"You have visitors," a nurse whispered to me during one of my hallway intervals.
I made my way to the waiting room to find my mother and my sister, Mary, standing therehalf-smiling, half ready to cry. We carried out our obligatory hugs, then sat down while they explained the decision to fly here, ahead of Dad and Norm, who were driving. I told them what I knew about Mike's injuries, current condition, and prognosis, then excused myself to visit the restroom.
When I exited, my sister met me at the door and quickly pulled me aside, so mother couldn't hear our conversation.
"I thought I better come along," she said, "I figured you would have enough to handle without dealing with Mom, too."
"Thank you." I appreciated her concern and effort, especially since she had two boys under age ten at home and a husband who worked too many hours. We headed back to the leather sofa where Mom sat.
She eyed me with a saccharin smile pasted on her facethe one usually saved for people she wanted to impress. "It could be worse," she said, "You could always be pregnant!"
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" I blurted out, overcome by memories of all the years of absorbing her chronic criticismsyou're too fat. You look six months pregnant. What will the neighbors think?"
Suddenly I felt ashamed. I had reacted, fired back, sassed my mother. "Sorry, Mom, but I'm not."
"Helen, the doctor wants to see you." A nurse saved me from further confrontation. I followed her to Mike's room while my sister and mother stayed behind.
"It's good to see you again." The respiratory specialist—the lung doctor—greeted me with a handshake.
"How's he doing?" I asked.
"Good, but not out of the woods by any means." He thumbed through papers on his clipboard as if verifying Mike's condition, then turned to me. "His lung isn't responding as soon as I'd hoped. There's a chance pneumonia could set in, which would complicate things. I don't want you to be surprised or frightened if he's in an iron lung by tomorrow morning. "
An iron lung? I knew that was what they sealed polio patients in to help them breathe. I pictured Mike's poor traumatized head sticking out of a big round tube; a chamber that would help push air in and out of his lungs by changing pressure within the cylinder. I didn't need to wait for morning to feel frightened. I felt it now. "Okay, thanks."
"I'd like you to go home and get some rest tonight. We'll call you immediately if he takes a turn for the worse." The doctor patted my shoulder, then left the room.
I stood by Mike's bed for a few minutes before returning to the waiting room. My sister and mother were talking to a young man I hadn't seen there before. He had a toddler with him. They introduced him to me as the husband of a young woman who was brought in earlier that day. She had been cleaning the kitchen floor with gasoline when the fumes exploded and she was burned over sixty per cent of her body. Her chances were not good.
"Pleased to meet you. Sorry about your wife." I shook his hand as my brain tried to comprehend anyone still using gasoline as a solvent for cleaning grease and paint, as was common back in the 1930s and 40s. Especially inside the house! I felt sorry for the man and his little son. I wished him well, as had my mother and sister. I would ask Ethel to pray for them, too, the next time I talked to her.
"What did the doctor say?" my sister asked.
"That Mike's not out of the woods. That his lung isn't responding as quickly as hoped. To not be surprised or frightened if Mike is in an iron lung by morning. He wanted me to go home and get some rest."
"Well, let's do that." My sister rose and picked up her travel bag. "We'll get a taxi and go home and come back in the morning."
Mom readied herself to leave as well. We said good night to the young man and his son, and to Freddie's parents, and walked down the corridor I first entered more than thirty hours before. I paused briefly at the door to Mike's room and prayed that God would keep him safe this night.