Cat Scan 3:00 a.m.

Upon rising after three hours of sleep to sun streaming through crystallized trees in a tinsel-like forest, the late night trip to the Emergency Room seemed like a dream.

Morning After, Kelly Salasin, Vermont

When our eight-year old woke just after midnight with a throbbing headache followed by vomiting, we were scared. He had fallen at the ice skating rink that afternoon and whacked his head hard. I checked his pupils, tracked his eyes and asked him questions.  It was probably just the stomach flu–which didn’t seem fair either.

Handing him over to his father, I grabbed a flashlight in search of the computer to see what the Internet could tell us. As a last resort, I would wake our family doctor.  The phone line was dead… again.

If it hadn’t already, this three-day weekend now seemed solidly stacked against us.  We’d been without power since Thursday and our water supplies for washing and flushing were spent. Through each moonlit night, I imagined the welcome sound of appliances clicking back on.  My husband and I were “ready” the moment it happened. We’d run to flush the toilets, start the dishwasher–at least the rinse cycle– and refill the water jug and tub.  With trees still falling, we couldn’t count on the power to last.

But this was all a fantasy.  No electric truck had been to our road or any of the back roads of southern Vermont where the storm hit the hardest.  “It would be a week,” they told us. But they couldn’t mean that.

When I returned to our bed, I took my son from my husband to try and make some sense out of this predicament.  Watching him hold his head and writhe, made it hard to think. “Maybe you should run next door to the neighbor’s for their cell phone,” I suggested so that we could call a doctor.

“We won’t get reception,” my husband countered.

“What about driving into town for a phone?” I retorted.

Countered.

Reluctantly, I resigned myself to waking the rest of the family to make the twenty-minute drive to the nearest hospital.  It was 1:11 am when we pulled off of our road and onto Route 9–dodging trees and power lines along the way.   My husband sat in the back holding a trashcan under Aidan’s mouth while we marveled at the palace of ice that surrounded us.

The admitting nurse at in the ER was from our town and we commiserated about the condition of our roads while the boys watched ice hockey in the empty waiting room.  A half an hour later, a doctor examined Aidan before calling in the technician from her own deep sleep and tree strewn road.

At 2:30 am, she asked me to lie down on the special “bed” first– in front of a space ship like donut hole that would scan my son’s brain.

“I’ll use the lowest dose I can,” she assured me, giving me something new to worry about. Together we draped Aidan with heavy “pink frosting”– his favorite– to protect his body from the radiation– and then we left him alone with the machine as it carried his tiny, trusting body into itself and hummed, enjoying this late night snack.  Aidan looked delicately angelic and I forced myself to smile at him through the glass window.

“Stay perfectly still, Aidan,” the technician reminded him.  I watched her for any signs of concern or relief as she monitored the images on the screens. “Any history of cancer or brain surgery?” she asked, “No,” I gulped, as I tried to discern what the cloudy shapes appearing on the computer might mean.

In an attempt to shift this experience from medical to educational, I casually asked if we could get a picture of his brain for school the next day.  Aidan joined us in the computer room and we watched as it sent the scans to a radiologist in some country where there was one awake.  “See the two sides of the brain, Mom?” Aidan pointed.  “I learned about that at school.”

Before wheeling him back to the ER, the technician offered Aidan a stuffed teddy bear and some snowman stickers which made him very happy and gave me an eerie “children’s hospital” feeling.  “I’ll stay until the results come back,” she offered kindly, alerting me even more.

We rejoined my husband and teenage son in the curtained examining space–and settled in to wait.  To pass the time, I suggested we resume the family game of “Christmas Carol Charades” that we had invented on our first night without power.

During these evenings without power, we found ourselves turning to bygone pastimes like this, from music making to singing to simple games.   Once the sun would set, both boys would gravitate to the candle-lit warmth of our bed where I would read the next chapter of Three Cups of Tea before sending them off to their own rooms.

The doctor reappeared just after my husband guessed Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  With a smile, he pronounced that Aidan’s scan looked, “Great!”

With a collective exhale, we left the hospital a little after three, but not before we all enjoyed the convenience of a restroom with running water and flushing toilets.  To savor the good news, we took the long way home through the hushed town of Brattleboro, taking in the lights before we arrived at our road where the only glimmer was that of the bright full moon reflecting in each prism of ice.  My husband reloaded the woodstove and we were all tucked back in bed before four.

Upon waking with the sun a few hours later to the sound of icicles crashing to the frosted forest floor, Aidan immediately launched into recollections of the evening.  He pulled out his snowman stickers and hugged his new, snow-colored bear.  ” I like going to the hospital!” he said, a little too enthusiastically.

“You know you can get a job there someday,” I offered in the hope of channeling his pleasure.

My husband headed out to the pond for the morning ritual of chopping through the ice tofill a trashcan with water so that we could flush our toilets another day.

Rather than feeling victimized by the sleepless night and the demands of a fourth day without power, I began to see myself as a heroine on a Winter Storm version of “Survivor”.

It was a Sunday, so I ordered us all into “house blessing” mode despite the chaos that surrounded us.   Lloyd swept the floors and Aidan emptied the trashcans.  I cleaned the toilets and the sinks with the new waters.  Afterward, we all gathered to decorate the tree as Christmas carols finished off the last precious minutes of the computer’s battery.

(2008)

Related posts:

Survivor Sours

And Then There Was Light

Philly, Foreign & Familiar

Kelly Salasin

In the span of one season, this unlikely sports fan is back in the stands at another professional baseball game– this time in Philadelphia.

Two decades in New England has made this mid-Atlantic city a stranger to me.   From parking-lot tailgaters to street cops to peddlers, the faces and attitudes in Philly are rough around the edges, but the connections are warmer than up north.

The air is warmer too– and filled with water.  My mountain-loving skin finds this steamy heat oppressive but I remind myself that I was once from the sea.

Cheesesteaks, soft pretzels and fries welcome me home.  Philly is a family-friendly stadium that competes with Fenway’s vintage charm with it’s own affordable seats, playgrounds and two dollar kids’ franks.  A ballpark says a lot about a city.

The huxters’ calls in the galleys are more robust than in Boston and yet more subdued in the stands where the attention is on the game. Field facing concessions and standing-room only counters keep all eyes on the players.

Philadelphia gets right into the action with a chorus of boos after the lead batter for the Cardinals slides safely into second. “It’s starting already,” someone cries in self pity, as if the “out” was entitled rather than earned.  Before inning ends, Victorina steals second– and is sent back to first.  The Phillies coach is out of the dugout and the umpire is in his face.  A sense of familiarity sweeps over me with this characteristic intrusion of personal space rarely experienced in New England.

When Ryan Howard steps up to bat, the man behind me calls, “C’mon big boy.”  There’s an emphasis on “boy” that reveals a prejudice barely under the surface.  This is a city close to the Mason-Dixon line.  Given this culture’s worship of big-name players, I can’t figure how racism jives inside their heads.

My own mind flashes to the nice white folks I knew growing up–the ones who dropped bombs like, “I’d never let a black hand in my mouth,” when the new dentist moved to town;  or “I hope I don’t get a nigger roomate,” when going off to college; or  “I don’t want a black man in my daughter’s wedding,” when the fiance brought  home his law partner.

With the election of a black president, I imagine something’s had to change in the psyche of this downtrodden city.   Just before Obama’s victory and after he passed through the town, Philly claimed their own power at the World Series– after 1oo collective sports seasons without a championship title.

I watch Philly take their new place in sports history with each throw of the relief pitcher, lifting him off the mound in their enthusiasm.  Standing together, they rattle the batter into a third out and return to their seats– satisfied– certain of their influence on the game.

A ballpark Liberty Bell rings for every home run and joyous faces are streamed on the big screen while a summer soundtrack grooves.  We belt out “Wildwood Days” and I reclaim this old home as mine.

At the seventh inning stretch, The Luau Girls dance on top of the duogout; and after two years of living among Red Sox fans,  I proudly sing out for the Phillies with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The  2009 Championship is in the air and I can’t wait to see these faces after a second win.

It was the afternoon of the last game of the 2008 Series when I reached back to Philly from my home in Vermont with this impassioned, but uncharacteristic post on a sport’s blog:

Philadelphia is the city of “brotherly love”– and the birthplace of our Nation.It is also home to the Philadelphia Phillies whose win tonight will clinch the Series.I can’t help but feel that this long-awaited triumph for Philly is aligned with the rebirth of Passion and Participation witnessed around this upcoming election.  Let us not forget that what we stand for as a Country is beyond the success or failure of any political party or candidate.  We the people are the ONES who demonstrate what it is to be American:  standing up for liberty and justice for ALL.Let’s reclaim that beautiful tender mission as we head into a new era of global interdependence.  And while we’re at it, GO Phillies!  May their win tonight create a surge in the tide for reclaiming our country’s Spirit with Obama’s leadership.

While I’ve never understood the link between baseball, patriotism, dollars and breasts, I did appreciate the instrumental version of the National Anthem offered by the middle-aged women in grass skirts and coconut bras.  Crossing the Delaware on the Walt Whitman, I felt a surge of pride for this foreign and familiar city.

Running Away from Home (a 24 hr family getaway)

I grabbed the Advocate on my way into the bathroom at the Brattleboro Food Co-op and out slipped an insert. There on the toilet, my eyes fixed on a coupon for “Chuck E Cheeses” which surprisingly enticed me with its offer of video games and cheap pizza. A month of continuous summer rain has rotted my brain.

The next day, I awoke to sun- the first all blue sky in weeks- and yet the absence of rain mocked me. With the return of the light came high winds, pulling the snap peas off the fence.

I have to get out of here,” I said to my husband as I stood shivering in our outdoor shower.

What do you mean?” he asked, wrapped tightly in his flannel robe.

I want to drive south until there are no clouds and it’s hot like a summer day is supposed to be.” I said.

When?” he asked, a little nervously, planning to use his chainsaw on this long-awaited dry day.

Now,” I answered with such desperation that he abandoned his
plans and helped form mine. The last time that he saw me like this was on day 6 without power during the past winter’s ice storm.

Pack your bags,” we told the kids, “and change into shorts, we’re heading south!”

With a quick online search, I discovered that the nearest Chuck E Cheeses was in Springfield, Massachusetts- an hour and half south. It seemed a flimsy target for a getaway, but my husband assured me that it was “okay“- even if our friends were in places like Italy or an island off the coast of Maine or hiking the Long Trail through Vermont.

Our destination felt even more pathetic when we left a perfect sky and headed indoors to an air conditioned storefront on a strip mall for a carpeted game room and pizza with frozen crust.   Casey was off of wheat so I had packed him a dinner of leftover potato salad and hard-boiled farm eggs. We sat near the soda machine- entitled to unlimited refills, while on the stage, larger than life mechanical animals performed to an empty party room.

With the coupon that found me on the toilet in the Co-op, we received 30 game tokens along with the pizza- and the boys got 15 more for the reports cards they thought to bring along. Lloyd recalled this perk from almost a decade ago when he went to a Chuck E Cheeses with my sister’s kids in Tampa. I hadn’t even looked at Aidan’s report yet, but I shamelessly handed it over for more booty. There was an air of frenetic excitement in the place and I hoped it would sweep us away.

Within moments, Casey and Lloyd were racing cars and shooting down wild beasts while Aidan and I tossed skee balls and made friends with the under 7 crowd. I noticed that we were the only “Caucasian family” here- so if nothing else- this was an experience of diversity.

I’ll never forget little Janice- pig tails, soft belly, bright smile and the inside scoop on what games gave the most tickets and how to the score them. She led us around the place like it was hers and I wondered if her mother wasn’t the one working the counter. When Aidan whipped me at air hockey, Janice took my place and even paid for the next round. Within minutes, there was a small crowd waiting to join our “tournament” during which names were exchanged and “where do you live?” without any of concern for strangers that I expected in streetwise kids.

An hour later, Lloyd- like a junkie- begged to buy even more tokens to play even more games to win even more tickets, but we dragged him away and exchanged what we had for a few plastic toys and a small handful of candies. “Goodbye Kelly!” Janice called after me sweetly.

Outside in the empty Sunday night mall parking lot, the air was warm and we were happy- that simply. With another coupon, we found an “affordable” hotel and sunk into the gifts of civilization- wifi and remote controls.

The next morning I suffered through the complimentary “express” breakfast and the boys had an hour in a “heated” pool. Then we headed out to Springfield’s Forest Park Zoo– where we joyfully complained about the scorching sun and even had to apply sunscreen- something we’d saved upon this summer in Vermont.

Casey was impressed with the size of the park- 765 acres right inside the city- but the zoo itself had the feeling of a pet store for large animals. The habitats were small and the black bear seemed depressed. We enjoyed the monkeys on their recycled milk crates and old fire hoses but they didn’t appear to be enjoying themselves. Fortunately it was a little zoo and we were able to escape for downtown by noon.

To my delight, Springfield boasts four museums in one location– called the Quadrangle. In the center is an outdoor sculpture park celebrating the work of city native, Theodore Gisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss. There is a museum highlighting his work as well as other Springfield natives- Taj Mahal for one- and two other buildings with nice collections of art. I was in heaven in the climatically controlled Fine Arts Museum, but the day’s highlight for the family- as a whole- would have to go to: Grossology- the (Impolite) Science of the Human Body, a special exhibit at the Museum of Science.

For another four dollars on the price of admission, Aidan scaled a wall of scabs, pimples, blisters and scars. Lloyd mastered the blood waste video game and Casey successfully removed body parts from a life sized version of “Operation.” I competed against the entire family to win the Grossology game show and we all interacted with the charming displays on snot, burping, farting and even- vomiting.

When the museum hours ended without a trip to the dinosaurs- or to the gift store- I’m not sure which- Aidan fell apart. A ten minute toddleresque fury of kicking and sobbing ended in family convulsions after my eight year old called me a name we had never heard.

It had been a stellar week for name calling in our family– with two other firsts.  On the curb at the 4th of July parade, Lloyd called me an “a…hole” -albeit under his breath; After which we had an extended conversation- not only around respect- but on the difference between name calling and venting.

I blew that conversation out of the water the next day when my boys decided to have a fight about the toaster while I was on the phone with the doctor’s office. I sure hope I hung up that phone all the way before I blurted out, “Are you guys f….. idiots?”

I know, I know, I can’t believe I said it either- and we eat organic food. I’m not sure what came over me- and of course, my teenager didn’t waste a moment pointing out my hypocrisy. All of which made Aidan’s outburst in the car outside the Science Museum a watershed moment of comic relief for the entire family.

Mom,” he screamed with all his might from the back seat,” You’re such a TIME WASTER!

Watch your mouth,” my husband managed to say through tears of laughter, “We don’t use that kind of language in this family!”

On the ride home toward Vermont, we were buyoant– lifted by laughter following a storm of tears, and brightened by the valley’s hot sun after weeks of rain. 24 hours after a desperate departure from the mountains, I welcomed the fresh, cool air of my home with open arms.

Kelly Salasin

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