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Friday, June 3, 1988. I rose early, planning to leave for the hospital by seven-thirty.

I called the registration people for the motorhome rally in Eugene, hoping I wouldn’t wake them. A woman answered. It was the registrar for the rally. I asked to cancel our reservation and for a refund of our $60 deposit, explaining that I realized the deadline for refunds had passed, but I hoped for an exception because of Mike’s emergency surgery. She said she’d check it out and let us know.

I jumped in the car and hurried to Mike’s hospital room, arriving in time to wipe away his tears of fear and try to bolster his courage before they wheeled him off to surgery for amputation of his right leg—a B-K they called it—below the knee.

For two long hours I waited in his hospital room, mentally fighting off the buzzards that filled my head with a muddled mass of fears—what’s taking so long? Maybe the anesthetic didn’t work, and they had to try another one. What if that one didn’t work either? What if it damaged his brain? Maybe he didn’t make it … how soon would they let me know?

A doctor in green scrubs stepped into the room, displacing my morbid thoughts. "Helen?"

"Yes. Is Mike okay?"

"Yes." He said, wiping his brow with the face mask in his hand. "He came through surgery just fine. He is in recovery now and should be back here within the hour."

"Okay. Thank you."

"You’re welcome. The liver should start working again, now that the toxic foot and leg is no longer poisoning his system. We’ll keep him here until that happens."

I thanked him again as he left, then whooshed the pesky buzzards out of my head with a hefty "Whew!" Mike had made it! We’d have more tomorrows and, thinking of that, tomorrow would be his 53rd birthday—I’d better find a way to celebrate!

The soft, rhythmic rumble of gurney wheels broke into my thoughts as two orderlies pushed Mike into the room and transferred him back to bed. He was wide-eyed and still yellow. A light-weight blanket covered him from the waist down, hiding his legs. I hoped the pity I felt inside didn’t show on my face.

"Hi," I said, standing at his bedside. "How do you feel?"

"Fine!" He grinned.

Fine? He just lost a leg and he’s fine? The man must be loaded with morphine! "I’m glad to hear that …"

"It’s not so bad. Look!" Mike whisked the blanket off his legs.

I recoiled, slapping a hand over my mouth, expecting a stump swathed in bloody wrappings. It was not.

"Oh!" I uncovered my mouth and took a closer look. "It’s in a cast."

"Yep. Supposed to keep the swelling down." Mike seemed proud of this accomplishment.

We chit-chatted through nurses’ checks of blood pressure, heart rate, and blood-glucose followed by one pain pill and a lukewarm lunch. I showed him the disability check, which he endorsed so I could get it into the bank. When the pain pill took hold and he began to doze off, we agreed that I should go home and get some chores done.

He was asleep before I left the room.

I stopped at the grocery store on my way home for a small cake mix, a carton of frosting, and a birthday card. Then to the craft store where I bought a Sedro-Woolley spotted owl tee shirt, checked the Post Office box, then home.

I called Mike to tell him I got home okay. The phone rang and rang until finally a nurse answered. "He’s sound asleep," she said.

"Please would you tell him his wife called, and that I got home just fine?"

"Yes. I will."

I thanked her and hung up. By four o’clock, I had started a load of laundry, opened the mail, paid some bills, baked a tin of miniature cupcakes, cooked a turkey-burger for myself and brushed the dog.

Next I called my sister. Then my younger brother, to let them know that Mike survived the amputation, and that I would be going down again tomorrow around noon with a little treat for his 53rd birthday.

My duties done, I took a hot shower, turned the ringers on the phones off, and hit the hay. Finally, a full-night’s sleep for me!

Saturday broke bright and full of promise. I enjoyed an unrushed breakfast, then frosted a couple of the small cupcakes and packaged for the trip to the hospital. Once the dog was watered and back in the house for the day, I packed the birthday goodies into our little yellow wagon, deposited the disability check in the bank, and headed for the freeway.

Half-way to the hospital, I noticed an unfamiliar rattle somewhere in the car, one I hadn’t heard before—inconsistent, subdued. I stopped a bit later to fill the gas tank so I wouldn’t have to on the way home in the dark. I thought I’d ask the gas station attendant about the rattle, but by then it had quieted down. I traveled on to the hospital with no problem.

Mike thanked me for the card and the tee shirt. And the little cupcakes, which he hid from the nurse when she came to check his vitals. I spent the afternoon listening to him recap the steps of his surgery as told to him by the surgeon when I was absent.

His dinner arrived around five o’clock. He offered the dinner roll to me, as expected. What I didn’t expect was the crowd of friends and family who trickled into his room soon after—evidently my siblings had passed-the-word about it being Mike’s birthday. I slipped into the background as they circled his bed, piling cards and wrapped gifts on his lap with resounding "Happy Birthday" cheers.

This would be a day to remember.


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