July 4, 2005 - This entry is a year in the making. I've told the story countless times, but now it is time to actually post it. Enjoy.
I hope that my greatest fear in life will come true. I hope to one day be the overachiever that is my mother. I cannot possibly tell her that in person, because she would simply get the big head and there would be no living with her.
We’ve had a difficult summer here in the Bell house. Life had been going right on along as normal, or as normal as the Bell family can be. We were watching softball and baseball games. We shopped for clothes with the next generation of Bell females. Everything was going well until Mom couldn’t walk one day.
It is amazing how something can hit you so quickly. One day you’re standing on top of the world, the next day you are being poked and prodded by a physician who is ordering tests done and before you know it, there is an appointment with an Orthopedic Oncologist. We are grateful beyond meaning for words like “benign”, “negative”. Those words became music to us in a short couple of weeks.
Mom was diagnosed with some sort of mass under her knee. She had knee problems for years, and we truly do not know how long this has been around. Mom’s not one of those who makes a yearly appointment to a doctor. This fruit has not fallen far from the tree. But that is another matter. She was a brave trooper to have endured four different doctor visits and two sets of MRIs before the surgeon wanted to cut on her. She was solid when they wheeled her into the surgical ward and she didn’t have to stare at our somewhat solemn faces while we waited in the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s surgery waiting area with a few hundred of our closest friends.
John and I kept things light-hearted. That is our job. We are the comedians of the family. Earl can be pretty funny too… but he is usually the brunt of the jokes that John and I are wielding like light sabers. People in a surgical waiting room are typically not there for fun and games. This only eggs John and me on even more. If it’s going to be a long time… might as well get a few laughs in. My church friends understand that about us too. We generally amuse them if they care to join us for any length of time.
During Mom’s surgery John and I stared with increasing interest at a poor down-trodden soul who, we are fairly certain, suffers from narcolepsy. Not being trained physicians ourselves, we are not entirely certain of the fate of this gentleman… but we had a pretty good time trying to determine whether we needed to call the ER team in with a crash cart to revive the man who had slumped over by a telephone and either passed out or fallen asleep. Our mercy was obviously lacking that day. I suggested that we grab some popcorn and begin to make notes of the times that he would awaken and eagerly return to his blissful unconscious state. John would rather place bets on the time he was going to come fully awake. John’s a gambler… and I think a bit of a bookie. If he wasn’t such a good cheat, I might have put money on that with him. But I’ve known him my whole life, and he would have found a way to get around paying me off if I actually won anything from him.
We were excited and thrilled with Mom’s quick recovery and trip back home. She was excited too. She had physical therapy coming three times a week and she was back to her overachieving self as soon as she could make do. She was doing very well, right up until Friday. We had a bit of a set back on Friday.
Seems there was an infection creeping around in her system that no one could really see. Her pain medication contained acetaminophen, which was masking the effects of the infection. There was no mask though come Friday afternoon, July 1, 2005. Mom began running a fever that was dangerously high and she began shaking to the point that I could barely hold her down. The doctors later called her symptoms “Reigers”. So, a week after coming home, we were in an ambulance with a weepy and frightened 73 year old heading back to Vanderbilt. Mom’s fever spiked to 104.5 by the time we were at the hospital and she was quickly tended to by a highly qualified emergency room staff.
My friend Requelle came to join my brother, my father and I in the waiting room. She was great to have around… she became the audience that John and I so desperately needed. There was only one guest allowed in the ER with Mom at any given time, so we took turns coming and going through electronic doors. By 8:00 p.m., I told Requelle to head on home, because it was obvious that we were going to spend the night and there was no reason for her to stay. She needed to go let her dogs out anyway, so she bid us good night as she left the hospital.
At about 9:30, I was in the room with Mom when it became quite clear that the atmospheric pressure of the ER had changed. Suddenly there were doctors and nursing staffers running to and fro – there were police officers and EMT personnel all looking very grim and speaking in short, staccato-esque phrases. After a few minutes passed, we were told that the ER was locked down because there had been a gunshot wound brought in and the rumor was that the shooting was gang related.
As I watched the seconds turn into minutes, and the minutes into 30 minutes, I came to the realization that we were not going anywhere soon. The men of our family could not get in, and we could not get out. We got a message through to them to just head on home and they did so, while we waited for our time to be sent to a room. And then we waited. And then we waited some more. At about 11:30 pm I told her to get comfortable because we weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Logic told me that if the ER was shut down and they didn’t need the bay we were in, we’d just be sitting there. And sitting there some more.
A break in the monotony came when two med students popped in to take on the old lady and her symptoms. She’d had blood drawn (many vials) while in the ambulance and more drawn from the hospital personnel and these doctors needed to figure out the problem. One student was a man and the other was a woman. Mom took right kindly to the guy, but not the girl. Apparently the young lady was too “aggressive” and was spouting phrases like “elevated liver enzymes” and that just was not something my mother wanted to hear, in relation to herself. If it wasn’t a condition that was associated with the knee surgery, she was having no part of it.
Finally, as I suspected, a nurse stepped in to tell us we were being moved out because they needed the ER bay and had found a room for us. We were whisked out of the bay and there was a line-up of people waiting to be whisked into the ER. This is where we met Calvin.
Calvin was the orderly assigned to take us to our new home. Calvin was a very nice man and Calvin was doing his best. Of course, it is close to 2 a.m. and Mom and I are pretty slap-happy at this point. But Calvin was fun and had lots of energy, and that is just what you want when its 2 am and you’ve been in the ER since about 5:30 pm. Calvin has been given his orders on where to take us and OFF WE GO!
Vanderbilt Hospital is a teaching hospital, and is therefore rather large. There are many buildings on the property and there are a series of catacombs underneath the buildings connecting one to the other. Calvin is taking us back to the building that we had stayed in last week, and it is about a half-mile trek, up a hill to get from Point A to Point B. About mid-way up the longest slope, Calvin informs us that it is his first night on the job.
My blood turned to ice. As nice a fella as Calvin is… I knew in my heart of hearts that we were going the wrong way. I think Mom knew it too… as she kept glancing over at me, as I am huffing and puffing my way up the ramp. Finally we reach the elevator, and after some banging around (literally) Calvin, Mom and I are on the elevator and Calvin speaks these immortal words:
“Hit the button for the eighth floor.”
I looked at the control panel and calmly replied, “Calvin, there isn’t a number eight on this elevator.”
“Are you sure?”
I forced myself not to make my squinty cartoon eyes, but I began to count aloud as I pointed out the numbers, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven… Yep, that’s it. It stops at seven. Are you sure we need to go to eight?”
“Yes, ma’am. (Calvin was always polite) It says 8th floor north something-something tower.”
Silence. I look at Mom and she is looking at me and we’re still standing still on an elevator with the doors closed as Calvin ponders the situation. Then he speaks:
“I tell you what… just go ahead and hit the seventh floor. We’ll see what’s going on up there.”
The elevator empties out onto the seventh floor and Calvin wheels Mom out. He tells us not to go anywhere and he’ll be right back. Then he walks away. Walks. Away. I look at Mom and she is trying not to laugh too loudly because, well, it is close to 2:30 IN. THE. MORNING. And then, Calvin returns having visited the nurses' desk with his paper work and receiving his new set of directions. We get back on the elevator, we go back to the ground floor, and we head back on the half-mile trek through the catacombs. (If only it were dank and dark and Edgar Allen Poe’s Raven had made an appearance).
We found another set of elevators that we jumped on (after more banging and maneuvering of the gurney) and this one indeed did go to the eighth floor. We arrive on said floor and I remembered hearing that we were going to be in Room 230 of the North Tower. As we get off the elevator, a sign points to the Right for the North Tower and to the Left for the South Tower. We are in the North Tower. It only made sense that Calvin instead took Mom to the left. It was too much to bear this time. I had to stop him.
“Calvin… we need to go over here to the right. To the north tower.”
“Oh, no ma’am. We need to go this way.”
“I don’t think so Calvin. I really think we need to go this way”
“No, just follow me.”
“How about I just wait for you here?” And that is exactly what I did. I waved to my mother who was frantically turning around to see if I had truly abandoned her to Calvin’s misdirections again. I waited about two minutes when what to my wandering eyes would appear, but Calvin pushing my mother’s gurney back to the North Tower.
“You were right. I sure am sorry about this. You know it’s my first night here at Vanderbilt”.
“I know Calvin. You’re doing a great job. This is a big place to learn your way around in one night. Hang in there, and follow me.”
I led Calvin to our new room and he banged the gurney in through the door. By this time the Mom and I are so giddy from exhaustion that we can barely contain ourselves. The nurses would be in to help Calvin relocate the Mom from the gurney to the bed as soon as possible but Mom was ready to be off the very uncomfortable gurney. Calvin was attempting to lower the rails of the gurney to ease her over, but apparently Rail Maintenance 101 was not a course he had taken as yet. He couldn’t figure out how to lower the rail.
I’m not a doctor or a nurse, but I apparently play one on TV. I walked over and gave Calvin a quick lesson in how to lower the rail. Calvin mentioned that he should sign his first paycheck over to me because I apparently knew his job better than he did. I reassured him that it would become second nature to him in no time. Mom was through with talking and waiting on nurses. It was now 3 am. She was tired and hungry and had to go to the bathroom really, really bad. It didn’t matter that she’d just had knee surgery a week ago and could not walk yet. It didn’t matter that she’d had a raging temp of 104.5 just a few hours ago… this overachiever wanted in that bed and she DID NOT want Calvin’s assistance.
That Wonder Woman slung her leg off the gurney… bunny-hopped her way to the bed and lay down. Calvin left the room with an amazed look on his face and as soon as the door closed, we burst into laughter that we had held for about an hour.
The room that we were in was located just a few floors down from the hospital’s helicopter pad. There were many landings and lift-offs the next few days. One rather bumpy landing made me rather nervous, until Mom decided that Calvin must be on his first day behind the controls of the copter.
Oh, goodness, we laughed and laughed and laughed. Who knew that something as silly and trite as our hiking through the bowels of the hospital was just what the Great Physician ordered to lift our spirits? We will never forget Calvin… or the role he played in Mom’s recovery.