Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall

on November 11, 2013

I seemed to be in excellent health for the first few years of my life. I received all necessary vaccinations at the Institut Pasteur, though for some reason, the BCG on my thigh that left two round eternal scars was administered at the maternelle. I did hate shots and cried, again. Papa promised me that if I would submit myself quietly to the needles, he would take us to eat eclairs afterwards. Now this was Paris, the capital of French patisserie, and the little mom-and-pop pastry stores offered heavenly eclairs, brioches, madeleines, and napoleons, not to mention simple croissants, baguettes, viennoises, and so on. Today, we pick up trays of so-called croissants in our local branch of national American chain grocery stores and really, those cardboard imitations are not worthy of the title of croissant! Real French croissants are light, fluffly, moist inside and crunchy and crusty in a fragile way outside with a slightly sweet glaze.

But I diverge…

Saadia on the other hand, not only did not cry when getting her shots, she would actually STARE at the needle and study how the vaccins were injected! So it was as early as then, that Papa and Mama got it into their heads that she would grow up to be a doctor. And I, the big fat cry baby, would try to muffle my sobs and terror, and look away, and concentrate on those lovely eclairs, with the chocolate glaze and smooth unctuous vanilla cream inside. My love of sweets, pastries, candies and especially ice cream was legendary. When Papa asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I confidently replied, “I want to open my own ice cream store, so I can eat as much ice cream as I want every day!”


But I diverge again…

We apparently went through the regular childhood diseases such as chicken pox. I remember this clearly because we actually were allowed to stay home for over a week, even though we did not feel ill at all! My parents instilled in us early on the ethics of punctuality and perfect attendance. We never got to stay home unless we were so sick we could not walk. The two of us danced on my parents’ bed with the pink dots all over our bodies.

At night, my parents often had to attend diplomatic functions, so they left us home on our own. Baby-sitters? They were unheard of. One day, we played with an empty cardboard box. One would sit in it and the other would push it. Then the play got a bit out of hand and the box tipped, the rider fell on her nose ( I do not remember which of us this was), and had a copious nosebleed. We both cried and fell asleep on the floor. It was in this position that our parents found us upon their return, unconscious on the floor with a pool of blood near the head… It scared them out of their wits till they woke us up and figured out what had happened.

Another accident left its mark on my forehead. The ancient staircase in the consulate — for the mansion we stayed in used to be the old Chinese consulate, now turned into lodgings for embassy staff — boasted a banister that was made of some beautiful solid wood. This handrail, over the centuries, had been polished by thousands of hands and acquired a smooth polished patina that rivaled any varnish. We loved grabbing the rail with both hands and jump off the last three steps of any story on our way down.

So, one day, we decided to play staircase jumping. We started off at two steps, then three steps, then four steps, and wow, even five steps.  Then, I said to Saadia, “Watch me, I’m going to jump off the entire flight!” Yes, little ignorant brat that I was, I thought I could do this! This was the third floor, and this flight was the top half-story flight from our apartment door to the landing half-way to the second floor. I would say there were at least twenty steps. Right against the wall of the landing was a radiator. Radiators are also fading today into the realm of the dinosaurs, so for my clueless descendants, let me explain that a radiator is an interesting piece of furniture that provides heat to the room. It is made of metal and has long thin segments that stack like leaves vertically, allowing the hot water to circulate in them.radiator

I then climbed up to the top of the stairs, and excitedly grabbed the handrail in happy expectation. I jumped off. Indeed, the wind and speed were exhilarating! But, as I slid downward, my speed increased! This was unexpected and frightening. How do I slow down? How do I stop? How do I get off?  Too late! My hands flew off the end of the banister and I crashed head first onto the iron radiator.

I’m not sure what reaction Saadia had, and whether she howled for Mama. By the time I woke up, I was in my bed, with Mama’s worried face bending over me. That scar on my forehead is now barely distinguishable, but I learned a valuable lesson that day: Look before you jump!

This episode, however, was not the worst health scare I had!



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