It was a dark and stormy night—no, really—it was a dark and stormy night in 1930’s Los Angeles. My mother’s third child, (certainly she knew how to figure it by then), I was expected on Thanksgiving, but never one to rush, I didn’t debut until January 4 along with the Great Depression.
At that time people took a street car to work or to shop downtown, they walked everywhere. My Dad was one of the few who owned a car–an old used Essex. There were no freeways, no skyscrapers; the City was mostly flat and sprawling, no crowds. The sewer system was a constant source of political bickering. Storm waters flooded the streets, covered the sidewalks and slipped into houses. Rowboats came out but inside the old Queen of Angels Hospital, where it was warm and dry, I was born, a third girl named Elizabeth after my father’s mother and to be known as Betty Lee.
After my birth, Dad was sloughing his way home when the nurse called the doctor’s house to report that my diaper was bloody, more than the few drops that sometimes appear with a newborn girl, I could die—and here’s where it gets dramatic!
The doctor and his wife were asleep, but he told the nurse to try to find my father. Few people had telephones and even if my parents did, the line likely would have gone dead in the storm. He wanted to do a person-to-person blood transfusion from my Dad to me, didn’t want to use Mom because she’d just given birth. In fact, he’d never done such a thing, but had just received a medical journal, he had yet to read, telling how to do it from adult to child. Blood was being typed by then, he knew he needed a parent; hospital blood banks were yet to come.
Anyway, in her nightgown with a flashlight, his wife read the transfusion article to the doctor driving in his pajamas through darkened deserted flooded streets, water lapping at the car doors and, thankfully, not killing the engine as they tried to race to the hospital where he performed the first such procedure there with my Mom, saved my little life and gave me a minor claim to fame. The hospital staff was all agog and full of pride. When I was old enough to understand, I wanted to find and thank them, but that never happened.
The doctor told my Mom to eat lots of liver and applesauce to replenish her blood and the upshot was the entire family ate liver and applesauce for decades, even onto my own children.
In 1989, the old Queen of Angels Hospital closed its doors. For years the building was used as a major film location; today it houses the Dream Center. In 1930, El Pueblo Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula, was dedicated as Olvera Street; the Greek Theatre opened; and Mines Field was established to later become LAX.
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