Monday, April 5, 2010

The Emergency Room

I am 16 years old standing in the Emergency Room on the phone with my mom. The phone is in my left hand and I am purposely keeping my right hand out of my line of vision. As long as I don't look at it I am ok.

“Mom, I was in a car accident. I am at a Hospital in Aurora.” My voice is calm and even, no crying. I am in shock. The reply I am expecting to hear is she will be right over. That she is coming to take care of me and everything will be alright. Instead she said, “Have them transfer you over to University Hospital. I am here already with your brother.”

I hang up and make the necessary arrangements to have an ambulance transfer me to Colorado University Hospital. Shock or no shock; accident or no accident, it is up to me. Again. I am “the baby” in name only. The youngest of five, but mom is done raising kids. I have become "my adult”, responsible for anything that requires responsibility. I have been that for years now.

My Mom. Born illegitimate in New York City in 1928 grew up to be the smartest person I have ever known. And funny. She stood strong and mighty behind what she believed in. I just wish that she would have picked raising her children as something she believed in.

So here I am, child number five, standing in an Emergency Room, and mom is done doing a job she never really wanted, nor was ever really good at. They put me in an ambulance and sent me on my way. Thirty minutes later I am in a private area of University Hospital Emergency Room waiting for my mom to come down from my brother’s room. Another Emergency Room without my mother. My brother had an abscess in his lung and it kept filling with fluid despite the draining tube he had. When mom comes in I can see her concern. She is unclear about the extent of my injuries. I am happy she is here but am feeling worried that she will be leaving me alone to go check on my brother.

Mom got married at 20 years old in 1948. She had her first child in December 1949; second in June 1951; third December 1952; fourth January 1956 and me in December 1960. My mom, who I believe in my heart never wanted children had five all with a man she didn't love when she married him...or maybe ever.

I am still calm and without tears, but I still keep my right hand out of sight. What I don’t see, can’t be real. I am explaining the ambulance transfer to my mother while the nurse gets me situated. While I am talking to my mom a Doctor comes in and asks if I am ok. He is in a hospital gown and has an IV in his arm the IV bag on a wheeled pole so he can get around. He looks very worried about me. This all confuses me. I am scared now that my Doctor is sick. It is my brother but in my shock I don’t realize it.

I once asked my Mom why she married a man that she had only known 8 weeks and only had seen on the weekends. Her matter of fact answer was, “I was 20 and didn't want to be an old maid.” What I should have asked her was why she had five children but I knew that in the decades her children were born, birth control was almost unheard of.

As I try to understand why my brother is my doctor my sister Colleen comes in. She looks so very worried. I look up at her, hold out my right hand and say “I lost my finger.” and I look at it for the first time. Then I
start crying. Hard. I no longer need to worry, Colleen is there I know that she won’t leave me and that she will take care of me and handle anything that needs to be handled. I no longer need to be brave or strong, Colleen will take care of me as she always has. Colleen, my mother by unofficial proxy. I can now be “the baby” who has a major concussion, lost the tip of her finger and was lucky to be alive after being in a car that rolled over on the highway 60 miles outside of Denver.

In 1964 my dad went out to get a pack of cigarettes and never came back. Literally. Overnight mom was responsible for supporting herself and five children. A task that was barely being accomplished with dad’s help. She later told me that she had a breakdown in the weeks after he left. She went to a psychiatrist who wanted to hospitalize her. That meant that we five would become wards of the court. She would not have us during that time. Maybe never again. Mom told me the only reason she wouldn't agree was she didn't want to be like dad. She didn't want to quit like he did. I waited for more, but she was done. No talk of loving us or not wanting to be apart from us. Mom’s explanation was complete.

I am in the hospital late into the night getting patched up but get to go home when the doctor is done. Over time my finger heals, only a bit of it gone, I never miss it. My brain takes a little longer, but it heals too and most of my memories come back.  Eventually even my fear of cars goes away.


Years later my heart heals too. I come to understand my mom. I always knew that she loved us and I realize that her neglect was never anything personal. While she may not have always been there for us emotionally, she did her best. She always kept us fed, clothed and housed. She taught us the joy of reading and of humor. We learned to stand up for what we believe in. We learned about the equality of all people and to respect the opinions of others. We learned manners and how to behave in public. And somehow, we also learned to love.

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