My Valentine

I went off to law school with two resolutions: one, I was going to succeed, contrary to the predications of family and friends that girls didn’t go to law school for any other reason than to find a lawyer husband, and two, I was not going to get involved with any men. Nope, I was going to be unattached for three years, no men to mess up my mind and play with my heart. A broken engagement, badly-ended love affair and bittersweet romance, all in the eight months preceding Labor Day and my departure for Albany Law School convinced me that men were simply not worth the effort.

I moved into my apartment on Friday. My roommate, Linda, was a nice young woman whose name I found on a bulletin board outside the law school housing office. She was a bit strait-laced but I thought we might blend nicely. Unpacking, I discovered that I had left my extra bed sheets at home in Malone. A call to Mom and she arranged for my friend Dick to bring the sheets to me on Saturday. Dick was the older brother of one of my best friends from home and would be attending Albany Law in my class, though he was two years older than me.

Saturday found the apartment in good shape: beds made, shower curtain hung, LP’s unpacked and arranged on the cinder block and 2 x 4 shelves, and Mom’s carrot cake and apple pie in the kitchen. Dick called to say that he and the two guys who were letting him share their three-bedroom apartment were going out to get cleaning supplies and would drop off my sheets and some brownies from Mom on their way to Westgate. Linda answered their knock and let them in. I was in the corner trying to get my stereo speakers hooked up. Dick’s smiling face came first, a brown paper grocery bag in his hands with the missing sheets and walnut brownies inside. Next, was a short, broad-built Asian guy with laughing brown eyes. Then, there he was. Taller than his two companions, black tightly curled hair, whiskey-colored eyes with the longest, curliest black eyelashes, perfect ears and a shy smile. Broad chest covered with a ratty grey t-shirt, narrow waist encircled by a worn brown belt holding up faded Carhart jeans. So much for resolution number two.

I didn’t finally decide until the end of the week. There were other possibilities to consider: celibacy, Chris the handsome senior and the blonde guy with the tennis racket. I sat with Mitch (gorgeous eyelashes) and his roommate Donnie (Asian guy) all week before we got seat assignments (Dick was in the other section of freshmen). Friday ended our first four days as law students and did not arrive a minute too soon. The law school threw us a beer party in the courtyard, an excellent use of our student activity fees. Donnie discovered the bar in the student lounge and began bringing me triple shots of scotch on the rocks. I can hold my liquor but nine shots of scotch later, I was sitting on a table in Lecture Hall A singing college drinking songs. Mitch stayed by my side but so did Chris, who invited us back to his apartment to continue the party. We all trooped over to the apartment he shared with David, cousin of my college roommate. My first mistake had been letting Donnie get me the scotch at the law school; my second mistake was letting him serve me a Tequila Sunrise at David’s. Mitch was still by my side but Chris was sitting very close to David now, too close to be just friends but then the tequila was doing a number on my head. Before too long, I knew a trip to the bathroom was in order.

I lurched ever so gracefully to my feet and staggered down the hall to the bathroom, slamming the door behind me. I should not have had the Tequila Sunrise. I knew better. My stomach could not tolerate fruity or carbonated mixed drinks due to a spastic something that had developed in college. A nasty round of rather violent vomiting was imminent so I leaned over the toilet. My long hair was swinging into my face and I frantically scrambled to catch it behind my ears as nausea over-took me. I didn’t hear the door open behind me so I jumped a bit in my misery when one firm hand pulled my hair into a pony tail while the other held my waist. Mortified but grateful, I realized Mitch had come to rescue me.

The embarrassing regurgitating session was finally over, but I was still hunched over the john. Mitch took care of flushing and then handed me a damp washcloth to wipe my sweaty face, neck and hands. I figured the best course of action was to brazen it out so I stood as jauntily as I could and tossed off a lame remark, “Damn cheap liquor does it every time!” He laughed as I hoped he would. I looked in the mirror over the sink to survey the damage. I was pale and my eyes were red-rimmed but at least I hadn’t gotten anything on me. Reaching for the tube of toothpaste, I spread some on my index finger and stuck it in my mouth, hoping to erase the taste of my folly. Mitch was watching my reflection in the mirror as I “brushed.” I scooped some cold water into my mouth with my hand, swished it around and spat into the sink. Straightening, I could see there was still toothpaste foam in the corners of my mouth. Before I could rinse again, Mitch spun me around and kissed me. I was shocked into motionlessness. His kiss was sweet and demanding at the same time. Adventurous, too, I thought, as his tongue slid between my teeth, kissing a girl with toothpaste still dribbling down her chin. The man knew how to kiss, his bushy moustache tickling and teasing my lips. My hands slid part way up his arms, I was grasping for support, when he pulled his mouth away from mine. The brown of his eyes is flecked with gold, I thought idly. He had a surprised look on his face, as though he could not believe that he had been kissing a woman who had lost the contents of her stomach in front of him just moments before.

He pushed me out of the room and across the hall into David’s bedroom. I was still shaky at best and sank gratefully onto the bed. He stretched out beside me and pulled my head onto his shoulder. We fit together perfectly. How long we were in there I do not know. We hugged, kissed, stroked and laughed. Eventually, he began to stir, as if to leave. Not one to let a good man slip through my fingers, I said, “I want you to come home with me.”

“Do you always get what you want?” he asked with a grin.

“Yes.” My answer was smug and certain.

“How do you do that?” He was almost laughing.

“I’m careful what I ask for.”

Bemused, he smiled and left the bedroom; I followed him back to the living room and collected my roommate. I don’t remember the drive home except Linda seemed quite taken by David, the first of her many terribly mis-guided choices in men over the next three years.

Once back in our apartment, Linda and I changed into jammies, filled big bowls of ice cream and sat down to watch Johnny Carson. The doorbell rang. Who the hell was that? our expressions said as I got up to open the door. There stood Mitch. What was he doing here?

He came inside and sat on the sofa. Linda looked at me as if I had betrayed her and went upstairs in a huff. I had no clue what he was doing in my apartment at midnight but he was so damn appealing that I wasn’t going to kick him out. I sat on the floor in front of the sofa and picked up my bowl of Rocky Road. Mitch slid down next to me and put his arm around me. When I turned to look at him, he pulled aside the front of his ratty Brooks Brothers corduroy jacket to reveal a toothbrush poking out of the inner pocket. He was planning on staying over? Where did that come from?

 He kissed me then and all I could think was I was happy I had pretty new sheets on my bed upstairs.

I gave him a key to the apartment for our first Valentine’s Day and asked him to marry me two weeks later on Sadie Hawkins Day. He said “Yeah, sure, maybe someday.” When I called all my friends to announce my “engagement,” Dick’s sister, my friend Vicky, confided in me that she had come to Albany with Dick that summer before law school to help him find an apartment. After first rejecting several potential roommates, when she met Mitch and Donnie, she pulled Dick aside and told him, “You have to room with Mitch. He’s perfect for Debbi!”

And he was.

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Grey’s Anatomy

I missed the entire season of Grey’s Anatomy last year. I was hospitalized when the season started and never caught up. A few weeks ago, I decided to watch Season 10 on Netflix. I was soon sucked back into the story of Grey, Christina, Derek and Bailey.

Sunday night, Monday morning, really, about 4:00 a.m., I couldn’t sleep. I flipped open my Kindle. Read or watch Netflix? I chose Netflix. The next episode of Grey’s was cued so that was my choice. I settled in to be lulled back to sleep by the trials and tribulations of the doctors from Seattle.

My blood froze with the opening scene. Christina and her intern were operating on “the black mambo,” the trickiest of all heart repairs. Derek arrived for a neuro consult. Surveying the patient’s X-rays, he opined, “Why are you operating? He has a C-3 and C-4 fracture, he’s paralyzed from the neck down.” The scene shifted. There was Christina explaining the surgery to the patient’s wife, while the patient lay unconscious, on a ventilator in a tilted orthopedic bed, with separate supports for each limb. Mitch’s bed. The same special, at that time experimental bed, that my husband had been strapped to for 30 days in 1988, after breaking his neck. C-1, C-2 and C-3 fractures. Paralyzed from the neck down.

Why did I wake up at 4:00 in the morning? Why did I decide to watch a show rather than read like I usually do? Why was that particular episode the one that popped up?

Monday was to be an amazing day. My first book, a memoir about dating after 15 years of widowhood, was being released on Amazon. I was excited and scared. I believe, after consulting with my “person” who had survived the loss of a beloved husband herself, that Mitch was sending me a message:  I’m still around. I know what is going on. This is a big day for you and I know it. I am always with you.

Here is an excerpt about that damn bed, from my work in progress, 32 Days: A Story of Love and Death.

July 10 – Sunday

The morning was spent organizing, setting up a base at CVPH. I was staying in the ICU waiting room so I could be available at anytime for Mitchell. I had not seen my children since Friday, although we spoke every day from the payphone in the lobby.

I had made my decision that I would stay there with Mitchell until he went home or to another facility. My kids were safe at my parents for the time being. I had enough sick, personal and vacation leave to be out of work for a month.

I begged change from everyone I saw so I could call my babies. And everyone else in our lives: our friend Susan, with whom I worked, who would take over my caseload and notify law school and work friends. Our neighbors, Kim and Al, who baby-sat the two cats, the mail, the house and kept the neighborhood posted. Our Rabbi, who offered daily blessings.

Later, I met with the doctors for a discussion about a new bed for Mitchell. The doctors wanted Mitch in a bed that was compartmentalized for his legs and arms and head, covered in nylon like a rain jacket and slowly rotated 45 degrees in each direction. It was an experimental bed and its purpose was to keep fluids from settling anywhere, especially his lungs, and to keep him from getting bed sores. Our health insurance was good insurance through my policy with the State. The experimental bed would be covered.

As always, I consulted with the patient, much to the consternation of his doctors. I kept getting the feeling that they thought his brain was paralyzed too.

He was so isolated, so alone. I was his only contact with the outside world at that point. The ICU was like a small fortress, no admittance to anyone except family and then, only with strict scrutiny from the nurses.

The unit itself was divided into cubicles around the nurses’ station, with private rooms in the corners. A window was in the wall behind his bed, high up so you could barely glimpse the sky and nothing else. There were walls on either side of his cubicle, but it was open to the centrally located nurse’s station with only a curtain to provide privacy. He was directly across from the front of the nurse’s station, where someone was always present, because he was the most high-risk patient. There was one night stand against the right-hand wall and one stool to the left of his bed.

I had already started pasting drawings from my children and my nieces and nephews on both walls. There were also cards and letters from family, friends and colleagues. Someone had made a sign that read “one day at a time.” We had thumb-tacked it to the ceiling, over his head, like a prayer to Heaven.

After a short time, I became immune to the shock of seeing Mitch motionless in bed, in that cubicle. I was living on nerves and adrenaline, grateful for each hour he was still in my life, pathetically thankful for every word he whispered to me around the tube in his throat and his paralyzed vocal chords.

Our friend, Mary, arrived late in the morning during one of my few breaks from haunting the ICU. She lied her way in, as only an experienced trial attorney can, by claiming to be Mitchell’s sister. His raised eyebrows at her appearance were met by her kiss on his cheek and her cheery “Hello, brother mine.” It was enough to fool the nurses.

I found her sitting on my stool, giving Mitch a blow-by-blow account of her latest trial. Her eyes locked with mine as if willing me to be strong at the sight of a sympathetic face. I smiled, a wobbly smile and she reached out to squeeze my hand. She was stroking Mitch’s arm, never missing a beat with her story.

“I can’t feel that, you know.”

Mary started, as Mitchell continued in that almost non-existent whisper, “I can only feel from the neck up.”

She stood and moved to his head, rubbing her fingers through his thick curls, chatting away as if we were sitting on our deck, sipping pink lemonade and gin. The nurses shooed us out after a few minutes. There was always some adjustment, some treatment, some medication to keep Mitchell going.

We left the ICU. Mary turned to me, her hand still clutching mine.

“You look like shit.”

“Yeah, I know. But I don’t look as bad as Mitch.”

“No. Jesus. It would be hard to look that bad.” Her laughter was hollow.

We grinned at each other through our tears. She got me some lunch and later some dinner. We sat together in the waiting room. Mary took notes on what I needed and strategized about what could be done by friends, colleagues and former classmates to get Mitchell admitted to AMC as soon as possible.

As darkness fell, Mary left, to go off to a hotel room, with promises to return in the morning. It had been Heaven to share the burden of my fears with someone who knew us so well,

I was alone with him once again, perched on the little stool next to his bed, catching a glimpse of the face I loved more than anything in the world.

I dragged myself out around midnight. I was exhausted. I was demoralized. I was terrified. Still awake at 2:00 a.m., I went back to the ICU and pushed open the door from the empty waiting room. I walked quietly around the back of the nurses’ station to Mitch’s cubicle. The shift had changed at 11:00 p.m. Some nurses in raspberry scrubs were sitting on high swivel chairs at patient tables, writing reports. But three were gathered around my husband’s bed. My gut clenched. What was wrong now?!

Before I could give voice to my alarm, one nurse turned to the other two and whispered,

“I told you he had the most long, curly, gorgeous eyelashes you would ever see.”

“I didn’t believe you. They’re amazing.”

“And his eyes are the most beautiful shade of brown and gold.”

“And he belongs to me,” I said as I moved to the foot of the bed. They all smiled at me. The nurse who had spoken first laid her hand on mine and squeezed. Then she said, “Yes, he does. And you are so lucky.”

Yes, I was so lucky to have him. But would I be lucky enough to keep him?

Purple Socks-2012

My dreidel earrings are turquoise and gold plastic with a purple stone in the middle. Bought years ago when my children were students and I was a teacher at the Hebrew School, they had survived my ten-year absence from teaching. I was dressing for class on the first day of Hanukkah and, after some searching, I had found my dreidel earrings. However, my Hanukkah sweatshirts, also from my teaching/principal days, were not options. One was too small and the other featured a menorah comprised of Disney characters, with Mickey Mouse as the Shamash, or center, candle. Too cute, way too cute, for my 59-year old body.

I selected a new purple sweater to wear with my jeans. Simple, comfortable and it coordinated with my earrings. My only pair of Hanukkah socks was blue and gold, so I shoved them back in the sock drawer. What a mess! I thought as I sorted through pairs and mismatched singles looking for my black socks, since I was wearing black suede flats. I was trying to dress it up a little for the Temple Hanukkah Party that would follow Hebrew School that day. I need to sort through all these, get rid of the old stuff and see what I need.

Socks would be a good, inexpensive gift to put on my Hanukkah list. The only people who would see my Hanukkah list would be my children and their budgets were too tight to afford an iPad, diamond tennis bracelet or new microwave oven. Better to list socks, shower gel and emery boards that I could always use and would not break their banks. I sighed, thinking back briefly of better, more prosperous days.

My fingers tugged on a peeping piece of purple, wedged against the side of the drawer. A pair of faded amethyst cable-knit cotton socks popped into my hand. Tears welled up in my eyes as memories of happier days flooded my mind.

Our first year in our four-bedroom Colonial in Clifton Park and I was newly pregnant with our second child. Our careers as lawyers were moving along, we were making more money than we had imagined in our law school days, but mortgage, car and school loan payments plus the costs of one child and one on the way ate up most of our income. There were, therefore, no big-ticket items on the Hanukkah list in 1984, because we were saving for living room furniture and a decent dining room set. And our three-year old daughter needed dolls and books and pretty outfits.

I don’t really remember what my husband and I had mentioned to each other as possible presents for the holiday. There were probably books and CD’s. I am pretty sure my husband had wistfully requested a drill or power screwdriver or staple gun; he so wanted to be handy with tools (he never was). But I do recall one thing I lusted for: a purple, turtleneck, cable-knit sweater from The Gap. I don’t remember why I wanted that sweater. Purple was not one of my usual colors, but I thought the sweater was luscious and beautiful and would look good with the reddish hair color I sported in those days. My husband, Mitch, was pretty good about following lists so I was looking forward to that sweater. Then I spied a Gap bag in the back of the closet one afternoon and, thinking it was some gift I had bought, I opened it. Inside was a purple sweater but not the one I wanted. It was some boucle-like material and had a cowl neck.

The next night over dinner, I asked Mitch if he had finished all his shopping.

“Yes, I’m pretty much done. Just a few little things to still get, I think.”

“Oh, well, you know I was at the mall at lunchtime and I was walking by The Gap and that sweater I have on my list… the purple, cotton, cable-knit, turtleneck one…is 40 % off this week.” I smiled guilelessly at him.

“Turtleneck, cable knit…is a turtle neck the tight neck or the drapey neck?” He was such a fashion maven.

“It is the tight neck that you fold over and the sweater is really heavy,” I innocently replied.

The next day, the bag was gone from our closet.

On the first night of Hanukkah, I opened a large box from The Gap. Nestled inside was the very sweater I had wanted. Underneath the sweater, was a pair of purple, cotton, cable-knit socks. I looked up at my husband.

“The sweater was so on sale that I got the socks for you, too. It was still less than the sweater I bought…I mean… than the sweater was when I first looked at it.” I was the one with the innocent smile now.

“You’re so good to me. Thank you. I love you.” And I did.

And I still do, I realized as I held the faded purple socks in my hand. Twenty-eight years later, the socks have endured almost three decades of wear and tear. As has my love for the bargain-seeking man I married.

Both socks and man were, as he would say, “good value.”

July 17, 1988 – Sunday – Day 10

My second Sunday at CVPH. I was officially ensconced on the nursing room floor; the hospital administration had guaranteed the room for me for the length of Mitchell’s stay in the ICU. But, I was not comfortable, I thought, as I looked around the sterile room. There was no trace of me or my family anywhere. The closet and dresser held what few clothes I had accumulated. The mid-summer weekend attire I had brought with me did not work in the air-conditioned hospital. On their visit, my in-laws had brought me a few things from home; my sister had donated some of her clothes, but they were mostly polyester and I could not, would not wear them. I had run into K-Mart to buy some sweatpants and long-sleeve tops and some extra underwear.
I will burn every one of these things when this is over, I thought as I pulled on white briefs and a plain white bra. Likewise for the generic sweats and t-shirt. No underwire bras and hipsters, no cute casual clothes at K-Mart.
In my tiny bathroom, I surveyed my paltry collection of cosmetics. A little mascara on my pale brown eyelashes and some lip gloss was all I was capable of most mornings. I did manage my contact lenses though. It was the 80’s so my hair was cut into the longish, requisite bob and finished with an auburn rinse. And, of course, the poodle perm. It was an easy hairstyle most of the time. Wash and air-dry then fluff out the curls with a wire pick. The perm and the hair color were still in good shape. It was the best I could do at 6:00 a.m. after four or five hours of sleep.
I gathered my notebook and pen, my tiny prayer book and a paperback novel before I headed down to the ICU. Every morning it was the same as I waited for the elevator. The sounds of the hospital waking up: aides pushing carts of meds and foods, nurses checking on patients, doctors beginning rounds, the dinging of the elevator as it went from floor to floor. And the announcements: Code Red, CCU. Dr. So-and-so to ER – Stat! Code Blue, ICU.
Code Blue, ICU. My blood would run cold, my heart would hammer and my stomach would clench in a nauseating spasm. I lived in dread of those words. And I heard them at least once a day.
But not that morning. That morning I wandered into the ICU to quiet. Or as quiet as the ICU ever was. On Sunday, there were no scheduled surgeries, no visits from therapists and not many from the doctors. But, like every morning, my steps slowed as I turned the corner and got my first view of Mitch’s cubicle. The curtains were open. I paused, as I always did, at the edge of the nurse’s station, to straighten my shoulders, to take a deep breath, to plaster a smile on my face that would not ever betray the shock and sorrow I felt every time I saw what had become of my husband.
My big, strong, handsome, laughing husband. How could this bloated body belong to him? How could that unruly, black curly hair be confined within a halo of stainless steel? How could his laughter, his sly mocking jokes, his gentle words, his probing questions, be reduced to a whisper that was barely a sigh? How could his presence which was the center of my universe be confined by three walls and a curtain, strapped to a rotating bed, tied to cords and tubing?
“Good morning, Mitch.”
His beautiful whiskey brown eyes opened at the sound of my voice. He smiled.
I approached him, leaving my things on the chair next to his bed. As I bent to kiss his cheek, he whispered “Good morning, honey,” and kissed my cheek. A good start to the day.
And it was to be a busy day. Andy, Mitchell’s friend from his boyhood on Long Island, and the Best Man at our wedding, had made the long drive from New York City to visit him. I could tell by the look on his face how sad and shocked he was. But, they joked as easily with each other as they had the last time we were all together at Andy’s big house in Brooklyn. Andy let us know that his cousin, Valerie, was married to a neurologist at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady. It was near to our home in Clifton Park. Valerie’s husband worked for the big-time neurologist at Ellis and was trying to convince him to take Mitchell’s case. Though not a Regional Trauma Center like AMC, Ellis was only 20 minutes from home and had an excellent rehabilitation center, Sunny View, attached to it. It might work.
While Andy was visiting with Mitch, I ran down to the cafeteria for some lunch and then made some phone calls from the booths in the Lobby. As I was returning to the ICU, I ran into a vaguely familiar man.
“Hello, you’re Mitch Hallow’s wife, aren’t you?
“Yes, I am.”
“I’m Courtney Hall. I’m a lawyer in Saratoga, that’s how I know Mitch.”
“It is good to meet you. Can I help you?”
“Well, we are all worried about him so I thought I would come up and see how he was doing and deliver the Sunday papers to him. I don’t think they get the Albany papers up here.”
“I don’t think he is really up to visitors today.” Mitch was so strict about anyone seeing him that I did not think he would want a lawyer he did business with to witness his current state.
“No, no, I certainly understand, I just wanted to let him know that we were thinking about him. Anything we can do to help, please let me know.” He handed me his card and the newspapers.
When I delivered the papers and told him about the encounter, Mitch smiled, really smiled.
Then he said, “It is a good day.” He paused before he whispered, “My arms are tingling again today.”
I grasped his hand in joy. His eyes opened wide, an astonished look crossed his face.
“I can feel that.”
“What?”
“I can feel you squeezing my right hand!”
Oh, my God. My heart stood still as tears coursed down my cheeks.
It was a good day.
Later that night, I wrote to Mitchell who had been, and still was, the greatest love of my life:

Dear Mitch,
It’s been quite a week. You’ve done great things!
Monday – You felt tingling in your hands.
Tuesday – You felt tingling up to your elbows.
Wednesday – Tracheostomy and you were in great spirits.
Thursday – Pacemaker.
Friday – Tingling in both hands.
Saturday – Your neck hurt.
Sunday – More tingling and you felt it when I squeezed your hand. My heart was in my throat, I was so happy!
Andy visited today and Courtney Hall brought you a Sunday paper from Albany. And there were a few calls – Janet, Carl, Mary, Margot, Judy, Mary. Everyone wants you to be better. I love you and I want you to be better, too.
I am lonely without you.
Love,
Debbi

July 9, 1988 – Day One

The nurse woke me up around 6:00 a.m. It was freezing cold. I was groggy and stiff, my eyes felt like they were coated with slime and dusted with grit; I had slept with my contacts in. I stumbled after her into the ICU. We rounded the corner of the nurse’s station and I saw that the curtain was pulled across Mitchell’s cubicle. I looked inside and gulped.
His head was encircled by a stainless steel halo from which hung a weighted cord. The halo was affixed to his head by two screws in his forehead and, I assumed, two screws in the back. He looked like Frankenstein. There were dark circles under his eyes and there was still dried blood in his moustache. I walked toward his head, on the right side of his bed, and bent to kiss his cheek.
His eyes flew open. They stared balefully at me, full of confusion. And anger. I stood up.
“Why?” His lips mouthed the words around the tube that was taped to the corner of his mouth.
“Why, what?”
“Why did you let me live?”
Oh, God.
I felt what little strength I still possessed drain out of me. Tears sprang into my eyes and with a garbled sob, I turned away from him. For the very first time since January 1976 when he told me for the first time that he loved me, I doubted his feelings for me. My anchor had just been ripped from its rock solid mooring and I was adrift.
I stumbled through the curtain and stood. Just stood, head bent, tears dripping down my face, plopping from my chin onto my t-shirt. I couldn’t make a sound. One of the nurses approached me and put her arms around me. She hugged me close.
“He didn’t want to live. He doesn’t want to live. I let them drill holes in his head and now he hates me.” I sobbed into her shoulder.
“Shhh. He doesn’t mean it. He said okay last night, I was there when he said okay. It always looks worse the next morning. He just has to get used to it. He doesn’t hate you.”
I had to leave. Seeing me with red eyes and tear-stained cheeks was not going to help my husband. I went back out to the waiting room and collected my sister to go down to the cafeteria. I needed caffeine. Preferably Diet Coke but tea would work. The hospital was a Pepsi hospital, every vending machine and the soda dispenser in the cafeteria was loaded with Pepsi and Mountain Dew. I never liked Pepsi; before our ordeal was over, I would loathe it.
My sister was glued to my side. And I needed her. I knew most of her interest in me was self-serving; I did not think my tragedy had changed her basic selfish personality. But, I needed someone and she was there. And, I will admit, she had great organizational skills. While I spent time on the telephone with friends, neighbors and family, she worked to find us a room to stay in, arranged for her husband to bring us clothes and books and food from my mother and to bring me my children.
After breakfast, after calling my parents and talking to my children, after talking to Mitch’s parents, who were on their way, planning to stay at our house that night and arrive in Plattsburgh on Sunday and after arranging for cat care and mail and newspaper pick-up with our neighbors across the street, I sat slumped in the phone booth. I did not want to go back to the ICU; I did not want to see my husband.
CVPH sits in the middle of an idyllic setting in Plattsburgh. It is adjacent to a lovely residential neighborhood; there are rolling lawns, gardens and even a duck pond. I left the icy cold of the lobby for the warm humidity of the July morning. I felt like I would never be warm again, my blood was like ice in my veins. My hands were so cold that my wedding and engagement rings spun around my ring finger. My new rings that Mitch had just had made in April for my birthday; gone was the simple platinum setting, replaced by a one-of-a-kind yellow gold swirl. I twisted them around and around as I walked across the lawn. Fear kept me cold. What if he died? What if he didn’t and was paralyzed for life? What if he could never work again? Never walk again? Never talk again? Never love me again? What could I, would I do?
I stared at the ducks for a long time. Two Mallard ducks were swimming side by side, gracefully gliding across the dark water, totally in tandem. They stopped almost in front of me. One reached over and nibbled on the other’s neck. Then they swam off to the other side of the pond, into the cattails and tall grass. Together.
In sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. That is what we said to each other almost ten years earlier. I meant it when I said and I still meant it. And I would make Mitchell believe it too. If I could stay with him through this devastating injury, through his stupid, stupid decision to do that stupid, stupid Cannonball into the pool, he could stay with me.
My sister was in the waiting room of the ICU, armed with blankets and pillows, magazines and soda, laying claim to both sofas. I patted her shoulder and opened the door of the ICU. The curtains were open to Mitch’s cubicle. I paused. I squared my shoulders. I gulped down the lump in my throat. His eyes opened as I approached. His beautiful whiskey-brown eyes. His thick, curly lashes that had first won my heart almost 13 years ago blinked back tears. I moved to him and brushed the tears away.
“I’m sorry.”
We said it in unison.
“I’m sorry that I let them do this to you but I couldn’t let you go, I can’t let you die. Not yet, not ever.” Tears sprang from my eyes. My hand clutched his unfeeling hand.
“Shhh. Shhh.” He almost whispered the words, his lips barely moved. It was more sigh than speech. “Shhh. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I did that stupid dive. You told me, you told me. I’m so sorry.”
There we were. I bent into him, pressed my cheek to his, our tears mingling, our barely whispered words slipping into souls that clung to one thing, the same thing, the only thing: we were still together, we still loved each other. Together.
It would be all right.

Iguanas

I just returned from a vacation in Cancun, Mexico. It was my first trip to Mexico and I had a great time. Except…I was surrounded by iguanas! All those big and little lizards  reminded of an essay I wrote a few years ago about an eerie experience with an iguana, one that continues to haunt me !

Here it is:

The Night of the Iguana – Apologies to Tennessee Williams

The iguana sat on my nightstand, blinking his glowing red eyes at me. I could see that he was green and about the length of my hand. His long tail curled across the face of my clock radio. 2:32 A.M. glowed in the dark. Another night of interrupted sleep.

Wait. An iguana?

I live in Saratoga County, not Mexico. What the hell is an iguana doing in my bedroom? This can’t be right. I closed my eyes and blinked. When I opened them, the iguana was still staring at me, his little lizard tongue flicking in and out of his mouth. He was smiling at me.

I knew in my rational mind that there was no way an iguana could be in my room. It was summer, hot and humid, but the house was closed up tight, cool from the central air that ran non-stop from May to October. Too cool for an iguana’s comfort, although the little guy didn’t seem to be shivering. I looked again. He was just sitting on my radio, grinning his little iguana grin at me and staring.

Okay. I wondered if he had been living in the sewer and had climbed up through the toilet like those baby alligators that Jewish grandparents used to bring home from Florida to their grand-kids in the New York City in the 1960’s. The same alligators that got flushed down countless toilets by un-amused parents and grew to mammoth size in the City’s sewers. This is ridiculous. Who flushes iguanas down the toilet in Clifton Park? And how would it get in my sewer line and climb up into my toilet? Besides, my toilet seat and cover were always in the down position. Could an iguana slip through the gap between the seat and the bowl? Not likely. Maybe it came up into the kid’s bathroom; Ben never put the seat down, much less the cover.

I glanced over at the iguana. He hadn’t moved. He was a lovely lime green with purplish shading on his back and down his long tail. His eyes were beginning to bother me, though. They were glow-in-the-dark-red, like vampire eyes. I didn’t think iguanas had red eyes, except the fake ones.

Maybe it was a fake iguana. I could have reached out to touch it but I didn’t want to scare it and make it dash away under the bed or in my closet where I would never be able to capture him. Moving slowly, I climbed out of the other side of the bed and tiptoed to the door. I quietly eased my bedroom door open, slipped through and closed it quickly. A light glowed softly through the partially open door of my daughter’s bedroom at the end of the hall. Salvation!

Even though it was the middle of the night, Leah was up reading. She could more easily do without sleep than she could do without reading in bed at night. She looked up as I sidled into her room, already embarrassed.

“Mom, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Then what? It’s almost three in the morning.”

“It’s no big deal. But, there’s an iguana in my room. Sitting on my nightstand.”

Her eyebrows flew up.

“Really.”

“Mom, there aren’t any iguanas in Clifton Park.”

“I know that. But, there is an iguana on my nightstand and I want you to go check it out.”

“Mom, what drugs did you take tonight?”

“Leah, I took two damn Tylenol. This is not a drug-induced hallucination; it’s a god damn iguana.”

“But, Mom….”

“Leah, just go and see if the iguana is still there. Don’t scare it, don’t turn on the lights, just look at it and tell me if it’s still on my nightstand. Just do it for me. Please.”

“All right.” She sighed in that way that almost adult children have when dealing with an unreasonable parent. That sigh that says “She’s going round the bend faster than I thought she would, I’ll be changing her diapers soon.”

I waited in her bedroom as she went down the hall. I swear she was giggling.
I heard the door to my bedroom open and close. I waited for her shriek. Nothing.
She came back down the hallway.

“Mom,” she said, trying to keep a straight face. “There’s nothing on your nightstand except your clock radio. I looked all over. There’s nothing anywhere in there except Alex.”

The dog. I had forgotten about the dog. Obviously, if there was an iguana lurking about the room, the family Labrador Retriever would have taken notice.

Wait.

“Alex sat and looked at the chipmunk that was on the mantle that summer and never even barked. He never even saw the damn thing until I found it dead in the basement. He’s not a hunter.”

“He’s not. But he is sound asleep on your bed, Mom. There’s no damn iguana in your room.”

“Okay. Fine.” I said stiffly. “Thank you for looking.” I turned to leave.

“Mom, do you want me to sit with you until you fall asleep?”

The final humiliation, my daughter tucking me into bed. No, thank you!

I went back to bed, uneasily averting my eyes from the nightstand. The empty nightstand. My sly, slimy friend had disappeared.

Not really. He has become the stuff of family legends. My daughter hastened to inform her brother the very next morning. I could tell from the whispers and giggles that they were planning my almost immediate committal in Four Winds.

The next holiday, iguana earrings made their appearance. Followed over the years by iguana pictures, magnets and a really lovely iguana bracelet. All presented with some affection and much tittering.

The iguana last appeared at the Passover Seder a few years ago when my children entertained my friend and her ENTIRE family – I’m talking siblings, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws – with the tale of the iguana. My friend and her family didn’t giggle or titter. No, there was mass hysteria with floods of tears.

Now, I get iguanas from them, too.

If I ever see that little sucker again, I’m having him stuffed.

Pink iguana

New Year

My usual New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. But, after abdominal surgery in September, that resolution is unnecessary. The weight keeps dropping off me and I have another surgery scheduled in January.
My resolution for 2014 is to live, just live. And to take care of myself. I joined AARP this morning, something I have been meaning to do since I turned 55, five years ago. This morning, I announced to the world on Facebook that I had promised myself to finally begin my life-long goal of climbing all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks. And I made plans with an old friend to do it.
I went out this afternoon to run the last few errands of 2013. I stopped by the pharmacy to pick up some Alleve for my arthritis and for the first-time bought moisturizer in an anti-wrinkle formula. At least I can do something about the wrinkles now bracketing my smile.
My stop at Parkwood Wines garnered two small bottles of Proseco for our toast this evening. I reluctantly passed on the Peach Moonshine next to the cash register. No hard liquor for me now.
I went to the Meat Market to pick up a good quality roast to make for New Year’s Day. And bought some excellent milk while I was there. All part of my plan to eat the best quality food I can afford, and to make sure I can afford the best quality.
At Staples, instead of the industrial strength, plain desk calendar I usually get for $7.99, I bought the Claude Monet illustrated desk calendar for $10.69. The illustration for November 2014 is my favorite, Houses of Parliament. It reminds me of my 21st year, spent in the basement of the House of Commons, writing letters to constituents for the Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party during what was the best summer of my life.
Finally, I stopped into Oliva! to buy some lemon infused olive oil. The shop specializes in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I had never been inside before but I had used all of the lemon olive oil my daughter had given me during the summer. I figured an olive oil specialty store would surely carry it. The woman at the check-out was chatting with a customer as I filled a small bottle with the lemon-infused oil. I heard her tell the other woman that she had survived breast cancer this year. The other woman hugged her. I asked if I could hug her too.
We shared our cancer experiences as she rang me up. Then we segued into other topics. We ended the conversation as “new” friends and promises of book signings, sequels and olive oil tastings.
I took charge this morning. I promised myself to do more for myself and to be more aware of life. As the sun sets now on 2013, I have a smile on my face, plans for new adventures and a sense that life is good and may soon be better. That is my resolution this year and my wish for you.

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

I miss Christmas. Each year I’ve missed Christmas a little but this year I miss it a lot. I converted to Judaism over 32 years ago after being a lapsed Catholic for at least a decade and the only thing I regretted about my decision was giving up Christmas. My husband, an ultra-Reform Jew, was fine with us continuing to have a Christmas tree and making dozens of Christmas cookies. But, I am an “all-or-nothing” personality so I decided if I was Jewish, he was Jewish, and our newborn daughter was Jewish, we would forego Christmas at our house. It was no great hardship because we spent Christmas at my parents’ house and my parents, like Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of “A Christmas Carol,” knew how to keep Christmas.
No artificial trees there. My father every year bought a real tree, the very best tree he could find as long as it was the cheapest tree on the lot. Some of our trees made Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree look like the tree at Rockefeller Center. It was always a Scotch pine because my dad liked the scent and my mom liked the big needles. Our tree was covered with lights, ornaments and tinsel. Not garlands, but individual strands of “icicle” tinsel, applied one by one by me or tossed haphazardly by my mom and sister. On the round table in front of the living room’s picture window sat the family Nativity set. It was a collection of pieces from various sets that had been used over the years. As a result, there were extra sheperds, Five Kings and half a dozen baby Jesus figurines to choose from. Depending on who set up the Nativity, every one of them might have made an appearance.
Christmas cards were taped, at a diagonal, along the arches that separated the living room from the middle room and the middle room from the kitchen. In front of the picture window in the middle room, was a small china chest. On top resided the ceramic Christmas tree made by someone at Home Bureau or Ceramics Class, with the tiny lights that were powered by the white electric cord that hung from the back. Sometimes the tree sat on a doily, sometimes it nestled amidst a sheet of fluffy fake snow with glitter. The large shallow oval basket that was the home of the family Easter candy display was brought into service at Christmas as the kitchen table centerpiece. Filled with boughs left over from the Christmas tree, pine cones of indeterminate age that had been sprayed with white paint and sprinkled with glitter at some long-forgotten crafts class were tucked into the boughs. In the center was a large glass cylinder, painted gold and covered with gold sequins inside which was the remnant of a white pillar candle that was lit for a few hours every Christmas Eve. The candle was probably a decade old, since it burned only about a quarter inch or so every year.
The kitchen counters were covered with pies. My mom was the best pie baker in the world and she made dozens of pies at Christmas for gifts and for family consumption. Everyone’s favorite pie would be available: my dad’s apple two crust pie, the apricot pie favored by my sister, my baby brother’s apple crumb pie, pecan pie for Uncle Frank, cherry pie for Mom and two pies for me – mincemeat and raspberry. Mom would always give me two small slices, warmed up, with vanilla ice cream on the top late on Christmas Eve after everyone else had gone to bed. It was our ritual to eat pie and drink tea while we watched “The Bells of St. Mary’s” as I put out gifts from Santa for my children.
Christmas Eve was our big celebration, started when we were small and my grandparents were still alive. They would arrive with Uncle Frank and a cardboard refrigerator box from my Dad’s store full of gifts for all. We exchanged family gifts then so our grandparents would not have to be up early on Christmas Day to see us open our presents. Christmas Day was strictly for presents from Santa. We kept that tradition long after my grandparents passed away.
Christmas Eve dinner was ham, scalloped potatoes, Jello mold with cranberries and sour cream, frozen salad and my macaroni and cheese. I was the Christmas Eve Jew. With the advent of anticipated Mass at 5:30 pm on Christmas Eve, my mother abandoned her attendance at High Mass on Christmas morning. With all the Catholics in the family, and sometimes my children, going to Mass in the midst of dinner preparation, the task fell to me and my husband, while he was alive. He carved the ham while I set up the buffet and put out the cut glass bowls my mother used only on Christmas and Easter. By the time the family returned from church, dinner was ready. My mother once remarked that it was a good thing my conversion had coincided with the creation of the Christmas Eve Mass or we would not have been able to eat until 8:00 PM.
Uncle Frank was my mother’s brother. He was blind and lived in their family home, around the corner and down the block on Main Street. He was a welcome fixture at every family celebration, except Christmas Eve. Presents could not be opened until dinner was over and dinner was not over until dessert had been served and consumed. And Uncle Frank loved dessert. He might have my mother repeat the available selections for me two or three times. He would waffle about his choices, finally selecting a piece of apple, a piece of mince and a little slice of pecan, with whipped cream. He savored every bite as one or another of the grandchildren slipped into the kitchen from the living room, surveyed his plate and scurried back to the others, announcing in an exasperated whisper “He still has the pecan pie to go and he just asked if there was cherry pie!”
In the living room, the children were kneeling before the tree, nudging packages, examining gift tags, surreptitiously shaking a package (there was a strict ban against this) and looking in the tree branches for the dreaded white envelope from my mother. Every year, my mother misplaced at least one present. The recipient would find a note on the tree: “Dear —, I got you a wonderful present but I can’t remember where I hid it. I am sure that once the holiday is over, I will find it. Merry Christmas! Love, Nan and Pop.” The gift was usually found before Easter; once or twice, it did not make its appearance until the following Christmas. Some years there were three or four envelopes, one year two were addressed to me! But one envelope contained my subscription to Adirondack Life magazine, so I didn’t mind too much.
Presents were handed out by one of the adult children until the grandchildren were old enough to take over that task. Each gift was to be opened before another was distributed – that usually lasted for about three gifts, then there was a free-for-all. Paper and bows flew as some ripped through every gift barely pausing to examine one before moving to the next. Some of us let our pile grow and then opened each one carefully, after all the excitement had died down.
Christmas Day was for rising early to see what Santa had brought. As a child, I rarely slept on Christmas Eve, waiting for the first glimmer of light to peak through my bedroom window. We were not allowed downstairs until the sun was up, usually around 7:30 AM. Often, I would sneak downstairs in the middle of night, feeling my way around the piles of gifts (Santa did not wrap the gifts he delivered to our house) to discover Betsy Wetsy or the new Barbie or figure skates.
As an adult, I was up even earlier to savor the quiet of the morning, to turn the tree lights back on and to make a strong cup of tea before the children came tumbling down the stairs. My morning would then be occupied with building whatever Lego structure my son had received and pairing the right shoes with the right ensemble for Barbie or Glamor Girls or the punk rock dolls that replaced them.
Christmas dinner at mid-day was always roast beef and browned potatoes. Christmas was a slow day with ample time to enjoy the festive meal and decorations in the house, grab a short walk around the block or a quick slide down the sledding hill at the end of the street and a blissful nap.
Dad died in 1995 and Mom passed away in 2006. It has been a long time since I celebrated Christmas. Usually Hanukkah coincides with the holiday so I can festoon my house with my own decorations, make my own holiday treats and fill the void. But this year, Hanukkah preceded Thanksgiving by a day and was over before many people had even begun to shop or decorate for Christmas. And this year, certain complications with my health have precluded me from my usual frenzy of holiday shopping, baking and partying.
My daughter will be home for Christmas. We will take in a movie and eat Chinese food as we have done for the last six years. But, I will be missing mince pie, Bing Crosby and my mom, a little more this year than before.

Autumn

I turned 60 in April. As the season of rebirth was beginning, I entered this new decade with a spirit of change and growth taking root in me. I was determined to make it a productive and prosperous time.
I embarked on a plan to shed, finally, the pounds that had been weighing me down both physically and mentally. Additional exercise was not a real option given my torn rotator cuff and the impending surgery to repair it. So I instead carved carbohydrates out of my diet and began a plan that emphasized protein and vegetables…lots and lots of vegetables…and lentils, nuts and beans. Pounds started melting off my body, my energy level was up, my sleep improved and my digestive system was on much more solid ground.
By August 1, the day before my rotator cuff surgery, I had dropped several pounds. The number was not important to me because I was feeling so much better than I had before the “no-carb” diet. The surgery was more extensive than the surgeon had thought it would be and my recovery time was extended, as was the start of physical therapy. Still, I was not discouraged. I was regaining my independence within a week from the surgery; I was even painting. My friends and family were by my side to help me on every level and complimented me on my swift recovery and excellent attitude.
Three weeks out and I was faltering. A slight temperature weakened me and intermittent queasiness destroyed my appetite. In less than a week I lost seven more pounds. Perhaps I had done too much too soon, I thought. My friends assured me that I had not. Perhaps it was a post-operative infection. That idea was sharply dismissed by my orthopedist. Perhaps it was a bladder or urinary tract infection picked up at the surgical center. A visit to my internist on August 30 resulted in a negative to that notion. Blood was drawn to determine if there was some other area of infection but, my doctor told me, “It could just be a summer virus.”
Four hours later, curled into the fetal position on my bed, almost breathless from the intense abdominal pain, I knew it was not some seasonal ailment. The EMTs who answered my 911 call, family and friends who came running to my aid, agreed that it really was something. Mercifully, a shot of morphine left me caring very little what it was, as long as “it” could be diagnosed and fixed.
By midnight, we had the answer: diverticulitis, causing an abscess on my colon and two other pockets of infection. The cautious route was chosen and I was put on IV anti-biotics for the next ten days. I lived on ice chips. Glucose, saline and antibiotics ran through a spaghetti of tubes into my upper right arm. My left arm was immobilized. I drifted in and out of a pain-killer induced haze, sometimes coherent and chatty, sometimes withdrawn and without recognition of the visitors who came often to my room. My daughter did not leave my side, my brother visited every night.
I could feel myself getting worse, fading away, suddenly afraid. The decision to operate was welcomed by me, after those debilitating ten days. Surgery removed the abscess and one pocket of infection; the other was slowly being removed by a drain in my belly. A crooked line of twenty-eight staples marched from my pubic bone up to and through my navel. And, a tube was down my nose into my abdomen to drain fluids from my gut. Eight more days of ice chips and diarrhea the likes of which neither my nurses nor I had ever seen. In the midst of my recovery, my son arrived. After four days with me, he witnessed the removal of the tube from my nose, remarking afterward “Where did you get cheekbones, Mom?” Friends tolerated glimpses of my tush as I moved frequently from bed to bathroom, making only kind remarks about my lank hair, pale skin and sagging flesh.
Finally, 21 days after I was hospitalized ,I was released to a rehabilitation center, Daughters of Sarah. There, I was greeted with a private room, my own bathroom, air-conditioning and matzo ball soup. The food and therapy, sleep and care, brought me to the point where I could walk, wash and dress. After 14 days, the staples and the drain were removed. Six days later, they let me come home. More surgery is likely to take place after the first of the year to remove the four to ten centimeters of colon that instigated the attack. I will not be sorry to see it go, though I dread another surgery.
October was a surprise to me as I was driven home. When I entered the hospital, the hazy heat of late August was upon us. When I came home, a chill was in the air and the leaves were almost past peak, their colors were yellow and russet. No bright reds, no deep greens hanging on till frost shocked them into gold.
The time of my release was appropriate. As I drove by myself for the first time on October 16, on the back roads I was struck by colors of the season. The landscape was a palette of muted tones: beiges and browns, ombre, ochre and gray. The trees were more bare than leafy. The fallen leaves lay in slightly sodden piles. The fields were barren of produce; almost colorless corn stalks swayed in loose columns as the brisk breeze blew through and around them. I could almost hear the sap of the trees drawing in and down, to hide inside, to wait. Nature was turning in upon itself, husbanding its resources for the coming dead of winter.
Last Spring, with the advent of rebirth, I decided to reinvent myself. But with Autumn’s preparation for the coming onslaught of cold and dark, I, too, feel the need to conserve and protect. My focus now is on myself. Each day is a challenge of building my strength while conserving my energy, eating enough to rebuild muscle but not gain weight, performing my daily tasks and trying each day to do a little more, but not taking on too much.
I am autumnal too. I am beige and grey now. I will be hibernating, waiting for next Spring, to sow the seeds of new projects and plans. I am husbanding my resources, preparing for surgery, rehabilitation and more and more physical therapy. I know that I will survive and succeed, with my family and friends. But now is the time to gather strength and hold it inside.
I will weather the winter, safe in my surroundings, and await the Spring.
Autumn

July 10, 1988

The morning began with a discussion of a new bed for Mitchell. The doctors wanted Mitch in a bed that was compartmentalized for his legs and arms and head, covered in nylon like a rain jacket and slowly rotated 45 degrees in each direction. It was an experimental bed and its purpose was to keep fluids from settling anywhere, especially his lungs, and to keep him from getting bed sores. As always, I consulted with the patient, much to the consternation of his doctors. I kept getting the feeling that they thought Mitch’s brain was paralyzed too. They would have known better if they had heard his instructions throughout the day, issued through lips blocked by an intubation tube and in a non-existent whisper because his vocal chords were paralyzed.
“Call Darcy and have her reschedule my court appearance for Tuesday. Tell her to get Joe to handle my closing on Wednesday if he can. Get Donnie to go to court for me in Halfmoon this week. Tell Darcy to call Family Court in Ballston Spa and get adjournments without date for anything going on up there.”
I took notes on any piece of paper I could find, prescription pads, napkins, envelopes. I still had very few supplies or personal property with me, only what my sister’s husband had brought from Malone. My in-laws were bringing me some things from my house where they had spent Saturday night. I finally got a room on the Nursing Home floor in the hospital so I could be available at anytime for Mitchell. I had not seen m y children since Friday, although we spoke every day.
There was tingling in his hands and his feet. I thought his finger twitched. I had hope. The morning was spent organizing, setting up a base at CVPH. I had made my decision that I would stay there with Mitchell until he went home or to another facility. My kids were safe at my parents for the time being. I had enough sick, personal and vacation leave to be out of work for a month. Our health insurance was good insurance through my policy with the State. The experimental bed was covered. Everything would be okay.
Then his parents arrived. The blast of unexpressed anger from his father almost flattened me. The guilt that his mother almost immediately heaped on me is a burden I still bear. I tried to imagine how I would feel if one of my children was lying in a bed, almost completely paralyzed and to feel sympathy for them. I couldn’t. I felt anger and resentment from their actual and implied criticisms of everything from my plan for my kids to the rural and, therefore, inadequate hospital where he was being treated. Obviously, it was all my fault.
And, sadly, it was. If he hadn’t married me, he wouldn’t have been at my family reunion and he would not have jumped in my sister’s pool in the boonies of Northern New York, far from speedy emergency response and cutting edge medical care. That Mitchell had been cannon-balling into pools since at least the age of 12 was ignored by everyone, except Mitchell. He blamed me for nothing after that first morning.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted. I was demoralized. I was terrified.
Around 2:00 a.m., I pulled a sweatshirt over my nightgown and took the elevator down to the second floor Intensive Care Unit. It was quiet when I pushed open the door from the empty waiting room. I walked quietly around the back of the nurses’ station to Mitch’s cubicle. The shift had changed at 11:00 p.m. Some nurses in raspberry scrubs were sitting on high swivel chairs at patient tables, writing reports. But three were gathered around my husband’s bed. My gut clenched. What was wrong now?!
Before I could give voice to my alarm, one nurse turned to the other two and whispered,
“I told you he had the most long curly gorgeous eyelashes you would ever see.”
“I didn’t believe you. They’re amazing.”
“And his eyes are the most beautiful shade of brown and gold.”
“And he belongs to me,” I said as I moved to the foot of the bed. They all smiled at me. The nurse who had spoken first laid her hand on mine and squeezed. Then she said, “Yes, he does. And you are so lucky.”
Yes, I was so lucky to have him, but would I be lucky enough to keep him?

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