Monday, June 20, 2011
That year Easter was late but spring was cold and rainy. Finally, a sunny Saturday and the season burst forth with all its color. The dogwood out front and the azaleas on the side of the house celebrated as we set forth on our mundane household tasks. Working hard you hung shelves in the new shed. Measure cut. No, measure, measure again, cut. I climbed up and down the pull down stairs carrying things to the attic. Storing away the winter cold. By afternoon the temperature soared and the first sunny Saturday held the promise of spring that the others had denied.
After a long bike ride, Ali and Cate sat at the kitchen table coloring bold pink flowers with kool aid green leaves. Walking through the kitchen, you smiled at their brilliance and critically considered them for the walls of your new shed. “I want to catch the Flyers score”, you said. Always the optimist. Seconds later they followed you, willing fans of orange and black, a color combo that even after a lifetime in Philadelphia, I could not embrace.
When they ran back into the kitchen, Cate nervously giggling and Ali, wide-eyed and serious, I expected an overturned iced tea. When they called me to the den, I expected a broken lamp. I expected a bumble bee or a scary beetle. I did not expect you, on your favorite chair, head back like you might be asleep but not really. Even then, I expected you to jump up, shout “boo” and scare the girls’ silly. But I moved without expectation, trained, professional, a trained professional. Place the patient on a flat surface. I moved you off the chair onto the floor. Open the patient’s airway, instruct the bystanders to call a cardiac emergency (the bystanders are your daughter and her best friend. They are 10 years old). Begin chest compressions. Continue until help arrives.
Help arrives. But not right away. I am working hard. I am talking to you between counting and praying. I need your help here. Hang in. When help arrives, the first responder (an old school police officer) does not have an AED and he doesn’t know CPR. I work harder. I hear someone say “step back” and I realize that help did arrive and the kinetic energy I held is now pure fear. They work really hard. The guy who takes my place is as big as you and I know his compressions will be more effective than my own. I am hopeful. Until I walk outside next to the stretcher where you lay and where they continue to work on you. Outside, half the neighborhood and twenty or so volunteer EMTs line our yard in a single row. I notice a woman; she is about my age, dressed in heavy emergency gear, with her head down, holding her helmet. She is crying. Sobbing really. And I am not so hopeful now. They stop traffic from Franklin Avenue to Route 320 so that the ambulance can zip through and I can’t help thinking how irritated all the Saturday shoppers must be, waiting in traffic on Baltimore Pike.
In the emergency room, I wait outside the door but I listen carefully. I am alone. I listen and I know the routine exactly. I have been there for others, not my own, ready to drop a heavy cassette behind the patient’s back, get an underexposed view of the chest. Give the doctors something to look at. I am pleased that they continue and wonder if they know you. Know that you are not a quitter. But it is not going well. I can’t deny this. If you weren’t my own, I’d have slipped out of the room around now. My services not needed. Today on the other side of the door, I hear someone say “Are we ready to call this”. And I know. I hear him again, “Time is 5:21PM”.
So what did you do then? My sister asks me later. I smoked a cigarette, I answer. There is nothing else to say. Someday maybe. But that day still has not come.