you have one foot out the door, but you can come back in.

April 5, 2012
By Anonymous

The ambulance screeches to a halt in front of the last house on the block. The smell of antiseptic tickles your nose. Fear is in the air. The nightmare has begun.

Summer has started. It is finally time for sleeping in, hanging out, and going wild. Summer reading is the last thing on your mind and your best friend is staying over tonight. Outside is sunny and warm and one of those days where it seems like nothing could go wrong. Kaitlyn is hanging decorations with my mom in preparation for Shelly’s retirement party. I am in the kitchen pouring tortilla chips into a large crimson bowl. Any minute now Tracey, Janine, Barb, Stella, Aunt Anne, Patrice, and Shelly will be arriving. After hanging a banner, my mom staggers upstairs, unable to catch her breath. “Mom, go sit down,” I order her. While she walks into the living room, I frantically grab a glass from the cabinet and fill it with water. She takes two sips, sets the glass down, and launches into a seizure. “Kaitlyn, get me the phone!” I yell. She hands me the phone and runs out the door and across the street to Barb’s house. I dial the number. “9-1-1, what is your emergency?” I explain the situation. By that time, my mom is conscious and stubbornly protesting the paramedics coming to check her out. Barb arrives, insisting that she cooperate. I absentmindedly peer out the window, just in time to see the ambulance pull up at the wrong house. “Kait!” I yell. “I’m on it,” she replies. I don’t bother watching her; Kaitlyn knows what to do. She stands on the corner, doing jumping jacks and shrieking, pointing towards my house. A few minutes later, two paramedics lumber up the stairs, carrying ninety thousand monitors, oxygen masks, and medical devices. They bombard us all with question after question. I am a robot spitting out data. Once the paramedics start strapping cuffs, sensors, and masks onto my mom, I run upstairs with Kaitlyn to grab my key and shoes. There is no way she is skipping a visit to the emergency room with her heart at twenty beats per minute, a far cry from the usual sixty. When we sprint back down, my mom is bundled up on the stark white stretcher and being loaded into the gloomy red box on wheels. The ambulance speeds off to Virtua hospital. The nightmare is beginning…

It is a night of waiting, waiting for answers, waiting for a solution. My mom is attached to an exterior pacemaker for an hour, being jolted every few seconds. The cardiologist finally arrives much later than he should have. I want to yell. He thinks he can take his sweet old time getting down here?! No! My mom’s life is at stake. Right away, I hate this man. I hate him for an absurd, stupid reason, and I couldn’t care less. Then this cardiologist has the nerve to kick us out of ER room number three. I stomp outside, through the hostile glass doors, to the hard concrete benches. I have nothing to do but drink frigid hot chocolate and eat stale crackers. Few words are said to Shelly, Barb, Tracey, Aunt Anne, Stella, Janine, Patrice, and her husband Eric, because there is nothing to tell, except for the medical procedure chit-chat. Finally, we are permitted to see her. Threaded through my mom’s carotid artery is a fine wire attached to a device that sends a shock down to her heart, causing it to beat at a regular pace. Crimson stained towels and her pale face tell everyone what having one foot out the door looks like. It is determined that she will be admitted as an inpatient to the Intensive Care Unit. My mom attempts to sing, “Take me home tonight…” We all try to smile, but somehow, we cannot. Early the next morning, my dad and I are back at Virtua, waiting for the ambulance to come transfer my mom to Cooper Hospital. She will spend two weeks in a desolate bed, fixed to numerous beeping devices, and stuck reading hour after hour, day after day. On the eleventh day of torture, my mom has an allergic reaction to intravenous medication. On the twelfth day, she receives an MRI-friendly pacemaker. On the fourteenth day at Cooper, she receives a second chance at life. On her first day home, she receives a loyal servant. While my mom has been recuperating, I have been assuming the position of head of household. I have the world on my shoulders; I carry my house in my hands.

We take too many things for granted. We are greedy. We expect something out of nothing. Over those two weeks, I would learn how to worship what you have. I was going to take over my mom’s responsibilities. Cleaning the house, cooking dinner, doing laundry, even attempting to do payroll for her hair salon; I would become fixated on trying to accomplish everything that needed to be done. My dad wouldn’t be home much since he was doing nightly contracting work at Farley Service Plaza on the Atlantic City Expressway and spending his days at Lockheed Martin, Kingsway School, and Mainland School. Other family members and friends would offer to help with my newly acquired chores, but I turn them down. No answers were in sight; what if I did end up without a mom? I couldn’t depend on other people to take care of those tasks.

I am there to pick up the pieces. I am the glue when the glass shatters. I am the new asphalt on the cracked, forgotten street. I am the duct tape on the cracked leather seats in the old Ford truck. I mend what falls apart.

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