Birth and Early Education

Birth and Early Education

I was born about ten thousand years ago,

And there’s nothin’ in this world I don’t know.

I saw Peter, Paul and Moses

Play’n ring around the roses,

And I’ll whup the guy that says it isn’t so.

—Carl Sandburg

I was born on Wednesday, September 3, 1930, in Michael Reese Hospital, Chicago, 84 years after Morton’s 1846 discovery and demonstration of the anesthetic effects of diethyl ether. I arrived in life midway between today and that momentous discovery, a discovery that underlies my self-identity. At the time of my birth, anesthesia as a medical discipline had lived half its life, having changed modestly, or not at all, from the days of Wells, Morton, and Snow. Nitrous oxide and “ether” (diethyl ether) continued as the primary general anesthetics. Anesthesia adjustments were based on the patient’s response as described in Snow’s “degrees of anesthesia” or Guedel’s later “signs and stages of anesthesia.” Waters had just established the world’s first Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Wisconsin. Most patients breathed spontaneously during anesthesia rather than being ventilated. Tracheal tubes were used rarely. The half-century that followed completed the transformation of anesthesia from an art into a discipline based on science.

My Family and Early Schooling

My family structure tracked the social norms of the day. My father, Edmond, was the family breadwinner (Figure 1.1). He founded an advertising agency, C & E (Crittenden and Eger), which he eventually ran as chief executive and sole director.

Earlier in life he dreamt of being a physician. He enrolled in medical school at the University of Chicago, but withdrew after one semester because of a peculiar neurosis: he feared fainting when asked a question in class.

My mother, Miriam (Figures 1.2 and 1.3), managed our household affairs. She ran our house well. I believe she loved me and wanted to be a source of warmth and support. However, for unclear reasons, I didn’t embrace the love and affection she offered. I felt closer to my father (Figure 1.4).

Our family lived in an apartment building in Chicago on Ingleside Avenue, a building owned by my grandfather, Emil (Figure 1.5). Emil and his wife, my grandmother Sophie, lived in a nearby apartment in the same building. Our family was assisted by a live-in cook. While my parents weren’t wealthy, they had enough money to hire help at Depression-era wages.

My mother coordinated visits to our elderly relatives who lived in the same apartment building owned by my grandfather, or in maroon velvet-walled rooms in upscale residential hotels in affluent areas of Chicago. She also arranged holidays, picnics, and trips to the zoo. She even sent me to camp, which, a sissy at the mercy of bullies, I detested. I still hate them.

I knew no specifics of what my mother did during the day other than running the house. She pursued activities related to her interests in piano, singing, and
acting. Prior to her marriage, her acting interest had led to a trip to Hollywood. She was offered an introductory role in exchange for a suitable “casting couch” finder’s fee. She declined the offer, returned to Chicago, accepted my father’s proposal of marriage, and assumed her role as wife and then mother. She was involved in a few local opera productions, none of which I saw.

As a young child, I was closest to my grandfather, Emil (Figure 1.6). At the time (1930-1935), four Eger families (Figure 1.7) lived in his apartment
complex: my family, his family, and uncles Albert Eger and Alex Eger. Emil and his brothers Albert and Alex were born in the prior century in Presov, Hungary.

Each evening, Emil would come home and listen to the news on the radio. When the news was over, Grandfather Emil and I would play a game of casino for vast sums of money. I was a great casino player. I never lost, collecting penny after penny. Where did he get all those pennies? My grandfather was generous with his pennies, but even more so with his time. As a child with preoccupied parents, having grandpa play casino each evening made me feel valued. He manipulated each game in my favor. Sly fox! Looking back, I appreciate his wile.

Emil took me for walks and for summer forays on Chicago’s open-air double-decker buses. Sometimes, for fun, he would draw pictures, maps of an imagined boy’s journey, complete with falling into holes and climbing mountains. As he drew, the path taken by the boy became the outline of an animal. Emil lifted me up, made me important, and changed my life. He taught me that winning was fun, and that I could do it!

Emil had two children by his first wife, Hermia: Edmond (my father) and Ruth (my aunt). Hermia died before I was born. I knew Emil’s second wife, Sophia Wieger, who passed away when I was 13 years old.

Emil owned three cigar stores and sold tobacco until late in life, when he was driven out of business by the arrival of cigar store chains. Tobacco led to more than business disappointment. His smoking produced increasingly severe coronary artery disease. Emil turned to my father, with his one semester of medical education, for his recommendations on how Emil might relieve the pain in his chest.

Emil was the magician of my life. One day, when I was 15 years old, the magician disappeared. I didn’t know how much I had lost with his death.

I was not as close to my maternal grandparents, Edward and Bertha Newmann (Figure 1.8). Edward demanded displays of affection, which I provided grudgingly and secretly resented. Edward’s father, Bernhard Newmann, my maternal great-grandfather, was a saloon keeper. Edward didn’t follow his father in the saloon business, becoming a successful lawyer instead. Edward and Bertha had three daughters: Miriam (my mother), her older sister Jewel Carolyn (a renegade Bohemian, who changed her name to Michael J. Adams following a divorce), and Betty (the sweetest of the lot).

Edward played pinochle with cronies in smoky rooms. But Edward the rogue (I call him now) had redeeming graces. He wrote poems, including a long one for children about a magical land. For all I knew he never wrote another poem, but the existence of even one epic poem suggests I probably misjudged him.

Aunt Betty met and married Harry Geiger (Figure 1.9). They didn’t live happily forevermore, but for a time they were more than content to share a life. I was pleased to share some of it with them.

My parents married in 1929, and I was born in 1930. My sister Conni was born in 1935, when I was 5 years old. I think Conni’s arrival prompted my parents’ decision to move in the late 1930s. I recall overhearing my mother

negotiating with the owner for the purchase of the house that would become our new home, a three-story beauty on Ellis Avenue (Figure 1.10). The first floor of our new house comprised the living-music room, dining room, breakfast room, pantry, and kitchen. Our family occupied bedrooms on the second floor, where my father’s study-office was also located. The staff lived on the third floor. My mother directed the work of a housekeeper, a cook, and a nanny who looked after Conni and me. Housework was delegated to the staff. My mother cared for the phlox garden. She enjoyed gardening, but not weeding. She paid me a penny for every 10 weeds I pulled to help her.

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May 24, 2022 | Posted by in ANESTHESIA | Comments Off on Birth and Early Education
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