“If You Want to See Your Son Alive Again….”

It was November, 1965. I was working at a job pumping gas at a Powerine gas station in Pasadena, CA. One morning at the end of my 8 hour graveyard shift I got a call from my boss telling me that the guy who was supposed to relieve me of my shift can’t make it so I had to work the next shift too, making it a 16 hour shift for me. Naturally since my shift was an all-nighter, I didn’t pack a lunch and by 7 0’clock the next morning I was starving and ready for breakfast. What to eat at a gas station? Well, near the cash register there were some snacks like beef jerky and swizzle sticks. I started grabbing packs of those and eating several of them along with some candy and cookies and milk. At about 10 AM my stomach began hurting and not getting better. It was getting worse. What to do? I ran to the bathroom and as soon as I got out of the bathroom, I had to run back in the bathroom. I did that several times. Meanwhile I had a bunch of cars lined up for service. I don’t know how I made it through that second 8 hour shift but somehow I managed to make it. When I got home I was doubled up and on the floor of the bathroom moaning and groaning and I couldn’t stop throwing up.

My dad saw me on the floor and asked what the matter was. I told him I was having the dry heaves and my stomach was killing me and I couldn’t get up. My dad rushed me to a nearby medical clinic where I was given some Compazine, both oral and suppositories. I took those and was feeling better for a little while and my dad left for work. I got up and was talking to my brother Richard and trying to go to the kitchen to get something to eat when suddenly my back muscles began forcefully pulling my head backwards and I dropped backwards to the floor hitting my head on the hardwood floor and having severe involuntary muscle reactions. My back was bending me over backwards and my muscles wouldn’t stop. My brother looked at me with eyes wide and said, “What’s going on?!” All I could say was, “Call an ambulance.!”

My brother called an ambulance and it came with the sirens wailing and the lights flashing and the neighbors coming out of their houses wondering what was happening while I was strapped onto a gurney, quivering in pain and unable to control my body and keep it from pulling itself backwards. They put some big rubber thing in my mouth to keep me from biting my tongue. I kept spitting it out and they gave me oxygen as the ambulance sped through stop lights to a nearby hospital where they had no idea what was wrong with me so I was put back into the ambulance and taken to another hospital where they had no idea what was wrong either. So I was put back in the ambulance and taken to the LA County General Hospital where a doctor asked me what happened. I tried to tell him but I was in such withering pain with such extreme involuntary muscle reactions forcing my back and head backwards that I was groaning and could hardly speak.

The doctor asked me where my mother was. I told him she worked as a clerk in downtown LA at the LA Country Assessor’s Office. He called my mom and told her, “If you want to see your son alive again get here within the next thirty minutes.” My mom didn’t drive. She took the bus to work so there she was, waiting at a bus stop in the downtown LA traffic and worrying herself sick about what happened to her youngest son and hoping and praying to see him alive again.

The doctor asked me if I was on any drugs. I told him about eating the beef jerky and swizzle sticks and getting the dry heaves and going to the clinic and taking some medicine.

“What medicine did they give you?”

“I don’t know. Some little yellow pills.”

“What size were they?”

“Some little yellow pills. I don’t know what they were or what size they were.”

“Where did you go to get them?”

“Some clinic in Alhambra.”
“What’s the name of the clinic?”
“Some clinic with some German name.”
“What’s the address?”
I just looked at the doctor and groaned and quivered in pain as my back was pulling and curling me backwards. All I could do was groan.

The doctor looked at a nurse and said, “Find the clinic in Alhambra with a German name and call them up and find out what this patient was given.”

Meanwhile the doctor brought a book of pictures of hundreds of different pills and forced me to look at them to find the pill I had taken and then he yelled at an aide to “Get that damned back brace on him before he breaks his back with those damned muscle reactions.”

Meanwhile I had to be held down as I was bouncing all over the bed as the doctor was trying to show me pictures of hundreds of different pills and I could hardly keep my eyes focused as I’m screaming and crying and howling in pain.

“Is that the pill you took?” the doctor said as the aide was trying to get the back brace on me and I was fighting him and howling and saying, “Yes, I think that’s the pill I took but I also took suppositories.”

“What did they look like?”
“Some big yellow waxy things that I had to put up my butt.”

More pictures were shown to me when I said, “Yes, I think that’s what they were.”

“He’s overdosed on Compazine. Get me some Benadryl in syringe immediately” the doctor yelled at a nurse.

The doctor shoved a needle into a vein in my arm and instantaneously my body relaxed and it was the most relief I’d ever felt in my life. At the exact same moment my mother rushed up to my bedside with a pale, worried look on her face and she no doubt was expecting to see me dead but I was laying perfectly still and falling asleep. I looked up and I could see the worry and the tears in my mother’s eyes as I looked up and said, “I’m okay, ma. I’m okay. Don’t worry about it.” and I fell back to sleep.

I was kept in the hospital for a couple more days until the doctor was sure the Compazine was out of my body and he gave me some extra Benadryl pills and a note to carry around with me just in case saying, “This patient is extremely allergic to Compazine and other thiazine derivatives. He gets extreme allergic involuntary muscle reactions to them. If he encounters them, give him intravenous Benadryl immediately.” which I carried around with me in my wallet for the next several years.

The next month I got my draft notice into the army. I went back to see the doctor at the LA County General Hospital with hopes that my near death experience would keep me out of the draft with a note from my doctor. But instead the doctor looked at me and said, “Oh, the army will be good for you. Just make sure you bring the Benadryl and the note I wrote along with you.”

I’ve often wondered what the doctor later thought knowing that I was drafted into the army as the Vietnam war was heating up and getting worse by the day. He must have known that I was surly going to Vietnam and who knows what happened to the patient who’s life he saved.

SrFelipe school photo 2 Phil 1964.

Mom at work in the 1950s (seated, front desk)  in downtown LA officeMom at work in downtown LA, seated at her desk with her boss overlooking her work. She didn’t drive and only took the bus to work.

Phil Coming Home Phil in the army. Book available on Amazon

Back from Nam Me just getting back from Vietnam with my mom at the LA airport.


About Sr Felipe

I grew up in East LA, was drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam as a medic with the 1st Cav from 1966-1967. I survived that, came back to LA, went to East LA College and Cal State LA, became a social worker in Ventura, CA and moved up to Chico, CA in 1975. I started Sr Felipe's Salsas making organic salsa, enchilada, BBQ and pasta sauce that was available in natural food stores nationwide from 1980-2005. I've been doing a radio show on KZFR, Chico, 90.1 FM every Tuesday from 7:30-10:00 PM streamed live on KZFR.org where I play oldies from the 50s & 60s, doo-wop, Latin, folk, country and Gospel music and interview interesting people in the community. For the past three years I've been teaching beginning guitar through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute through Chico State University.
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