Friday, February 11, 2011

Bone Tuberculosis? Who Knew?

Rose Batchelor, Florence Boisseau, Bea Lammert and Ray Ryan
About a month ago, I was contacted by Pat Biederman, daughter of Ray Ryan.  Ray is my Great-Uncle and brother to my grandfather, Roy.  He is the youngest of the nine Ryan children and brother to James N. Ryan (recently profiled).  I remember Uncle Ray but knew little about his life.

Pat's stories about her father touched me.  She told me that her father had suffered from bone tuberculosis from the age of about eight to eleven.  Bone tuberculosis?  I'd never heard of that.  Through reading I learned that, in fact, it does exist although rarely.  The problem was that at the time young Ray contracted it, there were no antibiotics for this bacterially-based disease.

Pat told me that Ray's TB manifested itself in his leg and that he lived at Bethesda Hospital for three years.  He was in a wheel chair and treatment involved bone grafts.  Apparently treatment was progressing when Ray, sitting on the hospital porch in a wheel chair, called to a large dog he saw. The dog enthusiastically ran to Ray, knocking his wheel chair over and down some steps.  Treatment had to start over.

When Ray was well enough to return home, his father had died leaving the family in extreme poverty.  His father, while running for mayor of the small village of Elmwood Place, caught pneumonia and died.  Pat told me that when Ray returned home it was near Christmas.  When Ray asked about Christmas his mother told him that Christmas died with his father.  Ouch!

Ray was initially unable to walk to school at St. Aloysius.  Miraculously, a large St. Bernard dog showed up out of nowhere and befriended Ray.  They called the dog "Buster."  Ray would literally ride Buster to school each day.  Pat said that Ray's mother would call for Buster each day when it was time for Ray to come home from school and tell the dog to go get Ray.  The dog would meet Ray at school and ride Ray home.

Over time, Ray's ability to walk improved and he no longer needed to ride Buster.  Buster seemed to be disappointed that he was no longer needed and vanished within two days, never to be seen again.  The family felt that it was some kind of miracle that the dog appeared out of nowhere when needed and disappeared when no longer needed.  No one ever knew where he came from.  Pat said that Buster was a familiar site in Elmwood and known by everyone to be Ray's dog.  Despite searchers for Buster, he was never found.

Ray walked proudly for the rest of his life, despite a limp and eventually having to use a cane.  Everyone remembers his great sense of humor and what a wonderful father he was.  In the next post I'll tell a priceless story Pat shared with me that left me wishing that I had known him better.

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