
call "windows closed, street free," was the warning that
there would be shooting in the streets. My father would go out to visit
patients with a red-cross band around his arm. There were parts in
Berlin, especially in west Berlin where there was no sign of revolution
and life went on peacefully. Since then, street fighting has become
more atrocious and the bombing of houses commonplace, but the
revolution in Berlin was bloody enough to leave indelible memories.
When I was twelve years old, I transferred to the Gymnasium which
was a twenty minute walk from home. We went to school from 8 or 9 o'clock
in the morning to 1 or 2 in the afternoon six days a week. We had several
hours of homework, but school and homework left me enough leisure time.
I had "grazien" lessons, where we learned how to walk and
sit gracefully together with gymnastic exercises and by the age of
fifteen and sixteen I had dancing lessons, which were given on Saturday
afternoon in alternating private homes. We were about twelve couples
and on Sunday we would get together by ourselves and dance. Lasting
friendships were formed.
During my teenage years the German mark lost
its value. We learned algebra by counting in millions and billions.
Inflation was so extreme that if a neighborhood store would sell a
pot or any other utensil, they would close the store, so that for one
day the owners could live on the money that they had earned, but the
merchandise could not be replaced. One really lived from day to day,
since money in the bank lost its value and by the time people were
paid their salary it was worthless. School books were not free, as
in America, and I remember vividly going from one bookstore to another
to find second--hand books for school. When people here speak of inflation
they really don't know what they are talking about. What we are now
experiencing is deflation, which is bad enough, but inflation, one
has to be experienced to understand. Germans papered their apartment
walls with this worthless money. Inflation lasted until the Dowes Plan
was introduced and the mark was stabilized.
This situation created
circumstances that allowed for the emergence of the Nazi Party. The
National Socialist Party, started in Munich in 1922, was directed by
an unknown Viennese housepainter Adolf Hitler, who in 1923 was put
into prison. There he wrote Mein Kampf,
a book that was read by too few people and ridiculed by his enemies.
He was released from prison after one year, in 1923.
In my youth in Berlin politics played an important part in our thinking.
The plays we attended, the poetry we read often expressed a political
viewpoint. The success of the Three Penny Opera and other plays
by Brecht impressed us deeply; anti-war plays were successful and so
were poems by Ernst Toller, and other young poets. We formed a group
that got together on Sunday afternoon to listen to poems that were
recited by promising young actors, most of whom were murdered by the
Nazis. When Paul von Hindenburg was elected President, and the rightwing
of the government became stronger and stronger, we had a fist fight
in class. The Twenties were turbulent political times in Germany and
we took participated in them.
Still, there was also enough time
to fall in and out of love many times. I loved to dance and one of
my cousins, who was a young medical student and who belonged to a Zionist
student organization would take me to their social functions, and there
were plenty of young men to choose from. I never missed not having
a brother. At a certain time in my life school was secondary to my
other interests. I worked just enough to get through to the next grade.
I was very good in German and History and poor in higher mathematics.
I was also good in religion, the only "A" I received
in my final Abitur examination.
not religious ideas, was taught in school twice a week. Jewish children
went into a different classroom where we learned Hebrew, read the Bible,
and studied Jewish history. The other children had their religious
lessons in another I classroom. There were no Roman Catholics in our
class, and few altogether in Berlin. Parents who did not want their
children to have religious lessons, and there were some atheists among
them, were excused. As we got older we asked our teacher to stop teaching
Hebrew and instead have more modern Jewish history. So it came about
that we Jewish girls developed more and more friendships among ourselves.
The curriculum did not prepare us for any special professions. Languages
were important, but instruction in chemistry and physics were elementary;
these subjects were taught in medical. school. The education in medical
school at my time was completely different from present day medical
instruction in America.
I started medical school in Berlin in the fall of 1929. Studies
were divided into two parts, pre--medical and medical. The first lasted
four semesters or two years, the second five or two and a half years.
The premedical studies consisted of anatomy, physiology, chemistry,
physics, biology, development [?], and botany. The second or clinical
part brought us into contact with the patient in all specialties, pathology,
and so forth. The first examination, the so call Physicum was oral
and taken after the first four semesters.
medical school was independent from the university. It consisted of
a large complex of hospitals and laboratories. No building was higher
than two floors and they were surrounded by gardens and greenery. The
whole complex was surrounded by a wall with several entrance portals.
When I left home on my first day to walk to the anatomy building my
parents wished me an anxious goodbye, wondering how I would react to
the new experience. I returned with enthusiasm. Anatomy instruction
consisted of a lecture and dissection of cadavers. We had a small booklet
with our picture pasted on the first page; in it was written the part
of the anatomy we were to work on. The student took this little book
to the dissecting room. Berlin's dissecting room was different from
any other in the world; it was divided into a male and a female room.
I do not remember if the cadavers were also separated by sex. The first
time I entered the anatomy room I was shocked to see a long table covered
with assorted arms and legs. Behind it were rows of dead bodies. Four
students would work together on one cadaver. Two on the torso and two
on the lower part of the body. There were smaller tables with chairs
along the window walls to which one carried the assigned body part
for dissection, be it leg, arm or head. The
room had an overpowering smell of formaldehyde. I heard of students
who fainted on their first day when they entered the room and
who never returned, preferring to study a “safer” subject.
In time I became accustomed to the smell and later on I even liked
because of my interest in anatomy. My first dissection was the torso
of an old woman and once having removed the outer skin I was overwhelmed
by the beauty of the muscle arrangement. The first winter semester
one worked on muscles and bones. During the summer microscopic anatomy
was taught, and the following winter semester blood vessels and nerves
were dissected; that was fine painstaking work. When the assignment
was completed the professor or one of his assistants, the only males
in the room, would examine the dissection and then put a grade in one’s
little book. Then the next assignment was given. At that time,
bodies were plentiful, but nowadays, in most medical schools, students
may have the opportunity to carry out dissections. Also, the teaching
of anatomy is no longer as important as in when I attended medical
school. More time is devoted to bio--chemistry.
I am not sorry that
I was required to learn the minutest details of the body. I can still
see in front of me the muscles and their attachments to the bones,
their blood supply and their nerves supply.
For me anatomy stands out
as the most exciting instruction of the pre--medical studies. I disliked
chemistry and physics, but learned enough to pass the examinations
with high grades only to forget most of it soon after. Female and male
students were not separated for physiology and experiments
on frogs; however, women preferred to let the men cut off the animals’ heads.
This is still vaguely memorable. The course in [ illegible]
was very interesting; it was given by a world--famous professor who
would walk back and forth slowly as he lectured, trying to infuse us
My friend Lotte and I decided to study in Freiburg
University for the second semester of medical school; courses started
after Easter and ended on the first of August. Freiburg is an interesting
old town in the middle of the Black Forest. In my opinion it has the
most beautiful German Gothic cathedral. The church is in the city center,
surrounded by a market square and medieval houses, or I should put
this statement in the past tense. In the World War II, more than ninety
percent of the city was destroyed. But when I returned to visit it
about ten years ago the cathedral, the market and the surrounding houses
had been rebuilt. The rest of the city had changed completely, and
I no longer could find my way around in it.
But in 1930 when we arrived,
it was a busy old city nestled against the Schlossberg (castle mountain),
where the ruins of an old castle looked down on the city. We had rented,
by mail, two rooms in an apartment belonging to an elderly couple.
The rooms were large, one had a small balcony, and there was running
cold water. The toilet was half way down the stairs and used by several
families, but it was always clean. Since it did not have a tub, we
went to a neighborhood bath house once a week.
We had a ten minute
walk to the medical school. The microscopic anatomy course was given
every morning from eight to ten. We must have
attended other courses too, but I do not recall them. It was up to
the student to attend, since attendance was not taken; moreover, there
were no examinations. We always attended the microscopic course, but
otherwise, when the weather was nice we would go walking in the woods
on the Schlossberg, where, halfway up to the castle there was a nice
restaurant where one could sit outdoors and have a light meal. Another
restaurant we frequented was located near the University. It served
vegetarian food. One dish we often ordered was a copious amount of
blueberries with milk; sour cream was unknown in Germany. The berries
were eaten with a famous--pumpernickel bread, spread thickly with seasoned
butter. On the way home from university, we would buy fruit and delicious
cake from a small bakery on our street. Otherwise I do not remember
very much about my semester at Freiburg. What I do vividly recall was
my first encounter with a Nazi. Berlin as a whole was a social--democratic
city, but Freiburg was in the south and not far from Munich where Hitler
had started and where his party grew very rapidly. My friend Lotte
had become acquainted with a young man who lived next door. One day
he was downstairs with a group of his friends. When we joined them
and shook hands, I suddenly realized that one young men had a
swastika armband. I turned around and fled upstairs, scrubbed my hands
well and wept. But I also met other students and became friendly with
them. Sometimes we would wander in the lovely forest and dance in the
moonlight, carrying our victrola up the mountain or we would take excursions
to nearby villages and lakes and always up a mountain. We frequently
hiked to mountaintops to view the surrounding countryside. Lotte and
I certainly did not overwork in Freiburg.
When George and I took our
first trip abroad together in 1957, after leaving Europe in 1935, we
were accompanied by our children Paul Peter, aged eighteen [nineteen],
and sixteen--year old Susan, we drove through the Black Forest and
my children asked repeatedly “where are
the mountains.” At the end of the semester my parents picked
me up and we traveled together to Switzerland. Then I really experienced
the difference between mountains and mountains. In the German language
one can distinguish between Mittelgeberge (medium mountains) and Hochgeberge
After my return from Freiburg, I continued my medical
studies in Berlin. After the fourth semester or two years one had to
take the physicum, a comprehensive oral examination lasting about seven
days. Two weeks before the exams started I had severe gallbladder attacks.
I did not want to miss them, so my father injected me with morphine
to relieve my pain. He accompanied me to the examination and took me
home afterwards. Towards the end of the examination period the acute
attacks stopped and not until 30 years later did I develop gallstones
and had to be operated. It is clear to me know, in retrospect, that
the gallbladder attacks were probably caused more by psychological
stress than by physiological pathology, but nonetheless they were painful,
and I am grateful that my father treated them accordingly. The fear
of becoming addicted to morphine is minimal in cases where it is given
to relieve severe pain and the patient normally will not ask for an
injection when the pain has subsided. I received morphine when needed
throughout my life, but never became dependent on it; this is
the usual experience with pain--relieving medication.
Part of the summer
semester I would work in different hospitals. After the first semester
I helped in the obstetrical department, dressing the newborns and taking
them to their mothers at feeding time. But I was also used in another
department. Without telling what the patients suffered from I was sent
to a large hospital room with twenty or more female patients. I was
to give them vaginal douches. After preparing them I would bring them
to the patient's bed and insert them into
the vagina. This was the prescribed treatment for gonorrhea at that
time, before antibiotics. Most of my patients were prostitutes who
at the same time used their hospitalization as a “vacation” from
their profession. In my innocence I did not know this and nobody had
told me to be careful and scrub my hands thoroughly. The women, realizing
that I did not know what it was all about, sent me away and did their
own treatment without my help. I am still shocked and at the same time
deeply grateful that I escaped any infection.
The following summer I worked in a different hospital doing laboratory
work and learned to take blood from patients. I made rounds with the
medical staff and got a slight inkling about what medicine and treatment
were about. However, I also saw patients die for the first time patients.
The nurses had a habit of pushing the bed of a dying patient into the
laboratory room. I took very little notice of them. Youth on the whole
is rather callous or was it only I?