In 1970 the Army sent me to Camp Darby Italy, a short distance from Pisa. The following summer I decided I wanted to visit Europe and the Middle East. I started out flying to Athens. From there I went to Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, and Israel. After I returned to Italy for a brief stay I resumed my trip by going to Monaco, Paris and London. From there I flew home to attend my brother’s wedding, then back to London. From there the plan was to fly to Amsterdam and take the train from there back to Italy.
While I was at home I started having intense pain in my side. It would come and stay a little while before subsiding. I tolerated it and had another incident while on my flight to London. I figured I would have the problem taken care of as soon as I got back to Italy. I had no idea what was wrong but I was young and strong.
Upon my arrival at the train station in Amsterdam the pain returned. This time it was not only intense but it did not subside. I boarded the train bound for Rome thinking I could wait it out. European trains are usually compartmentalized, at least the long-distance trains. I was in a first class compartment, very affordable even on a serviceman’s pay, with one other person. About an hour into the trip the pain had become so intense that I hyperventilated and fell over in the compartment. The woman who had been in there with me ran out and brought back both the conductor and a doctor.
The doctor talked to me briefly and told me what my problem was. His perfect American English told me I had gotten lucky in having an American attend to me. I was only thinking in terms of language difficulty. When I told him that he told me he was actually Dutch. He said that medical schools in Holland required an intimate relationship with American English because most of their text books were written in that language, hence his ease with English.
The train made an unscheduled stop on Arnhem Holland where I was taken off via a stretcher. Since train windows in Europe go down everyone was leaning out their windows looking at me. I didn’t care. I only wanted to be relieved of the pain.
From there I was taken to St. Elizabeth Hospital.
As you can see, this hospital does not resemble anything like the hospitals in the United States. Once inside I was sent into an examination room and told to strip down naked and lie on the table in the room. I did so. While I was lying there a young woman came in, looked at me, giggled, and left. This happened several times more. I was, to say the least, flustered. Finally a nurse came in and attempted to take down information about me. She spoke no English so I thought I could better help her fill out the form she had if I did it myself, which I did. Then the doctor came in. His English was halting but passable. When I asked him about the young women coming into the room he told me that they had never had an American in their hospital before and I was something of a novelty to them. I still don’t know why they all giggled but all of them were quite pretty so that made it very tolerable.
Finally I was taken to the men’s ward. There were about a dozen men in the ward. I found out that the man in the bed to my right with the two broken legs had ended up there because he had attempted to escape from jail and had broken his legs in that attempt. I was a bit of a celebrity there being an American but I was treated extremely well by both staff and the men in the ward.
In talking to the guy in the bed to my left he asked if I knew anyone in the area. I told him I did not. The next day when his family came, his sister, a beautiful woman, split away from the rest of her family and visited the entire time with me. That bit of kindness has stayed with me my entire life. My entire stay in the hospital in Holland was a demonstration of the kindness of the Dutch people. I vowed then and there that no one could ever say a bad word about the Dutch in my presence and not incur my wrath.
At the end of a week in Arnhem I was told I was being moved to the Dutch Military Hospital in Utrecht. My heart sunk because I was so comfortable where I was at. I had made friends and always had a visitor. Oh, the nurses at that hospital were all young, all single, and all beautiful. I asked about that and was told that it was custom in the country that once a woman got married she removed herself from the workforce.
I was taken by ambulance to the Dutch Military Hospital in Utrecht.
This picture is very recent and much of the building was not in existence when I was taken there. But, as we drove up to the hospital I saw immaculate grounds that were planted with large gardens of tulips. It was absolutely beautiful. I felt a bit of relief that it did not look like American Military Hospitals.
Once again I was assigned to a large ward there. The conditions I found in the hospital in Arnhem were repeated in Utrecht. I was welcomed in and found staff and patients extremely friendly. There were probably 18 men in the ward. Dutch military tradition had the man with the longest stay in the ward as the ranking person. Unfortunately the guy who held that position was there because he had received 3rd burns over a large portion of his body. They guys were great to me.
I remember my first breakfast there. There was a long wooden table in the middle of the ward where we all took breakfast. I felt like I was at home because they had cereal, fruit and dairy products. I took a bowl of cereal and poured what I thought was milk over it. What I found out was that it was not milk, per se, it was buttermilk. That is the Dutch way.
Once again someone had a sister come in to visit with me during visiting hours. And once again she was blonde and beautiful. What a life! I was actually enjoying being in the hospital. Who knew! Early Sunday morning a nurse came around and asked who wanted to attend religious services. At first I said no but the guy in the bed to my right said I should go. When I asked why he told me I would find out. Later that morning the nurse returned asking who wanted to attend services. I said I did and started to get out of bed. The guy in the bed to my left told me to stay put. A young pretty nurse came to my bed and rolled me to the service. What a deal!
I was discharged from there a day or two later as I had been operated on and had the kidney stone removed. During my discharge interview with the Urologist the doctor asked me if I ate a lot of milk products and tomato products. I said I did and he informed me that I would have to stop since they were a prime contributor to kidney stones. Then he laughed and said that he liked those sorts of things and he had a long history with kidney stones. He gave me a half-dozen packets of some sort of medicine that I was to take. These packets were little more than wax paper with a ground up medicine, resembling dark sugar. I threw them in my suitcase and was taken to the train. The trip back required crossing a number of borders and being checked at each. It never occurred to me that the powered medicine I was given resembled cocaine. I only thought of that afterward but no one ever asked me to open my suitcase.
In the month and years immediately following that adventure I always said that it turned out to be the best part of my entire vacation. I came into contact with some of the kindest people I have ever known. The Dutch hold a special place in my heart. What I experienced was not a single case of a person showing me kindness. It was something I believe an entire nation practices. I will always love the Dutch and always feel in their debt.