What do you do when something awful happens to one of your most important people? You do anything you can to make a difference.
That’s why I’m here in Baltimore. It meant a last-minute (which is to say nauseatingly expensive) flight from Salt Lake City, but Bob and I got in last night, and thanks to GPS I’ve navigated my way through 5 highways to find this suburban rehabilitation hospital.
I hear Carol’s familiar throaty voice before I see her, so I know I’m in the right place. It’s a double room divided by a thin curtain that goes about half the necessary distance.
I step around the curtain, and here she is, the head of the bed raised, so she can sit up. She’s talking to a young woman, who is standing at a portable workstation. When she sees me, she lights up, and I cross to her, both of us laughing to keep from crying.
“This is Debbie,” she says to the young woman. “She’s come all the way from Salt Lake City to be with me.”
We nod at each other, and I sit in the chair on Carol’s other side, by a window which looks towards shuttered houses.
The young woman is quizzing Carol, entering her answers into the computer as she goes. Carol describes the fall down the broken escalator, the surgery on her spine, the loss of functioning on her right side—her leg, her arm, and especially her hand—the one she writes and eats with.
Most of this is news to me as well.
The woman wraps up and leaves. Since it’s Carol’s first business day here, hospital employees stream in, one after the other. Besides meeting nurses and aids when they show up to take vitals or deliver meds, we meet Dr. Tinney, the resident who listens and takes notes; the staff nutritionist, and the woman in charge of discharge, of all things, since that seems a remote possibility at this point.
Besides the visitors, Carol’s phone rings frequently. I take the calls from Carol’s friends since she can’t yet hold the phone. They’re anxious to know what happened and how she’s doing—questions I’m only beginning to learn the answers to myself.
In between visitors and calls, Carol talks about what happened. She can’t come to terms with it, it’s too fresh. It’s agonizing that she can’t take back that second in time when she slipped, that second that changes every moment of her life from that point on.