Once upon a time, The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich was to me the image of medical care for others and not much more. During these past 80-some years, Backus Hospital has played a major part in my life and, to a lesser degree, I have played some small part in the history of Backus Hospital. I was born to Mr. and Mrs. James Stanley in July 1929. A few years later, in 1932, another Stanley was born; my wonderful brother, Jim.
As a boy, I had allergies, and they took me to Backus Hospital and stuck pins in my arm. If the spot turned red, I was allergic, and, as I remember, I was allergic to everything from lettuce and tomatoes to things I hadn’t even eaten yet.
Then it was determined I had to have my tonsils out. It would have been nice to go to Backus Hospital, but it was during the Depression, and there was no insurance and no money. My aunt, Doris Dugas, was a nurse, so why couldn’t the tonsils be removed in the kitchen on a flat ironing board? That’s exactly what happened at 21 Winchester St.
They held a cloth over my nose, added ether, and Dr. Mahoney, assisted by my Aunt Doris, removed my tonsils in the kitchen. Then they moved me into my grandmother’s room, and for two days I suffered throat fires after surgery.
The next time Backus came into my life, it was because of my dad. He was only 47 and had suffered pulmonary illnesses all his life. After his death, Dr. Martin said, “I always thought your dad had tuberculosis.”
I stayed with him at Backus Hospital every night for about a week. He was delirious all of the time and made no sense, but as the sun came up in the morning, he spoke in a very clear voice. He said, “Bill, I’m going now. Make me two promises. Promise me to take care of your mother, and promise me you will never drink.”
I did make those promises and did, to the best of my ability, keep both. My mother is now gone, and I do not drink to this day.
Then Backus Hospital came into our lives years later. It was about being born again. Our son, Bill, was delivered at the height of Hurricane Carol on Aug. 31, 1954. Dr. John Martin was a general practitioner and also the obstetrician of the day.
Bill was born with some crippling birth defects, which were later corrected. They said the windows blew out in the delivery room, and the power went off at the hospital. I had to wonder what Peggy and I were giving birth to.
But Bill has proved to be the most wonderful son that any man could have, and my youngest, Mary, during this ordeal has been my Florence Nightingale. He’s done more with his life in his short years, though today he has two sons—Jimmy in college, and the youngest, Billy, who will graduate from New London High School this year. Life goes on.
After Billy, Backus Hospital gave us our daughter, Carol, and a second daughter, Mary — delivered by my aunt, Doris Dugas, who is today a legend in the maternity ward of Backus Hospital.
Last Monday, as I took a step up from the family room into the kitchen, I lost my balance and fell on my spine, my elbow, and my head. It was a solid AAA oak floor. I called 911 and spent several days at Backus Hospital.
Through the years, I have had nine major operations and a bunch of little ones. Many of them were done at Backus Hospital, though I will say they took my lung out at Dempsey and gave me a new aorta and quadruple heart bypass at Hartford Hospital.
Time To Think
Last week, as I lay in my hospital bed at Backus, I thought how fortunate we, as a community, are to have such a wonderful hospital. Tom Pipicelli has been chief executive officer from the time I served on the board. He is stepping down in favor of another wonderful man, who I know will do a great job, David Whitehead.
David is well organized. He has a heart, but the mind of a corporate manager. He is exactly the right replacement for Tom Pipicelli. Of course, standing in the wings is the Chief Financial Officer Dan Lohr, who will give the facility its continued steadiness.
But last week, I was struck by the many times I was asked my date of birth. I am now Bill Stanley plus my date of birth. I know that is to keep me safe so they do not mix me up with another Bill Stanley, but it was asked sometimes by one nurse right after the other. As one was giving me a shot, another was taking my blood pressure, but every nurse, on every shift, was just wonderful.
There were certain shifts when the procedures were a bit more painful, or at least less comfortable, but those nurses couldn’t have been better. As I say, I thought quite frequently how lucky we are to have such a wonderful hospital — for that matter, a lot of wonderful things at Backus Hospital and in Norwich.
When I made the call to 911, American Ambulance and East Great Plain both responded. I got to smile at Pat Coleman before he helped them put me into Ron Aliano’s American Ambulance. The X-rays proved I had a couple of bad bumps, but nothing broken; a small dent in the floor and nothing more.
So now, a week later, I am sitting here with Fran Rondeau doing the column and thinking of the week just past and how comforting it was to call 911 and have them take me to our wonderful Backus Hospital. I even found pride and happiness as the ambulance backed into the new emergency room that is dedicated to Ed and Mary Lord. As you lay in the ambulance and they back up, you see Ed and Mary Lord’s name on the building before you enter the emergency room, and I thought of what wonderful, generous sponsors they are.
It is fair to say I am alive today because I have good doctors who have prescribed good medicine and procedures. Dr. Paul Deutsch is my No. 1 man, and has saved me during many medical crises. Locally, I have had surgery performed by Dr. Tony Tramontozzi, Dr. Larry Coletti and Dr. Sully Ahamed. Another No. 1 man is Dr. Frank Friedman. I hesitate to ever go into surgery without Frank being present.
Being laid up for a week at Backus Hospital gave me so much time to think, and I did think how lucky I am as a person, and Norwich is as a community, to have such a great hospital. But then, too, I think of the volunteers who answered the ambulance call and American Ambulance, which has taken me to the hospital approximately eight times. This old town of Norwich, and its agencies seem to work so well that we often forget how lucky we are.
Bill Stanley’s prize-winning, newest book, “The 9-Mile Square,” is available at Lawrence & Memorial and Backus Hospital gift shops, Magazines & More, all branches of the Dime Savings Bank, Chelsea Groton, Eastern Federal, People’s Bank, Johnson’s Flowers and Gift Shop in Norwich, Wonderland Books in Putnam, or credit card by calling 1-800-950-0331