"He had to be picturing our Freddie," my sister said, referring to the young son of our cousin.
"I'm sure." I thought back to the first years of our marriage, when Freddie went with us to Pacific Raceways in Kent, Washington, as a member of our pit crew. Mike raced his cream colored 1962 Austin Healey Mark I—the car he drove when I met him—on road-race courses in Kent, Shelton, Spokane, Vancouver B.C. and Portland, Oregon. We were active in the Puget Sound Sports Car Club at a time when true sports cars were affectionately called "ragtops" and had sliding "side curtains," not roll-up windows. I served a term or two as the club's secretary and one-woman newsletter machine, and drove a sky-blue 1961 MGA, but not on any race track.
"Neat kid, Freddie." My sister broke into my thoughts. "I remember listening to him prattle on about going to the races with you; how excited he got, being allowed into the pits, around all the cars and drivers."
"Yep. We had a fun time with Freddie along."
"Uuuuuh . . . Freddie . . ." Mike's head turned again.
My heart jumped. I studied his face. "Mike? Can you hear me?"
"Uuuuuh . . ." His eyelids opened half way, then closed, then opened again, and closed again. This repeated for what seemed to be an eternity, but in reality lasted only two or three minutes before his eyes fully opened and stayed that way. He stared into the room as if a stranger to the planet, mute and expressionless, similar to what I'd witnessed in the past when he emerged from an insulin reaction—confused, uncertain of his whereabouts.
"Mike? It's me." I placed my hand lightly over his. "Know who I am?"
He aimed his eyes at me, hesitated, then murmured, "Yeah …"
"You're in the hospital. You had an accident."
"Oh …" the word stumbled out long and low as his gaze returned to some unknown target near the foot end of the bed.
"My sister's here." I glanced at her and nodded.
"Hi Mike," she said. "I'm glad you're finally waking up."
"Yeah …" He made no effort to locate her.
Startled by a hand gripping my arm, I turned to find a nurse setting a cup of broth and a spoon on the overbed table. "See if you can get him to take some of this," she said, smiling. "Slowly, one spoonful at a time."
I filled the spoon and moved it toward him. "Here's a sip of broth, Mike. Can you open your mouth, please?"
I touched the spoon to his lips. He pressed them tightly together in resistance.
I tried again. "It's okay, Mike. It's just a little broth the nurse brought for you. Open up, please."
He sucked in the warm liquid and swallowed it, except for a few drops that ran down his chin and onto the bedding.
I quickly blotted his chin, then shoved the napkin under it to catch any future drips.
"Good job! I bet you're hungry, huh?"
"Uuuuuh ... yeah ..."
"How's it taste?"
"Uuuuuh ... okay ..."
Another spoonful. "Open up."
Willingly he did, and swallowed again. Before long I had only to say "open" and he would, swallowing each spoonful. My sister and I took turns stretching the time between feedings with more idle chatter.
"So, Uncle Mike, what do you want to do when you get out of here?" my sister asked.
"Ahhh … I don't know."
"Probably finish healing, huh?" I took my turn.
"Heal … Yeah … I hurt …"
"Where do you hurt?" I asked.
"I'll bet," my sister said. "You got pretty banged up."
"You're on pain medication." I added.
"Not enough!" he declared.
"I'm sure they'll give you more when it's safe. You were in a really bad accident. Do you remember?"
"No …when …"
"Last Friday. Four days ago. You've been in the hospital ever since."
"This one. Palo-Alto Stanford University Hospital. In California. Do you remember moving to California?"
"No. Oh … yeah. Okay. What happened?"
"You crashed the car—hit a three quarter ton truck head on."
"Oh crap …" His demeanor turned from groggy to glum.
I took this sudden change in manner as a warning that if I tried to explain details of the accident to him now, it would be of no benefit to his recovery. He didn't need depression or guilt added to his list of injuries.
"Don't worry about it," I said, trying to stay positive. "We'll make it through this."
The small talk continued until interrupted by the orthopedic doctor on his afternoon rounds. He read Mike's chart, palpated his left shoulder while studying his face, listened to his heart and lungs, then turned toward me. "He's doing well. Has he started talking yet?"
"Yes, he has. A little."
"Does what he says make sense to you?"
"Yes, it seems to, so far."
"Good. We X-rayed his left shoulder earlier today. The ball part of the socket is crushed—must be a million pieces floating around in there. Surgery can't repair that, so tomorrow we'll cast it, in hopes it will form some sort of a sphere on its own. He won't have good use of that arm, but we're confident now he's going to survive his injuries." He smiled at me.
I smiled back, in lieu of something appropriate to say.
"We'll move him out of Intensive Care tomorrow," he said, then added, before leaving the room, "You take care of yourself, too."
I nodded. He's going to survive. The phrase clung to my brain like honey on crispy French toasta sweet moment in time that quickly gave way to bitter worry over how I would pay the rent, utilities, car payments, groceries, hospital bills, attorney's fees and God knows what else. The mere thought of it all hung heavy on my shoulders. I knew I had better get back to earning a paycheck. And quick. Would my job still be waiting?
I glanced at my watch. It read 4:20 PM. The savings and loan would close in forty minutes. "Sis," I said, gesturing toward the hall, "I need to call Ethel and see if I can start back to work tomorrow. If she says yes, will you be here to keep an eye on Mike during the day?"
"Sure. Go call. I can stay another day or two."
I hurried to the nurses station and asked if I might make a call on their courtesy phone. They said yes. I dialed Ethel's number at work, and she answered.
"Hi Ethel, it's me, Helen."
"Helen! How's it going? How's Mike?"
"They're confident he'll survive now, so I can come back to work in the morning if that's okay."
"It's more than okay," she said. "We're anxious to have you back."
"Thank you. I'll see you tomorrow then."
"Sounds good. Thanks for calling."
"No problem." I hung up, and sighed with relief to learn they were indeed sincere about my returning to work. How I would get there and to the hospital afterwards I didn't know. I would trust God to provide that.
I returned to Mike's room to find that Mom had joined my sister at his bedside.
She smiled at me as I came near and said, "Well, you should be happy now, he's waking up. He's going to make it."
"I'm happy, Mom." I'm sure I didn't look it. I glanced at my sister, hoping for a comment from her that would ease the tension.
She took the cue. "She is happy, Mom! But there are a lot more things involved here that she has to think about."
"Yeah, there's more," Mike eyed my mother, his voice strong and loud.
"Oh, I know that," Mom replied, smiled, and closed her mouth.
My sister wisely changed the subject. "The boys wanted me to say hello to you. So, hello, Uncle Mike."
"Thank you. Hello back to them. Are they here?"
"No, they're home. A friend is watching them while their Dad is at work. They're on spring vacation this week."
"So you're here, in California, but the boys are at home, in Edmonds?"
"Right." She grinned at his clear-cut response. "So I'll be heading home before long."
"Thank you for coming," he said, causing me to smile. His lucidity increased with each minute that passed, an encouraging sign.
In the midst of our conversation, a nurse delivered his dinner tray. I lifted the covers off the dishes to reveal mashed potatoes, a cube of red sugar-free Jell-O, a dinner roll, a pat of butter and a cup of hot water next to a packet of instant coffee.
I drew his attention to it and asked, "Look appetizing?"
Knowing his dislike of breads, I slid the pat of butter onto the mashed potatoes, let it melt some, then stirred it around and offered him a taste. He took it in with apparent pleasure, as well as the several spoonfuls that followed. Same with the Jell-O. Not so for the instant coffee, howeverone sip was enough. He pushed the cup away on the second try, evidence that his right arm functioned just fine.
"I'm going back to work in the morning," I announced, taking advantage of the lull in the conversation caused by Mike's surprise arm movement.
"Good," my sister responded without hesitation. "I'm glad your job was still there. Maybe we should leave now so you can get some rest before tomorrow."
"Oh, yeah …" Mike joined in. "You got a job, didn't you?"
"I'm glad you remembered." I smiled at him and leaned over the bedrail to plant a quick kiss on the back of his hand; I wasn't tall enough to reach his cheek. "My sister's right. I should go home and get some sleep. I'll try calling the nurses' station from work tomorrow and see how you're doing. I'll find a way to get here after work, too."
"Okay," he said. "Thank you honey."
"No problem," I replied. "Sleep well tonight."
Mom suddenly reached over the bedrail, smiled and patted his other arm. "Good night Mike," she said, sweetly. "We'll see you tomorrow."
My sister and I eyed each other in momentary disbelief. Then she said her goodnight to Mike and the three of us left the room to take a taxi to my apartment.
We heated some soup for dinner and settled in for the night.
My soul ached, knowing that I wouldn't be by Mike's side the next day, yet I knew my sister was capable of handling things if need be.
I also knew we had expenses to meet, and I would likely be our only wage earner for an undetermined future. Soon the buzzard-like fears returned to circle in my brain as before. I'd need to find a cheaper apartment, but how could I afford to get our furniture moved? How could I find an attorney in Seattle to sue our insurance agent? Why, of all times to do it, did he let us down now? How horrendous would the hospital charges be? Oh God, I needed help.
My fears loomed large, undefined and unorganized, overwhelming me with anxiety. One thing I knew for suremy future would start tomorrow.