By Charles Sacchetti
It all started in the spring of 1972. One of the perks of my job, in Temple University’s Athletic Department, involved my using the facilities on a regular basis. One lunch hour, I decided to go out to the tennis courts and practice hitting backhands against the big green wall outside of McGonigle Hall. After about a half-hour, I felt a dull ache in my lower back. Over the next few months, the pain worsened and I decided to go to Temple Hospital’s Orthopedic Department to find out what was wrong. They determined that I had a herniated or perhaps a ruptured disk, L-5 to be exact. Over the next year or so, my condition worsened and I underwent exercises, heat treatments and wearing a back brace during my waking hours.
None of this helped which led to more aggressive treatments. I had two weeks bed rest at home, lying on my mattress that sat on top of a ¾-inch plywood bed board. I was allowed to get out of bed only to shower and use the bathroom. The bed rest didn’t help. I was admitted twice to the hospital for several days of “traction,” where weights would hang from my feet to take pressure off of the spine. They didn’t help either. Finally, by August of the next year I resorted to wearing a body cast that started at my shoulders and wrapped around my entire torso. The cast was the old-fashioned kind, plaster of Paris, hot and heavy, especially in August. I wore that cast for a month. No improvement.
Running out of patience, I told my doctor, “I’ve had enough of this stuff. Let’s get the surgery done.” There were no guarantees of success; back in those days there weren’t any non-invasive laser surgeries. I would have to be cut to have the disk removed. The disk in question was pressing on the sciatic nerve which caused my entire left leg to be completely numb. The pain was a like a toothache that wouldn’t go away.
I checked into room 939 at Temple Hospital on Dec. 19, 1973. Surgery was set for Dec. 21. I had an elderly roommate, a Jewish man named David. Dave was in to have a heart valve replacement. Although very common now, this procedure was considered to be quite risky back then. Dave was a wonderful old guy and we talked for hours about our families and how we would pray for each other’s successful outcomes. On the day before my surgery with Dave still snoozing, I quietly turned on my transistor radio to hear some shocking news: Bobby Darin had just died. He had just had the same surgery Dave was scheduled for, and he died from complications. I quickly turned off the radio, thinking that this news was the last thing ol’ Dave needed to hear. Fortunately, Dave was still asleep. Every time a nurse would come in I would tell them not to mention anything about Darin’s passing. I was able to keep Dave in the dark.
My parents came to visit that evening. Mom gave me her little statue of the Virgin Mary to keep in the room. That night, Dave asked me about the statue and I explained that we believed Mary could intercede, on our behalf, to her Son, Jesus Christ. Since we believed He was the Son of God, it was a no-brainer to ask His mom to help us. Dave had learned that his surgery would also take place the next day. He asked me if I would let him see the statue. I picked it up, gave it a kiss and handed it to him. Dave, looked at it, smiled and also gave it a little kiss. He then looked at me and said, “I ain’t taking any chances.”
Thank God, both of our surgeries were successful. I was allowed to go home on Christmas Eve. Dave had to stay in a few days more. When I hugged him goodbye, it felt like I was leaving a good buddy, even though he was old enough to be my grandfather. As I was leaving, he told me he knew about Bobby Darin, after all. The girl bringing in dinner mentioned it to him, while I was napping. He knew I was trying to keep it from him so he didn’t want me to feel bad by letting on that he knew.
Talk about a man with a good heart.