1944-45 My Battle with TB

1945, in tuberculosis hospital:TB san

Recovering from tuberculosis in Hamilton TB San in 1945

1945 Recovering from tuberculosis at San Gabriel's

Recovering from TB in 1945, age 30

When people with tuberculosis in their lungs or throat cough, laugh, sneeze, sing, or even talk, the germs that cause TB may be spread into the air. If another person breathes in these germs there is a chance that they will become infected. It seems that I caught TB from another priest living in residence at Blessed Sacrament. I worked all day in the Chancery, returned by street car, and had supper with Fr. Schwam and the pastor there. Fr. Schwam would ask me to take his evening appointments because he felt too sick. Afterwards, he needed someone to talk to so I sat with him. It was discovered that Fr. Schwam had TB and later ended up back in a TB San – I think in California.

I did not know that I had caught TB and was moved back in residence at the Cathedral, but  I began to feel weaker and weaker. A doctor came to see me and listened to my lungs and said ‘You are not to do anything. I am going to make an appointment for you to go to St. Michael’s Hospital.’ The next day they discovered I had TB.  They transferred me to Hamilton Mountain TB San. There they found I had a cavity in my right lung and I would have to have that lung collapsed or I would die.

They did what is called a pneumolysis operation. They cut me open in two places. Through one they put a light and through the other they put an electric knife to cut the adhesions between the lung and the pleural wall. If they could not cut those adhesions, you were dead.

I was awake during this surgery. Someone held my feet and someone held my head while they cut me open. They pumped in air and sewed me up. Every week I had to have air pumped into my lung to make sure it was down/collapsed. Even then, there was TB in the other lung. I was short of breath. They thought they might have to partially collapse the other lung.

That’s when I was in a six bed ward.  Four of the other men in my room had been in jail and were still serving their sentences. It was thought that being with me would improve their language.  They would sneak down to Hamilton at night to go to a bar. One night, they were caught by our nurse who saw their pillows in their beds where their heads should be. They were sent to the “dead end wards” at the end of each floor.  There they were put in two bed wards where the other patient was hemorrhaging and dying.

Some of the other patients had difficulty with the food which was very poor. On visiting Sundays some would throw the tray of food over the balcony to land on the pavement so the visitors could see it. There was a veterinary doctor that wound up in the bed opposite me. He had never been in a hospital. We were not supposed to get out of bed so we had to use a bed pan. That was something new to him. He leaned back and the bed pan shot out onto the middle of the floor and turned over. When the male staffer (who apparently suffered from shell shock from the War) arrived to pick up the pans and saw the mess he went berserk.  I was going downhill there. I spent nine months at Mountain San in Hamilton.

The Cardinal came to see me and realized it was a bad situation. During the Second World War, he got me transferred to San Gabriel’s TB Sanitarium in the Adirondack Mountains near Saranac Lake in New York. It was run by the Sisters of Mercy.

United States Visa Application

This was my 1945 United States Visa Application

I had to get a Visa to stay in the United States for treatment.

1945 Visa application photo

Visa photo, age 30

At San Gabriel’s, I had a private room opening onto a balcony onto which eight or nine other patients were put during the day to get the fresh mountain air. I began to pick up immediately. The food was good and we even had a choice of food for our meals. Soon I was allowed to go to the Priests’ Cottage where we got special attention and when we were able, we said Mass at the chapel. The treatment by the Sisters of Mercy was excellent.  I began to recover.

At the Priests Cottage, there was a young surgeon named Doctor Causabon who was also recovering from TB. He allowed me to use his name as a pseudonym when writing some hobby booklets. He typed them out for me. For a while I kept in contact with him after he recovered.  He eventually married a nurse from there, who was not a nun.   One of the things I wrote for a magazine got an award and they sent it to him.  He forwarded it to me.

After fifteen months at San Gabriel’s, I was returned to Toronto. Bishop Allen asked for my early release so I could work on marriage cases which had not been touched since I got sick. At first, I was only allowed to work half the day. Every week at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, I got air put into my right lung cavity.  My right lung was collapsed for five years.  Anywhere I travelled I had to go to the nearest hospital to get air pumped in.

The collapse used to move a little bit. Each time before I had the air pumped in I had to have an Xray done.  They knew where it was safe to put the needle in. I got the air pumped in at the front, back or sides.  I was always kept awake for this procedure. In the United States, they froze the outer tissues and then put the thicker needle in. In Canada however, there was no freezing, and they just went in with the bigger thick needle. They usually did it in front of a bunch of medical students. The thick needle was attached to a machine which told them how much air was in there already and then they knew how much to put in to keep the lung down for a week.

After five years, all the tests showed that there was no more TB, so they let my lung come up gradually. I certainly did a lot of praying during my illness. I’ve had pneumonia a number of times since then. When the new antibiotic penicillin came out, they did not know the right dosage, so they gave me a shot every four hours for eight days. As a result, I had an overdose. The next time I had to get penicillin my legs swelled up. I had become allergic.

I used to travel back to New York on vacations to visit Saranac Lake even in my retirement.

Given my battle with TB and other serious health conditions, it is quite marvellous that I am now the oldest diocesan priest who has attained the most years of ordination in the history of the Archdiocse of Toronto and possibly in Canada.

Msgr. Vincent Foy November 3, 2015

The following article gives preceding background regarding my tuberculosis and was previously published years ago in Emeritus, Volume 1, Issue 6.

A Vocation Almost Lost

By Monsignor Vincent Foy

Every priest walks a unique path to the altar. Some vocations come late, others early. Here I briefly recount my own providential journey, for which I am eternally grateful.

My hope of becoming a priest began when I was eight years old, in December of 1923. It was on December 22nd of that year, in St. Michael’s Hospital, that my mother gave birth to my sister Doreen, now a retired nurse. Soon after my mother, then 38 years old, grew gravely ill with double pneumonia, and was not expected to live. There were no antibiotics in those days.

As though it were yesterday, I recall our father gathering together my older brother Edward, my younger brother Jack and me, in our parlor. The doctor had told him that it would be most unlikely that mother would last the night and that the children should be prepared. Our father told us that mother was very sick and God might be calling her to heaven and we should be brave.

Shortly afterwards I went into the dining-room, separated from the parlor by sliding doors, and paced up and down, tears streaming down my face. I promised God that if mother lived I would do my best to become a priest. That is not the best way to choose a vocation, but that is the way it was with me.

Remarkably, my mother passed the crisis and next day was considerably better. From that day I never wavered in my hope and resolve. I never told my mother or anyone of my promise. Incidentally, while mother was in hospital, her younger sister, Anna, also in St.Michael’s, died of pneumonia after giving birth to my cousin Barbara. Mother was not told of this until some time after.

It was in 1926 that Fr. James Fullerton, then a curate under Father Cline at Holy Name parish, entered our Junior Fourth classroom and asked my close friend Billy McGuire and me to step into the hall. He told us we were to be altar-severs and would join a group of younger boys the following week to begin learning the Latin and ceremonies. Soon after he dropped into our home at 40 Fulton Ave., and told my mother in my absence that I was to give a talk at the next meeting of the Junior Holy Name Society. The subject was to be: “The Duties of a Priest”. That would be my first speech.

Throughout high-school I was encouraged in what I believed was my vocation by Father Cline, Fr. Fullerton, who would preach at my first Mass and my Silver Jubilee  Mass, Fr. Hodgins, and Fr. Fred McGinn – all great role-models.

In September of 1933, just turned eighteen, I entered St. Augustine’s Seminary. No Xray or doctor’s report was required. Shortly after the Fall retreat, the newcomers lined up on a Thursday morning for a medical check-up. I was behind Albert Goetz from Hamilton. We talked about age and Albert said: “I will never see a quarter of a century again”. I thought to myself:  “They are taking in old men now”.  Conducting the examination was Dr. Brown, the seminary physician, in the presence of Dr. Davis, the Prefect of Discipline. Dr. Brown had been my mother’s doctor when I was born and had brought me into the world at home in 1915. The exam took about one minute. Dr. Brown listened to my heart, thumped me a couple of times on the abdomen and declared me fit.

For the first two years in the seminary my health was good and I took part with exuberance in all the sports: touch football, golfing on the “flats”, handball, hockey, bowling in the gym, and cliff-climbing.  Because I had one weak eye and did not have three-dimensional vision I was always on the “bizz-cat” teams reserved for the poorer players.

Joining our class in September 1934 was Jack Myers. He had been to St. Michael’s College for a year after High School and so was admitted into second year philosophy. We were related. His mother was Kathleen Foy, daughter of George Foy, the wealthy liquor importer, younger brother of Nicholas Foy, my grandfather. All during the 1934-1935 year, Jack sat opposite me in the refectory.

Jack Myers was a fine-looking, polite and always good-humored young man, though quite frail. During the year he had several facial boils, which I was told later were sometimes a sign of early tuberculosis. In any event, during the summer of 1935, he was admitted with tuberculosis to Mountain San in Hamilton, where he spent the next two years; he was unable to return to the seminary. We kept in touch until his death about ten years ago.

In the Fall of 1935 my health deteriorated rapidly. I did not suspect it then, but learned much later that it was my own first bout with tuberculosis. I thought it must be the strain of the rather exacting seminary discipline. Studies were more difficult and my marks took a dip. I was no longer able to enjoy the sports. I remember dragging myself around the chapel dusting the pews when I was on Thursday morning “sacristy duty”. My weight dropped from 150 to 140 lbs. Shortly before our Christmas break of 1935, Msgr. Carroll, the President, called me aside in the corridor. He said  “You are not looking well at all. I am afraid that if you do not pick up we may have to send you home”. To me that was like a stab in the heart, yet I knew I could not continue the way I was.

Shortly after, just before our fifteen-day Christmas break, I packed everything I owned into my trunk and labeled it with my home address of 40 Fulton Ave., Toronto. It was my firm intention to have the trunk sent me during the holiday season and write a letter to Msgr. Carroll saying that my health would not permit me to return.

By God’s merciful will, I felt considerably better during the Christmas break, resting much and eating well. I decided to give the seminary one more try.

Early in January of 1936 I discovered a book which I believe saved my vocation. In those days students were not allowed to visit the reference library on the top floor without the written permission of a professor. We did have a list of books, mostly lives of saints and other spiritual books, available in the students’ library, which was at the north end of the main corridor. We were not permitted to enter it, but the librarian, that year Bill Capron of Ogdensburg, was at the door for a short time on Thursday evenings and would give us the book or books requested. The book that attracted me was entitled “My Water Cure” by Father Sebastian Kneipp, a Bavarian priest. This book was first published in 1886, and became a world-wide best seller.

Father Kneipp, later Msgr. Kneipp, was a pioneer in hydrotherapy. As a  young  man he wanted to become a priest but had a break-down in his health due to consumption. A little book on water therapy changed his life. He regained his health by walking barefoot on the grass in the morning, cold water applications, and wading in streams. After his ordination, when he was a parish priest, he opened a clinic to help others. He became world famous and was even invited to Rome by Pope Leo XIII, who sought his advice. In the eighteen-nineties, so widespread was his fame, that scores of New Yorkers could be seen every morning in Central Park, walking bare-foot on the dewy grass.

Taking Father Kneipp’s advice, I began my own “water cure”. My room that year was on the main floor of the Annex, or Kehoe Hall. Just to the right of the door entering the Annex from the main building was the washroom in which there was one bathtub. Near the end of the long recreation period from 4:00 to 5:30pm, I began paddling around in cold water in the tub. I knew the danger of shock from proceeding too quickly. At first I walked in only a thin coating of water and very gradually, as the days and weeks went by, increased the water-depth until I was splashing in water up to my knees and then was even able to enjoy a cold shower. At night I sometimes wore a wet shirt or socks, following Fr. Kneipp’s advice. These were supposed to promote circulation and draw off toxins.

So Fr. Kneipp’s cure became my cure. I became stronger, felt more energy and my marks improved dramatically. I started doing push-ups in the morning until I could do more than 200. Once in the winter, Steve Horvath, Frank Flynn, and I were walking along the shore and I was challenged to get on a small raft. It was given a push and when the water was chest high I fell off and went under in the ice cold water. I walked ashore feeling quite exhilarated and had no bad effects.

Although I never regained the health I had when I entered the seminary, because lung tissue destroyed by tuberculosis is never regained, I passed my last years at St. Augustine’s in reasonably good health. On Saturday June 3rd, 1939, in St. Michael’s Cathedral, together with my classmates, I was able to reply “Adsum”, and became a priest forever.

Five years later, living with a priest who had been released prematurely from a Sanatorium, and still had active tuberculosis, I came down with the disease again. By the time I was diagnosed, there was a cavity in one lung and infection in the other. In those days, a lung cavity was a death warrant, unless the lung could be collapsed by surgery. No water cure could have saved me. I spent nine months at Mountain San in Hamilton, and fifteen months at San Gabriels near Saranac Lake. That is another story.

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