Dave

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Looking for Big Willy...

When I arrived in San Antonio for the second time, a day or two before the big snow storm of 1985, it wasn't long before co-workers at the base would talk about "Going to see Big Willy" or making references to "Big Willy" instead of the hospital etc. Soon I would figure it out that they were referring to Wilford Hall Medical Center. But even then, I thought of the place as a "hall", a hall that was named after Mr. Wilford or as his friends called him, Big Willy.

I know this sounds ridiculous now, but in the grand scheme of things, I worked in a place named Ardisana Hall, I had been to events at Mitchell Hall and Arnold Hall, so why not yet another hall named after some guy named Big Willy Wilford?

Big Willy has been good to my family. My son was born there, my wife has been there a for a few short stays and my daughter has been in a time or two. We have seen our fair share of the emergency room there and the clinics, and I even had eye surgery there, hence my ability to see without the use of glasses. A chiropractor at Big Willy taught me how to reset my back when it feels off, and honestly, it hasn't been a problem since. So, unlike a lot of visitors, we are pretty big fans of Big Willy.

But you never really want to go there.

When our son was about 2 and a half, we were living in Italy and noticed a slight lump on his chest. We went to the pediatrician and they looked at it a measured it and took pictures of it, but the doctor assured us frantic young parents that it would be okay. He said if it grew and we were worried about it, to wait until we got back to the states and have it removed.

It did, we were, and when we got back to the San Antonio, we went to see Big Willy. In the grand scheme of things, and having known people who have been plagued with all sorts of different illnesses in their kids, even a few who have tragically lost their children, a little lump of fat on a kid's chest is nothing to get excited about.

But when it is your kid, you aren't thinking of how fortunate, how truly blessed you are; you just know that the doctor tells you to sign forms understanding the risks of any complications or infections, and that it is scary, in any hospital.

So as we waited in the big, scary hospital with a three year old who had an idea that something was happening but not really what, and as my wife and I tried to avoid thinking about what could happen so as to avoid freaking out, we took little walks around the various floors and clinics, looking for Big Willy.

I'm sure at one time in my life, I had an imagination suitable of generating characters sufficient for capturing the attention of any three-year-old, but at a time like this, the windows overlooking the rooftops and storage sheds that housed equipment and such, the things needed to run a modern facility made for quite a game of cat & mouse. We would wander along and I would quickly spin him around pointing off in the direction out the window and we were both convinced that Big Willy had just passed by and slipped in behind some air conditioner units or some other structure to hide his view of little kids. Oh yes, Big Willy did not want to be seen - that was half the fun of looking for him. My son was one of the few people ever to get an actual glimpse of Big Willy. There is some older maintenance man who will never know that his chance sighting on one of the roofs going into a storage shed has lived in our minds for all these years. We never saw Big Willy again, but for one important day, he did more for a little kid and his parents than he will ever know.

So in the end, enough time had passed and enough nerves were settled that when the surgeon called for us to turn our little boy over to the anesthesiologist, we were able to do so. And as luck would have it, the only two things that resulted were a slight scar that my son would later tell kids in school that he had earned in a knife fight, and a continual search for Big Willy over the years.

Our kids are like real live adults now, though like a lot of parents, we don't always see it. Earlier this week, my wife took my son to see Big Willy, and expecting to get a prescription for some sort of flu or cold or something normal, they instead admitted him and kept him for the remainder of the week running all sorts of tests.

All is well and he is fine now, but the escalation of emotions from concerned to upset to freaking out can happen pretty quick when the series of phone calls go from "we're at the doctor" to "they want to admit him" to "they just took him into the operating room"! I guess I won't be stopping for a coffee on my way to the hospital!

So what do you do with a 21 year old who has to stay in the hospital until they finish "observing" him? You look for Big Willy.

My wife took our son around the various places in his past - the maternity ward (though it has moved floors in 21 years) and the surgical ward where they removed that piece of fat from his chest, and a tour of the outer windows and the various hiding spots where we had looked for Big Willy. Good times.


In case you wondered, Maj Gen Wilford F. Hall died in 1962, But Big Willy is alive and well, at least for now.

1 comment:

Dale said...

Big Willy is, indeed, quite a place. Take a bird's eye view at Microsoft's new Bing.com maps/satellite page. Then, you'll see why, sadly, the D.O.D. wants to tear it down by year 2015. Will be replace by approx. 3 small clinic structures.
We spent millions of $ to create a grand facility, only to see thoughtlessness reign.
I was a pneumonia patient in June 1971, and later my sister served all 4 years, as Med Admin Spec, at WHMC.
Dale W. Omaha NE
June27, 2009

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San Antonio, TX, United States
I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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