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<< 6. The Iron Lung 7. Easter Sunday 8. Wake Up Freddie! >>
My focus had evidently stayed behind when my mother, sister, and I left the hospital on Saturday evening. My recollection of that night is hazy, but I'm sure we stopped for a bite to eat along the way.

Somewhere we picked up a left-over copy of Friday's newspaper with a black and white photo of our overturned and crushed Volvo P1800s splashed across the front page. The story told of witnesses watching the car careen southward on El Camino Real Friday morning, side-swiping newspaper boxes before finally crashing head-on into a three-quarter ton truck, flipping upside down, and skidding on the pavement. The report said that the driver was from Washington State and evidence indicated he was diabetic. The authorities were trying to locate his wife, possibly still in Seattle. The driver of the sheet glass transport truck he hit was not injured.

I changed out of my Easter suit and shoes into more relaxed clothing when we got to the apartment. We chatted a bit, then Mom and my sister made themselves comfortable in the living room and we said our good nights.

I lay on the bed, dressed and ready for a quick trip to the hospital if it became necessary. Trying to rest was difficult at best, fighting off the flock of fears circling in my brain like a family of hungry buzzards, picking away at my spirit, bent on consuming me. Would Mike be in an iron lung by morning? What if he died? What if he didn't? Six months in the hospital is what the doctor said. I couldn't support us for that long on my salary alone. Would he be able to get a job then, or would there be therapy appointments? What about brain damage—how much would there be? How serious? He'd need new dentures. I wondered what they'd cost. And the rent on this apartment—I didn't make enough to keep paying that for six months. "God help me, please. Give me strength. Give me a sign . . . "

The sharp ringing of the phone next to the bed awakened me with a jolt. My heart pounded as I grabbed the receiver and pressed it to my ear.

"Hello?" I expected to hear a voice from the hospital telling me Mike had taken a turn for the worse. Or he had died.

"Hi, Helen? John Mayhill here." A good friend of ours, calling from Seattle. "Sorry to call so late. I've been trying to reach you all day. I heard mention of Mike's accident on the news up here. Is he OK?"

"No, he's not." I told him the details the newspaper had reported. Also about Mike's injuries—the head trauma, the seven hours of neurosurgery, the punctured lung, the blood transfusions, the miracle of the jaw bone, the threat of pneumonia, and the expectation of the iron lung. We didn't chat for long, only some small talk about the weather, comparing Redwood City's to Seattle's, and what was happening with the sports car club. I thanked him for calling and hung up. I lay there staring at shadows on the ceiling as the buzzards returned, one by one, until I drifted off once again.

Easter Sunday dawned bright and clear. My mother, sister and I had a light breakfast and took a taxi to the hospital. I hurried down the hall ahead of them and into Mike's room, only to find an empty space where his bed had been. My heart jumped. I turned to go find a nurse and saw Mike on the opposite side of the room, in bed, still asleep—no iron lung in sight! Tears of relief mixed with joy tumbled down my cheeks, and I managed a smile. "Thank you God. I'll take this as a sign that he will recover." It made perfect sense to me on that glorious Easter morning—Christ had risen and, figuratively, so would Mike.

I took hold of his hand. "I'm here, Mike. You're in the hospital. You had an accident. You're going to be okay."

He moaned softly and rolled his head in my direction, eyes closed, mouth hanging open. Still semiconscious. Still on morphine.

"John Mayhill called last night to ask how you were," I said, hoping that hearing my voice, if he could, and a familiar name, might help bring him around. "Your pile-up made the evening news in Seattle."

I watched for any reaction from him—a finger twitch, an eye movement, another moan.

I refused to give up. I kept hold of his hand. I prayed. I acknowledged Freddie's parents as they came and went from their son's bedside, and I greeted the ever-present nurses. Between interruptions, I continued the impromptu chatter I thought might help.

"My sister is here. And Mom. Dad and Norm are driving down. Norm has to report back to Camp Pendleton this coming week. He'll be off to Vietnam before the year is over.

"Mike? Can you hear me?" I watched for a response.

There was none.

"How is he?" My sister's whisper startled me. I hadn't noticed her slip into the room. "The nurse said I could come in for five minutes."

"Oh, good. Well, he moaned a little, earlier." I peeked over her shoulder to see if she was alone. She was. "Where's Mom?"

"In the waiting room, talking to the burned lady's husband."

"Okay." It didn't surprise me that Mom wasn't in the room with us. Maybe it was hospital rules. Or maybe she didn't want to be there. She never did like Mike, from the moment she first met him. The most hurtful times were when he would come to take me out to a movie. She'd walk right past him, barely inches away, and not even acknowledge he existed. She'd strut through the dining room, push open the swinging door into the kitchen, and disappear behind it. Conversely, my Dad would shake Mike's hand, ask how things were, give him a fair chance. That was my Dad. Nonjudgmental. Affable. Loveable.

"Want to get some lunch?" my sister asked, bringing me back to the present.

"What time is it?" I looked at my wrist watch. "Whoa . . . going on one o'clock already? Doesn't seem like I've been in here that long."

"Yeah. Well, I was talking to an orderly a bit ago, and he knew about Mike's accident and told me where the car would be. We could grab some lunch and go find it if you want."

"Guess I'll have to see it sooner or later. Might as well get it over with." I patted Mike's hand before taking mine away. "I'll be back."

We grabbed a bite of lunch and took a taxi to the impound lot. The man in charge pointed out where the Volvo was, just inside a twelve foot tall chain-link fence about twenty yards down the road. We walked along the outside of the fence and stopped to look at it, sitting there, upright, in a row of other decimated vehicles. The corner of the rooftop on the driver's side was smashed down to the bottom of the door window, which must have been rolled down. The windshield had popped entirely out, as designed to do on impact. I noticed that the special portable Blaupunkt radio we had paid extra for had been jimmied out, its broken handles a sign that the built-in security feature had indeed worked. How could anyone feel entitled to take our radio? It saddened me.

We walked back to the waiting taxi and headed for the hospital.

Although I missed the customary church service and ham dinner that Easter Sunday, I did not hunger. I was filled with thankfulness—for family, for skilled doctors and nurses, for a benevolent God.


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