By Tracy M
The snow crunches under her tires as she pulls into the Grandmother’s driveway, and the children are out of their seat-belts before she has turned off the engine. The Grandmother has volunteered to host a supervised visit so her children could see their father, and they are excited. The woman is fishing in her pocket for her keys and watching her footing on the icy walk, as the children tumble ahead, a flurry of boots, scarves and dropped mittens.
The Grandmother flings open the door, and her flushed face and wide eyes show panic as she calls out to the woman over the heads of the boisterous children. “Something’s wrong! Come, I don’t know what… He’s fallen… in the hallway..!”
“What? What? Where? Keep the kids here…” the woman pushes past the children and runs toward the back of the house. In the back hallway, her ex-husband is on the floor, trembling and spasming in the throes of what looks like a giant seizure. His mouth and face are bloody, and his eyes are rolled back in his head, as his body convulses over and over. “Keep the kids away! Call 911!” she cries over her shoulder, adrenaline now coursing through her.
Somewhere over her right shoulder the Grandmother thrusts an iPhone, but she has misdialed and cannot figure out how to erase the numbers. The woman fumbles in her coat pocket to find her own phone, and punches the numbers in with shaking fingers. The children are crowding behind the Grandmother and want to see. “Keep them in the living room! Please!” The man thrashes still, and she doesn’t want this image burnt into her children’s memories.
“911 Operator, what’s your emergency?” the official voice comes on the line. They exchange information and within moments the sirens are outside and four firemen are making their way into the small house. The woman can step back and let people who know what they are doing take over, and she is relieved. One fireman asks her questions about the man, and she answers as best she can. She excuses herself to check her children.
They are in the front room, and ask if their dad is going to die. “No, I don’t think so, the firemen and ambulance are going to take him to the hospital now, and they’ll make sure to take care of him.” The words are bitter for her. She’s had to pretty up too many things for them lately, and she hates it. They are so innocent, and she balances being truthful with protecting them from things that will only hurt.
The paramedics move the man to a rolling gurney, and ask the woman to accompany them to the hospital. The man has stopped seizing, but is still unconscious and they need her to give his medical history to the doctors at the hospital. Her children watch, wide-eyed as the paramedics roll the man out of the house and into the waiting ambulance. She wishes she could hide their eyes. She tries to explain that she isn’t his wife any longer, but the grandmother offers to keep the children so the woman can follow the ambulance.
Kneeling down to hug her children, the woman explains that she must go to the hospital, but that she’ll return shortly to pick them up, and that the grandmother will make them a nice lunch while she is gone. Grabbing her coat and keys, she declines the offer to ride in the ambulance and follows in her own car to the hospital.
The man is gradually regaining consciousness. He is confused and has no memory of what happened, or why they are at the hospital. The triage nurse takes the woman in a cubical in the ER and begins gathering the man’s medical history.
No, no history of seizure. No. No. Addict. Yes. Hospitalized for prescription drug addiction two years ago. No. Prescription painkillers. Online. Yes. Yes. No. Started two years ago. Charts were marked. Yes. No. Divorced. Three.
The nurse thanks the woman, and leaves her standing in the hallway outside the man’s room while the nurses work on him. They get an iv drip going and he starts to come around more, and can begin to answer basic questions like his name. This is good, the nurses say. A male doctor approaches the woman, and extends his hand. She shakes it and looks at him quizzically. “You’re doing the right thing. If this doesn’t scare him, nothing will and next time he will be dead.” She doesn’t speak. She can’t.
It is noted by a nurse that the man had ingested eight times the suggested dosage of a particular painkiller that morning, along with a handful of other pills. The woman feels her knees go weak, and she sits in the flimsy metal chair in the hallway as the nurses hurry in and out. The man had told her he was not using drugs anymore. She consented to let him see the children. Had hoped he was telling the truth and was sober. And then this…
She gets up and gathers her things. She enters the small ER room, and sees the man hooked up to machines that softly beep and whir. He looks at her. She stands at the foot of the bed. He doesn’t remember what happened, so she tells him. She tells him his kids got to see him convulsing on the floor, bloodied from clamping down on his own tongue during a tonic-clonic seizure and that she needs to go get them now from his mother’s house, so she can try and explain their fears away. The room is cold, the silence punctuation by the soft whir of the blood pressure cuff on the man’s arm.
She is hard. She does not make any effort to comfort him. She wants him to feel the weight of what he has done. What if he’d been driving? What if she’d not been there? What if he’d had the kids alone? What if… what if… what if…
She cannot breathe. She tells him his mother will be up to stay with him, and that she is leaving.
The icy January air hits her like a clenched fist as she exits the sliding vestibule off the ER. Cold air fills her lungs, and she picks her way across the icy parking lot. The cold is welcome- bracing- and reminds her she is alive, and that there are three children waiting for their mother. A fierceness rises in her chest, thinking about her children. She will protect them. She will not allow this to happen again. This will never happen again.
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