Swiss memories

We drive, daily, along many supermarkets of the national chain Migros. This too brings back many memories from my childhood vacations in Switzerland. I remember how, in the 50s, Dutch yogurt (plain only) was delivered in liter or half liter glass bottles, predating the tetra packs and plastics of today. But in Switzerland at that time you could get small containers (waxed cardboard with pastoral scenes, plastic later) with fruit yogurts. I remember the excitement of going shopping and selecting the flavors.

Switzerland was also the place where I got meningitis. It was 1961 and the end of the school vacation. We stayed in a rented chalet on a hill and above an ice cold brook.  The headaches started a week before we were supposed to return. They got so bad that I couldn’t tolerate even the slightest sliver of daylight, the curtains drawn all day. My mother, a medical doctor, recognized this was not an ordinary headache.

I was admitted to the hospital in Einsiedeln after being diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. My mother got a room in town. She sat outside my window, reading or knitting. Because I was highly infectious she couldn’t be at my bedside for the first few days. For that same reason I had a six bed room all to myself.  When my father and brothers left to return to Holland at the end of the school vacation they could only stick their heads around the room and wave goodbye.

My most vivid memories are the three-times daily penicillin shots in my bottom (I screamed each time at the top of my 10 year old lungs) and the sweet rolls and lukewarm tea which made me nauseous. I handed these to my mom through the window. I developed a penicillin allergy, probably because of the mega doses, that also may have saved my life.

The hospital was run by nuns and was a first (and only) experience with nuns, having been raised protestant. I was intimidated by them and tried to avoid them as I could. I refused to call for assistance when I had to pee and did so in the sink at times the nuns where least likely to come in. I did this with great trepidation because I imagined that being discovered would unleash a fierce reaction.

After the penicillin had kicked in and my piercing headaches were over the experience was not bad. I had nearly died which was interesting and gave me a good story. I got to fly back to Holland, in a noisy Swissair Caravelle airplane and was waved goodbye and given flowers by the family where my mother had boarded. When I arrived home my brother Willem had decorated a slide of brown bread with sprinkles, lined up around the edges in the shape of a heart, and ‘welkom thuis’ written in the middle.

And then I got to go to school, which was already in full swing, and got a seat in the front of the class, with the instructions from the doctor to be gentle on my brain, which I interpreted as ‘not think too deeply.’ I remember struggling with that advice, straining not to think while thinking hard about how to not do that, an impossible task. Now I wonder, diid the doctor really say this or did my recovering brain made this up?

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