So when you look at me
you better look hard and look twice
Is that me baby or just a brilliant disguise
I may be a very slow learner and have almost set myself up for another WalMart trauma - maybe - just when I have barely processed the last trip. That little exercise in frustration and patience was just the beginning of an ‘interesting’ week. The 50 minute wait on line, the customer ahead of me who dropped the jar of olives. [Green olives, stuffed with pimentos, my olfactory nemesis - I OD’d on these at the age of five and still remember an afternoon spent vomiting and moaning and trying to explain what possessed me to eat the whole jar while eavesdropping on the conversation at a noon lunch at my grandfather’s house. That was fifty years ago and I still cannot eat anything off of a relish tray if it has been in contact with a green olive.] There were the olives, the shards of glass, the horrible ‘juice’ that exploded everywhere. And the absence of employees to perform a ‘wet cleanup’ in our aisle. After moving the olives and glass aside with our feet, a clerk from a nearby lane came to scoop up the big junks, throw down a collapsible Piso Mojado tent, and toss us a roll of paper towels to absorb the worst of the wetness before returning to his register. Did most of the personnel fail to show up for work because it was the first Bears game of the season? Or was it some sort of alien abduction?
And the two young women behind me, either lousy big sisters out shopping with their toddler brother or a dreadful teen mom and friend, both with minimal parenting skills who addressed their charge's whining and complaints (and this was a tough situation - a lot of us grown-ups wanted to cry and run away too!) with light slaps and nasty remarks. When the little fellow could take no more, they let him out of the cart to play....on the floor, where they were oblivious to the remaining shards of glass, unmoved when I tried to point out the pieces that I could not reach but a curious child could. As I tried to finish checking out, watching out for remaining glass, olives and wet wads of paper toweling, the toddler tried to run off, tripping on the Piso Mojado tent, making it twice as hard for me to keep an eye on my transactions, load my cart, and keep an eye on my purse in the one store where I feel extremely vulnerable leaving anything of mine in any way unattended. So, yes, I was a little tense by the time I left. The old sweatshirt that fell out of the car when I opened the back door made me let out a small scream; for a split-second sure that someone was lunging out of the car at me. Talk about being wound a little too tight.
Woe, to me, who thought that would be the worst part of my week. It did give me something to talk about at work the next morning. When someone asks, “How was your weekend?,” a funny take on the latest WalMart travails is a good conversation opener. This was a story too long to tell, simply abbreviated to “50 minutes on line, broken glass, green olives, hysterical shoppers.”
I am pretty open when it comes to sharing the funny. If it’s not funny, then I tend to close up. The saving grace I have received is that I tend to see just about everything as funny at some point. It must be a function of introversion that when something is difficult I like to keep it closed up. As much as I appreciate the prayers of others, I, for one, cannot function if people are asking me how it is going, mentioning me by name when we gather to pray at noon, group hugs etc. I absolutely wilt. Maybe it’s pride I’m battling,too. I like it when people are laughing at what I have to say, but if I feel the slightest bit of pity....something inside of me just dissolves.
I had a phone call on Monday afternoon. Rick and one of the boys had gone for physicals with a new doctor, necessitated by our change in insurance. I was expecting the usual run down of everything’s good, got our flu shots, etc. Instead, Rick told me the boy was rushed to the ER with blood pressure of 190/120 plus a fever. Shades of all Rick’s pheo troubles came rushing back. (Google it: pheochromocytoma. Long story short from my experience: Benign but it can be malignant. Can run in families Can kill you - look up Ernest Hemingway’s second wife. Can cause your family to unravel - at least at the edges.)
What could I do? Pray under my breath and keep working. Working 'til 5:00 when somebody had a car to come and pick me up, since our Jeep had reached the end of the line the week before. Sometimes I can be a little cold. Because to ask somebody for a ride home (or to the hospital) would be inconvenient, show a crack in the facade, and open me up to the pity.
I finally got to the hospital - feeling a bit unraveled already. Bad cell phone service had me hear that the boys temp was 109. I’m not a medical professional - but I’ve watched enough TV, read enough books and spent enough time kibitzing while Fran does her nursing school homework to know that you just don’t run a temp of 109. The brain dissolves around 107, right? After that I needed a moment to calm myself enough to drive, gathering the necessary computer gear that the patient - obviously without a melted brain - had requested for his amusement.
One of the the girls called me while I was still at home, and all I could understand were the words: panic, freaking out, can’t stand to be in the hospital. And I asked if he couldn’t be sedated until all the preliminary tests were done and was admitted. To which she responded, “No, not the boy, Dad. Dad is freaking out.” In his defense, this is a man who never did like hospitals, but always stepped up to the plate whether it was births or ER runs with sick children. But, having been through the pheo drill and coming perilously close to the abyss, so to speak, I can see why seeing his son in the same situation was rough.
Two sisters stayed with the boy while he was given a spinal tap to rule out the meningitis that was also suspected. Fran giving support from behind, while watching the procedure with her student’s analytical eye. Bridget held his hand and used her formidable thumb nail to create a distracting pain on his hand - a tattoo parlor trick, I believe. He came through the thing like the trooper he is. Complaining of pain is not part of his persona. (Though he says Bridget she may have done some short term nerve damage to his hand) This is a kid who bit all the way through his lip in a kindergarten playground accident and didn’t mention it to the teacher.
I relieved everyone and took my turn to wait at the ER. The ‘distraction circus’ could go home and I sat to wait on the meningitis diagnosis (negative!) and other tests. So far, so good. More tests will be needed, but we’re OK for now.
I stayed the night while the boy was still in the hospital - he doesn’t always communicate well. Doesn’t want to ask for much. And, unlike his mother, doesn’t want to ask a lot of questions. The chair I slept in could have passed for first class on many airlines, but the pillow kept slipping away and the room temp was kept low because of his fever. I was miserable and I liked it.
There was a time, long, long ago, when we put this “boy” in the hospital and it turned into a week in the one part of Children’s Memorial where parents are decidedly forbidden to stay the night. And it broke my heart. I’ve apologized over the years. He’s forgiven me, though he has a real aversion to discussing the subject. But still I felt that I owed this young man some penance. If I had had to try to sleep in that slippery, cold chair for a week, I would have done it.
I didn’t need to call a priest that night, though I texted my pastor and business manager, just to let them know that I might be late for work on Tuesday morning. A brief message asking for prayers and no discussion of the matter with anyone else. I had to reveal enough of myself to say that I can’t stand concern or pity. I did mention this also to one friend who would understand, who would keep us in her prayers, understand if my job performance would be a bit off, but not offer me an ounce of pity.
That’s a weird sort of pride that I’m working on: my British stuff upper lip, ice cold, keep moving and never let them see you sweat. I never try to portray my life or my family as perfect. I am open about our foibles, perhaps too open. But to let my facade crack, that just can’t happen. Gotta work on that.
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