Biographical Non-Fiction posted February 1, 2023

This work has reached the exceptional level
A child undergoes a minor procedure and fears death.

Going Under

by BethShelby

Thoughts Before Surgery Contest Winner 

At six years old I had busy fingers. I had trouble being still. Like many kids my age,  I didn’t like having to wait on the adults in my life. Mom had picked me up from school and had decided to get a few groceries on the way home. I can still see the big plate glass window in the front of the grocery store my dad managed. Along the window inside the store were wooden bins that held the produce. The colorful fruits could be seen by the shoppers passing the store's windows.

That day as I waited, I walked back and forth along the fruit bins dragging my hand along the smooth surface in front of the apples, oranges, lemons, and other fruits. Unfortunately, the wood wasn’t as smooth as it appeared to be. To my shock and horror, I dislodged a long splinter that found itself beneath my thumb nail almost all the way to my cuticle. The pain was excruciating.

My parents evaluated the situation and decided I needed medical help they couldn’t offer. Mom rushed me to our car and headed to the nearby hospital with me using my other hand to squeeze the injured thumb with all the strength I had. Dr. Simmons was in. He owned the hospital, and he was the only doctor that our little town had in the 40’s. He had delivered me and likely everyone I knew who was not real old. He'd even taken out my mom's tonsils when she was a girl. If anyone had a sore throat or stomach ache, they could always count on him to treat the problem, and the patient’s bill was never more than a dollar or two.

The doctor and his nurse had trouble getting me to release my grip on the thumb so they could examine it. I clenched my teeth and squinted my eyes tight shut, as he used a pick and tweezers trying to find a way to extract the splinter without doing further damage to my nail. I bit my lips, determined not to make a sound. After about twenty minutes of trying unsuccessfully to dislodge the splinter, the doctor remarked, “Well she can stand it, but I can’t.” The expressions of agony he read on my face must have communicated the message he was torturing an innocent child.

“Go get the ether and the mask,” he told the nurse. “We’re going to have to put her under.”

Up to that point, I had been in pain, but I hadn’t been terrified. This was more than I'd bargained for. I’d heard Mom and Dad talk about people who never came out from under the ether. What could happen, if he put me under, filled me with horror.

Under what? Under the ground? Was it so serious they’d put me down like that mad dog last fall? Even if it wasn’t forever, I needed to be awake to make sure he didn’t remove my thumb and maybe even my hand. How could my mom sit there so calmly without doing something to rescue me? It was apparent I was on my own. I’d needed to figure out a way to save myself.

The nurse picked me up and laid me on a hard table covered with a thin mat. Horror of horrors she was putting a leather-like thing over my nose and mouth. There was a strange smell in the air.  “You need to take a deep breath,” she told me. 

No, I won’t breathe. They are trying to kill me. I must not breathe. How long can I hold my breath?  

I heard the doctor’s voice from far away. He sounded like he was in a cave. “She’s fighting it. She should have gone out by now. Try giving her a little more."

Suddenly, l opened my eyes and saw the smiling face of the nurse. “Ah… I see you’re back with us. It’s all done. No more splinter. You and your mom can go home now.”

I stared down at my thumb. It was all bandaged up, but it appeared as though there might still be a thumb under all that tape. I’d survived and it looked like I was going to live. They even gave me a lollipop. I’d faced death and had come out victorious. That day turned out to be a good day after all.


Thoughts Before Surgery
Contest Winner



Ether is very flamable and is no long used in the US to put people to sleep. This was the days when it was still used for that purpose.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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