Over the Hill

He’s shared SLO County stories for 46 years. Now columnist Phil Dirkx is retiring

Phil Dirkx is retiring after 25 years as a columnist for The Tribune.
Phil Dirkx is retiring after 25 years as a columnist for The Tribune. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Editor’s note: Phil Dirkx is retiring after 25 years as a Tribune columnist, wrapping up a San Luis Obispo County journalism career that began in 1972. As a tribute, we are republishing his first column, which originally ran Feb. 11, 1993.

Newsman makes pit stop in the children’s ward

TEMPLETON — There’s been a major improvement since I was last hospitalized, 44 years ago. Now you get pajama bottoms.

I found that out a couple of weeks ago when I went to Twin Cities Community Hospital.

I came down with what’s called Bell’s palsy. And came down is right. With Bell’s palsy one side of your face sags.

That’s because something affects the facial nerve controlling that side. My right eye won’t close and that side of my mouth won’t cooperate with the other side.

This may confirm some people’s suspicion that I’m a one-side reporter, but they sure can’t accuse me of talking out of both sides of my mouth.

At least they can’t for a while. My face has already started recovering a little.

Local news matters

We rely on readers like you more than ever before to support us as we tell stories about the people and issues important to SLO County readers.

Subscribe to The Tribune today for just 99 cents for your first month — and help ensure we can provide strong local journalism for many years to come. #ReadLocal

I guess Bell’s palsy was named after some eminent 19th-century doctor who figured out what it was. That’s where botanists have it all over doctors. Botanists get flowers named after them, but with doctors it’s diseases.

With me it started as an earache. After a week of going to the doctor and taking antibiotic pills, I woke up one morning and saw I couldn’t close my right eye.

It was like a broken old-fashioned window shade. It was rolled up and wouldn’t come down.

That day the doctor said, “I’m admitting you to the hospital right now. Go over and check in.”

But I almost couldn’t do it. Not that I was too weak or anything. I couldn’t find a place to park. Anyone who’s ever visited the hospital lately knows about that.

The hospital was full too. They put me in the pediatric section with the kids. I think there was a picture of a monkey on my door.

And I was in the room with the VCR that played cartoon videos through the TVs in the children’s rooms. It was in a cabinet hanging on the wall at the foot of my bed.

People frequently came in to put in new tapes. This also involved switching on the TV in my room to the VCR channel so they could make tracking adjustments.

Sometimes they avoided doing that by hollering back and and forth to someone watching the TV in the room across the hall.

That may sound annoying but it wasn’t. I was glad to have the company. And I didn’t want to watch the TV myself because it bothered my unblinking eye.

I was in isolation — it says on my hospital bill. The doctors figured the Bell’s palsy was caused by an outbreak of shingles in my ear. Shingles are related to chicken pox.

And then a nasty bacteria piled on for a second infection. The doctors didn’t want to spread any of that around.

But after a day I guess they figured I wasn’t in an infectious mood, so they brought in a roommate.

I actually had two roommates. One left before I did, and his replacement was still there when I went. They were both congenial, considerate men and I enjoyed their company.

Hospital roommates quickly get to know about each other’s private matters. Those curtains between beds aren’t very sound-proof.

And that’s all right. We usually don’t touch enough other people’s lives or get touched by them.

And it’s impossible to keep up our usual fronts in the hospital. It was a relief to quit trying.

There were some inconveniences to being in the hospital. One was the tube sticking into my arm that was attached to several plastic bags, from which medicine flowed into my veins on a fairly steady basis.

The bags hung on a stainless steel stand on wheels, which I pushed ahead of me as I walked around the room. It was like being tethered to a hat rack.

In general, however, the living was easy. You lie around all day in bed with your meals brought to you.

You don’t have to lift a finger. Calm and competent nurses looked after me. How do they stay so cheerful dealing with all us complaining patients?

I began to wonder why I waited 44 years to go back into a hospital. I learned the answer a couple of days later when my first interim hospital bill arrived. The interim total was more than $14,000.

But I have blessings to count: skilled doctors, medical insurance and pajama bottoms.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to the Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or pmdirkx@sbcglobal.net.
Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune