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My brain buzzards faded as winter morphed into the bright lights of Christmas and a new year began. We watched with renewed patriotism and hope as George Herbert Walker Bush took the oath of President of the United States.

My book money continued to flow in that spring, allowing us to purchase a riding lawn mower—a John Deere STX38. Mike couldn’t wait to hop onboard and take over the mowing of our nearly half-acre yard, a huge relief for my chronically painful feet.

The first mow of the season required a double cutting because the grass had grown high. When he was done, Mike parked the mower inside the old garage and came into the house with a big grin on his face.

"How’d it go?" I asked, grinning back at him.

"Fine. Just fine." He took off his cap and hung it on a kitchen chair, then walked over to me and pulled up his left pant leg. "Look." The outside of his leg was strewn with bloody little cuts.

I pressed my hand to my cheek. "What on earth …?"

"The holly tree." He lowered his pant leg. "Every time I mowed around it."

I rose from my chair. "We’d better wash those off and cover them." I grabbed our basket of bandaging supplies from atop the living room bookshelves and headed for the bathroom.

Mike followed, expressing his delight in the riding mower while I cleaned and bandaged his wounds. It was then I noticed how fragile the skin on his remaining leg was—nearly transparent layers, thinner than tissue paper. When I removed a piece of paper tape to reposition the gauze pad, his skin came off with it. No wonder the sharp spines on the holly leaves made cuts right through his pant leg. Luckily, we had a two inch wide roll of gauze in our supplies. I wrapped a length twice around his leg to hold the pad and applied the paper tape to that.

"There!" I pulled his pant leg down and chose not to tell him how delicate his skin looked. At least for now. "Next time we’d better think of a way to protect your leg."

"Already have." He shot a smug grin at me as I put the bandaging supplies away.

"What?"

"Well, I’ll get a piece of stovepipe and some straps and buckles," he explained. "And make a shield to put around my leg." And so he did, before the next mowing day, and added a thick layer of upholstery foam on the inside of the stovepipe. That was the end of the holly tree slashing his leg.

Mike’s lawn mowing allowed more time for me to handle my book orders and promotions and realize that I’d been an entire year without medical care of my own. I located a clinic in Mount Vernon and made an appointment for a check up. The lady doctor there referred me to an internist in Sedro-Woolley for my high blood pressure, a stress test, a physical, and yearly mammogram and Pap test.

All my tests were normal, except for blood pressure. The doctor told us to "go ahead" on an Oregon trip we’d planned, but to take a blood pressure reading daily, write it down, and see him a week after we returned.

If the doctor thought the trip would reduce my stress, he was wrong. I returned to his office ten days later with readings of 225 over 116 and left with a prescription for blood pressure medication. I tested several prescriptions over the following months until one of them worked.

Trips to the prosthetist in Seattle continued on a near-weekly basis, and Mike’s walking ability improved little by little. His stump continued to shrink, as expected, making adjustments to his prosthesis necessary.

Many afternoons he would fall asleep in his recliner, worn-out by the effort required to walk with that heavy leg. I would seize that opportunity to do household chores, like the hot summer day I decided to replace the aged putty in our old, single-pane windows so they wouldn’t fall out in the next wind storm. In some cases, the putty had already cracked and disappeared.

When I came in for a break, Mike was in a glassy-eyed stupor in his recliner. Damn! I blamed myself for staying out longer than I realized. I stirred sugar into a glass of juice and attempted to get it into him, but couldn’t get him to respond. I had been so exhausted for so long that every fiber of my being demanded that I simply give up. I could not.

"Call 9-1-1" an inner voice said. "Just call 9-1-1." So I did. They were there in minutes, took a blood sugar reading (so low it wouldn’t register on the meter) and administered glucose intravenously, leaving a large spill of blood on the arm of Mike’s recliner.

I dabbed at the spill with a paper towel.

"Just pour a bit of hydrogen peroxide on that, ma’am, if you have some, and it’ll come right out." The young EMT still holding Mike’s arm instructed me.

I reached up to the top shelf of the bookcase at my elbow and took down the basket with our bandaging supplies, including a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. The EMT was correct—a bit of it placed onto the blood spill, and it simply disappeared. I blotted the spot with a clean paper towel, then returned the basket to the shelf.

The police officer who accompanied the emergency crew asked if he, Mike, was my father.

"No … my husband." I said.

"Oh, sorry. He looks so much older than you."

"That’s okay. Thanks." I studied Mike, slowly emerging from his stupor, and saw that he really did look old and unhealthy—emaciated, in fact. Understanding that diabetes had been taking its slow toll on his body for years, a chill flooded through my own.

Within minutes, Mike’s expression of confusion changed to one of awareness. He stared up at me.

I stared back. "Know who I am?"

"Yes." His answer came with caution and clarity.

"You slept into an insulin reaction while I was outside. These are the paramedics who brought you out of it."

"Oh." He turned his face to them. "Thank you. All."

"You’re welcome, sir." The young EMT extended his hand for Mike to shake. "Glad we could help."


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