Emend by Eclipse
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
November 14, 1976
Cathy placed the plate with the pot roast on the table with pride. It was a crock pot recipe with celery, potatoes, carrots, and onions cooked with it. Mrs. Parker had given her the recipe and watched her prepare it. The dish looked great and she hoped that it would taste great as well.
She took a seat at the table next to Benny and across from Sandra. Mrs. Parker was seated at the head of the table with Benny and Tim to her sides. It was a simple gathering of friends for a Sunday dinner. The young people at the table all turned to look at Mrs. Parker. She folded her hands and said, “Dear Lord, we than...”
With a slight slur to her voice, she said, “We than...”
She stopped and looked around puzzled. The left side of her mouth sagged. She knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what it was.
Benny stood up and headed to the telephone. Sandra and Cathy were looking at the elderly woman in confusion. Tim exhaled loudly and sagged in his seat. He knew she was having a stroke.
Benny looked at the phone. It was rotary dial. To a person who had lived in a push button age seemed to operate slow as molasses. He could punch in a ten digit phone number on a push button phone in the same time it took the dial to return back to the starting position from the 9.
Picking up the handset, he started dialing 911. After dialing the nine, he remembered that 911 had not yet been adopted. He swore while looking down at the phone. The little sticker that most people had on their phone with the number of the police, fire department, and ambulance was missing. He rummaged around until he found the phone book. He dialed the number that was on the cover.
When the service answered, Benny said, “I need an ambulance at ah...”
He looked around frantically before spotting a stack of mail. He picked up a piece and read off the address. The operator asked him to repeat it. He did.
“She’s having a stroke. It happened less than thirty seconds ago.”
“Three people are with her right now. At least one of them knows what to do.”
At the table, Tim was holding Gladys’ hand in a comforting manner. In a calm soothing voice, he said, “I know you’re frightened and confused. There’s nothing for you to worry about. Benny is calling people who can help you. You just need to stay calm. We’re here for you.”
Gladys stared at him. She tried to talk to him, but was only able to manage a mumble. She was fading fast.
Cathy and Sandra were watching helplessly. They didn’t know what to do. They really didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation. They knew strokes were bad, but that was kind of an abstract thing. They’d never seen anyone who had a stroke.
“I know. It’s scary, but don’t be frightened.”
She mumbled something else. Tim was sure he caught the word die.
“I can’t say one way or the other. I’m not a doctor. We’re getting one for you. Just wait patiently.”
Benny returned to the dining room. He said, “The ambulance is on the way. Sandra, would you please wait outside for them?”
Thankful at having something to do, she jumped up and ran from the room. Cathy said, “I should go with her.”
“No. You need to call her family.”
“That’s a good idea. What should I tell them?”
“Tell them she had a stroke. We’ve called for the ambulance and are now waiting for it to show up. We’ll call back as soon as we know which hospital they’re taking her to so that they can go directly to the hospital.”
Having dealt with his call, Benny went to where he could keep an eye on the front door, an eye on Gladys, and an ear on Cathy. At least Cathy had the right telephone numbers to call. Her children had insisted that Gladys keep a sheet with their numbers on it next to the telephone so that Cathy could call in case of an emergency. Now that it was an emergency, their foresight was appreciated.
He listened to Cathy talk to Gladys’ son. She was calm and relaying the facts in reassuring manner. He was impressed with her control. It was a whole lot better than the woman who had gotten hysterical when the elderly man who lived next door to her had a heart attack. Of course, it could be shock that was making her so calm.
He looked over at the clock. It was going on four minutes since she had her stroke. He wondered about the response times in the here and now. It seemed slow, but he was used to an instant world. They said that the first five minutes was critical. He had done everything he could to buy her those five minutes. Tim was making sure that she didn’t excite herself and exacerbate the problem.
Cathy was now talking to Gladys’ daughter. This conversation didn’t seem to be going so well. The problem wasn’t on this end. Cathy was having to repeat herself several times. Each repeat got louder and slower than the one that preceded it.
Sandra burst through the door. She stopped and turned back. She stood stood at the door and shouted, “Come on! Hurry!”
“They’re coming. Let them do their jobs.”
“They’re still at the back of the ambulance.”
“They’re getting out the stretcher and medical gear. Give them a chance. They know what they’re doing.”
“How can you stand there so calm?”
“Did you forget who you’re talking to?”
“Sorry. I’m just...”
Two men entered the house with the gurney. “Where’s the patient?”
Benny pointed towards Gladys. “Over there.”
He watched Tim talk to them for a moment. Then the men began to do their preliminary assessment of Gladys. Of everyone in the room, he probably appreciated the job they were doing more than anyone. This wasn’t a catastrophic emergency to them. It was a common event and they were approaching it with detachment, calm competence, and professionalism. Their attention to due process might have made it seem slow, but they were acting deliberately.
Tim came over to where Benny was watching the action. He turned to face Gladys. “They said they would take her to Mercy Hospital.”
“Really? That’s in the middle of nowhere.”
“Time wise, it is the closest.”
Benny leaned forward and whispered, “I noticed she had another one while you were dealing with her.”
Tim whispered, “I think she’s had three.”
Benny whispered, “She’s not going to make it.”
“I know,” Tim said while he looked over his shoulder at the ambulance crew. They were strapping Gladys onto the stretcher. In a regular voice, he said, “They’re getting ready to take her out of here.”
“Okay. Why don’t you take the girls to the hospital after Cathy calls the families back? I’ll take care of things here.”
“A table full of food. Dirty pots and pans.”
“That’s my job. You do the people things.”
Tim smiled and then got serious. “You’re in for a couple of rough days.”
“I know. Lots of people things I don’t understand.”
Gladys was part of the physical world in which everyone else lived. She was not part of his inner world. As such, she only existed as a kind of ghostly abstraction to Benny. To him, she was Cathy’s landlord, Cathy’s friend, and someone with whom he was just having dinner. For him, her departure on a stretcher had about as much significance and meaning as her running off to the store to purchase a gallon of milk.
He also knew that her death would have more impact on his life than her running an errand. Cathy had touched his world and she meant something to him. She would be upset about Gladys. She would turn to him for comfort, but that was something he didn’t know how to bestow. His hugs were about as warm as a boa constrictor’s embrace.
It was under similar circumstance when his wife had decided he was a monster. Her mother had died and she had come to him hoping for sympathy. He had tried to comfort her, but it had come across as false as it had really been. His hugs had been ... his hugs were nothing but a holding of arms around her body. She had not been satisfied with that. When she realized that her mother’s death meant nothing to him, she was horror stricken.
Benny thought her reaction was unfair. He didn’t think he was a monster. She had no idea just how distant her world was from his. She had no idea how few people managed to populate his world. Would anyone wail and weep if someone they didn’t know and who live halfway around the world died? No one would. For Benny, her mother’s death had about that much import. And that was basically the end of his marriage.
He looked over at Cathy wondering if she would understand. He trusted her because she had some insight into his world. Was it enough? How would she react if she learned that he couldn’t even remember the name of the woman who was being hauled out on a stretcher?
Tim reached over and patted him one the shoulder. He said, “I know, Benny. I know. I’ll do my best to make sure she understands. I’ll get her to lean on Sandra rather than you.”
“Thanks, Tim. You know how to take care of me.”
“I’ll see you at the hospital.”
“Yes,” Benny said wondering if there was some way to miss having to go there. He didn’t think so. It was going to be a long drawn out affair and he wasn’t very good at that.
Tim drove Cathy and Sandra to the hospital. They arrived well after the ambulance. Gladys was in the emergency room being treated by the medical personnel there. They were told to take a seat in the waiting area and that someone would come out to talk to them when they knew something. They sat down and waited. Time slowed to a crawl.
Her son, Alan, and his wife, Trish, showed up. He looked distraught and she looked supportive. With a worried expression on his face, he asked, “How is she?”
“We don’t know. They’re still evaluating her.”
It was a short conversation followed by silence. They sat there waiting for news about her condition. The daughter, Wendy, and her husband, Kyle Weeks, showed up. She was clearly distraught, but the first thing she did was hug Cathy and thank her for being there. Cathy thanked her.
They sat down and waited. There wasn’t much discussion. There wasn’t too much to discuss. The essential facts had been exchanged and the normal speculations covered. All they could do was cover the same old ground. Unlike some groups, this group chose silence.
A doctor came out to the group. He said, “We believe that she’s had at least two, perhaps more, cerebral aneurysms. She’s resting comfortably at the moment, but the prognosis is not good.”
Tim sat there for a moment trying to remember the state of medicine in 1976 compared to his time. He didn’t know if the CT scan was common or not. He didn’t remember hearing about MRIs since his return. He didn’t know what treatments for stroke were possible at this time.
Back in his first pass, he had a coworker who had a stroke. The poor guy was left in a wheelchair for the rest of his life unable to speak. That had happened in 2014. He knew medicine now didn’t have the sophistication of medicine up-time.
Tim asked, “How do you know that it was a hemorrhage?”
“There was blood in her spinal fluid.”
“What about a cerebral angiography?” Tim asked earning a look from everyone there. Even the doctor was surprised by the question.
“We could perform one to determine where she’s bleeding. However, considering her age and physical condition I wouldn’t recommend it.”
That told Tim that the doctor was essentially suggesting that they let nature take its course. She was an old woman and her time had come. He looked over at her children and knew they didn’t like that answer. He wished that he remembered some of the treatments used in his time.
Her son asked, “What kind of treatments are possible?”
“Brain surgery is one option.”