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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com

Monday, 19 March 2012

A journey into Darkness

Cynthia Joan Weaver
Through the windscreen of the Dodge Shelby, the names of previously unknown towns and a few I recognised from the John Steinbeck novels of my youth offer themselves in a line and pass by as we sweep southwards along Highway 101 in California.  Gilroy followed by Steinbeck’s birthplace, Salinas, is followed by Soledad, in turn followed by King City and onward I drive.  Spanish names, Atascadero, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Santa Maria, Los Alamos and Los Olivos tumble past in a blur. 

Then Solvang, exit left appears, Danish, in California? The name fixes itself somewhere deeper in my mind for later recall.  Any conversation from my companions has long finished; slumbering as they are, unaware and therefore unconcerned at the speed I am driving, which would get me stopped in any country apart, from Germany probably, but especially in America; freeway speed limit 55 mph, my speed 80 to 100 mph.

A little over 3 hours ago I was naked and dripping wet, standing at my bathroom door, more or less knowing the phone call from Tammy’s dad has something to do with mum.  Mark is stood in the hallway with a look on his face that says “I am your best friend, I am here and you are going to be OK”.  Behind me, Tammy is naked and in the shower, the water running, the room full of steam.  Dave our flatmate is stood just behind Mark, the phone in his hand.  I turn my gaze from Mark and drying my hand with a towel take the phone from Dave and say “Hello” to Tammy’s father Steve.
“Jonathan, I have just taken a call from Sandra, (Tammy’s Mother) your mum had a heart attack in the hotel room and has been taken to hospital in Santa Barbara.  I am going to give you a phone number for the hospital; it’s the St Francis Hospital”, I listened to him giving me the number but could not concentrate, so passed the phone to Dave and asked him to write it down.  I sat on the floor in the hallway and said “What am I going to do?”  Not to anyone in particular, more a question to myself.  Mark sprang into action saying “we’ll drive down there!”  My reply was along the lines of “not in our car, it’s a piece of shit”.  Dave said he would take us but he had to work and I wondered whether we could hire a car.
Mark went off to make some calls and I went back into the bathroom to dry off and get dressed.  Dave made coffee.  It was well after eleven PM and the only car hire offices open were at San Francisco Airport.  I called the number for the St Francis Hospital, got through to the Emergency Room and spoke to a male nurse there. Mum was in good hands, was being monitored and was under control, for now.  I should travel down as soon as possible.  
I asked the guy for directions.  “Where are you coming from?” he asked.  I told him San Mateo and that I would use Highway 101.  “Ok then” he said, “drive south on 101 to Exit 99, turn left onto Mission St, then right onto Garden Street and then left onto East Micheltorena Street.  The hospital is on your left”. 
Simple really, just drive for 304 miles, take a left, a right, another left, boom, you’re there!  5 easy steps to get to my mum!

As I hung up, the phone rang, it was Big Bad Bob, Marks Karate buddy.  This guy was, as Mark recently told me, as tight as a ducks ass, he’d nickel and dime you over a restaurant bill.  He called to offer us his Dodge Shelby.  No questions asked and based upon nothing more than being Marks friend and an acquaintance of mine; the guy gave up his pride and joy.  This car was a 2.2 Litre turbo mental case, which went like stink off a turd and scared many who drove it.  We thanked Bob and he was at our door within 15 minutes and Dave ran him home after we had left. 
He neither gave instructions nor veiled threats as to the wounds to be suffered, should we damage his baby, only that it drank gas and simply to wish my mum a quick recovery.

Mark called Paul and Shirley, told them what had happened and that we’d update them later, once we knew what was happening with mum.  Tammy insisted on coming along with Mark and I and Mark insisted on driving, as I “might kill us all, as you’re fucking stressed out mate”.  We threw together the bare essentials, toiletries, change of clothes, under crackers and socks, pants and t-shirts etc, dropped into Tammy’s on the way for her to pack a bag and we were off.  The car was filled with nervous chatter as Mark drove south.  We decided we were all hungry and as the car needed fuelling up, pulled into a service station in the town Morgan Hill.  Mark gassed her up and Tammy and I went to pay for the fuel and get coffee and Twinkies, Donuts, Pastries and potato chips.

We came out to find Mark climbing into the back seat of the car.  “Sorry mate, I am knackered already, you will have to drive”.  What a fanny! But, that was fine by me and with Tammy holding my coffee, off we sped.  Mark was soon asleep and after a few more miles, Tammy was asleep too.  I focused on the road and as I was too wired on caffeine and nervous energy, barely noticed the miles passing under the wheels of the Dodge.  The three hundred odd miles passed by in a matter of four hours or so, and we swung into the car park of the hospital and walked into the ER a little after four in the morning. 

The nurse on duty sent us to the Cardiology ward and we emptied out of the elevator onto a darkened floor, low level lighting guiding us towards the nurses’ station.  I told the nurse there my name and that of my mother and she called another nurse over.  This lady took us into a side room, sat us down and left to get a doctor.  The Doctor came in, he looked not unlike a film star; late thirties, neatly combed hair, tall, tanned and good looking came in, followed by the nurse.  He introduced himself as Doctor Blaine Braniff, Cardiologist. 

Sandra came into the room just as he started speaking, rushed over to me, crying and hugging me, saying she was sorry, it was her fault, she should have noticed something was wrong.  Tammy stood up and took her mum out of the room and Dr Braniff started again.  After introductions, again, he said that it appeared from the initial tests that mum had suffered a number of heart attacks over the last few days, and that earlier today she had suffered an “acute myocardial infarction” (Heart Attack). 

She had been brought to the hospital by ambulance, and during the journey had been resuscitated a number of times using a defibrillator.  She had been administered that procedure both in her hotel room by the paramedics, again in the ambulance and a couple of more times in the ER, where she had then undergone a series of tests, once her heart beat had normalised.  She was very ill and the next 48 hours would be critical.

“Oh” I said, “can I see her”.  In fact, I was crying my eyes out whilst saying this and spent some time sitting with Mark, Dr Braniff and the nurse as he asked me questions to determine what might have been the cause.  I talked about my dad, his heart attack and subsequent death, about mum’s diet; her pain leading up to the trip to Santa Barbara, my brothers and sister, our family history and anything else that seemed relevant.  Mum had been sedated, he said, but I could see her and leaving Mark with the nurse, Tammy and her mum, Dr Braniff and I walked down the corridor to my mum’s room.

Her door was slightly ajar, Dr Braniff pushed it open and I walked past him and into the room.  Dr Braniff stood by the door and I walked over to her bed.  For a while I stood listening to her breathing, the beeps and whirrs of the machinery monitoring her and began noticing how weak and frail she looked.  The only light in the room was coming from the various machines and their readout screens, each casting a pale blue, red or green glow across the floor and bedclothes. 
A small yellow lamp on a telescopic arm, leaning over the bed like an angel, watching, waiting quietly. 
I touched her hand, it was noticeably colder than mine, the bedclothes reached her waist and she wore a thin hospital nightgown, so I gathered the sheets and drew them up towards her chest, trying not to disturb the legion of wires, trailing out from her body and arms.

 Her eyes were closed and she appeared peaceful and resting, no sign of the struggle for life, the battles fought by unknown medics, no horrid marks showing, except for needle entry points and a cannula in the back of her hand.  Her hair was a mess though; she’d be angry about that I thought, I noticed how thin her hair looked, wiry and swept in all directions.  I turned to the doctor about to speak, I was crying silently, but huge sobs started to build in me, I felt them rise, fought to hold them back, failed and a wail came from me, a noise I had never made before, almost primeval, made worse by the attempts to restrain it, animal and loud, so deep and guttural that it hurt my stomach to make such a noise.  I sank to my knees, trying to breathe in, but the noise was still coming out and coming and growing and growing. 

Cynthia Joan Weaver 5 years old
I put my hands flat on the floor and wailed out that noise, thinking about the other patients, I’d wake them, wake mum, make people worry, got to stop, can’t stop, where is it coming from, my guts hurt, can’t breathe. 

I saw my sister Helen and my brothers Mark, Richard and Julian, they had to be told, how to tell them, what to say, I was gasping for breath. 

Arms pick me up, help me into a chair, pass me tissues, stroke my hair, rub my hands, soothe with words and I fall into regular sobs, deep but regular, able to breathe but unable to speak, just crying and crying for my mum.

1 comment:

  1. And there was I, at home in my bed, completely unaware of the trauma you and mum were going through. Like we said though Johnny, if she was going to have that heart attack anywhere, the best place to have it was in the USA. Excellently told. Can't say I love it for obvious reasons but carry on .... Love you for being so brave xxx Big Sis