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After dinner on Saturday night, I plunked my check book, packet of bills and trusty ten-key calculator onto the table. Mom was content to listen to the TV news until she dozed off.

As feared, my paycheck of $123 didn't stretch very far. After paying the electric bill, phone charges, and allowing $25 for two week's groceries, I was $10 short of setting aside half the next month's rent. It was clear I'd have to find a cheaper apartment. Soon.

As for the Volvo payment—it would have to wait, although that meant risking damage to our credit rating. I wrote a letter to the bank explaining that the Volvo had been totaled and we intended to sue the insurance agent for coverage he neglected to place.

In the morning, Mom and I made a trip to the grocery store where I could write a check for more than the amount of purchase. I offered her ten dollars toward reimbursement for some of the taxi fares, but she refused it.

We took the shopping home, put it away, and headed for the hospital. Mom wanted to check out the in-house chapel, so I bought a newspaper and went on ahead to Mike's room.

As I approached his bedside, I couldn't help but notice that both his wrists were fastened to the bedrails with strips of white gauze, each one wrapped two or three times around and tied. "What's with this?" I fingered the ties with one hand and laid the fresh newspaper on the foot of his bed with the other.

"Thank God you're finally here." He scowled. "Untie these for me."

"Well, how come they're on there to begin with?" I figured there must be a good reason. I didn't fault him for being upset. I would be too, in his position.

"Doesn't matter! Just untie …" He cut short his demand when a nurse peeked into the room.

"How're we doing in here?" She came closer.

"What's with the wrist restraints?" I asked. "Is it okay if I undo them for him?"

"Please, no," she lowered her voice. "We had a little episode this morning," she glanced at Mike and then back to me. "He pulled the drain tubes out of his chest. Insisted he was going home. We had quite a time getting him calmed down so we could reinsert them."

"I'm sorry," I uttered. "That gauze is not going to hold him." I noticed that the strips were already showing signs of wear, and I suspected that Mike had been trying to shred them on the screws that held the bedrails together.

"Don't worry," she said. "He's too weak to break those." She smiled and left the room.

I wasn't so sure. I picked up the paper and set aside the old one to take home and search for apartment rentals. I kept his attention diverted from the restraints as much as I could by engaging him in conversation about anything I could think of. When that didn't work, I read bits of news out loud.

He still managed to interject demands. "Cut me loose!"

My heart longed to help him, and hurt because I could not.

Mom showed up and joined us for what became a long, hot, uncomfortable hospital visit, with Mike demanding to be set free and Mr. Wu crying over a little fresh air. It was but one of many similar visits to come, when Mom would choose to wander the corridors while I spent time with Mike.

The days blended together in a humdrum routine of work, hospital and home—punctuated now and then by Mike's belligerent actions, like breaking through the gauze wrist restraints to pull the drain tubes out of his chest a second time. That particular evening I found him buckled to the bedrails with leather straps and angry as Hell.

"You did it again, didn't you?" I accused him. I knew those gauze ties wouldn't hold him.

"Just undo these." He ordered. "Hurry up!"

"I can't, Mike. You'll pull the tubes out again." What was the matter with him? Why couldn't he understand he was making things worse for himself? I began to wonder if his blood-sugar might be too low. Or was it brain damage?

A nurse entered. "Everything okay here?" She asked, eyeing us both with a look that said she'd overheard our bickering.

"He wants me to un …" I began, only to be interrupted.

"Hi, sweetheart," he said to her, as sugary as syrup. "Could you please get me some fresh water?"

"Certainly." She picked up the plastic pitcher and left as Mike and I stared at each other in silence.

When the nurse was out of ear-shot, he turned to me with an expression of complete contempt and said, "I'd like to be there when you die and go to heaven and St. Peter won't let you in because you're too damn good!"

It cut me to the quick. What happened to the man who had been my best friend and protector, my biggest fan? I left his room to let the tears fall and went to the restroom to regain my composure. It helped to recall what one of the doctors had said to me a few days earlier—"It's going to take the patience of Job to live with this man. Try to remember it's not you he's angry at, it's the situation." It would become my mantra.

Those trying times blended into another seven days. Some evenings I skipped the hospital visit to look at cheaper apartments for rent. By the end of week two I had found one, much smaller and up a flight of stairs, but only about a mile from work. I could walk that. I put a deposit on it although I knew I needed to give a thirty-day written notice on our current place or pay another month's rent. God help me. I called Phyllis at the property management company that we had rented from, and explained my plight.

"Don't worry," she said. "Send me a written notice that you'll vacate by the end of April. I can get it accepted due to your unusual circumstances." Thank you, God, for providing Phyllis.

I wrote the notice. Each night after work I packed what belongings we'd had time to unpack since moving in. The landlord of the new place remembered reading about Mike's accident in the paper and was most accommodating. He said I could start settling in right away—the last week of April—and introduced me to a tall, slim gentleman, a tenant at the new location, who wore a cowboy hat and drove a pickup truck and would help me move. Another blessing, thank You.

By the end of the next week, in three evening truckloads, our household goods were all moved into the new apartment and I had deposited a full half-month's paycheck of $154 into the bank.

As luck would have it, Mike had been relieved of the wrist-restraints and the drain tubes, and was healed enough to be dismissed from the hospital, with visits scheduled for the orthopedic doctor to follow-up on the crushed left shoulder.

Mom and I brought him home on Saturday morning—three weeks and a few hours after his accident. He grinned and yackety-yakked the entire way, a "Happy Camper" at last.

My emotions were mixed. I was glad he was alive and out of the hospital in three weeks instead of the original six months' estimate.

On the other hand, the hospital had become like a second home to me, and I realized I would never know what became of the overly thin woman, if little Freddie ever woke from his coma, whether or not the young mother recovered from her burns, or if Mr. Wu would succumb to his stroke or his next roommate.

My Dad returned that weekend to drive Mom back home to Washington in her blue Biscayne. My parting thank-yous seemed far less than adequate, and a tear rolled down my cheek as I watched the car drive out of sight. I was thankful for their support, happy that Mike was home, but scared of what the days to come might bring.


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