(Forty-five, Anteater, Karma)
I walked into the hospital room they put my son in. I was tired, kind of in shock. It was a semi-private room, holding a bathroom and two beds, separated by floor to ceiling curtains that could be drawn back. My son Donald was in the bed by the door. His appendix had burst. None of us had recognized the symptoms and by the time we realized there was something seriously wrong my husband Bill had to call an ambulance. Bill would come in the car, as soon as he got my sister to sit with our six-year old daughter.
As long as I live I will never forget the ambulance ride. It will haunt my nights for the next forty–five years, I‘m sure. Every time I close my eyes I will see him screaming in pain all the way to the hospital. You expect to hear your kids crying when they scrape their knee. You bandage it and by the time you’re done they’re done fussing. You hold them when their hearts get broken by their 2nd grade sweethearts and later again after you have flushed their goldfish Max (IV) down the toilet. But this? It tore at me to see him in such pain.
As we moved about getting Donny settled, I heard a whimper behind the curtain shielding the second bed. Looking down I saw a pair of duct-taped sneakers and the frayed hem of a pair of jeans, but Donny needed my attention and I turned away.
Poor Donny was groggy, not quite awake from the surgery yet. I looked at my son in the hospital bed and had to will myself not to cry. Donny Logan, the rising football star, honor student, and maybe the Valedictorian of his class one day. He was smart, special and I’d come so close to losing him! Oh what was keeping Bill?
The nurses got him settled as quickly as possible, turned the lights down and went back to their station. It was, after all, two in the morning. The RN took me out in the hall and told me that the doctor would be up to see us soon. She took a breakfast order for Donny and left me in the hall.
I wandered back into his room and came face to face with a nightmare. A teenager with dark circles under his eyes and stringy hair hanging in his face. He wore dirty sneakers and his jeans were frayed at the hem where he walked on them constantly. His hands were grimy and the seat of his pants sagged halfway to his knees in that “prison popular” kind of way. When did our youth decide that idolizing convicts in prison was the way to go? A little afraid, I stepped closer to Donny (and my purse on the table by his bed). The young man excused himself and went into the bathroom.
Great. I hope he doesn’t leave a mess in there. I thought of the school I worked at, and how nasty those boys’ rooms get and started to get angry. He better not leave a mess in there! I’ll bet he doesn’t even wa… I heard the toilet flush and then the sound of water running. Okay, so he washes his hands. Well, I’ve got to give him credit for that. I have a hard time ever getting Donny to wash his hands. I wonder who this guy is here for. Probably some druggie friend. I mean, this is the pediatric ward but even Donny goes here, being just 16. I wasn’t sure I wanted a druggie next to my son. How odd that drug abuse can make these kids so sick, and yet drugs could help save them in here. Was it some odd kind of karma?
I lost my train of thought as Donny stirred and groaned when the boy came out of the bathroom.
“Sorry.” The boy whispered, and “sorry“ again with a sad smile as he squeezed past me.
“They make these rooms so small.” I whispered back, automatically making conversation.
“Yes ma‘am,” he replied. Well. The smile did make him a lot less menacing.
“They don’t even give us a chair. Where are we supposed to sit?” I asked, looking around. The boy went behind the curtain and came back with an upholstered chair.
“Oh no, I didn’t mean…” I said.
“Here, take this one.” He whispered. “We aren’t using it.”
“Well okay, thank you.” I said, gratefully accepting it. “Thank you.” We heard a cry from behind him.
“Sure,” was all he said before disappearing through the curtain again.
In no time I was getting sleepy in the chair. The television on the wall, in the corner of the room was tuned to some wildlife channel; an anteater was roaming across the screen as he searched for ants or termites or something. The volume was off, leaving me with that odd compelling feeling where you must keep watching and narrating the scene in your mind. I decided to stretch my legs a little. Hearing another whimper, I got up and walked toward the curtain, there was something on the floor. Was it the boy? The curtain was parted just enough so that I could see through…and my heart caught in my throat.
In the bed was a little girl, she couldn’t have been more than three. There was a bandage on her little head, and a cast on her impossibly tiny arm. She seemed so small in the big hospital bed. Kneeling on the floor beside her and oblivious to me, the young man was… praying. He did it silently, not wanting to wake anyone but, I could see, praying in earnest. He clasped his hands so tightly together that the skin around his knuckles was white. I pulled the curtain back a little and slipped through. He started to rise but I put my hand on his shoulder and stopped him as I knelt beside him. I closed my eyes and together, silently, we prayed for that baby with all our hearts.
“Thank you,” he said out in the hallway a few minutes later. “She’s my little sister Darla. I’m Kevin.” Done with judging others for the night, I nodded.
“I’m Della, and that’s my son Donny in there. Where are your parents Kevin?”
“Mom is… I don‘t know, not home. My dad left a year ago.”
“Do you mind if I ask what happened?”
The boy wiped a tired hand across his face, rubbing hard. “I should’ve been there. I was supposed to be there but the truck had a flat and I had to stop and change it…” His voice broke and he tried hard to keep his composure. “I don’t actually have my license yet, but I’m careful and I don’t have to go that far to work. I work nights after school at a garage. “ That certainly explained the dirty shoes and hands.
“My next door neighbor was supposed to be watching her.” He pounded his fist into his palm. “They weren’t supposed to let her go outside! What the f*** were they thinking?”
“Whoa,” I hushed him as a nurse looked around angrily. “Easy now, what happened when she went outside?”
“She ran into the street and got his by a car! Some I don’t know, five hundred year old dude on his way to the cigar shop for a stogie.” He looked at me. “He never even saw her.”
My heart went out to this brother and sister. I found myself angry too, at the apparently non-caring mother, the people who were supposed to be watching her. Most of all at the injustice of a boy having to worry about working and raising his baby sister when he should be out I don’t know, doing homework or playing X-Box or trying to sneak kisses. I might be super mom, but I certainly (as I found out tonight) was not super-neighbor or even super-citizen, if I could allow this type of thing to occur and not try to help. I couldn’t remember when the last time was I had been to the food bank or to give blood.
There are so many things I could do – volunteer at the Big Brother/Big Sister Program, at the YMCA, have a shoe or blanket drive to help others. Nothing. I’d been too busy shuttling the kids to soccer practice, ballet lessons, swim meets. I could still help out with donations to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army or the United Way if I was too busy to volunteer my time. I could hear the boy’s stomach growling.
I was big enough to admit too, that my attitude would have to change first. Here I’d been ready to think the absolute worst about this young man and now I was thinking he was someone I wanted my family to meet. Anyone asking the Lord for help was certainly worth my time. Just then we heard the little girl start to cry. Kevin thanked me again and ran back to her. I pulled out my phone and immediately called my husband.
“Bill. Stop and pick up some food.”
“What? I’m almost there. Is he hungry already?” Our son was a teen-aged bottomless pit.
“No Bill, he isn’t awake yet. I just, I need you to pick up some food. Um, enough for three. Okay? Please?”
“Three people? Della honey, it’s going on 4am.”
“Bill, you stop and bring me some pancakes and bacon, some eggs and grits, waffles, I don’t care. You stop at the grocery store if you can’t find anything else but don’t you show up empty-handed. I’ll explain when you get here.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said. He knew that tone of voice. “Alright honey, I’ll find something.”
“Thank you. Oh and Bill,” I said, “there’s someone here I’d like you to meet.”
“Who is it?”
I smiled at the phone. “Just come on Bill, and hurry.”