The Meanest Woman I Ever Knew

By David Roberts

Now I’m an old man and have seen five continents, people of every stripe, but by far the meanest woman I ever knew was Head Nurse Miz Liz Hart. Let me explain: when I grew up we had a family doctor, Dr. Hugh McCullough. He doctored everything from gall bladders to colds to wart removal. You could look at Dr. Hugh and you knew he was a kind, gentle, caring man. Never in a hurry, always had time — not like today, when your GP is allotted 15 minutes to guess what’s wrong with you and write a prescription.

The only hospital in the area was the West Point General Hospital — now just a memory, like Dr. Hugh and Head Nurse Miz Liz Hart. When I was 4 and penicillin was the new wonder drug and croton oil was still used, my appendix burst. Mama called Dr. Hugh. He said, “Get him to the hospital as soon as you can. I’ll meet you there.” I don’t remember if they had emergency rooms back then.

Dr. Hugh knew my condition was life-threatening. Mama was white and daddy drawn up against a wall. They wheeled me into the operating room and it was me, Dr. Hugh and Miz Liz. They put a mask on my face and dropped ether on it to put me out. When he got through Dr. Hugh told Mama, “Margret, I’ve done all I can. All we can do now is pray.”

Needless to say, I survived. It was considered a local miracle. It may have even been in the Valley Times News. While I was in the hospital I was under an oxygen tent and as doped as a racehorse. I kept asking Mama to get that orange Popsicle off the ceiling for me. I couldn’t have anything to drink or eat. I could only suck on an ice cube, by order of Head Nurse Miz Liz Hart. In my delirium I first saw Head Nurse Miz Liz Hart as the mean old woman she was.

Each time she would come in to change the bandage I’d put up a ruckus. It wasn’t much of a ruckus seeing as how I’d been near death’s door.

When Dr. Hugh said I could go home, it was like Christmas. I sat in Mama’s lap for the next four or five days, and then she said we had to go back to the hospital to get my dressing changed. I cried for a long time.

As we arrived Mama had gave me the “don’t you embarrass me” talk. I sucked it up. I was her little man. My fearlessness lasted till we walked into Miz Liz’s office. I knew this was gonna be the worst thing that ever happened. It took two of them to get me on a gurney. Mama stroked my hair. It didn’t calm me. I struggled for all I was worth. That was when the meanest woman I ever knew spoke up.

Miz Liz wore a crisp starched white uniform, a registered nurse’s cap, had a little silver brooch with a pen on a chain and had a memorable smell. She stepped back, put her fist on her hip, glared at me with the evilest of eyes and shook those scissors, which had one flat blade to remove bandages, in my face.

I can remember it as if it were yesterday. She shook those scissors at me and said, “David, if you don’t settle down I’m gonna cut your tallywhacker off”. She scared me to death. I knew she meant business, and I didn’t want to lose my tallywhacker. I don’t even know that I knew then what a tallywhacker was; I was just 4. I froze till she was through.

On the way out Mama said, “Now that wasn’t bad, was it?” I was in a daze. I had looked terror in the eye.

Later in life, I mentioned this to Mama. She smiled and told me how she loved Miz Liz. Turns out Miz Liz was there when I was born. The first thing she said as Mama cuddled me against her soft breast was, “Margret, no wonder you struggled. That little boy has a head as big as a watermelon.”

I know Miz Liz is in Heaven. She would have scared the devil to death.