38. CHARITY HOSPITAL part XI

Mom took the thermometer out of my mouth and held it up to the light. “You’re still over a hundred degrees”, she said with dismay. I believed her. I was burning up inside and had clammy sensations that would rush through me every time I passed urine. That I had a urinary tract infection was obvious from the cloudiness and strong odor of my output. They were giving me enough fluids but since I was horizontal my bladder hadn’t been emptying completely and the remaining bacteria had multiplied. Josh, the orderly, would make the rounds of the ward with a common metal pail and empty everyone’s collection bag into it. He stopped at my bedside and let the metal handle clang against the edge of the pail. The metallic sound somehow transferred to the metal screws in my head and reverberated through my temples.

The sore on my tailbone had gotten worse too. The skin had broken and it required more frequent dressing changes. Both Mom and William had tried their best to position pillows and towels to alleviate the pressure but there was only so much they could do. They would make a note of the size and keep track on my growing chart along with my blood pressure, pulse rate and temperature.

“Your father should be here today”, said Mom encouragingly. “Good thing too. The hospital is completely out of your blood type and you’ll need a transfusion if they go ahead with the skin flap surgery to start the healing on your tailbone”. I hadn’t realized it had become so serious but was glad to hear that my father was coming and I felt a renewed sense of hope for my future well-being. I was also sad to know that he’d never been to New Orleans and prior to my injury he had only associated the city with Dixieland jazz and the Mardi Gras celebration. From now on it would be the location of one of his biggest heartbreaks.

William came into the ward and checked in at the nurse’s desk before coming over to my bedside. “Any word from Dad yet?” he said to Mom. “No, but we hope to hear soon.” He started making his usual inventory of my medical supplies and checked my chart to see how I had managed overnight. “We’re running low on gloves and gauze pads. I’ll be right back” he said and darted towards the Intensive Care Unit supply cabinets. Mom replaced the icepack from my forehead and gave me a sip of ice water. “Ms. Wikstrom?” I heard the now familiar voice of Florence DeJulio, my caseworker, coming up to us. “Can I speak with you for a moment?” Mom rested her hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be right back”. I knew by now that it didn’t do any good to worry. If I started now there’d be no end to it.

I was alone only briefly. I looked past the saline drip, the chrysanthemum flower taped to the circle bed frame and the holy scapula that the chaplain had draped on my bedside table. Orderlies wheeled a gurney into the ward with a young victim of street violence who was stitched and bandaged about the head and neck. I heard Terri, the head nurse; describe his status to her assistant. “Happened last night. Looks like a drug deal gone wrong. They found him in an alley just off Bourbon Street with a kitchen knife stuck in him. He should be in ICU but there isn’t room. We’ll have to do the best we can”. “Poor guy”, said the junior nurse. “He looks like he’s barely out of his teens”.

William came back in with his arms full of supplies he’d pilfered from the supply cabinets and replenished our stocks. Mom returned with the news we’d been waiting for. “Your father’s here but they took him to the blood clinic to stock his blood for your surgery”. “I know where that is”, said William. “I’ll go down and make sure no one intercepts it in the mean time”.

Mom began her morning routine of washing my face, neck, shoulders and arms. Josh came over to help change the sheets, pillows and towels. I felt a bit better and a bit less anxious about seeing Dad in my struggling state.

“Hey, Snidely Whipsnade, look who we got here”. Dad’s unmistakable baritone voice preceded his appearance at my bedside. He was always great at putting up a strong front but I could immediately see the fear and concern on his face as he looked down on his shattered child. The last time I recalled him looking down at me over my bed railing was when I was about three years old. I was feeling just about as helpless now. “You’re going to be fine now”, he said confidently. “They took several pints from me and once we get it into you, you’ll be a hundred per cent better.” I smiled and mouthed the words he came thousands of miles to hear. “I love you. I’m sorry about all this.” His calm demeanor began to crumble. “It’s going to be fine, you wait and see. We’ve got your transportation back home all figured out and there’s a bed waiting for you at the University of Washington Hospital. They’re just about the best in the country for this kind of thing.” “We’ve just got to get you stabilized”, said Mom. “You’ve got hundreds of people praying for you right now”, said Dad.

“Okay”, said William, coming over from the nurse’s desk where he’d been talking with Glenda. “Everything’s set. I talked to Dr. Fontenot who said they’d been waiting for Dad to get here before going ahead with the flap surgery. They’re gonna run some tests first and then we’ll get you stitched back together.” “I can only be here a couple days, Sport”, said Dad. “I’ll be back in a bit. I’ve got to make some arrangements with Mrs. DeJulio but don’t forget, we’re in this together. Whatever you need, you’ve got it.”