We Want To Live – Chapter 4 – Family Drama

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Family Drama

Saturday afternoon, September 27th

I see Mom and Dad smiling, standing just beyond the crowd as I follow the procession through the terminal gate. Ever since Mom and Dad stopped worrying and began trusting me to make the right decisions for myself, I have been relaxed and happy to see them.

I’m surprised at how much they have aged since I saw them two years ago. Or does it seem more so because most of the people I see regularly are more or less on my type of diet? Raw diets slow down the normal aging process or reverse it altogether. (Gad, I wonder, would that have sounded pompous to anyone who hadn’t experienced it?)

Or do Mom and Dad look older because I have been reliving my past and remembering them much younger?

Dad looks - and always has looked - inherently physically stronger than Mom. I imagine him as a child on the dairy farm where he grew healthfully with fresh food, raw dairy products and hard work. He is definitely healthier than his father, who was raised in Brooklyn in the mid 1800’s when it was difficult to get fresh foods in large cities. Grandfather suffered crippling arthritis and strokes, and died in his sixties.

Amazingly, Mom’s wearing slacks. This is the first time she’s greeted me informally at an airport. I’m delighted she feels that relaxed. Looking into her eyes, I realize she has always had a stronger balanced will and more self-esteem than Dad. I deduce that’s because, as a girl, she successfully raised six of her twelve brothers and sisters while Viola, her mother, tended their drugstore where Mom’s father was the pharmacist.

Mom and I embrace and her hand automatically pats my back. I recall being an infant receiving that caring touch. Her perfume hides the nice smell of her body that I remember loving as an infant. Her salt-and pepper Orphan Annie hair tickles the side of my face and I giggle. The hug ends and I become an adult again, instantly.

I turn to Dad and see that his wavy gray hair still has a trace of black remaining. Apart from his large stomach he looks fitter than most of his peers. We hug and his squeeze feels encouraging, different from when I was a child. But, then, I can’t remember him hugging me after I was three. I was probably somewhat of an embarrassment to him. I think the first time he was unforgettably impressed with me was six years ago. He watched me give an eight-hour seminar on nutrition.

As we drive by downtown Cincinnati nothing looks familiar to me. I try to keep my mind from anxious thoughts about Jeff. I notice autumn settling in. The leaves are turning.

Ten miles farther, we pass the exit that would have taken us to Finneytown. I lived there from ages seven through eighteen.

I remember how grueling the cold weather was on me here. Like a hibernating bear, I would have slept through it if I could have. When I got a cold or flu, it lasted one to three months. Daily, I would fill two to five handkerchiefs until they were sopping wet. They made my pockets wet and me colder.

I realize how much I enjoy cold weather now that I am healthy. And when I get a cold or flu, it lasts only thirty minutes to three days.

“Is there a health food store on the way to the hospital?” I ask. “I’d like to buy some eggs, papayas and bananas.”

“I don’t know if they carry eggs,” Mom says apologetically.

“Could we stop and see, please?”

“Sure,” Dad encourages.

We do. They have eggs and the fruit I need.

Mom points to Mercy Hospital. It’s a small modern four-story building alone near the top of a green rolling hill. We pull into the parking lot. In a matter of moments we will be facing Jeff. I seem to be ready for the battle ahead. Surprisingly, I feel calm and strong. Maybe it is my years. Also, because I no longer see doctors as my enemy. Doctors have not had power over my mind and body for one and a half decades. But they see Jeff’s body as a battle ground. They are attacking it. I will defend him.

It dawns on me that Jeff is Mom and Dad’s first grandchild. I look at them and they look rigid, like foot soldiers wearing armor. They are protecting their feelings. I wonder if my wisdom and strength are enough to protect mine.

I leave my blender and food in the car and we walk toward the hospital. The smell of wet grass and drying pavement remind me of the damp day I entered a hospital for my first traumatic stay. A chill passes through me.

It was early spring, the week before my twelfth birthday. I had had a near fatal reaction to my final polio vaccine. [See Appendix D, page 132]
The vaccine caused an acute intestinal infection, “deadly” peritonitis. The doctors misdiagnosed my condition as appendicitis. I underwent emergency surgery. The doctors found my appendix normal. They removed it anyway. “In case it would cause you problems in the future,” the doctor said.

Now was the third night after my appendectomy. The doctors hadn’t properly diagnosed my problem. They never did. I still had fevers of 104-106°. They packed me in ice - an agonizing process - to bring down the fever and prevent brain damage. I was in tremendous pain from the shots I received every three hours for infection or pain. Already I had had eight shots in each arm, seven high in the left gluteus maximus and eight high in the right.

I was sore on all sides. My front had surgery soreness and peritoneal pain. My left, right and back sides had the injection soreness. I wasn’t able to lie on any side without severe pain. I couldn’t sleep more than fifteen minutes before the pained area exceeded the painkiller’s influence. I had to turn onto another side. My sleep was irregular and sparse. There was no escaping pain or the hospital.

It was 10 p.m. when the nurse entered with her tray and needle. She rolled me on to my right side. It hurt and I screamed. I pleaded for her not to inject me again.

“It’s for your own good,” she preached and scolded.

I watched the needle coming toward my bottom. I used every measure of energy I had to turn and knock the syringe out of her hand. The syringe hurled through space twisting and turning as if in slow motion. In my imagination I heard a wonderful crescendo of music. The nurse lifted the syringe, wiped the floor and left. I fell asleep only slightly more relaxed.

In deep sleep my hip began to burn and cramp. I remember thinking, I am not sleeping on my back, nor on that hip, why is there that much pain? The pain increased.

I woke and felt the last fluid of an injection entering my hip. I cried, “The medicines aren’t working! You’re killing me! You’re making the pain worse and worse.” The nurse gave me a disbelieving smile. She proudly put the needle back on the tray. I remember how amazed I was that this Florence Nightingale could be so proud of her insensitivity and ignorance.

“Have a nice night,” the nurse said and walked out.

If I had had the strength at that moment to kill her, I probably would have. I wanted to. But instead I lay there crippled by pain. I cried for two and a half hours. I fell unconscious from pain.

In the morning I gave the doctors and nurses such a conniption that they didn’t give me any more medication. Consequently, I got the sleep I needed. I faked being well enough for 24 hours. They let me go home the next morning.

Mom, Dad and I reach the elevator. It opens as if waiting for us. We enter and Mom pushes the third-floor button. We don’t look at each other or say anything as it ascends. With the motion of the elevator I drift back into my experience in the hospital when I was twelve.

An intern stood towering over me. His manner was impatient and gruff. We had gotten off to a bad start two days earlier. He had asked if I had been farting. Since my puritan upbringing had taught me that the word fart was taboo, I was shocked to hear it come from a doctor. I stuttered and without judgment I asked if he meant did I pass gas. He thought I was a snob and turned malicious. I was afraid to try and rectify the misunderstanding because of autism and my experience that doing so merely compounded resentment.

“Sit up,” he ordered like a sergeant.

I moaned in pain as I sat up very slowly.

“Don’t pull that sympathy trick on me. I’ve seen too many appendectomies. I know the pain doesn’t last more than a day and a half after surgery. You’ve been pulling this for four days now.”

He pushed hard on my lower abdomen. I screamed in pain.

He smiled and said, “Look. Your buddy over here came in two days after you. He was up and running around the day after his appendectomy. He doesn’t scream when I push on his stomach. And he’s going home today too.”

“I can’t help it, it hurts. Even when I move.”

It only made him angrier. He took my right arm which had the I.V. needle inserted in it. He gently pulled one end of each of the four strips of tape that held the needle in my arm. He took firm grip on those ends, looked me in the eyes, smiled, and ripped the tape from my arm. The roundness of the needle pulled my flesh until the force tore my skin. I cried.

“You act like a girl,” he said.

I intuitively knew he wouldn’t hurt me more, so I continued crying to release the pain and frustration while he put gauze and tape over the bleeding gouge to stop it. Two hours later I was out of the hospital and on my way home.

The elevator stopping sends a wave through my stomach. We step from the elevator and Mom leads the way toward Jeff. I feel nauseous. My heart misses a beat and then speeds up, pounding.

The halls are empty, except for a couple of staff personnel. We pass many doors. Only a few patients have visitors. The patients are all connected to machines. Of course this wing is eerie, I realize, this is intensive care, numb skull.

“Numb skull”? I haven’t used that term in ages. Numb skull was something my parents called me. And probably what their parents called them. It never did help my self-esteem. Strange how old patterns surface when I’m back here.

Mom stops at room 317. Jeff is steps away. For the first time I visualize his cuts and bruises. I see him thrust and banged around inside the car. My adrenaline rushes. My heart pounds like a great symphonic drum sounding the battle charge. I take a slow deep breath and enter the room after Mom. I wonder if it would have been polite to enter before her.

We pass through a small dressing room-like foyer. It has a large picture window fixed with lavender Venetian mini-blinds. This is the room where loved ones wait and watch while emergency personnel work. This will be my supply room. On the wall is a locked medicine compartment. There is a counter and sink where I can put my blender to make food formulas for Jeff when he recovers from the coma. Am I deluding myself?

I see the end of the bed, the shape of Jeff’s feet and legs under the covers. My blood rushes faster as the drumming of my heart pounds harder, louder and faster.

I see Jeff’s arms and hands taped to boards so he can’t bend them. Tubes run everywhere. A catheter empties his urine into a plastic container. An I.V. drips sugar water and chemicals into his right forearm.

I feel queasy. I want to stop for a moment to settle down. I keep trooping behind Mom. I remember Jeff’s face from the last time I saw him when he was eighteen. His smile was big and his complexion ruddy.

The image disappears when I see two machines monitoring his body. Mary stands on one side of the bed, at the head, facing me. A nurse stands opposite her, obstructing my view of Jeff’s face. They lean over him.

Now I see his chin. His mouth gapes open. His lips are gray-purple. Oh, my God, he looks dead. Oxygen tubes are strapped to his head and up the nostrils. His eyes are closed and recessed in unconsciousness. His skin looks waxy, ashen except where tubes enter his body, irritating him. Cuts spot his face. A long cut streaks his forehead. Another parts an eyebrow. The abrasions from the plunges through glass are swollen and inflamed.

I take it all in for a minute. I use positive thoughts to settle myself. I think: Jeff’s not missing part of his head, brain or limbs. I’m thankful for that. My heart continues to drum frantically. I wish other instruments would join in so no one would hear it. It could expose my sensitivity. I want to look totally in control. The enemy will know that I’m not as strong as I want to be.

“Jeff! Wake up, Jeff! You’ve been asleep for six days now, wake up. Your mother wants to talk to you,” the nurse shouts as if Jeff were deaf.

I guess she wants to shock him from his coma. Okay, I guess, if it works. But it doesn’t. Jeff’s head seems to roll slightly as if he were trying to tell her that her shouting hurts. Or is that my wishful thinking?

“Six days?” I whisper to Mom.

“Mary didn’t call me until the night before I called you. You weren’t home and I didn’t want to leave that message on your answering machine,” she says firmly.

“Why did she wait to call you?” I ask with a trace of anger. Fortunately, Mom does not take it personally.

“She figured there was nothing we could do. When they told her Jeff was definitely going to die, she called.”

I wonder why Mary still hates me after twenty years.

“Jeff! Wake up!” screams the nurse.

He gives no response. I sense his coma is partially from medication. I know the shouting must hurt Jeff’s ears. It hurts my ears and I’m eight feet away. I want to grab the nurse and scream in her ear to stop it. I feel helpless.

“Jeff! It’s Mom. Wake up,” Mary mimics the nurse but not nearly as loudly.

I look at Mary. She would not be considered cover-girl material but she still looks beautiful to me. She wears jeans and a plaid blouse. I realize I’m still attracted to her. I see she is strong-willed like Mom and compassionate.

“Hi, Mary,” I say gently.

She gazes a moment, gropes and finally wields to our presence. She turns and looks over at Mom and says, “Hi, Doris,” and then to Dad,


Finally, she manages to look straight into my blue eyes.

“Hi, Dick.”

Oh, that nickname. All the reasons I changed to a Greece-Roman- sounding first name that I liked, flood my head. No matter how “Dick” was said to me, the innuendo was prevalent. It was like wearing a bright name tag with “scum” printed on it. My brothers, classmates, and some teachers often used it to patronize me.

“As you can see, Jeff isn’t with us,” Mary says bluntly.

I see the strain in her face and body. I want to hug and comfort her but that is out of the question. Instead, empathic tears fill my eyes. Seventeen years passed before I stopped dreaming about her.

Mary turns to Jeff. “Dick is here to see you. Wake up, boy,” she says, trying to humor and ease her new tension because of my presence.

Oh, geezus , I’m going to break down.

“Jeff. Jeff, it’s Aajonus,” I say softly. My voice cracks.

He doesn’t move.

“May I see his charts, please,” I politely ask the nurse.

She is stunned and then derisive, “Are you a visiting doctor?”

Mary chortles and jokes, “No. He’s from Los Angeleees, California.”

She gives it the sneering tone that she gave the nickname Dick.

The nurse chuckles, then settles, confused.

“This is Jeff’s other father,” Mary explains.

The nurse and I introduce ourselves.

“When is the soonest I can see Jeff’s X-rays?” I ask kindly.

“You’ll have to speak to one of his neurologists.”

“How many does he have?”


“Lead me to one of them.”

“Dr. Braisley just left the floor and none of the others are expected until morning.”

“Can we talk in the hall a minute, please?”

She scrutinizes my patient but determined stare. She realizes I could be trouble. She turns and we walk into the hall.

“Debra, I’m not here to make your job difficult. I’m here because my son is dying. I want to do everything I can to help him live.”

“Are you a physician?”

My inclination is to mimic her patronizing attitude but that wouldn’t be constructive, “I’m a nutritional counselor. And I’m Jeff’s biological father. I have the right to see all of his records upon request. Would you be kind enough to make that as easy and as soon as possible? Please?”

“I can’t do that. One of his doctors has to, and I don’t know if Dr. Braisley is still on rounds,” she says in a friendlier tone. “You’ll have to wait until morning. Okay?”

“Would you give me his number, please? I’ll have his answering service page him and have him call me here.”

“I’ll call his service,” she relinquishes.

“One more thing? When he calls and you tell him my request, if he refuses please tell him I would like to speak with him. Will you do that for me and my son? Please?”

She relaxes, shrugs and snickers, “Okay, sir.”

“Thank you. And would you pass the word to all the doctors and nurses that Jeff’s biological father is here, that I will be taking an active part in his recovery?”

She is slightly impressed and amused but her reaction says she thinks my ego is larger than my brain. There are times when I would agree, but ego has nothing to do with this.

“The doctors all agree that Jeff isn’t going to--” Compassion, I think, restrains her from finishing.

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