The window is open. The air smells incredible. The cat is pressed as close to the screen as physically possible.
And I wish it would rain.
Summertime does not mean new life and vitality, to me. It means stale waiting rooms and chilly hospital rooms. It means eating at places like IHOP and Golden Corral but feeling like vomiting (that’s not a comment on the food).
Summertime means death.
The last time I saw my mom outside of the hospital was at Relay for Life.
She looked terrible. The heat was melting her. She carried her oxygen tank around the track, buying little things for Lane and Emma, my nephew and niece, and paying for them to play games.
She ate some blackberry cobbler at our tent, the Bolivar Herald-Free Press tent, and then my sister-in-law, Cynda, pulled the car up to the back gate so Mom wouldn’t have to walk all the way to the parking lot.
She got in the car and I kissed her cheek and told my sweet mama to take it easy.
On Sunday, Father’s Day, two days later, she was in the hospital.
Emma, 7 years old, had awakened her dad in the middle of the night to tell him Gee couldn’t breathe and couldn’t even get out of bed. Gerry and Dad carried her to the car. Dad rushed her to the hospital in Bolivar and she was transferred by ambulance to the hospital in Springfield.
When I saw her later that day, she was in the neurotrauma ICU. Dad came later and opened his Father’s Day gift, a tie.
Mom already had a favorite nurse, a man from Africa who did not force a catheter on her. She was very grateful for that. When I entered, he knew immediately that I was her baby girl who had lived in China. She had already told him that.
She was transferred from intensive or critical care rooms to regular rooms and back again so many times that I lost count.
I remember when she went into critical care, though, and when she was put on a respirator for the first time.
A nurse called me at work to let me know she would be going on the respirator. She had been worried about it, the nurse said.
Though I was supposed to cover the county fair that night, I drove to Springfield to be with her. My dad and Gerry were already there.
A pulmonologist who had been with the hospital in Joplin at the time of the tornado was by then working at the hospital in Springfield. He had told Dad some very disturbing news with very little concern for how the news affected my family.
He spoke to Dad again while I was there and said he believed Mom had pulmonary fibrosis and that he did not know if she would ever be able to go off the respirator. He wasn’t sure that she was even strong enough to survive for much longer.
This was the first time anyone told us that whatever Mom was dealing with was possibly terminal. And he told us so abruptly, interrupting when Dad would ask questions and arguing with us about the validity of a lung biopsy Mom had had a couple years earlier.
I went to my Mom’s bedside. She was asleep, but she was straining against the tube going down her throat and pumping oxygen into her lungs. Blood bubbled up at the corners of her mouth. Her eyes were closed, but she was trying to sit up while gagging on the tubing.
How it hurt to see that. My mom was suffering. Tears streamed down my cheeks. My dad took me in his arms and told me I had to be strong.
In the hallway outside her room, I sobbed in his arms.
Our family gathered in Springfield, preparing for the worst. We didn’t know what to expect. The cold middle Eastern doctor had told us that if Mom survived and could come off the respirator, another lung biopsy could be performed – this time taking a sample from the outside of the lung, which he said was the only way to determine if she had pulmonary fibrosis.
Just a couple days later, I couldn’t believe it – she was ready to come off the respirator. Dad and I stood by her, holding her hands while they lifted her medication that suppressed her instinct to breathe. Slowly, she awoke. She looked in my eyes.
“You’re doing great, Mama,” I said.
We coached her back into consciousness. The nurses asked us to step outside while they removed the tube.
Dad and I, overjoyed, hugged. I burst into happy tears.
“You’re my strong girl,” he said.
We sat with Mom, who was still foggy-headed and hallucinating. I tried to go to work that day but I was so exhausted from the weekend. I went home to sleep for a bit and returned to the hospital in the evening.
By that time, my Mom was hallucinating a lot.
When I entered the room, I could see she and Dad had just been discussing something very serious. I walked up to her side and asked if everything was OK. She took my hand in a death grip and said she had something to tell me. With surprising force, she pulled me down so that my ear was just above her mouth.
She whispered, “Please believe me. I’m not making this up. There is a little man under my bed and he is trying to kill me.”
I leaned back, ready to laugh, but I could see from the look on her face that she was serious.
The drugs she had been on can cause hallucinations. She battled with the little man for the next day or so. Eventually, she believed me when I told her he was not grabbing her legs – it was the air casts on her legs that inflated every now and then to keep up the circulation in her lower body.
I can very clearly see her dozing off and the hissing sound of the air casts, accompanied by the inflating, of course, startling her awake.
“There it was again!” she said. “Did you see him?”
I tried to keep a straight face.
In just a few more days, we would be able to laugh about it together.
Unfortunately, that was not the last time Mom would be on a respirator.
Summertime used to be so beautiful.
On the weekends, me, Mom and Dad would take the pontoon boat out for a leisurely ride on Pomme de Terre Lake. Oftentimes, Lane and Emma would be with us. On occasion, my siblings might be there, too.
We’d turn up the radio and soak in the sun, usually me on the tanning deck with Emma squeezed in beside me and Lane jumping over us, dripping water everywhere.
Mom always brought plenty of snacks to keep us energized while we swam, floated, jumped off and climbed back in. She never got in, though.
Well, except one time. She put on a life vest and Dad lowered her into the lake. The pressure was too much on her lungs, though, so she came right back out.
I had been so excited to see her do something like that. How long had it been since she had gone swimming?
I’ll never again look over during a breezy pontoon ride and see her there, visibly pleased to be outdoors and surrounded by her family.
So I’m not too attached to summertime.
“Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” Genesis 5:24