Click Here For Printer-Friendly Version


Chapter 4

Denise had just arrived home from school, and found a note from Mom saying she had a dentist appointment, she would be home soon, and that Todd was to spend the night with Tim, since it was Friday night. Denise went to the refrigerator, poured a glass of milk, grabbed a banana, turned on the television, and sat back to relax with her snack.

The phone rang. She was sure it was Jon. They spent nearly as much time on the phone as they did together, nowadays. But, it wasn't Jon. It was Tom's secretary, and with much excitement, (or was it fear?), in her voice, she asked to speak to Doris.

"Mom's gone out of town for a dentist appointment, she should be back pretty soon, though. Do you want me to have her ca11 you?" Denise asked, fee1ing curious. Mom se1dom had anything to do with the business, that was Dad's territory. It was strange that she would be getting a call from his secretary.

Reluctantly, the secretary finally explained her call. "Denise, listen to me. Your dad has been taken to the hospital. Now, don't panic- let's wait and see what the Doctor says, OK? I just need to let your mother know what's going on. Get word to her as soon as you can,OK?"

"But, what's wrong with him? He's never sick, you know that! Why is he in the hospital? Was there an accident?" Denise asked, fear rising up in her rapidly.

"No, there was no accident, he's just sick. Your mom will tell you more about it, I'm sure, when she can get more information. Are you alone. Denise? Would you like me to come over and stay until she gets home?"

"No, thanks. I've got to get down to the hospital and find out what's going on. Thanks for calling." Denise replied, her mind made up.

"I don't know if that's a good idea, you know, you probably won't be able to see your dad for a while, anyway. Why don't you wait until your mom gets home."

"Well, I'll see, but. thanks for calling. Bye." Denise repondonded with finality.

Denise looked up the phone number of their regular dentist, dialed the number, and asked for Doris. She was informed that Doris had just left. Now what? Denise thought, almost hysterical, by now. What could be wrong with Dad? He had never been sick, except with a cold, or something minor. She resented that the secretary had not told her all the details, so she would know what was going on. But, she probably was afraid she couldn't handle it, Denise thought, wondering if, in fact, she could!

Denise called next door to Jon's house. "Jon, I just got a call that Dad's been taken to the hospital, and I can't get word to Mom, because she's out of town, and I don't know what to do! I don't even know what's wrong with him. His secretary just said he was 'sick'! Can you drive me to the hospital? I've got to see him, and find out what's going on. Please?"

"Sure, Sweetheart, I"ll be right over. Don't worry. I'm sure it'll be OK, and I'll be right with you!"

"Jon, don't bother coming over here. I'll meet you at your car. That'll save time! Please hurry!" Grabbing her purse, Denise started for the door, then remembered the television was on. She turned it off, and ran for Jon's car, leaving the milk and banana where they were. She thought about Todd. Should she go by Tim's and get him? No she would let Mom decide about him. What would she have done without Jon?

The trip to the hospital was short, but it seemed to take forever, Denise thought. Once there, Jon took over, asking where Tom Whitaker had been taken, and receiving directions to the Intensive Care Unit, led Denise to the third floor of the hospital, around the corner, and to the ICU's nurse's station.

Tom had been found unconscious in his office, the nurse on duty explained, and had been brought to the hospital by ambu1ance. The examination and tests revealed that he had suffered a heart attack. He had regained consciousness, but still was in serious condition. He would be allowed to have only brief visits, immediate family only, every two hours until his condition stabilized, she told them.

Denise, by this time, was crying uncontrollably, and Jon was doing his best to try to comfort her. It would be another hour before any of the family could even see Tom, so Jon suggested they try to catch Doris at home.

They called Denise's house, but no one answered. Jon then obtained the phone number from Denise for Grandpa and Grandma Whitaker. He called, informing them of their son's condition, giving the facts as well as he could. They promised to be right over.

"Oh, why did this have to happen? Dad's always been so healthy! He's got to get well, he's just got to!" Denise cried.

Jon held her close, repeatedly telling her not to worry, it would be all right.

Denise leaned on him, drawing reassurance from his calmness. She wanted so much to believe him. She couldn't imagine life without Dad. She remembered the things she had learned in Health class at school, and she had casually known some who'd had heart attacks. Some made it, some didn't, she recalled painfully. And it had been such an ordinary day, until this happened!

They kept trying to get Doris on the phone, and after nearly an hour, she answered, then rushed straight to the hospital.

Denise's grandparents were already there by the time Doris arrived, and were in the waiting room with Denise and Jon. Noting that it was the time the nurse had said Tom could have a brief visit, they started to the nurse's station just as Doris rounded the corner. The nurse suggested that Doris go in to see Tom first.

Doris was in the room only a short time, and returned with tears flowing freely down her cheeks. He was sleeping, she said fearfully. After regaining her composure, she suggested that Denise not go in to see her dad. Not like this! Let Grandma and Grandpa go in, if they wanted, but she was afraid for Denise to see her dad this way. Doris pleaded, but Denise insisted. And Denise wanted to go in alone.

When Denise stepped into the little cubicle, she caught her breath. Her dad was lying there, motionless, apparently sleeping, in the hospital bed, with the lifeless look her mother had tried to describe. Oxygen tubing was strapped to his white face, wires connected to his chest ran overhead to a machine that had a continuous "beep-beep'. Bags of clear liquid were hanging above his left side, with tubing running to his left hand, which was covered with tape.

Her senses were assaulted by the strong, antiseptic odor, and suddenly, Denise felt very faint. She had to get out of here! She made it to the door, opened it, and collapsed!

She awakened in Jon's arms, with her Mom and Grandparents hovering over her. Then she remembered all that had happened, and began crying hysterically.

The nurse came over, trying to calm them all, and explained that Tom was under sedation, and medication had been given to re1ieve the chest pain. The medication was being given intravenously. He was receiving oxygen to decrease the workload of the heart, and monitors were on to alert the nursed of any change in his heart activity.

Everything possible was being done, she reassured them, and though the tests showed Tom did have some damage to his heart, the prognosis was favorable at this time.

Calmed by the nurse's explanation, Denise agreed to go with Jon to the Snack Bar of the hospital to get something to drink, to relax, and wait for more news.

Doris reluctantly decided to call her parents who lived on a small farm just outside town. She remembered how pleased they had been when she had started dating Tom, and later, when she had married him.

The two families had lived in the same town most of their lives. They attended the same Church, their children had grown up together, attending the same school, and though the two families weren't close, they had a casual friendship. Doris' dad had even coached Tom in Little League, along withhis own son, Doris's older brother, who had later been killed in the Vietnam war.

For a while, after their son's only death, Charlie and Irene Smith had allowed Tom to fill the void, treating him in every way as they would their own son. But, as the young couple began to mature, having married right out of High School, Doris and her parents' differences increased, especially with her Mom, causing a rift in the relationship, as Tom sided with his wife, avoiding marital conflict.

Doris and Tom had little to do with her parents, nowadays. Oh, they saw them at Church, and sometimes in town, but spoke politely, as if they were casual aquaintances, and went on their way. This had gone on for a while, and Doris was reluctant to break the silence. But, she reasoned, they did have a right to know about their son-in-law's condition.

Doris dialed the phone. A male voice answered quickly. It sounded thick with sleep, and Doris realized that, although it wasn't late by her standard, it was probably well past their bedtime. Something quickened within her, as she realized how long it had been since she had called her parents.

"Dad, this is Doris. Did I wake you? I hope I didn't alarm you." She hestitated a moment.

"That's OK, Hon." Charlie answered, feeling both joy and fear at his daughter's long awaited call. "Is everything alright? You sound upset," he asked with genuine concern.

"Well, I just called to tell you that Tom has had a heart attack. He's in ICU, here at Holden Memorial. I thought you probably would want to know." Doris' mind returned to the crisis at hand, her voice reflected the grief and uncertainty she felt.

"Do you want us to come over? We'll be right there if you want us, Hon!" He volunteered sincerely, not sure their presence was desired.

"Oh, no. It's going to be OK! I'm sure he'll be fine. I just wanted to let you know." This call had been a major step, but she realized she just wasn't ready to spend time in their presence. Not with all her other worries!

"Hold on a minute. Your mother wants to talk to you." Charlie said, handing the phone to his anxious wife.

"Dorrie, are you OK? What happened? Is Tom's condition critical, or has he stabilized?"

"Well, he hasn't had any more problems since he was admitted," Doris replied, trying to hide her fear and resentment. "And the nurse assured me everything was being done for him that can be. He was found unconscious at the office at about three o'clock this afternoon, they said, and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. So I think he's doing pretty good, to have gone this long without more problems."

"I'm glad, Dorrie. I know this must be a real shock to you. But, we'll be praying for y'all, and I know the Lord will take care of it." Irene said with conviction.

"Well," Doris hesitated, feeling some of the old resentment and frustration returning. "You can pray for him, if you want, but you know I don't really believe that stuff, anymore. I know what you taught me, Mom, but things just don't seem the same to me, now. Anyway. I've got to go check on Tom, again. I'll let you know if anything changes." Hesitating again, almost unable to release the words from her tongue, she said, quietly, "Yes, I 1ove you, too, Mom. Bye."

She hung up the receiver, as the tears in her eyes began to spill over. and again, run down her cheeks. She did miss that old assurance she'd had as a child, that prayer could really change things. But, how could any intelligent adult continue to believe those things? Look at all the misery in the world! Children dying of hunger, mass murder, drugs, earthquakes. She could go on and on! If God was really in control, if he would, or could answer prayer, why was the world in such a mess?

But, Doris knew better than to ask her mother these questions. She always had an answer for everything! Right or not, Doris thought. She returned to the ICU waiting room where Denise, Jon, Grandpa, and Grandma Whitaker waited for more news of Tom's condition. Her tears had ceased, leaving little clue to the emotional trauma just speaking to her parents had born.

After Doris insisted that Denlse go home for some rest. and assuring her she would call if there were any changes, Jon walked with Denise to the car, gently leading her by the arm. He drove a silent, withdrawn Denise home, lost in her own world of unspoken thought. She refused his offer to stay with her for a while. She just wanted to be alone, she insisted.

The days came and went. Tom was progressing nicely, according to the doctor on the case. "Medication is being given to dilate the coronary arteries," he explained to Doris and Denise. "That will allow increased oxygen and blood flow to the heart muscle itself. There was some damage to the right side of the heart, but it could have been much worse," the doctor continued. "The important thing is for Tom to get plenty of rest, and freedom from stress and anxiety."

"As far as I know, Tom's not been under any stress at home, and he has an assisitant that he hired a couple of years ago, to help at the office, so he should be able to take care of everything that comes up in the office. Of course, you know that Tom has always been a 'workaholic'," Doris told the doctor. "But, I'll talk to his assistant and explain the situation to him, so he won't mention any of the business problems to Tom. I think it scared everybody pretty bad, when they found him unconscious. Do you know when he'll be transferred to a private room?

If all continues to go well, we'll probably move him out of ICU in a couple of days- Then, if he continues to be free of complications, he'll be able to go home, soon. But, it'll be a while before he'll be able to return to work."

A few days later, Tom was transferred to a private room, just as the doctor had predicted. Denise, relieved that Dad was no longer in ICU, rushed home from school every day to get her homework, help Todd with his, and then hurried to the hospital to visit with her dad. Doris spent most of the time there, nowadays.

Jon was always available to drive them over, but he seldom stayed long. He always had things to attend to. But, Denise understood. She wondered what she would have done without Jon!

No longer was Denise afraid of the hospital, and it's equipment. In fact, she became quite fascinated by the things she saw, and was very touched by the other patients she met, while visiting with her dad. She was intrigued by the efficiency and professionalism of the nurses she met.

Todd never seemed to take the situation seriously. He just laughed and played and talked with anyone who would listed, and seemed to enjoy the attention he was getting from the other patients and nurses.

Then, finally, the long awaited day came, when Tom was released from the hospital, with a long list of 'do's and don'ts", and life returned to almost normal for the Whitakers.

What a homecoming that was!

Rose Petals