By Marjorie Brody
"Hi, sis. I'm in the hospital with Mom," my brother said when I answered my cell phone. "I think she’s having a heart attack."
He tells me.
"I'm at a book festival about three hours away. I'll grab my things and be there as soon as I can."
I ask my colleague to pack my books. She does without question. Guess she could hear the urgency in my pointedly calm voice. I call our son's wife. She's a physician and has contacts at the hospital. She can find out what's happening.
Voice mail picks up.
I leave a message: "Hi, hon. This is Mom. Call me when you can." She not going to get an emergency message from me via voice mail.
I call my husband. Tell him to get to the hospital. Find out what's happening. He's only 20 minutes from Mom. He would have gone without my telling him to--he and Mom have a mother-son relationship. Mom never was one to have children-in-law--but in stressful situations I tend to take charge. I use the restroom, not wanting to have to stop along the way.
"Make my apologies to the Festival Director," I tell my colleague. We had specifically been asked not to leave until the festival was over. I hoist my box of books, promotional material, and handbag and hurry to my car. I'm jockeying the box against my torso with one arm, my right shoulder raised high so my handbag won't slip off as I feel for car keys buried deep inside. I kick myself for not taking the keys out before I left the building. I cover that reprimand with relief, opening the trunk with the push of a button before my hand even surfaces. I drop the box in the trunk. Close its door with too much force.
My logical mind goes through a check list. Assess the fuel level to make sure I don't run out. Set the GPS so I don't get lost. Look twice before backing up--wouldn't help to hit a pedestrian.
The GPS tells me it can't connect at the moment, to try again later. I refuse to panic. I drive in the direction I think will take me home. (I traveled to the festival from a book club event in a different part of the state and so won't be able to retrace my route.)
Mom attended that book club yesterday, by special invitation of a board member. She'd been so proud of me, my presentation, and the reception I received. She and I had lunch together before I drove off for the festival, and she drove home.
"Call me when you arrive," she said, and I did. Was that going to be our last exchange?
Mom and I occasionally spoke of her death. She wanted me to know where her legal papers were, wanted me know that when the time came, she'd be ready. Mostly, she wanted me to be emotionally prepared. So sure, I've thought of her passing, in a fleeting kind of way, but to have to face the reality of losing her? My Mom's invincible, right?
My mom? Fragile?
Sure she can cook and bake, sew and knit and embroider. But she can also fix appliances and plumbing. She can take a car apart and put it back together again—although now she can’t lift the heavy pieces. At eighty-eight years old, Mom is healthy and sharp. When I have computer problems, it's Mom to the rescue.
She can't die.
She has great grandchildren's graduations and weddings to attend.
She can't die.
I'm not ready for her to die.
I glance down at the speedometer. I'm topping the speed limit. I watch for cops, refrain from letting my right foot sink lower. A ticket can't delay my arrival. Nor an accident.
I call my brothers who live on a different coast (I have bluetooth and their phone numbers are programmed into my car phone.) The first brother already has information. He gives me a list of Mom's symptoms, tells me what happened prior to her going to the hospital. I call my other brother. He's on vacation in another distant state. I give him the information I now have. The tension in both their voices ride with me in the car.
The GPS comes to life. I've got to pass our other daughter's house on the way to the hospital. I call her. I would have called her, anyway. She's extremely close to her grandmother. "I feel socked in the gut, Mom," she says. She's tearful and scared and wants to be with her grandmother.
She reflects my own thoughts. My mind isn't thinking about what would happen if Mom does die, but about how Mom will feel if this is the end and I’m not with her. More honestly, how I'll feel if I'm not with her. I want to be with her.
Our doctor daughter calls. I tell her what’s happening. She speaks with the admitting physician and calls me back, asks me health questions about Mom.
Traffic is a bear near the major cities. Slows to a crawl. Phone calls are overlapping. I have to disconnect from one person to answer another, call back, get interrupted again. The highway stretches like pulled taffy, getting longer and longer. I think about taking a detour, but then I won’t pass our daughter’s house, and she’s making arrangements for her children so she can leave with me as soon as I pull up to her house. The sun begins to slide toward the horizon. The highway conspires to keep me from reaching my destination. The gas gauge dips lower than comfortable. I can't tell how long the traffic snarl will last. I make a quick stop to feed the tank.
The receptionist in the ER tells my daughter and me which room Mom is in and buzzes us though the door. Mom is lying in bed, dressed in her street clothes, an IV in her arm, holding a conversation with my husband, who is sitting on a nearby chair. She looks . . . not bad.
She’s glad to see us, and apologizes for making me leave the festival. I kiss her and confess, "I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else." I spend the night on a recliner of sorts in Mom's room. Get only a couple of hours sleep. The next day tests continue: MRI, EKG, more blood work, ultrasound, echo cardiogram. I'm in constant contact with my out-of-state brothers. They have special concerns because Mom doesn't complain about her health, so when she says, “I need to go to the hospital,” it means something is seriously wrong.
The results come back.
No heart attack. No stroke. No TIA. No real explanation for what happened to her or why she had all those symptoms. More test will follow as an outpatient. Mom’s released from the hospital the next evening. Two days later, she spends 14 hours helping a friend at the polls assisting voters.
Mom knows I love her and knows I have no doubt she loves me. That's something I'll always hold within me, whether she's alive or not. But I'm really grateful, I mean, really, really grateful, I can do more than hold that love in my heart. I can show it to Mom for as long as we have left.
Let me hear from you.
Marjorie Brody is an award-winning author and Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her short stories appear in literary magazines and the Short Story America Anthology, Vols. I, II and III. Her debut psychological suspense novel, TWISTED, delves into the secrets that emerge following a sexual assault at a high school dance and features a remarkable teen who risks everything to expose the truth. TWISTED is available in digital and print. Marjorie invites you to visit her at www.marjoriespages.com.