In his latest “Dear Grandson,” Stan Gerding talks about his continuing career in the Navy and confronting trauma when his son was bitten on the face by a vicious neighborhood dog.
I checked in at the office of the Officer of the Day, Naval School of Health Sciences San Diego. They took my records and my orders and told me to report to the Lab School’s instructor’s office. I checked in with the Leading Chief Shoney and he gave me the tentative schedule for the class, which was starting on that following Monday. I also met the Officer in Charge, Lieutenant Commander Charles Meyers, a real nice man, I was glad.
Monday came and we reported to a classroom across the street from the instructor’s office. I was a senior 2nd Class Petty Officer (HM2) and I was making 1st Class Petty Officer (HM1) three months later, but there was also an HM1 starting in my class by the name of Bonifacio Cablay and he became the class leader (adjutant) and I was his assistant adjutant. He and I became very good friends and quite a duo, our class was really made up of a great bunch of guys and we had no problems with them at all. That was our orientation day and getting our books for class, we met all the instructors for all the courses and were told that these classes are college level. The first three months we would be studying Urinalysis, Hematology, General Chemistry, and Clinical Chemistry.
I didn’t have any problems with those courses, so when I was at home, I spent quite a bit of time with your dad, pitching to him with a plastic ball, walking the dog, and reading to him. One night he and I were walking the dog and we were passing a house around the corner from us that had two Boston Terriers, a male and female, and a chihuahua, so we stopped and two older gentlemen came out of the house and introduced themselves and their dogs to us. One man was older than the other, his name was Bud and the only reason I am mentioning his name and him is because he was a unique individual. I had noticed that he had several hummingbird feeders hanging from his house and he told Greg that he could talk to the birds and he understood them.
Alright, I was extremely skeptical upon hearing this and he looked at me and said, “You don’t believe me.”
I was dumbfounded but I said, “Oh sure, I believe you.”
Several weeks went by and we were walking the dog over there again and the old man was sitting there talking to the hummingbirds. They would sit on his fingers, his shoulders, and even on his head. Several times he would call one of them over to his finger, and one of the birds would fly over towards him and hover over his hand and then land on his finger.
Okay, I am no longer skeptical. I believe what I saw and, yes, he was talking to them.
We became very good friends for the next year going out to dinner with them and having all the dogs playing together.
The neighborhood seemed very safe, although there was a neighbor down the street that had a vicious dog in their backyard. There was a sign on the fence that said, “BEWARE OF THE DOG.” One day, I was in the classroom and the Leading Chief came over to the classroom and pulled me out of class and told me that something had happened to your dad and he was in the emergency room. I was so nervous and anxious, I ran over to the emergency room and saw your dad laying on a stretcher in a room with a big bandage on his face. I’ll describe that in a minute, first I want to tell you about the story of what had happened.
Your father was in the front yard playing Superman with a cape around his neck and running around the front yard like he was flying, just like Superman. I guess he got tired of running in the yard, he decided to run down the street on the sidewalk, again like he was flying. Apparently, the vicious dog got out of the backyard and was laying on the neighbor’s front porch and Greg came upon him and thought he would go up and see the dog and maybe pet him. The dog lunged at Greg and bit him in his nose, ripping it from the bone, and he also bit him in the arm and of course Greg ran home screaming. His mother, with the help of a neighbor, drove him to the ER at the Naval hospital.
I was so mad and yet concerned for my son’s well-being. The doctor came into the room and showed me Greg’s wound. The skin that covers the nose was detached and exposing the bone of the nose, and the cartilage had a big bite hole through it.
(Greg’s Nose, single line is where it was ripped from the face
and the dark mark above is the hole in cartilage.)
The doctor told me that he had talked with the plastic surgeon and was told he would look at it and repair it, if he could. He said, “Hang tight, the surgeon will call when he’s ready for him.”
Greg was calm through this whole ordeal, surprisingly so.
Fifteen minutes later we got the call from the plastic surgeon and we wheeled the stretcher to the 4th floor of the hospital where the surgeon was waiting. He took the bandage off Greg’s face and evaluated the wound. The whole time he was looking at it, he was talking to your dad in a very warm and calming voice and Greg was whimpering a little but seemed to take to the doctor.
The doctor explained to us and Greg exactly what he was going to do. He started the procedure and talked to Greg the whole time and, I will say, my son was a hero that day. He laid there and did not move one inch and did not cry one tear.
When the doctor was finished and bandaged his nose, he praised your dad for being the bravest patient he had ever had. I was so proud of your dad, he was what I call, “a real trooper.” We got him home and fed and put him to bed for the night. I knew the doctor did a great job in sewing him up but didn’t realize how great a job he did until those bandages came off and we got to see his tremendous handy work. I told the doctor how much I appreciated him and the work he had done on my son. I called him “a magician.”
My landlord got word of the incident and came down to the house to see Greg and to express his sorrow for what had happened. He knew the neighbor that had the dog and he went down the street to see him. I was not there, and I only got this as hearsay, but I understand that my landlord shot the dog and had him taken to where ever they take dogs to be tested for rabies. We were told that there was no rabies and Greg was in the clear.
We also went to a lawyer, weeks later, to see what legal course of action we could take. We were told that we had a short window to file a suit, of which we did not want to do, but the lawyer said Greg could sue those people up until the time he turned twenty-one. We let it go.
We took Greg back to see the surgeon and have the sutures removed and get a thorough check-up. He was given a 100% clean bill of health and the doctor said he could put the cape back on and play Superman again.
Your dad was amazing how he recovered from that whole ordeal and was back playing and running and helping me with walking the dog. I was back at school, studying diligently, and getting close to go on our first rotation in the main lab doing urinalysis, specimen collection, hematology, and chemistry.
More later, Grandson.
Stan Gerding is the author of the book The Nam “Doc” A Navy Corpsman’s Story.