"I'm coming home, Mom!"
"No, no. Chris said to tell you everything is fine and they are taking good care of him."
"Yeah, I know, but I wanna go any way."
"Well, lets wait and see how he does and if you need to, you can come tomorrow."
I DID NOT want to wait - my forty seven year old brother had pneumonia in both lungs - but I minded my mother and waited.
He had been to the emergency room a couple of weeks before with chest pains but after running all the usual tests their diagnosis was indigestion. I saw him two days after that. He and Mom had gone to Corpus to be at my final dress fitting. He was fine. He was so excited about the wedding. So excited about the mix of friends and family that were going to attend. We still had some details to finish, but it was almost time to really enjoy the fruits of our labor.
I don't remember when the exact call came that Chris had been moved to ICU, but I do remember going into the office to take care of all the things I thought would need tending to in the next couple of days. I left a note for my boss, I think. I cant imagine that I did not call to tell him, but seems like I remember writing a note. Maybe I did call him and just left him a note updating him on the business things. I don't remember. Neither do I remember the feelings I had on that two and a half hour drive home. Nothing. My mind is a blank.
I do remember not wanting to go in to see him. The thought of him being sick weighed heavy on me and I did not think I could handle the reality of seeing him. But there was no way in the world I would not have been there for him, so in I went. He had his brave face on. He was still making us laugh. He was happy...as happy as a guy with double pneumonia could be...because the priest had been by and he had made his confession and received Communion. He waited until I arrived to do his penance so we could do it together. It was a blessing and honor to share that moment with him. A gift, really.
Later that evening they informed us they would be transferring my brother to Memorial Herman Hospital in Houston, Texas. Relief washed over us. We knew he would get the best care at the Medical Center in Houston. Worry stilled weighed in our hearts, but there was hope now.
As we waited for the ambulance to arrive to transport him, I visited with him. He threw up. I left the tiny ICU room so the nurses could help him. I fought back tears. My chest was tight and a nervous swirl filled my stomach. My mom came out and said, "He wants you to come back in" I hesitated. "It's ok. He's ok. Come back in." I did, able to do so only from strength that was not my own.
"How long should I give them?"he asked. He was talking about how long to give them to make him better. "'Til Wednesday?"
"Naw," I said. "You gotta give 'em until at least Saturday." I will always regret saying those words. I should have said, "You give them all the damn time they need - that's how long you give them!" But, I didn't. I didn't want to wait until Wednesday or Saturday. I wanted them to fix him right then. I needed them to fix him. They just didn't understand.
My niece and I left to get the things we would need for the trip. After what seemed like an eternity they were finally ready to leave. It was a quiet ride. I remember at one point the ambulance pulled over on the side of the road. My heart dropped. My niece, Christi, knew my nervous nature and said, "I'm sure everything is ok."
The ambulance driver came to our window and said, "He is doing just fine. I just needed to check on some equipment. I didnt want you to worry." Whew. He will never know how much that gesture meant to me.
The next few days are a blur. My brother, Leo and his wife, Pam, showed up that first night also. As the hustle and bustle of the hospital started to wind down, people from out of no where arrived. Little did we know they were there to claim the sofa cushions for the night. They had been there with a loved one somewhere in that hospital long enough to discover the CCU waiting room as a place of rest. There were plenty of sofas and chairs, so we did not worry. We just claimed our own and tried to get some rest. Mostly, Mom and I prayed the rosary and I hoped it would help calm the nervous swirl in my stomach.
Little things stick with me from that time like the clean restrooms, not being hungry and the way the hospital was open in the middle. You could look down to the first floor from any of the upper floors. I can still hear the eerie sound at night of someone playing the piano on the first floor wafting up to where we were. At times it could be comforting, but mostly it just seemed to make the swirl in my stomach all that more intense.
We all slept there a couple of nights but the number of IV's they had on Chris kept increasing. They gently kept telling us, "he is a very sick boy". It was evident he was going to be there a while. So, we got a hotel room so we could shower and also to have a bed to rest in for a few hours. We just couldn't leave the hospital at night. It was unthinkable not to be there at night. A few hours during the day, yes, but not at night.
Ronnie had been in Houston for work, so he popped into the hospital when he could. I remember the love I felt for him when he told me he and his co-worker/one of his groomsmen were going back to Corpus, but that he was going to turn around and come right back to Houston. I needed him to say that, to do it...and he did.
At some point they put Chris on a respirator to help him breathe. We were happy about that. They said it would help him rest better and give his body a better chance to heal. We knew he would get better. We all spoke of how he would have to take it easy and really take time to heal once he got home. We were still worried, but we felt much better about the odds.
My husband's parents had an anniversary on that Thursday, August 29th. It was the last thing on my mind. Honestly, they had been trying to talk Ronnie out of getting married and I was angry about that so that year I really didn't give a ding dang dong about their anniversary. We missed the actual anniversary, but Friday, August 30th, Ronnie broached the subject of going back to Corpus so he could take care of some things at his office, we could get some clothes and we could take his parents out for their belated anniversary dinner.
"What???? You're crazy!! I'm not leaving here! And, certainly not to take your parents out to dinner!" But, my mother thought it would be good for me to get away just for a night.
Plus, there was a wedding to cancel. We had called our priest to see if he would go to Houston so we could marry in my brother's CCU room. He said no. I was not having a wedding without Chris. He would be better and we would do it then and only then.
Everyone told me we would really only be gone a few hours and Ronnie promised we would leave early Saturday morning to return to the hospital. Finally, I agreed to go. I did not want to upset Chris in any way so we didn't tell him we were leaving. I visited him for the 15 minutes we were allowed and walked out as usual. I did not tell him bye.
I did not want to leave. How could I? He had been there for me always. ALWAYS. He was my best friend, my confidant, my walking encyclopedia, my biggest fan, my heart and my soul. He always knew what I needed. How could I leave him when he needed me the most??
We left. I cried. Ronnie drove. I remember it was raining. It felt as if my tears matched the falling rain, drop for drop. On the way, we called Ronnie's parents to let them know what time we would be in Corpus, but they felt it was too late for them to wait to eat. I steamed. We left my brother for nothing.