Central Texas in the Springtime is bluebonnets blanketing every open field, wide open sunny skies, and the relentlessly mouth-watering smell of smoky barbecue on the breeze. If you happen to get the opportunity; go. (Frightful Admission: I did not take my camera. Horrors.)
I flew down to San Antonio to give my Mother some help last week since her husband of 17 years, Frederic Reed, passed away. Fred was older than my Mom, and his last few months were a steady decline. Mom did her best and went above and beyond her natural capacities to spend every day with him whether in the hospital or the rehabilitation center, and to be as encouraging to him as she possibly could. After several months Fred was finally allowed to come home, but his body was just too tired to continue. With Mom and loved ones present, he died on April 5th, 2010.
In the days immediately following, Mom didn't yet need me there, and my brother Charles was able to drive down and stay with her. When she called last week to tell me that she was ready for me to come, I made the flight reservations. Due to a misunderstanding, I wound up planning my trip for the weekend before the Memorial Service, but this gave me a chance to help her prepare. There would be arrangements to finalize, details to figure out, an obituary- written by her sweet neighbor- to email, and house cleaning to do. Between Mom's health also in a decline of sorts, with two knee replacements on top of other issues, and the last few months of spending virtually every waking moment at Fred's side, she has not been able to care for her home as she used to.
Mom lives about an hour north of the airport; probably 30 minutes if there are no cars on HWY 281 and all the lights are green, actually. So I contacted my Aunt LaRue to see if she and Uncle Graham would be able to give me a ride from the airport to Mom's, thus saving her the trip, and giving me a chance to see the relatives who have so graciously hosted our daughters in the recent past. They were able, and so Kate drove me to Harrisburg to meet my early flight Saturday morning, and several hours and one change of planes later, I was hugging my Aunt on the sidewalk outside of the San Antonio airport.
We had a longer chat than anticipated, since the traffic going North on 281 was abysmally slow due to a breakdown of several traffic lights. We finally arrived at Mom's, and I realized that they haven't seen one another in many years. After a brief visit, we say our goodbyes, and Mom suggests we begin with some real Texas BBQ,... probably because I had mentioned it during a phone call on my layover in Chicago.
Mom took me to a fine culinary establishment known as Rudy's, which was near the rehabilitation center where Fred had spent so much time. I had forgotten the distances which Texans take for granted, and it took us almost half an hour, (perhaps longer) to get there, though I'm not entirely sure, because we talked the whole way. Rather, Mom talked, and I listened. She had so much that she just needed to say, still working out what the last weeks have been and rehearsing over her final memories of her husband's life. When she once expressed the thought that she was being awfully self-centered going on the way she was, I assured her that as recently as her loss, and as fresh as her grief, she needed to mourn and everyone would certainly understand.
Rudy's was fabulous and we left satisfied that we had enjoyed the genuine barbecue of Texas. The grocery store and another couple of errands later, and we were on the way to her home. This is where it gets interesting.
After purchasing my non-refundable tickets, I came down with a fever. No problem. I have often had little fevers come and go with only bed rest and a bit of OTC medicine. I needed to get to Mom, so after a couple of days nursing myself at home, I loaded up on the meds and hopped those planes. I figured the issue would soon be resolved and by the time Sunday morning rolled around I'd be up to taking Mom to church and then digging into some major helping. Yet Saturday evening my fever was catching up to me, with the addition of aching muscles all down my back. Sunday morning, instead of hopping up fresh and ready to go, I could barely turn my head without pain.
Mom knew exactly what to do. The urgent care clinic in Bulverde was open seven days a week, and walk-ins weren't only welcome, they were the reason for their existence. Fortunately we arrived only minutes after they opened, and only one patient was in before us. Once I was in to see the Doctor and he had asked all of his questions and examined me he sat down and said, "I don't like this at all". Hooray. Not what one wants to hear. He believed that I had Meningitis and wanted us to go straight to an Emergency Room where I could get the only test that would tell for sure. A Lumbar Puncture.
With this I handed the keys to Mom, (different story) and we were off while the clinic called ahead to make sure we were seen immediately. Let me just tell you, having someone call ahead to the ER to say that you are coming in with a suspected case of Meningitis is the way to get red-carpet service when you arrive. I don't think that I had finished writing my name on the first form on the clipboard when I was whisked away to have my vitals recorded and then I was ushered into an examination room to clothe myself in the thin bit of cloth and snaps which has been misnamed a "gown".
This Doctor was a bit more calm as he examined me and asked me the same questions, for which none of the answers had changed. He then explained to me the two different types of Meningitis. Bacterial Meningitis, according to him, involves more nasty symptoms which I did not possess, and, as he put it, "one often goes from onset of symptoms to not here anymore in 24 hours". His initial impression of me was that I was not afflicted with this type of Meningitis, confirmed by my recitation of the timeline of my own symptoms. He still suspected that I might have Viral Meningitis, which could be diagnosed with that delightful little procedure called a lumbar puncture. Yet once confirmed, the only treatment would be merely to treat the symptoms.
My brilliant idea; skip the scary test, and go straight to the "treat the symptoms" part!
With assurances that I'm okay to drive- thank you- and confident that I'm not going to die, taking with me everyone with whom I've crossed paths, I tell Mom that driving is to be part of my recuperative therapy, and we leave the hospital. We have to re-call the many people Mom had alerted while waiting for me. No small task.
Stopping only to get soup, Aleve, and juices, as well as other groceries, we head home for Mom to care for me. Please understand what I mean when I say that she was thrilled. She hasn't had an occasion to take care of her adult daughter in more than two decades, and she can bring all of her motherly love to bear in watching over me. Attempting to do so while separated by several states and having only phone contact has been manifestly frustrating to her all these years.
Moreover, my Mom has spent the last several years caring for Fred and seeing to his every comfort. Monday, April 5th, that was over in the moment of his last breath. As clearly as all evidence pointed to his imminent demise, she was still brought to her knees with the finality of it. I am no replacement for her husband, most certainly, but having a reason to pull her focus away from herself, even for a day or so, seemed to be just the thing she needed.
My idea of help blown to the wind, we did manage to get some lists made, appointments made, and the obituary finalized and emailed. Along the way we also had some good time together just talking and remembering. I think that we were able to share some special moments, which would have been missed if I had been energetically tackling another pile of tasks.
Monday night I realized what must be ailing me. A Texas Doctor wouldn't as readily think of Lyme as a Pennsylvania Doctor would, but as I surveyed my symptoms it occurred to me that I had been looking at a rash almost the whole time without understanding what it was. Skipping the actual location of said rash, I'll just say that I had earlier chalked it up to skin flushing due to the fever. Taking another look, I saw that it was indeed round, and could very well be a bullseye. My stiff neck prevented me from seeing any more, but it made perfect sense. We live in Lyme Heaven, Isaac and most of our friends and neighbors have had Lyme, and we see the rotten little ticks on a regular basis. A series of phone calls made the next morning secured me an appointment with my General Practitioner, thanks to our friend, Dr. Noble. Relief.
Charles returned the night before I left, and Wednesday morning he and Mom accompanied me to the airport. I drove there, neither of them liking the others' driving habits. Once we pulled up to the curb at my terminal I was about ready to toss the keys into the air and run as they discussed who should pilot the chariot home... Hugs and warm assurances of our mutual love exchanged, I gathered my things and entered the airport, confident that they would make it home somehow, praying that it would be safely!
My flight to O'Hare to change planes was uneventful and I enjoyed the long underground walk from terminal C to D. I hadn't done much walking at all the entire time, and it felt good to stretch my legs. When it was almost time to board my plane, they called over the intercom for a volunteer to take a later flight to Harrisburg in order to free up space on the aircraft, with a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in the contiguous 48 states being the reward for such generosity. The tiny aircraft that we were about to board being similar to what I had flown in on the way to O'Hare Saturday, I understood the need. I joined two others in volunteering to change flights and was given a voucher for a free round-trip. There's my "actually be visible help to Mom" trip.
My changed flight was leaving from Terminal C, so I repeated my walk, which was actually a delight, because the tunnel has been decorated with an artful display of changing colored light rods. I also had the chance to thank a group of young Soldiers for their service to our country, which I try to do every time I travel.
The aircraft for my new flight was a larger size, and far more comfortable- what a blessing!
The details are getting too numerous to share, and you may have already nodded off to sleep, so I'll just say that I am happily home, have had my appointment, bloodwork, and am glad to have Doxycycline flowing through my veins. Doxy, do your work!
God moves in mysterious ways. I am certain this time was not wasted, though I may not ever fully know how.