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The rains of November did not penetrate my patch job on our Jidosha. Nor did the lack of its floor carpets, still drying in the garage, prevent our use of it—like a trip to the University of Washington’s eye institute where Mike would undergo his third laser surgery in as many months for diabetic retinopathy.

After a light breakfast, we left for the University of Washington’s Medical Center. We knew by experience that the actual procedure would take only about half an hour, plus the hike from and to the parking lot, so we decided to treat ourselves to lunch on the way home.

Luckily, we found a parking space in the crowded lot across the street from the center and made the lengthy trek to the building’s rear door with ten minutes to spare. I signed Mike in at the ophthalmology department, where we took seats in the waiting area and, well, waited … and waited more.

Twenty minutes beyond our appointment time, I approached the receptionist. "How far behind is laser surgery running?"

The young woman behind the counter smiled at me and replied, in a hushed voice, "Probably another twenty minutes—they had an emergency to handle this morning."

"Okay, thanks." I returned to Mike and relayed the news.

He lowered the magazine he was thumbing through and turned to face me. "Uhh …tengey mins. …"

Inarticulate speech. A vacant stare through narrowing eye lids. Damn it! My heart raced. My hands turned cold. Oh Dear God! Not here. Not now.

That walk from the parking lot must’ve used up too much sugar. Frantically I searched my pockets and purse for candy, something, anything that would get sugar into him. Empty!

"Don’t move." I shoved my stretched-out palm at him, as if giving a dog the command to "stay," and hurried to the receptionist.

"Yes?" Another sweet smile acknowledged me.

"Do you have any juice here, or something sugary for diabetics with low blood sugar?"

"No, we don’t." She smiled again.

"Nothing?"

"No, sorry."

"Okay, thanks." Sorry? They do all diabetic retinopathy surgeries on the same day of each week—a room packed with diabetics in a medical center and they don’t have any emergency rations on hand? Not even a jar of Tang™ Drink Mix? Outrageous! I turned back to her and asked, "Is there a pop-machine around anywhere?"

"Yes! Out by the main entrance."

As she rattled off the directions for getting to the pop-machine, my brain questioned as to whether or not I should run alone to find it and hurry back, or drag Mike with me to get something into him sooner. Of course that would mean he’d burn even more sugar getting there. God help me, please! You know how he can act out during an insulin reaction.

Instinct took over. I grabbed Mike’s hand and pulled him up off the chair. "We’re going to get something to drink." I headed for the receptionist again. "We’ll be back as soon as we can." I led Mike past the counter and into the hallway.

We rushed to the elevator, rode one floor up, turned right, then right again for a long walk north to the grand main entrance. There, pushed against a wall, stood a tall, bulky, windowed, dark red machine stocked with soft drinks of every flavor. I coaxed Mike to sit in the chair next to it, dug some change out of my purse, and bought an orange soda which he began to drink without argument.

I sat next to him, releasing my sizable buildup of anxiety in measured inhales and exhales while he finished drinking. I purposely slowed our pace getting back to the ophthalmic department, so his blood sugar would have a chance to recoup. Thankfully, it did.

An hour later, he emerged from his laser treatment with an eyeball the color of a vine-ripened tomato—bright red—where it should have been white. "What happened?" I lifted his jacket from the chair next to me and handed it to him.

"The Doc hit a blood vessel with the needle." He grinned, put on his jacket and sat down. "Says it’ll go away in a few days. Or weeks."

"Looks scary to me." I leaned over for a closer inspection, but a nurse showed up and taped a bandage over it.

"Now remember, Mike," she began the post-op instructions. "You need to rest, no heavy lifting, no rubbing that eye, no sudden bumps—like a chuckhole in the road—and don’t let people jostle you around, or you them …"

"Yep. I know." Mike interrupted her. "Been through this twice before."

She smiled at him. "I saw that. And only one more to go. I just needed to remind you to be careful for the next few days."

"I will," he answered. "Next time will make around 900 shots total!"

"And then you’ll be done!" She handed him the release paper to sign, which he did, then handed it back. "See you next month." She added.

"Yep." Mike agreed with her and we turned to leave, making our way out the rear of the medical center and to the parking lot. By that time we had decided to skip our planned "lunch out" to lower the risk of something or someone damaging Mike’s eyesight on the way home, however unintentionally.

He took an extra two days of sick leave to rest his eye. When he napped, I’d venture out to run errands and grocery shop.

His workdays were spent sitting in a job shack chatting with other non-busy inspectors, waiting for road construction to start again. The blood had cleared somewhat from his eye, but a big purple "shiner" had surfaced below it. He wore them both with pride—symbols of another tale for his archive of medical stories.

My folks came for Thanksgiving dinner that year. I set the table in stylish sophistication, using our best tablecloth, china, flatware, crystal, and autumn decorations, clearly influenced by years of my mother’s tutelage.

We visited over turkey, with all the trimmings. Mom was on her best behavior, actually engaging Mike in meaningful conversation, mostly about his series of eye treatments. He was most accommodating in his concise explanation of them, not something I would have suggested for dinner conversation, but it worked.

In the weeks that followed, we did a little holiday shopping, wrapped a few presents, mailed around seventy-five greeting cards, got out the yearly decorations, made it to work and back each day and completed the last of Mike’s eye surgeries.

Soon it was Christmas Eve, which we spent at my folks’ house enjoying a traditional Swedish Smörgåsbord, outdone only by the hubbub of simultaneously talking family members while their shrieking offspring scampered throughout the house. For a moment I missed the structured pattern of my past, when Christmas Eves were spent sitting at the organ in the rear loft of the church, playing for the yearly Service of Candles and Carols. I once played carols as background music during an entire wedding ceremony, at the bride’s request.

Music of this season was my absolute favorite, and filled our own home the entire month of December, thanks to a collection of long-play albums, including our favorites by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Vienna Boys’ Choir. Music carried our attention away from the dull drizzle and fog-filled days so typical in Washington state.

We welcomed the New Year by watching television broadcasts of celebrations around the globe. I later packed and stored all our holiday decorations and, as usual, longed for signs of spring.

Television coverage of the inauguration of Ronald Reagan as the fortieth President of the United States brought to mind the landslide victory he had won two and a half months earlier, and the uproar that followed. Namely, the media’s decision to announce the win well before polls in the western United States had closed. That started a controversy over early release of voting results, and was blamed for causing a voter turnout too low to ratify local ballot issues in some of the states involved. After that, it was ruled that no general election results could be broadcast until after the polls had closed throughout the country.

The days grew longer now, and the urge to return to creative work came over me. When I wasn’t sewing custom western shirts for Mike, I’d be down in the basement, working on my pastel painting projects or drawing designs to screen print. I made a dozen or more sample wall hangings, and gave a few to family and friends. Their encouraging remarks inspired me to try wholesaling them to gift shops—maybe that would fill my long-held dream of having a home business.

One morning, while standing at my craft table working on a screen print design, I was interrupted by a phone call from my mother.

"Have you been listening to the news?" she asked.

"No. I’m in the basement working on my silk screen stuff."

"Are you sitting down?"

"No, do I need to?"

"Yes. We just heard on the radio that Teddy Rowland was shot and killed in his service station in Everett."

I plopped down onto my chair. "Oh, no. Teddy?" My Sis’s first husband, father of her two sons, the younger one having died less than four years ago. The older one now serving aboard ship somewhere with the U.S. Navy. "Are you sure?"

"Yes … a robbery. Could you drive over to Sis’s and tell her? We’re worried about how she’ll take the news … someone should be with her, and you’re the closest."

"Yes. Of course. I’ll go right away."


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