Dad, Where Are Your Teeth?

I’m in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital. The man who is laying there with all the tubes, wires and machines around him is my 79 year old father, Larry.

I stand beside the bed trying to figure what is going on. This is a man who was never sick one day in his life, but now he is doing battle with emphysema.

I have the uncomfortable feeling that he’s failing.

As I hold his now-soft hand, his index finger taps nervously against mine.

Tap-tap‑tap. STOP. Tap‑tap. STOP. Tap-tap-tap. STOP.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was sending an SOS.

Though he is unconscious, I know it’s time for amends to be made and to tell him I love him.

He was proud of me and often told me so. I was the youngest of three and the only child who showed an interest in music. His father was a music teacher from England and all his siblings played music. Music is well said to be the speech of angels.

I remember; when I was a kid, going to my Aunt Wilma’s house after church on Sundays and having family sing‑a‑longs. She was a great piano player and actually played background music for silent movies.

Dad played the violin and I played the ukulele and banjo.

I believe that vaudeville, burlesque and circus entertaining is in my genes. Although whenever I told my father that I wanted to entertain or play music, he’d say, “Get a shovel. Get a good job. One that has benefits and a retirement plan.”

As I stand at his bedside, tears are pouring down my cheeks. I look around at the powder- blue walls and an IV pole with some sort of pump that reminds me of a cross between a parking meter and a tape recorder reel. The TV above his head reads like a Dow Jones stock exchange report. I think to myself, “Should I buy or sell?”

His loose-fitting nightgown hangs on him, so I can see the wires stuck to his grey-haired chest. I look at his face. A small yellow tube is inserted into his nose. A large corrugated tube fills his mouth. Surgical tape holds them both in place. There is rhythmic song from his breath and the beeping of the machines that have become a part of him. It reminds me of my playing music with my family as a kid.

I stare at him and say, “Dad, where the hell are your teeth? You look terrible!”  I look in the drawer of the night stand but, they are not there.

Its getting late and its time to go. I stop at the nurse’s station and get one of those fluorescent pink sticky notes. I take a $5 bill from my wallet, fold it, place the note on top of it and write,

“Dear Larry, Thanks for the teeth. Love, The Tooth Fairy.”

Back in the room, I lean over the bed to give him a kiss and I slip the bill and the paper under his pillow before leaving.

That night, my father had a complete turnaround. They took him off the machines and were cleaning him up when a nurse found the money.

The room was full of laughter and joy. My father placed that money along with the note on the refrigerator back at the homestead, and told the story to everyone who visited. Miracles do indeed happen.

Nursing Notes from Nurse B.B.


That's me, front and center with the other clowns at Children's Hospital Boston! Photo Courtesy George A. Taylor, M.D.


The clown’s work not only brings laughter, it sometimes brings tears. Tears of joy and tears of sadness.

Tears and laughter are attached together to the same heartstring.

We have all laughed till we cried, and cried so much that we started laughing.

We sometimes laugh at a child’s tears, but other times their giggles and laughs make us cry.


Through my work at Children’s Hospital Boston, I was privileged to see firsthand the effect of humor on the healing process. The hospital, which was founded in 1869, is the pediatric teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School. Its first year, it had 69 patients. Take a look at some more current (the year 2000) mind-blowing statistics:

  • 17,599 Discharges
  • 3,447 Observation Days
  • 19,434 Inpatient Surgical Procedures
  • 10,815 Ambulatory Surgical Procedures
  • 258,740 Clinic Visits
  • 51,948 Emergency department visits (not including parents, grandparents, or guardians)
  • 900 nurses & patient service staff
  • 791 Attending medical and dental staff
  • 671 Residents and fellows
  • 988 Nurses
  • 2,317 Other full-time employees
  • 516 Other part time employees
  • 509    Volunteers
  • 365 inpatients beds
  • 11 floors of clinics
  • 8 Clowns!!!!!!

So if the clowns see only 1 shift of Medical/Dental/House/Nursing staff and Volunteers, plus the 19,000-odd kids going to surgery, not to mention a few thousand parents, nannies and people asking for directions, I’d say our quick census count is “Up There!”