The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

December 24, 2013

Les and Ward Bond, guest columnists: Remembering Dr. Ryan and a gift in 1957

NEOSHO, Mo. — My wife and I had a frightful experience during the Christmas holiday season in 1957. I was a sophomore at the Colorado School of Mines, and my wife worked in the office at Coors. She had obtained a few days off from work during the school’s holiday break, and we had arranged to visit our parents in Missouri.

While driving across Kansas near the town of Russell, my wife experienced an emergency breathing problem with a severe pain in her chest. We stopped and contacted a local physician, who provided some temporary pain relief and medication. He suggested we contact a lung specialist on our return to Colorado.

Our Christmas trip was shortened, and we returned to Colorado and immediately contacted Dr. Michael P. Ryan at his clinic on West Colfax in Lakewood. Early on, the diagnosis was not good. Over the next few days and after many tests and scores of X-rays, the doctor determined that she had suffered a partial lung collapse of more than 10 percent and strongly suspected it was the result of her having tuberculosis. He also thought the problem could be associated with lung damage from the cold weather where we had lived. We had come to the School of Mines in the fall of 1956 from Alaska, where frosted lungs and TB were a common problem.   

Although my wife worked in the office, Coors was notified of the health problem and the doctor made arrangement to have her admitted to the National Jewish Hospital for TB patients. The actual commitment was pending a few more tests and a review by a specialist from Chicago. Ryan had persuaded a medical friend in Chicago to stop in Denver on his way to Los Angeles for business. The plan was to have the visiting doctor look at my wife’s X-rays and test results along with some new pictures that had just been taken.  

During my wife’s long sessions at his clinic, Ryan came out to the waiting room on several occasions, and he and I talked about schoolwork and some lighter subjects. I’m sure he was trying to help. As I recall, I had my hands full with homework and took my books with me to the waiting room.  Even though the School of Mines was on Christmas break, finals were after the school resumed in January. During our visits, no mention was ever made about anything very personal or about our financial affairs. I think he knew I was going to college on the GI Bill as a veteran, we were from Alaska and that Wanda worked at Coors, but that was about all.  

Although I have no idea as to the number of X-rays or tests, it went on almost every day and into the nights for about 10 days. We are both optimists by nature, but it was hard to face the prospects before us in a realistic way. Ryan tried to be as helpful as possible with encouragement about the future, but there was really no good way to paint a rosy picture of our situation. I remember one big thing from the conversations with the doctor involving the good care and attention she would get at the National Jewish Hospital in Denver. I also remember that to visit my wife at the hospital, I would be required to wear a breathing mask, as TB was contagious.

I’m not sure we had ever really addressed the issue of all the expenses associated with the health problem and the bills from Ryan and the clinic. For the most part, the expenses were still going upward. I’m sure my wife and I knew we were running up a large bill, but it had not been mentioned in any conversation at the clinic or with the doctor. I thought we would pay the bill one way or another. My wife and I had no health insurance, but we did have a couple of thousand dollars in cash. We had talked about how we might raise a little more and maybe make payments of some kind to pay the rest of the bills.

The good news arrived by way of a phone call from Ryan in the early afternoon. He said something like: “I have some really good news for you two, and I would like to have you both come into the clinic and talk about it.”

Needless to say, we were elated beyond words and were on our way from Golden to the 9300 block of West Colfax in Lakewood in a short time.  

When we arrived at the doctor’s office, he met us at the door and ushered us into his office. There he gave us the great news that my wife didn’t have tuberculosis and that she would fully recover in a few weeks. For several minutes he explained the X-rays and the new test results along with the opinion of the visiting specialist that morning. From all the test data, the doctors concluded that my wife had experienced some lung damage and tissue scarring in the past but that the new problem was not related to tuberculosis.

This was a time of great relief and joy for both of us. Words can’t really describe the feeling of the weight being lifted from our shoulders. It was apparent to us that the doctor was delighted with our news that day.

After going over the good news in more and more detail for a few more minutes, we finally did get around to the business part and the expenses. I wasn’t expecting an accurate accounting, but I said something like “Now let’s talk about how much we owe you and how we are going to pay it.”

Ryan had taken a seat at his desk as I was standing. He looked up and said: “Do you think you can handle $40?” We both thanked him then, and we have never forgotten his care.

Les and Wanda Bond live in Neosho.

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