Tuesday, April 28, 2015

EARTHQUAKE - Chapter 17

Tuesday morning Mary awoke with a new enthusiasm. She tried to wrap the elastic bandage as well as the nurses had wrapped them. She did the exercises they taught her. She moved from the bed to the wheelchair. When she had a chance to do so, she took the wheelchair out in the hall and rolled all the way down and back without stopping. In the bed she moved to the different positions without help. Karl was alive. Dana was alive. She had reason to live and to learn to get about on this stump. She wanted to be a wife and mother again. She wanted to move as quickly as possible from being needy to being needed.
When Karl came in to visit her after dialysis, he told her about discovering that Clifford Cartright was in this hospital and that Dr. Kubicki is his doctor. Clifford is suffering from amnesia but is ready to be discharged. Karl guessed that as soon as Melodie finds out she will drive down to get him.
Karl told Mary that he is discouraged by the first couple visits he made to apply for a job as diesel mechanic in Monroe. They discussed whether he would have a better chance in Arkansas. Karl said that he is going to ask Dr. Kubicki if Mary could be moved to Arkansas for her residential physical therapy.
On Wednesday Clifford and Melodie stopped in Mary’s room. They were on their way down to the business office for Clifford’s discharge papers and then on to Little Rock. Melodie told her that Dana was watching her children.
Mary said, “I thought she was at a shelter.”
“Apparently she was being mistreated there. She ran away and then called me and asked if I would come and get her. I told Karl that I need some kind of legal paper giving me temporary guardianship.”
Dr. Kubicki came in to see Mary on his rounds. He asked her to remove the elastic bandage even though Wanda was accompanying him on his rounds. He looked closely at her stump.
“Now let me see you wrap it by yourself.”
Mary worked quickly, but carefully, wrapping it tightly, but not so tight it would cut off the blood flow in her leg. When she was finished she looked up. Wanda was smiling approval. Dr. Kubicki said,
“I am impressed. Mrs. Cusak, you are making remarkable progress. Your stump has healed well. The elastic bandage is shaping it like it should. The nurses report on your chart that you are turning yourself onto the correct side or prone or on your back on schedule and without being told or requiring assistance. You are moving yourself from the bed to the wheelchair and from the wheel chair onto the toilet and back into the wheelchair without requiring assistance. You are rolling yourself down the hall once and twice a day. AND Mamaw’s Miracle Medicine has coaxed your kidneys into resuming their function.
“In summary, Mrs. Cusak, I am really happy. Anytime after this Friday, I will release you to be moved to a residential physical rehabilitation facility. I realize that it may take a few days or even a week to find a suitable facility. You will remain in our hospital’s care until then. Even though you are able on your own to make these movements from bed to wheelchair and back again and from wheelchair to toilet and back into the wheelchair, you must have a nurse observing you. Accidents can happen to the best of people. I want someone there to catch you if you fall. That stump is fragile. Think of it as fine china.”
“Thank you, Doctor. Thank the Lord. God bless you!”
“Let’s not forget to thank Mamaw.”
Mary was so happy. She couldn’t wait to see Karl and tell him.
When the dialysis nurse came, she told Mary that this would be her last treatment. Doctor Kubicki said that she wouldn’t need any further dialysis as long as her kidneys were functioning.
Karl came soon after the dialysis treatment was completed.
“Mary, I am not having any encouragement at all about finding a job in Louisiana. My years of experience working on large farms, for a heavy equipment dealer, and in the National Guard over in Iraq doesn’t mean a thing to them. Apparently, in the aftermath of Katrina, a lot of unqualified men were hired for the cleanup and rebuilding. They botched up jobs and it cost a lot of money to undo their mistakes. Others ruined valuable equipment trying to perform repairs or even maintenance which they didn’t know how to do. They want more than my word that I can do the work.”
“Karl, I received some good news from the doctor. He said that he would release me to a residential physical rehabilitation facility any day after Friday. He said we could take as long as a week to find one and I will remain in this hospital until we find one. Isn’t that good news? It means I am one giant step toward being a wife and mother, being needed instead of needy.”
Karl kissed her.
They talked more about Clifford and Melodie and about Dana.
Karl said, “I’m worried about her running away and Melodie is worried about police. I’m going to drive back there tonight and see what I can do. The Department of Human Services will be open tomorrow. It will be closed on Friday because that’s the Fourth of July.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

EARTHQUAKE - Chapter 16

When I arrived at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Stauer, Mrs. Cartright’s parents, she hugged me. I cried and told her all that had happened. She said,

“I’m glad you are out of that situation. At the same time I am afraid of what might happen if that shelter called the police. If your father were here, he could call the Department of Human Services and straighten things out. I may hear from him tonight.

“I had some marvelous news while I was waiting for you. There is a man in the hospital where your mother is who has amnesia. They didn’t know who he was. They asked your father to see him. He recognized him as my husband Clifford Cartright.

“My parents are due to arrive here tonight. I am going to Monroe to meet Clifford and bring him back here if possible. I am asking you to watch my children until I get back from Monroe. My parents will be here, but they don’t have any patience with children. Will you do that for me, Dana?”

“Of course I will, Mrs. Cartright.”

“I don’t know what to do about clothes for you. I’m afraid to take you to a store, because the shelter may have called the police and there may be an Amber Alert for you. I will get one of my nightgowns. Put it on and then wash and dry all the clothes you have on. I’ll show you where the washer and dryer are located. Take off your socks and wash them also. You can walk around barefoot in the house.”

About then the two children, Jamie and Joy, came running down the stairs. They ran straight to Dana’s arms. After she hugged them, Jamie said,

“Ooh, you stink.”

I laughed and took that as my cue to go upstairs, undress, take a shower, and put on the cotton nightgown Mrs. Cartright had laid out for me while I was in the shower. I went downstairs with my bundle of dirty clothes. Mrs. Cartright showed me where the washer and dryer were. I put the clothes into the washer and turned it on.

Mrs. Cartright was fixing an early supper for the children. She was hoping that they would be in bed by the time her parents arrived. She fixed a plate for me and I was glad. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. After we ate, I went to check on the wash. It was done and I put everything in the dryer. After I turned it on, I told Mrs. Cartright I wanted to lie down for a while.

I lay down on top of the bed spread. Sometimes during the night I was freezing cold. It was pitch dark. I crawled under the blankets and went back to sleep. I must have slept late. The sun was bright through the curtains. When I crawled out from under the covers, there at the foot of the bed my clean clothes were neatly folded.

I went downstairs and encountered Mrs. Stauer, waiting impatiently for me.

“I understood that you were going to take care of Melodie’s children. They are up, running around in their pajamas, probably watching cartoons. I don’t want to have to care for two little children. I have just returned from a trip and I am exhausted.”

I found the children parked in front of the television in the living room watching cartoons.

“Hi Dana,” they chimed together.

“Have you had any breakfast?”


“Let’s go get some and then get washed and dressed.”

I turned the television off and led them into the kitchen. I put some corn flakes in three bowls, some milk on them, and we began to eat our breakfast. Afterward, I took them upstairs to their rooms, found some play clothes, washed and dressed them and then we sat on the floor.

I led them in some songs, some hand clapping and finger fun. Then I said, “There must be some story books around here.”

“All our books were buried when the house fell down.”

“Let’s go exploring and see if we can find a story book.”

There were many rooms in the house. Some of them looked like they had been closed for decades. In one dusty bedroom we found some old books. There were Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates and many others that were too old for them, but at the bottom of the pile was Mother Goose Stories. Perfect!

We went back to their room and met Mrs. Stauer.

“What were you doing snooping around my house? Did you think you could find something to steal?”

“No, ma’am. We were looking for some children’s books so I could read them stories. All their books were destroyed in the earthquake.”

“The earthquake, the earthquake. I’m sick of hearing about it.”

“I found a book of Mother Goose Tales. May I borrow it to read to the children?”

“Oh, I suppose so, if it will keep the rug rats amused and away from me.”

She stomped out of the room. The children were upset. Jamie said,

“She’s mean. I don’t like her.”

I said, “Let’s read a couple of these stories.” The children listened attentively to the first couple stories. Then they became restless. I decided to take them outside for a while to play. When we reached the door, Mrs. Stauer appeared out of nowhere.

“Where are you going?”

“I was going to take the children outside to play for a while until it is their lunch time.”

“You didn’t ask my permission. I don’t want them outside. They will get a sunburn. Take them upstairs. I’ll call when lunch is ready.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

If she wants them upstairs, upstairs we’ll go. When we were upstairs just as we were going into the children’s room I noticed the long hall.

“I know what we can do. We can have races in the hallway. Then we’ll play a game of tag. After that we can play hide and seek.”

The sounds of the children squealing, the slapping of their shoes on the wood floor, the bumps when they fell were my revenge on the mean Mrs. Stauer.

At supper she announced that Melodie was driving back tomorrow with her husband Clifford. If my father called she didn’t call me to the phone or tell me any messages he might have left for me.

After I put the children in bed, I went downstairs with my clothes to wash them. When Mrs. Stauer saw me going toward the laundry room she said,

“Where do you think that you are going?”

I was going to wash my clothes. I only have one set of clothes. That is what your daughter told me to do.

“Only one set of clothes. I guess it’s the earthquake again. The washer and dryer don’t belong to Melodie. They are mine and I say who can use them. Take your clothes back upstairs with you.”

The next day at lunch time I told the children that their mother and father were coming home, probably after supper some time.

Mr.& Mrs. Clifford Cartright arrived while the children were in for their naps. Mr. Cartright walked painfully into the house and looked confused. His father-in-law came out to meet him, hugged him and kept saying,

“Clifford, Clifford, it’s really you. You survived.”

Tears were rolling down his face. His wife came out and tried to take charge.

“You will just have to find a nice psychiatric hospital to put him in.”

“He doesn’t need that. I talked for a long time with his doctor and with their mental health specialist. The trauma to the brain wiped out all his memory of who he is, who his family is, where he lived or worked, who his friends were. This is day one for him to know me or his children.

“On the other hand, his knowledge of accounting and bookkeeping are intact. He doesn’t need to be in a hospital. He needs to be home with me and his children.”

Mrs. Stauer said, “I don’t know if I can feel safe with a madman in the same house with me.”

“Very well, mother, we will pack up and go to a motel if that is what you need.”

Mr. Stauer said, “You’ll stay in this house as long as you need to until you can find another house of your own. Millicent can check herself into a psychiatric hospital if she doesn’t feel safe in my house. I worked hard for the money I put into this house. I bought a big house so there would always be plenty of room when our children came to stay with their families – whether for a week’s vacation, or as it is with Melodie, to recover from a disaster.”

Millicent muttered, “The earthquake, the earthquake, the earthquake.”

I was embarrassed and went upstairs.   

Jamie and Joy were in their room playing.

“Are Mommy and Daddy home yet?”

“Yes, they just walked in the door.”

They flew out of their room and ran squealing down the steps.

“Mommy. Daddy.”

In all that confusion, the door bell rang. It was the police.

Mr. Stauer went to the door.

“What is the problem, officers?”

“We have information that a girl, Dana Kusak may be here or that you may have information where she is. She is a runaway and we have instructions to pick her up.

Melodie went to the door.

“Officers, please come in and let me explain to you what happened. Dana was in a shelter at St. Edwards parish school. Her grandfather died, and I was contacted by the hospital. Through the Red Cross I located her father, then Dana, and finally her mother. Dana and her father were reunited at her grandfather’s funeral last Thursday. I found out that her mother was in a hospital in Monroe, Louisiana so on Monday her father left for Monroe, Louisiana to see his wife who is in a hospital there after having part of her leg amputated.

“On Monday they moved out all the earthquake survivors from St. Edwards School and took them to a church camp in Ferndale. Dana had been living together with the family of her best friend, Rosalita at the St. Edwards shelter. At Ferndale they separated these two girls from Rosalita’s mother and put them in a dormitory of older teenage girls. They were picked on and bullied from the beginning and the adults did nothing to protect them. They were elbowed and shoved out of the food lines. Dana had all of her clothes stolen. When she told the adult advisor she just shrugged it off, they did nothing.

“She called me crying on Tuesday. I sent my car for her. When I talked to her father on the phone that night I told him what happened and asked him to send me an a letter giving me permission to let her live with us until he gets back up here. He was going to have it notarized and then send it by fax to me. Let me check the fax machine.”

When she returned she looked puzzled.
           “There were no messages on the fax machine. There are usually half a dozen”

Mrs. Stauer said,“Oh, I tore all the messages off the machine and shredded them.”

An officer said, “I’m sorry Mrs. Cartright, we will have to take her back to Ferndale. That is where she ran away from.”

Dana was upstairs and heard all that was said. She went quietly into her bedroom and picked up her teddy bear and silently went down the hallway to the back stairs, and down to the back door. She went out into the dark, cold night.
           In the back of the house she looked around. She spied the garage. Creeping over to it she tried the door. It was unlocked. Inside the garage were two cars. One of them was locked, but the big one which had come for her and which took them to the funeral, was unlocked. She crawled into the back seat and lay down. Her feet touched something soft. It was a lap robe rolled up on the end of the seat. There was another one rolled up at the other end. Using one for a pillow and the other for a blanket, she was soon asleep hugging her teddy bear.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

EARTHQUAKE - Chapter 15

On Friday, Karl went to a Regions Bank and asked for the balance in his checking and savings accounts. He had $1000 placed on a money card and took $300 in cash. Then he went to several car rental agencies to inquire about renting a car to drive to Monroe, Louisiana for several days. All the major car rental firms turned him down because he now had no residence address. Finally, he went to a Rent-a-Wreck agent.

“Look, fellow, I know you are jammed up. You look like an honest man to me. It isn’t like you are wanting to rent a Jaguar. Come back on Monday when you need the car. I’ll write it up using your address in Victoria. It isn’t like all that many people ever heard of Victoria or know that it was in an earthquake. I’ll see you Monday.”

He found the offices of Blue Cross. He wanted to see if they knew where Mary was in the hospital. He wanted to be sure that they would pay the claims.

“Yes, sir. We have it in the system that she is a patient at St. Francis Medical Center in Monroe, Louisiana. It is a little bit harder for us because the billing information has to be sent to us by Louisiana Blue Cross after they receive it from the hospital. Then if we have any questions for the doctor or hospital they are funneled through Louisiana Blue Cross. In the end the hospital and doctors are being paid. You’re in good shape.”

“What about when they move her into a rehab center?”

“We would rather that she go to one of our approved rehab centers in Arkansas. When the time comes, we will discuss it with her surgeon. If he says that he wants her where he can keep check on her, we will have to do what the doctor says.”

“Thank you.”

He went back to the shelter, met up with the others, and went down to River Market to look for a good place to eat. They found an Irish pub. Supposedly the owner bought a pub in Dublin, Ireland, dismantled it piece by piece and shipped it to Little Rock where it was reassembled. Karl didn’t believe that malarkey for one minute. However, they did have good sausages and beer.

That night they were glad for the clamp Karl bought to keep the door closed to outsiders. There was racket in the hallway, fighting, doors slamming, and tough looking men roaming the halls. It was definitely not a safe place to be. The next morning the stairway was filled with bottles, some broken, litter from fast food joints, and vomit.

Saturday he hid his tool box under his cot and decided to spend the day sightseeing. He rode on a streetcar which is a replica of the ones that ran in Little Rock in the XIX century, went to the Clinton Presidential Library, and walked across the bridge beside it to North Little Rock and then walked back across it. By then he was tired. He stopped at a stall in the River Market to sit, rest, and slowly eat a hot dog and drink a Coke.

When Karl got back to the room Jack Raymond had brought back two pizzas for all of them to share. They went down for showers first and brought back coffee from the lobby. They were now ready to hunker down in their fortress before the rioting rampage would begin.

Karl was so grateful that they were together for protection. He couldn’t imagine what it was like for men there who were alone and rooming with strangers. What they had gone through was bad enough - losing homes and many of them losing family members. Then to have to come and live like this having no idea what the future held. It was like being locked up in a prison with no guards – a prison run by the prisoners. The only other option was to go live with the homeless. He wondered how many would choose that option.

On Sunday, the stairway was even worse. A policeman was in the lobby at the bottom of the stairs.

“Okay, I want all the bottles and other litter cleaned off the stairs all the way to the top floor. I want it done right now. If it isn’t completely clear of litter in one hour’s time, I am going to run all of you out of this shelter, put a padlock on it and declare it unfit for habitation.”

They all knew that the injustice of it was not going to carry the day. To argue with the policeman would just bring more grief. They took the garbage bags he gave them and proceeded to pick up the litter. The men who had thrown it there were now sleeping off a drunk or were in a drug induced dreamland.

Karl had to hurry to get to the shelter where Dana was living until tomorrow. While they were eating, Dana told him how fearful she was about what might happen tomorrow. He gave her $50 and a phone card. He made sure that she had the card with Mrs. Cartright’s address and phone number.

“If anything happens, or you get into trouble, call Mrs, Cartright. She will take care of you until I can get there.”

After he dropped Dana off at the shelter, he called Mrs. Cartright.

“Mrs. Cartright, you have done so much for us that I am ashamed to ask yet another favor.”

“Mr. Cusak, I’ll be happy to do anything I can.”

“My daughter, Dana, is afraid of what is going to happen tomorrow. Tomorrow I am driving down to Monroe, Louisiana to see my wife. Then I want to see if I can find a job down there. I may not get back until Thursday or Friday. If Dana calls you and needs help, would you take care of her until I get back? I’ll call you each evening to let you know what I am doing and you can let me know if you have heard from Dana.”

“I will be glad to do that, Mr. Cusak.”

On Monday, Karl rented a 2007 Toyota Corolla. He put his tools and clothes in the trunk. It was a little past 9:30 AM when he left Little Rock. It was about 1:30PM when he arrived at St. Francis Medical Center. When the lady in the Information kiosk called, the nurse said to ask Mr. Cusak to wait until 3PM. Mrs. Cusak was having her dialysis treatment. They had a nice long visit. The nurses postponed several things because they knew this was their first meeting since the earthquake.

 Karl found a motel room at a Days Inn and then went out to find some supper.

On Tuesday he went to several heavy equipment dealers inquiring about a job as mechanic. When they found out that he had not gone to a school for diesel mechanics, they were not interested.

He went to the hospital that afternoon. It was again too early to visit Mary. Karl asked where the Cafeteria was located. He hadn’t eaten anything except a donut and coffee at the motel that morning. The hot food lines had just closed. He found a display of cellophane wrapped sandwiches, another one of salads. He bought a ham and cheese on rye bread, a large fruit salad, a bag of chips, and a bottle of chocolate milk.

While he was eating, a doctor came to his table.

“Are you Karl Cusak?”


“I’m Dr. Jacob Kubicki, your wife’s surgeon. I talked to you on the phone last Friday. The Information volunteer told me that I would find you here. I have a favor that I would like to ask of you.”

“Certainly, Doctor.”

“We have a man who was brought here on the same plane that brought your wife here. He was really banged up badly. I had to perform two sessions of surgery to repair the damage. He has recovered nicely from the surgery, but he suffered trauma to his head which has left him with amnesia. The Arkansas State Police ran his fingerprints through their files, but didn’t find anything. He had no identification on him when he was brought in. While you are waiting to see your wife, would you mind going with me into his room and see if by some chance you recognize him.”

We went to the elevator and rode to the third floor. As soon as we walked into the room, I recognized him.

“This is Clifford Cartright. He was the bookkeeper and accountant at Wesson Farm where I worked. His wife is the one who located Mary here in Monroe.”

“Clifford, your wife Melodie and your two children will be happy to find out that you are alive. Doctor, do you want to call his wife, I have their number?”

Clifford looked puzzled.

Soon after that Karl saw Mary and told her about Clifford being in the same hospital and having the same surgeon she has. He told her that he was trying to find a job but so far with no success. He didn’t tell her his concerns about Dana because he didn’t want to upset her.

After he visited with Mary, Karl asked to see Dr. Kubicki. He waited in the waiting room over a half hour until they called his name. One of the volunteers told him to take the elevator to the fourth floor and Dr. Kubicki would meet him there. When he stepped off the elevator he saw by the signs that this was the floor where the surgical suites and surgery waiting room were located.

“I’m sorry to meet you in the hallway. I’d just finished one surgery when you asked to meet me. I have another one scheduled. I can only give you fifteen minutes.”

“Doctor, I need to know some things about Mary’s future in order to make decisions about my own immediate future. We have a daughter, so I have to find a job and a place for us to live. The first question is Where? I assume that Mary will be moved to a residential physical rehabilitation facility in the near future. Will you want her to be in a facility here or could she go to a facility in Arkansas?”

“If she is moved to a facility in Monroe, and St. Francis has a fine facility here, then I would continue to be her attending physician. On the other hand, there are some excellent residential physical rehabilitation facilities in Arkansas and I can help you choose one. Please understand that wherever she goes she will have to be moved by ambulance. You can’t transport her in a car.”

“Thank you. The other thing that I wanted to know is how long she will be in a residential facility before she can come home?”

“It could be three to six months. With her attitude of cooperation and wanting to get well, I would guess not much longer than three months. That is assuming that there are no setbacks. After she goes home, she will have physical therapists coming to the home five days a week and then three days a week for probably six months.”

“Thank you so much, Doctor.”

“Thank you for your help with Clifford Cartright.”

When he returned to his room, he called Mrs. Cartright. He was surprised when Dana answered the phone.

“Dana, what are doing at Mrs. Cartright’s home?”

“Daddy, the shelter they sent us to was an abandoned church camp. The adults were mean. The first day I was there all my clothes were stolen. When I told one of the adult leaders she said it was my fault for having them in a garbage bag and that someone probably threw them out with the garbage. But that was what they gave us to put our clothes in. There were no closets or dressers. They put Rosalita and I in a dormitory of bunk beds made of rough lumber and with smelly mattresses. All the other girls were older than us. They made fun of us and picked on us.

“I ran away the next day and called Mrs. Cartright. She sent her car for me. Now she is afraid that she will get in trouble because I ran away.

“She is all excited about her husband being found. Her parents are due back tonight. She is going to leave the children with them so that she can drive down to Monroe tomorrow. Here she is. She wants to talk to you.”

“Mr. Kusak, I cannot thank you enough for being a part of finding my husband. I have been afraid all this time to face the fact that he was probably dead. He had gone to the Wesson Farm offices in Osceola that day. I heard that it had been reduced to rubble.

“As Dana has already told you, I am afraid of getting into trouble keeping her here since she ran away from that shelter. If you would do this for me, please. Go someplace in Monroe tomorrow morning and type a statement saying that you are the legal parent of Dana Kusak and that you have requested that Mrs. Melodie Cartright, put in my address and phone number, keep Dana Kusak as a house guest for a week’s time while you are job hunting. Have the statement notarized and fax it to me at 501-555-5978. You can probably do all that at the motel you are in.

“Tell me about Clifford. How is he?”

“He looked pretty confused when I told him his name, and that he has a wife and two children. Physically, he was banged up pretty bad. He still has bandages. However, the doctor said that he was ready to be discharged, but they didn’t know where to send him.”

“I am going down to Monroe tomorrow. I would like to leave Dana here to take care of my children. My parents will be here, but they don’t have any patience with little children. Dana is just great with them.”


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

EARTHQUAKE - Chapter 14

Beginning Tuesday, Mary’s days were so full that she was glad when the night time came. During the day, every time that she was turned, someone was soon there to teach her some exercise to do in that position. When the nurse removed the bandage on her stump, she told Mary to bathe it. The nurse was Ilene,

“I’m sorry Mrs. Cusak, that isn’t good enough. Be glad Wanda isn’t here. Now bathe it again like you used to tell your child to wash behind their ears.”

When she had bathed it satisfactorily, Ilene put a gauze bandage on the bottom of the stump, then she said, “Now it is time to learn to wrap the stump with elastic bandage. Here in Intensive Care Unit we use a new elastic bandage every time. When you go to a room, you will be taught how to wash these bandages, and how to lay them out to dry so they don’t lose their elasticity.”

Mary had to try several times before Ilene was satisfied with the way she wrapped it. Later in the morning it was unwrapped. Dr. Kubicki came in. Wanda was with him. He barely glanced at the stump, then at my chart, and he was gone. Mary had to wrap the stump under Wanda’s scrutiny.

At lunch Ilene told her, “You are going to start eating your meals while sitting on the side of the bed. I want you to use the trapeze handle to pull yourself up. Hold onto it while you turn to the side. Use your arms, not your legs or hips to turn around. It will be awkward until you build up strength in your arms. Get it fixed in your mind that from now on your arms are going to have to do a lot of the work your leg used to do.”

Mary pulled herself up, held onto the trapeze handle with one hand and pulled herself around with the other. Ilene wanted to help her, but she was only there to keep Mary from falling. By the time Mary was sitting on the edge of the bed, her face was red and she was out of breath. After she finished eating, she had exercises to do before she lay down. When the dialysis nurse came, it was a welcome reprieve from exercises. Mary’s days became as busy as they had been as housewife and mother but with entirely different activities.

After several days sitting on the edge of the bed, Shawnda informed Mary that it was time to learn to move herself safely from the bed to the wheelchair, roll over to the table and eat her meal at the table.

“Next week, whether you are still here or in a room, you will learn to get out of bed, into a wheelchair, roll over to the toilet, and move from the wheelchair onto the toilet. Get those arms strong because you are going to be using them more than you ever did before.”

On Friday Dr, Kubicki came in while she was sitting at the table eating lunch.

“Wonderful, I am so proud of you. I know how hard you must be working to be at this point in only two weeks. You are a model patient. Your stump has healed nicely. The elastic bandages now are shaping it to fit a prosthesis. I am happy to report that your kidneys have started functioning again. That doesn’t happen often. They are still not functioning fully but they are on their way. We will keep you on dialysis for another week.

On another subject, Your husband called today and wanted to talk to you. I explained to him that there are no telephones patients can use in ICU because we can’t sterilize a telephone. However, I told him that we are moving you to a room on Monday. When you are moved to a room, he can call you on the phone or come visit you. Isn’t that a good reward for all the hard work that you have been doing?

“Oh, I almost forgot. He said he loves you.”

“Dr. Kubicki, thank you so much for all that you have done for me.”

Knowing that she would be moved to a room on Monday and that Karl was going to call made the rest of the day and Saturday and Sunday drag along as though they would last forever.

On Monday, when they moved her down to a room, she had to move herself into the wheelchair. In the room they set her at a table while some men set up the bars to which the trapeze handle is attached.

A nurse with fiery red hair, a crisp white uniform, a cap with green stripes, and a somewhat military bearing came in to see Mary.

“Welcome to our ward, Mrs. Cusak. My name is Catherine O’Doule. I want to explain some differences between being in a room and being in ICU. The biggest difference is that each of my nurses has seven or eight patients versus one, two, or three in ICU. Most of the time you will have to call for a nurse.

“Having said that, we don’t want you to try to sit on the edge of the bed, or get into a wheelchair, or try to sit on the toilet without a nurse being there to catch you if you fall. One fall can set back all the healing in your stump and might cause them to have to redo the amputation. Your stump is very fragile right now.

“Do you have any questions?”

“My husband tried to call me on Friday, but I was in ICU so I couldn’t talk to him. They told him that I would be in a room on Monday and he could call then. I don’t see any phone in this room.”

“I’ll call Maintenance and tell them to bring a phone to this room. If your husband should happen to call before they install it, we will take you in your wheelchair down to the nurses’ station and you can use the phone there.

“Speaking of wheelchairs – once a day, at least, while you are in the wheelchair, I expect you to go the entire length of this hallway and back in the wheelchair, under your own power.”

Mary was sitting on the side of her bed, waiting for lunch, when Karl called her.

“Karl, it is so good to hear your voice. Have you seen Dana?”

“Yes, I saw her at your father’s funeral on Thursday. Then we had Sunday dinner together at a restaurant. How are you doing?”

“I guess that you know that my right leg had to be amputated below the knee. I was in the beauty salon in Luxora when the earthquake occurred. The building collapsed. I was crawling out – I almost made it out – when the ceiling crashed down and trapped my legs. I was there all that day and night. It wasn’t until the next afternoon that they rescued me. My right leg had a crush fracture. That is why they had to amputate it.”

“We will get through this, Mary. You are alive, Dana is alive, I am alive. We’ll all be together again soon. I am on my way to Monroe now. Is that all right?”

“I can’t wait to see you, Karl. Will Dana be with you?”

“No, I want to look around while I’m down there to see if I can find a job. If I can find a job, then I can get a place for Dana and I to live so that we can see you often.”

“That would be ideal because I imagine that I will have quite a bit of physical therapy once that start putting on an artificial leg.”

“I’ll see you later this afternoon.”

“I love you Karl.”

After he hung up, Karl broke out in a cold sweat. He had to sit for a while before he was able to start driving. Hearing Mary describe having a building collapse on her and a ceiling fall, trapping her, reminded him of the persons that they had rescued. Then it reminded him of all the collapsed buildings and fallen ceilings he had lifted with the blade of his dozer so that the soldiers could pull out dead bodies. The smell of death came pouring into his memory. “Thank you Lord, for the ones we rescued. Thank you that there were people who rescued Mary.”

After her dialysis treatment, Karl came into the room. She called for the nurse so that she could get into the wheelchair. Then they sat across from each other. Time just flew as they asked each other over and over in many different ways – Are you really here? Are you really okay?  I love you. When supper time came, Karl had to leave.

That evening after supper, while she was in the wheelchair Mary decided to roll herself down the hallway. It felt good to gain one more small amount of independence. She rolled down the hallway, occasionally smiling at a patient who was looking out the doorway or sitting in a chair eating their supper. When she reached the last room, a brassy voice that sounded familiar called out of the room,

“Hey, don’t I know you from someplace?”

Mary looked into the room and saw a woman with both legs in a cast and the legs were suspended in traction.

“Come on in here so we can talk.”

Just then a nurse walked by and said,

“You can talk from the doorway, but you have to stay in the hallway where we can watch you.”

“No, you can’t do this; no, you can’t do that. That is all they know how to say around here,” said the woman in traction.

“You said that you thought that you knew me. I doubt that you do. I am from Victoria, Arkansas.”

“And you were in a beauty shop in Luxora when the earthquake happened.”

“Are you Miss Helen Brumstel?”

“None other, although the way I am bummed up, I wonder if I’ll ever be the same. I sure couldn’t get a man looking like this.”

Mary almost giggled. With Miss Brumstel’s abrasive and critical attitude she was no “catch” before the quake. Instead she said,

“Well, I thought that you and Sissy were killed when the building collapsed.”

“Sissy was killed almost immediately. A flying shard of glass cut her neck and throat. The roof remained propped up for a while on the corner of the building where we were. There was a huge hole in the rear. I started walking toward it but I got my foot caught and as I fell, I broke my leg. I think the men who rescued me broke the other leg. Clumsy oafs! Do you know how they got me to the hangar? They found a door lying on the ground, somehow hooked a rope to it, laid me on the door, and pulled it behind their ATV. It reminded me of those things the Indians used to rig up with two poles and a buffalo skin to drag a sick person with their horse.”

“At least they got you out of the building and to someplace where you could be taken to a hospital.”

“Yeah, but look at the hospital they sent me to. Louisiana. You know what we say about Louisianans in Arkansas? ‘They eat the heads off crawfish. If they didn’t do that, they wouldn’t have any brains at all.’”

“Well, I had better be getting back to my room.”

When Mary was back in her room, Nurse O’Doule came into the room to watch as she maneuvered out of the wheelchair and onto the bed, and then turned to lie on her left side.

“Is that woman, Helen Brumstel, your friend?”

“No, ma’am. She was in the same beauty salon with me when the earthquake occurred. I thought that both she and the hairdresser were killed. Evidently she was rescued before me.”

“Has she always been so critical or is it just since the quake?”

“The hairdresser said that she could never do anything to please her and that she talked constantly about other people, criticizing or making fun of them.”

“I wish that I could feel sorry for her, but I don’t. She has driven us crazy. If she ever said, ‘Thank you.’ I would have to be given smelling salts.”

That night Mary was really tired. She had to wrap her stump three times before it satisfied the nurse that came on duty for the night shift.

Maybe it was all the excitement and activity of the day, but the strangest thing happened. The foot and ankle and lower part of her right leg had such pain she could hardly stand it. Mary called for the nurse. An older woman with grey hair and a tired looking face answered the call. Her name was Jeanette LaBeaux. Her voice was warm and kind.

“What do you need, Sugar?”

“I’m almost embarrassed to tell you. The part of my leg, the ankle, and the foot that were amputated have sharp pains in them. The pain is so bad that I can hardly stand it.”

“Honey, that is a very common occurrence in amputations, and especially at this point in the healing. Now, the doctor can order pain medicine and if that doesn’t work he can go in there and cut some nerves, but I am going to tell you what usually works if you will do it. Forget about the amputation. Pretend that you still have that foot. Flex it, turn it side to side. Most of the time a vigorous workout of the missing parts will make the pain go away.”

Mary tried with all her might to imagine that the missing parts were still there. Then she started moving them. The more that she moved them, the pain subsided and went away.