The snow was coming, a blizzard that would shut down the East Coast. Esther and I were wondering when Sheila would get home and what we were going to do for dinner. It was getting later and I was thinking of Domino’s for pizza delivery. It was just that kind of lazy thinking kind of night. It was a Thursday. The next twenty-four hours are still kind of a blur. Hell, the next three weeks are still a bit hazy. This is what I remember…
That night Sheila came in the front door in a panic, saying something about Robert passing out without a pulse and on his way to the Wilkes-Barre Regional Hospital. She was talking to her sister Patty and sobbing, lying on the floor in the kitchen. Later she told me I said, “Get off the floor and pack a bag,” and to Esther, “Go pack a bag.”
I remember driving to Esther’s friend’s house to drop off our cat Zoe and stopping to fill the tank. I remember driving into the night, snow flurries on I-81 when we climbed onto the mountain ridge in Pennsylvania. I remember reminding myself to stay between the white lines and to avoid hitting the big trucks.
I remember meditating for calm, to clear the fear at what we might encounter after meeting my sister-in-law and her husband in the hospital parking lot.
I remember how calm voiced all the medical people were as they talked to us about our son in the hallway outside of his room. I remember how after a short time I couldn’t stay strong and broke down and had to leave, the image of my son stricken by…what?
Cardiac and pulmonary arrest.
After a flurry of activity I could hear something about medivac helicopters and UPenn in Philadelphia and that fucking blizzard and driving again and some name that was pronounced like handbags but wasn’t the same name, just driving.
Details about shit like this have little meaning for me. There are more important questions to consider. Will he live? Will he die? If he lives will he be alright? How the fuck does a clean living eighteen year old have his heart just stop?
I-476 is mostly two lanes going too fast and I kept thinking of what I would say to any cop that pulled me over, “We’re racing the helicopter carrying my possibly dead son to save his life. Escort us to Philadelphia so we can beat death there.”
We had called ahead, no, my sister-in-law called the hotel. We dropped Sheila at the hospital and Esther and I went to check in. They didn’t have our reservation under our rewards program; my credit card wasn’t accepted (Check your damn mail to see that the company had sent one of those cards with the new security chip!) so I had to debit card that room…I remember being unduly, but politely, upset with the poor desk clerk who during our stay over later days was very sweet to me asking how our son was doing.
Always check your snail mail…
Stupid doctors assuming we don’t know if our son does drugs.
“Does he live at home?”
“No, he lives on campus.”
“Well he could be doing drugs there!”
“”He lives in the wellness dorm…”
“…but you aren’t there!”
(Oh for fucks sake, do they assume every family has disjointed communications with their children?)
I remember wanting to track this guy down and punching him. Displaced anger and frustration, I know. Still…
Going back to the hotel, passing out about 24 hours after that first shock at home in Virginia. No dreams in my sleep, only a cold cover of dread and fear.
The snow was up to Esther’s waist and only the Wawa was open the next morning; their coffee sucks…but, well, it was coffee. It was an adventure getting to his room. My cousin Sequoyah had left a crate of goodies there after we had left. We heard the story of a beautiful woman coming by to see her cousin. She had also left a medicine pouch with a beautiful eagle feather.
In a few days not only was the Great Spirit being prayed to but also the gods of Jews, evangelicals, Hindus, Santeros, Catholics, and bargaining agnostic Zen-Christians like myself. All variations of the deity were being invoked. (We later estimated that tens of thousands of people were praying and meditating for Robert.) All of us opening ourselves to be conduits of Light and Goodness and Wisdom and Strength.
In the middle of one particular meditation I found myself talking to the orisha of the crossroads, Elegua, and demanding that he send my boy back. The ferryman on the river Styx was demanding payment but I told him my debit card was maxed out and for some reason my credit card wasn’t being accepted either. Robert, therefore, was a no-go!
The chant I found the most peace in is Buddhist. Do you know this: Nam myoho renge kyo? Give it a few tries, aloud, and feel whatever has your heart beating too quickly or your brow furrowed slowly melt away.
By the second weekend at UPenn Robert had been flipping off nurses and when seven of his friends from Lafayette College came down he was back to his favorite comment on the Garden State (“Fuck New Jersey!” Evidently, as I found out later, there’s a beef between folks in eastern PA and Jersey going on…) and cracking wise with his buddy Sydney who was catching him up on all the shenanigans she could remember from Easton.
He had been fighting for his life for eight days but only wanted to make his friend laugh…
The following day his big brother Wayne was in town to visit and hang with us and meet more of the family. As Robert put it today, “Wayne’s visit was better for you than it was for me cause I was in the damn hospital bed. You got to hang with him!” He, Wayne, has eloquently written about that visit here. His visit gave us time together, time we both wanted and needed.
The cause of Robert’s cardiac arrest is still a mystery.
He has an implanted device now, just in case (defib/pacer) because, well, just in case. He calls himself “The Iron Giant” and says “I am not a gun” (if you haven’t seen that movie…) His cousin Sienna calls him “The Cardiac Kid”.
There have been so many things that have formed the complex net of happenings, people, coincidences during Robert’s time in the hospital. At one point a woman came in, curious about the boy in this very interesting case, and when she found out Robert is from Fairfax told him she had a cousin from there who, it turned out, went to the same high school but had graduated a couple of years before him.
That kid is one of Robert’s best friends.
The cardiac arrest happened on a day sandwiched between the day he was skiing by himself on Camelback Mountain and the day he was to be driving himself back to campus. It happened in the house where his aunt and uncle are both trained in CPR.
The dispatcher who took their 911 call is a friend of one of their older sons and knew exactly where in the middle of East Bumfuck to send the ambulance.
The ER crew on duty that night was the top ER crew at the hospital we are told. The doc in charge knew right away that Robert was beyond what they could do for him and focused on getting the doc at Penn Presbyterian, the exact specialist Robert would need, on the phone.
That doctor, in spite of other voices on staff telling him that it was too long a time from the initial stoppage to when Robert would arrive for their technology to be of use, told Wilkes-Barre to helicopter him down to Philly. Doctor Gucchi (that’s okay, you can say it that way, he told us) has an 18 year old son and became personally invested in Robert’s case. He showed up on two different days when he wasn’t on duty to check on him, and us.
After two and a half weeks there we drove Robert to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in DC. After being assessed there and having rehab started we drove him home a week ago this past Monday, with another freaking snow storm approaching…
He is doing a variety of therapies and rehab work now. At some point we here in Casa Cuyjet will have to do some head and heart work ourselves. But the docs say he’s in for a full recovery, he’ll be 100% back.
And I fucking hate snow.