Answers Before I Call

Water terrifies me.  Rip tides. The deep end. Whirlpools.  If I should fall in, who will save me?

Water terrifies me. Rip tides. The deep end. Whirlpools. If I should fall in, who will save me?

Pedro’s cancer relapsed one month after he went into remission—he went from a healthy-looking sick guy to a walking skeleton in three short weeks. The day a bed on University of California, San Francisco’s  cancer ward opened up, Pedro’s wedding ring fell off when he stood up.

After a series of miracles and a late-night arrival at UCSF, Pedro slept fitfully in a hospital room with nothing but a thin curtain separating him from another patient. The clock struck midnight and I relaxed long enough to realize I didn’t know where I’d spend the night.

A nurse informed me that since Pedro shared a room, I should have left hours ago. I passed an uncomfortable night on the hard floor of a waiting room with the minute’s news spilling out like endless vomit from an overhead television.

At first light, I wandered down the street near the hospital through the grey fog, looking for a place to eat. A Starbucks sign down the street beckoned like a beacon of hope—a place to relax and collect myself, I thought.

Then again, maybe not. The city Starbucks held court in a small corner of an office building. No quiet music. No comfortable chairs. I sagged. At least they sell coffee and scones.

I wandered around, nibbling my scone while waiting for visiting hours to start. When they did, I spent the morning helping Pedro eat his breakfast and chatting hopefully with him about the treatment he would receive (while inwardly fretting that nothing had happened yet to make him better).

After lunch, two interns showed up to administer intrathecal chemo via a spinal tap. When they’d done the lumbar puncture and tried to measure Pedro’s spinal fluid, champagne-colored fluid bubbled out over the top of the extension tube. The interns looked at each other, but I couldn’t interpret their look. Doubts circled my confidence like piranhas in a murky pond. He would receive help here, right?

An hour after the unappetizing supper tray arrived, Pedro started to convulse and choke. I ran out into the hallway screaming, “Somebody help!” then dashed to Pedro’s side and hunkered helplessly by his side and watched red pour out of his mouth while personnel packed the room. Waves of words washed over me.

“We’ve gotta get his pulse ox!”

“Is he cyanotic?”

“He’s going to aspirate!”

“He’s diaphoretic.”

“He’s got blood in his lungs!”

Under the whirlpool of activity, I launched prayers heavenward, hoping for a lifeline. I remembered the bland supper tray. “It’s Jello!” I blurted. The nurse by his head took a closer look at what she’d been cleaning. “He had Jello for supper,” I explained.

A Jello lifeline. The seizure continued, but I knew without a doubt it didn’t threaten his life. After all, it had taken a miracle for him to arrive at UCSF.

The author would work the story out His way. I would just cling to the lifeline and swirl around a bit if I needed to. (click to tweet)

I’m linking up with Kirsten Oliphant and other talented writers at Not So (Small) Stories.  Join us!

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Jello in the lungs. Oh. My. Gosh. I love the way this is a serious thing and yet you add humor to it with the irony in this. Also, the detail about the wedding ring falling off… Wow. I’m so glad that he is okay now as you’re writing these posts. Thanks for the vulnerability of sharing them.
    Kirsten Oliphant recently posted…Homemade Detergent with Essential OilsMy Profile

    • I don’t think the Jello actually made it to his lungs–more of a foaming at the mouth/vomit thing (ok, you probably didn’t want to read that!). Sometimes writing about what happened is hard, but God asks us to ‘remember the journey’ and so I do :).

      • Oh! No, I didn’t think it literally was there. Just the thought that it was blood in the lungs, and then it was really just jello he’d eaten. Didn’t express that well. 🙂
        Kirsten Oliphant recently posted…Houston Field Trips: Gator Country ReviewMy Profile

        • Whew! I was worried I hadn’t been clear in my 500-word limit ;).

  • I love the verbs you use in this post! Even though I have heard this story before, it comes alive in your words. 🙂
    Laura Melchor recently posted…Why I Write for Children and Young AdultsMy Profile

    • :). I trimmed and I trimmed to try to tell it in 500 words or less!

  • Donne

    This is a poignant reminder of the importance of staying with your loved one in the hospital whenever possible. Had you not been there who knows what he might have been subjected to because they were assuming the worst.

    • So true! That’s one of the hardest parts of being a caregiver–feeling the need to be in the room all. the. time. But it’s so important.
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Answers Before I CallMy Profile

      • Barbara Gibson

        I recently had a woman comment on a post at Easter time stating how bad it was to have chocolate crosses, not wanting to get into a “religious quarrel” I quipped back “I bet even Jesus wished that cross was chocolate” Was I being sac religious , I hope not…In my best Mary Poppins voice I have given the most terrible of “medicine” singing “There’s gonna be a Picnic in Heaven..” I have shoveled in the tasteless gloop…Eveything goes down a little easier with a cup of tea, a treat, or just a softened manner of approach…As a care giver to people who are dreadfully ill, I have come to realize sometimes just a quick laugh lightens the burden. These will become memories later of the little moments that made the hard and awful truth somehow bearable, bad days turn into manageable quarters where we linger a few seconds. Words become hope that it really isn’t so bad, a velvety sigh like a cushion, when we are falling into our exhausted despair…there are plenty of endless stale minutes ticking by when we stare frozen terrified, fearing what comes next… when a popscicle becomes the only thing we can share for a few precious moments while are hearts melt.

  • Thanks for sharing. You always have such a gift for finding both wisdom and humor in these experiences.
    Katie Murchison Ross recently posted…With practiceMy Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by, Katie :). I love how God keeps us clueless some times–I think that’s a good thing!

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