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Bronx Boy – A Novel (A Slice of A Life) – Part One

By Josmar16 @ReviewsByJosmar

Bronx Boy – A Novel (A Slice of A Life) – Part One

"Sir? Sir! Are you the father?" asked Dr. Duane Johnson, one of the attending physicians in residence.

"Huh?" Papi grunted.

"Are you the boy's father?" Dr. Johnson repeated. "His father?" He pointed to little Sonny.

"Uh-huh, I da father," Papi replied in his broken English. "You doctor he?"

"Yes, I'm one of them." Dr. Johnson turned swiftly to his colleague, Dr. Vasquez. "Hey, Danny, how do you say, 'How old is your son,' in Spanish?"

"How should I know?" Danny replied, crouching low over the hospital bed next to them. "That's out of my regular line. I'm Filipino, remember?"

"Don't all you Filipinos speak Spanish? You people have those Spanish-sounding names and all."

"Only the names, my brown-skinned friend, only the names. Not the lingo."

"Jesus H. Christ!"

Papi interjected. "Okay?" He pointed his finger back down towards little Sonny.

"Your son?" Dr. Johnson replied. "Yes, he'll be fine. Just fine. He, uh, had a touch of peritonitis. Per-i-to-ni-tis. Do you understand? Um, comprende?"

"Ah, peritonite! Si, si, comprendo," Papi repeated, his face lighting up for an instant. "You, ah, speakee Spanish?"

"A few words, here and there."

"Hey," Danny smiled, "you're getting through to him!"

"I hope so! But, man, his kid looks beaten up," Dr. Johnson indicated. "Went through hell and back."

Danny gave Dr. Johnson a sharp glance, which made Johnson wince. Oh, he got the message all right. Johnson clammed up tighter than a stingy oyster about to lose its pearl. Danny drew closer and whispered something into Dr. Johnson's ear. "Duane, you're not supposed to spill the beans, not in front of the parents."

"Sorry, man, I forgot." Johnson was a new resident at Lincoln Hospital's Children's Ward. If that was his excuse, then Johnson had a short memory. Twice, in the past two weeks, he had been formally reprimanded about his overly-intimate bedside manner - and especially those loose lips of his. They were interrupted by the hospital's loudspeaker system, blasting a message.

"Dr. Danilo Vasquez! Danilo Vasquez, you're wanted in the adult infirmary."

"Gotta go, man," Danny said. "You fine here by yourself?" he asked, turning to Dr. Johnson.

"Yeah, I'm good."

"He gonna be okay?" Papi repeated to Dr. Johnson, this time more assertively. "How long he here?"

"That depends on how quickly he recovers."

"Huh, what?" Papi was puzzled more than he was angry. Earlier that day he had confronted another of the many native-born Filipinos in attendance, a touchy middle-aged attendant named Pacita who spoke with a thick, impenetrable accent. They had gotten into a heated exchange over what happened to little Sonny.

"Why you no speakee Spanish?" Papi shouted.

Nurse Pacita did not respond. She knew better than to confront an angry parent. Especially a Puerto Rican parent.

Papi was under the impression his son's operation would be routine; that he would be back on his feet in two, maybe three days at most. That was before Sonny's appendix burst. If not addressed in time, a ruptured appendix, Nurse Pacita recalled, could lead to general peritonitis and ultimately to death if left untreated.

Peeved at Papi's behavior ("Insolent Hispanic!" she swore under her breath, in her native language), Nurse Pacita had neglected to inform him about this crucial bit of information. Like most workers, residents and staff who labored at Lincoln Hospital, on East 149 th Street and Grand Concourse in the South Bronx, Pacita balked at asking too many questions or providing too many answers to patients and loved ones who, through no fault of their own, happened to find themselves in challenging circumstances.

Bronx Boy – A Novel (A Slice of A Life) – Part One

Juan José Delacruz was used to challenging circumstances. He had lived and grown up in a rural portion of Bayamón, Puerto Rico. His childhood friends gave him the nickname "Papi" when he was still a teenager. "Dat's 'cause I looked old for my age," he told Sonny and little brother Juanito, by way of justification. He was also taller than most other kids. "They looked up to me," he would add. It was supposed to be joke.

A country boy at heart, Papi was unaware of the historical implications that moving to the Bronx meant for his growing brood. He had little reason to believe that, over the course of a few decades, Lincoln Hospital would suffer an irreversible "brain drain"; a drastic loss of dedicated, civic-minded public servants willing to work for starvation wages, so as to attend to the health needs of a growing immigrant community in the neediest of regions.

One of those regions, the Morrisania Section, happened to be where the Delacruz family had settled down. Looking for richer pastures, the family left Puerto Rico behind in the early fall of 1957. They took a liking, at first, to an older but charming apartment building at the southernmost tip of Morris Park Avenue. This was where their Uncle Daví, who paved the way a year or two beforehand, had suggested they consider renting. Uncle Daví was a master at self-aggrandizing. It might have profited him more if he had learned to be student of human nature.


The children's ward at Lincoln Hospital was notorious for its poor treatment and lack of care. The predominantly youthful patients who were admitted there, many hardly past their fourth or fifth year of life, were neglected en masse by the busy staffers, especially by some of the nurses.

Still, little Sonny appeared to be in good spirits. He had no trouble sleeping at night, none at all. As soon as his head hit that fluffy pillow he was given - much fluffier than the ones Mami had gotten, at John's Bargain Store, for him and brother Juanito - he was off to Dream Land. No late night surprises or visitations from the neighboring rat population. Better yet, Sonny forced himself to get up from his hospital bed to stroll around the children's ward, even though his lower abdomen kept hurting. The nurses said it would be good for his recovery, whatever that meant.

About his lower abdomen: It was starting to heal up quickly. Not knowing why, little Sonny continued to be probed and poked about every which way, usually by some doctor or orderly or other, but sometimes by the nursing staff. There he was, strolling about aimlessly in his cutaway pajamas, with an open wound the size of his tiny hand. Maybe larger. Little Sonny couldn't tell. All he knew was that the cut was covered with bandages. The nurses changed bandages several times a day. They also administered shots of penicillin, usually twice a day, to ward off infection. It never occurred to little Sonny that, by walking around with an open sore, it might lead to further infection, or problems of some kind. What did he know? He was only a kid, barely six years of age.

All told, this was little Sonny's third week at Lincoln Hospital's children's ward. He had gotten used to the ward's daily routine of a six o'clock breakfast, usually corn flakes with whole-wheat toast, or oatmeal in hot milk or some other type of cereal, washed down with orange or grapefruit juice, followed by zesty saltines. Lunch at eleven consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which little Sonny took a mild dislike to, or the occasional Swiss cheese on white bread (better tasting); dinner at five, or what passed for dinner, consisting of soggy mashed potatoes, white rice, pinto or green beans, or steaming chicken soup with rice, washed down with whole milk or grape juice.

Visiting hours were liberal. Parents, friends and relatives of patients could stay for as long as they wanted, except during examination time or when x-rays were being performed. Mami and Papi visited little Sonny practically every day. When Papi finished his shift at the lamp factory in downtown Manhattan, he would rush out the door and grab the IRT Number 6 Line subway train to Third Avenue and East 149 th Street. From there, he walked the five or six blocks to the hospital, dodging car and bus traffic, to get there in time for the five o'clock visiting hour.

Mami had taken time off from her sewing job to be with little Sonny. So as not to leave his little brother Juanito to his own devices, Mami asked Aunt Dinorah to watch over him. Dinorah did not object, but she had two older sons of her own to worry about. They did not like to play with little Sonny or Juanito. Why should they? You can't do much with tiny, little brats. Can't even play stickball with them. What a pain! Why can't they get a babysitter?

(To be continued....)

Copyright © 2022 by Josmar F. Lopes

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