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Grateful for Godot
By Deborah Simmons Harris
(Page 2 of 3)

Josh’s heart rate climbed in competition with Nick’s temperature as he struggled to breathe through the bloody, greenish secretions fighting to occlude his trach tube. I dripped sterile saline solution into the bloody, occluded stoma in an effort to loosen the sticky ooze, then suctioned again, giving Josh a couple of gulps of air before I sterilized my hands again to draw a tepid bath for Nicholas.

Not meningitis, I prayed again, this time actually begging God in the fraction of a moment I had to internally verbalize my fear before gently prodding Nick from his bed and into the bathroom. Nick had meningitis as a baby; we had already escaped its menacing grip once.

I had to get Nick’s temperature down. I had to get Josh’s heart rate down.  I had to get Josh’s oxygen saturation levels up. I had to get my spirits up.

It was too much for my weary body and soul. My husband Victor was somewhere near Falluja, Iraq. As a field officer CWO4 and platoon commander summoned to active duty from the ranks of the USMC Reserve, he traveled hundreds of miles each week by bird, as he called the rickety helicopters he traveled in; those he first come to know as a grunt in Viet Nam. Much of the time, though, he traveled by convoy, subject every second to the beguiling wares of roadside bombs. My heart ached almost as much as my flu-ridden muscles to hear from him, to know that he was safe, hating the uncertainty that is the constant companion of the Marine Corps spouse. I needed him here now as two of our three boys waged their own battles with a virulent enemy.

Should I call 911? It was too cold to transport the boys to the emergency department myself and I was too sick. I couldn’t even get them ready to go. The significant nursing shortage in the Midwest meant there was no home care nurse that winter to help me. Family members were afraid to come into the house, shunning the grasp of such a debilitating illness on their own households.

Trudging through gauze pads, once sterile cotton applicators, sopping blue chux pads, rendered so by the thick formula that had leaked from the gastrostomy feeding tube, and soiled diapers discarded hurriedly on the floor throughout the night – the fallout from Josh’s relentless cares – I staggered to the phone to ring the specialist on-call. It was about three o’clock in the morning. I hadn’t stopped moving in hours, not long enough to really feel my groping sense of panic, nor the dropping temperatures in the house.

Squinting at the faint LED digits of the thermostat, the numbers confirmed more fears. The furnace had gone out.

Guiltily thinking this was all part of a wicked curse, at best, my more reverent side chastised such cynicism. Nevertheless, I just wanted to experience the comfortable place self-pity took me, about the only thing left to count on now. For crying out loud, I was screaming inside, we can’t even get to the hospital.

I couldn’t leave the house with Jon, our middle son, still asleep, not yet ravaged by the horrible symptoms that defined the rest of us. I was not certain if there was something wrong with the gas main.  I couldn’t find the pilot light. Still awaiting a call-back from the sleepy and perhaps aggravated physician I had just paged, this time the crisis call was to the gas company.

Despite my own fever, I began to shiver from the cold creeping into the house. I gathered Nick from the tub, desperate in my relief to find his temperature down to about 104 degrees. Josh was beginning to breathe a little better, thanks to the hefty dose of prednisone I had been taught to give him in such an emergency. The doctor called back to affirm a plan of a few more doses and waiting until morning to travel to the hospital, especially given the situation with the furnace. The gas man came, a tall, broad-shouldered fellow with a scowl on his well-lined face, probably from the irritation of having to actually answer to an emergency while he was on-call.

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