You know how you get lulled into thinking that you’re having a normal day when there’s a truckload of emotional cinder blocks hanging over your head in a fraying net? I had one of those days last week.
I had just given my English exams and had about eight hours of grading staring me in the face. I was stacking these delightful packets of brain cell kindling into my crate when I heard my phone signal a text. No worries. It was probably just a friend of mine checking in. I slid my finger across the screen and discovered that my best friend was en route to the hospital via ambulance. And here I thought sentence fragments were going to be the low light of my day. I dialed her cell and she answered.
“Hey, girl. You get my message?”
“That happens to be the very reason I’m calling. You’re headed to the hospital by ambulance, you say? I’d like a bit more info as long as I’ve got you on the line.”
“Yeah. Remember those horrible pains I was having after Sadie’s party? Turns out I have multiple pulmonary emboli. Maybe even a touch of pneumonia. ”
Geez. I’d give a hundred thousand right now if I could rewind the day and go back to worrying about run-ons and freshmen who define a metaphor as a “comparison without like or ass.” While I didn’t know the true severity of “multiple emboli,” I knew enough to furrow my brow and start working on a stomach ulcer. Anytime a medical condition earns you frequent rider miles in an ambulance coupled with a complimentary stay in the hospital, it’s usually an appropriate time to panic. I don’t have much use for theatrics, but I did pile in the car and hit the interstate.
I emerged from the parking garage to discover that Shannon was on the opposite side of the facility. I wove through so many corridors that I felt certain of bumping into a Minotaur before I got to see my girl. I finally located the elusive set of B elevators, since sets A and C took you different places, such as Pluto and Harlem, and finally made it to the land of the 500’s. Big Ed, Shannon’s father, was just emerging from 534.
“Tracer! How’s my girl?” He enveloped me in a bear hug that I’ve known for thirty years.
“I’d be better if I wasn’t visiting Shannon in the hospital. She in there?”
“Yep. Go on in. I’m going to take a stroll to the men’s room.”
I pushed open the heavy door and saw Shannon, her mom, her sister, and her husband. Lindsay vacated my spot, and I stood by Shannon’s head, getting the rundown of everything the doctors knew at this point, which wasn’t impressive by my standards. I felt as if I had a better prognosis on the Greek yogurt in my refrigerator than my best friend. A nurse rolled in a computer cart, and I stood beside Mrs. Debbie while the RN asked Shannon enough questions to make the Spanish Inquisition look like a pop quiz. When she wanted the dates of surgeries, Mrs. Debbie and I tried to pitch in.
“What year did she get married, Traci?”
“Then she had that gallbladder surgery in ’97. But when did she have the bilateral done?”
“That was April of ’10. I think the hysterectomy was in November of that year.”
“No,” Shannon chimed in from the bed, “that was December because I had it right before the deductible kicked in again. It’s all the reconstructive surgeries that get blurry.”
And blurry they were. Between the chemo and a dozen rounds of what the doctors had labeled “minor surgery,” a term obviously coined by someone who has never been under anesthesia or a scalpel, who could remember months? The nurse filled in the history with the muddled details we offered, and then she declared it time to weigh the patient. She explained that the bed was its own scale, and we comprehended the meaning behind that beautifully.
I darted to her side and took the cell phone off her lap, the smoothie from her hand, and the glasses off her face. When the nurse pronounced a number that was a personal best for Shannon, she did a fist pump in the air. At least something that day had made her happy. Ed reentered with a scathing commentary against public restrooms.
“You know, there’s just no consistency,” he said, flinging his NFL linebacker-size frame into a plastic chair. “Sometimes everything is automatic: the toilet, the water, the dryer. Other times it’s two out of three. I stood with my hands under that faucet for twenty seconds before I realized it was a manual. I had to actually lift the lever.” He shook his head in disgust. “They need to get their act together. I think I’ll just stop washing my hands altogether.”
I turned to look at him over my shoulder. “Yeah, that’ll show ’em.” We laughed and he moved on to the topic of chickens.
“So Trace, have you seen my chicken coop lately? We decorated it for the holidays.”
Lindsay leaned over and showed me a picture of the festive poultry abode. I could just imagine them all on their little nests, producing red and green eggs for the occasion.
“Yeah, those chickens are funny. Know how I get them back in the coop? I go outside and wave a mop in the air, and they scurry right on in. Don’t know what it is about that mop, but I’m like a shepherd with a staff.”
The way I was picturing it was more like a shaman, so I offered this theory. “Do you think they see those mop strings and think you’ve impaled one of their kind on the end of that stick?”
He laughed, and his whole body shook. “Maybe. But whatever it is, it works like a charm.”
At that moment, a loud roar could be heard coming up the hall. We all turned toward the door and watched as a vacuum cleaner the size of a Zamboni ate its way up the corridor. All conversation ceased until the sound of a thousand waterfalls passed, and then we heard the voice of an angel announcing that all guests must leave because it was 9 o’clock and the patients needed their rest. We stood to say our goodbyes to Shannon, but we had to postpone them as the Arnold Swartzacleaner cut another path of carnage up the hall. But hey, far be it for us to deprive the patients of their sleep. I walked out with Shannon’s family and picked up the bread crumb trail I’d left back to the car.