The boy was already old enough to be suspicious of Santa Claus, and some of the other stuff. But he was confused about doctors and angels.
On the one hand there was kindly old Doc Fisher in the white jacket who tried to fool him by making meowing sounds and letting him look around his office to find the little kitty-cat. But he soon saw through that trick, losing a bit of his awe and trust in the process.
And then there were the evil “night doctors” that the neighbor lady warned him about. They were to be feared because they did awful things to you, things he didn’t understand. She said once you got into their clutches only the angels could save you.
He was terrified of the night doctors fearing what they would do if they caught him. So he asked his mother, “Is old Doc Fisher a night doctor, too?”
She replied, “Don’t be silly, there are no night doctors. Don’t listen to those people next door, they’re Catholic, and they’re just trying to scare you because you’re Lutheran. But he was unconvinced and remained fearful.
The next time his Mom took him to Doc Fisher she explained about how the meow and the kitty are only for little boys, and that he was growing up. In the leathery office he climbed up onto a table by himself where the doctor blinded him with a light and told him to open wide. There was a bitter taste of dry wood as his tongue was pressed down hard. He gagged. Twice. The tongue depressor went chunk into the metal wastebasket leaving him with a terrible pain in his throat.
His mother looked tearful, a little worried as Doctor Fisher sat down at a large desk and began writing with a fat pen. He made a phone call, speaking with authority.
Then he turned and gently said, “Louise, bring the little man in next Wednesday ten a.m. at the Deaconess Hospital, and we’ll fix him up. We want him with an empty stomach. No breakfast.”
To the lad he was fatherly. “We’re going to get rid of that nasty hurt in your throat, but you will have to be very brave. You are a big boy now. No crying.” That brings nods from his mother, so he did the same. He told himself he will not cry, and that he will trust kindly old Doc Fisher.
At home, Mom answered Pa’s questions. “It’s a very good hospital, run by a Protestant nursing order. They’re German. But I’ve got to buy him some new brown shoes. He can’t go to the hospital with those scuffed up old ones.”
Wednesday. Summer heat blazes and the boy’s woolen Sunday suit feels like Shredded Wheat. There is torture in his new leather oxfords, his mouth is lined with spiderwebs of a nagging thirst while his stomach feebly protests. He is totally miserable. The walk to the hospital gives him blisters. His mother keeps tugging at him whenever he slows down to stop the stinging. He comes close to tears, trying not to be frightened about what lay ahead, but remembers what the doctor said.
The hospital is large and confusing, and his mother’s hand leads him up stairs and down long corridors to a room where a starchy nurse tells him to take off his clothes. There are strangers around and he is bashful, but he lets his mom remove the prickly suit reducing him first to his BVD’s, then to nudity. Half modesty comes with a flimsy nightgown, open in the back, letting in air and glances at his naked bottom.
Then he is carted, lying flat, down a long aisle to another room, where Doctor Fisher waits, capped and gowned. Competent. His glasses glint and he is wearing a mask. His comforts the boy in a muffled voice, “You are a very good boy; it’ll all be over very quickly and you won’t feel a thing.”
Looking up into the brightness he is aware of something put onto his face. Doctor Fisher tells him to breathe deeply and begin counting. As he does, the numbers melt into a dark heaven, a night so black that he feared...but suddenly there are brilliant shooting stars and colored exploding fireballs, the most thrilling he has ever seen. He is almost sure there were no night doctors in that place.
Then he is again in the bed with the iron rungs, woozily aware of his parents, and a pain in his head. His mom says, “They took out your tonsils, and the adenoids too.” Those were words he didn’t want to understand just yet. He tries to tell them that he was hungry, and wanted something to drink. But there is something missing in his voice.
Finally, they give him a cup of water, and as he drinks it dribbles out through both nostrils. Kindly old Doc Fisher appears in his shirtsleeves and says, “You did just fine, and we are all proud of you. When you get home you can have all the ice cream and ginger ale you want. It will make the pain disappear. Here young man, I have a reward for you. Open it.”
In the box there is a green toy with black dots that has the face of a cat. There is a plunger to press and as it whirls it makes sparks that shoot out of the cat’s eyes and mouth. He has never seen a toy like that before, and, forgetting his pain, he plays with it in total fascination until they arrive at home.
True to kindly old Doc Fisher’s word, there is plenty of ice cream for him, but for a while the ginger ale keeps dripping out of his nose. His Mom says, “That will only last for a couple of days until you learn to swallow differently.”
As he heals he energetically pumps the toy cat to shoot out those splendid sparks, so much like his dream in the operating room. Gradually, it wears out. By then he can drink and eat normally, the new shoes are broken in, and he outgrows the itchy pants and jacket. Other matters began to occupy him though he frequently thinks about the night of streaking planets and spinning constellations. Later, when he is sick with measles, mumps, or whooping cough, kindly old Doc Fisher comes to the house. He was always glad to see him.
But it took a little longer for the night doctors to disappear from their neighborhood.