Oshkosh Stories and Snapshots: Tuberculosis Treatment at Sunnyview Hospital

Tuberculosis Treatment at Sunnyview Hospital
Contributed by: Audrey

Two weeks after my wedding, on my 20th birthday, I was diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to Sunnyview Sanitarium, where I lived for two and a half years, beginning in 1952.

The first six months were the hardest because I was contagious and could not leave my room or have visitors. It was like being in jail without the bars. I cried a lot and felt depressed. After a nurse told me that 90% of my cure was my attitude, I decided to make the best of a bad situation. And so my days at the "San" as it was commonly called - were some of the best years of my life. My only responsibility was to get well and the experience brought me closer to God and taught me how to be patient and tolerant of others.

When I was no longer contagious, I moved to the second floor of the Annex. Later, two of my sisters were admitted to the hospital and the three of us roomed together on the porch.

There was an epidemic of TB among people between the ages of 20 and 30 and the hospital was usually filled to capacity. We passed the time by doing crafts and playing games. At night, we would sneak out of our beds and play sheepshead by flashlight. Groups would visit and put on programs for us. One year we made Easter bonnets with whatever materials we could find and wore the hats around the hospital.

Naps were taken from 1 to 3 p.m. every day and lights had to be out at 9 p.m. and we ate our meals in bed. The food was terrible and visitors would bring snacks that we'd store in our nightstands. On Saturdays, the guys and gals got together downstairs to watch television programs. Saturdays were the only day we watched television; we didn't have TVs or telephones in our rooms.

The treatment for TB was unpleasant. Everyone would get a shot of Streptomycin in the morning and another at night, and after every meal you had to drink about 1/4 cup of a horrible tasting medicine called PAS. PAS was eventually replaced by a pill called INH; everyone called it the "miracle drug" for TB. But the worse part was every three months when the doctor checked your lungs by inserting a skinny tube into your nose. The tube went down your throat and you had to swallow it until the end of the tube reached your lung. In those days, they didn't numb your throat and no one looked forward to the test.

After I was at the San for about two years, I had 3/4 of one lung removed to get rid of the disease. After surgery, I stayed at the San for six more months to recover. At that point, I was allowed to take meals in the dining room and gradually started walking. The hospital had a long driveway and no one could be released until they could walk the length of the driveway and back. It took me a long time but I was eventually able to do it. After I was released, I had to be tested for TB every three months for about five years afterward.

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