Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cool Hand Mom

I had a working mother. But her employment was under ideal circumstances: She was an RN and worked nights. So our routine was thus:

  • She came home from the hospital after finishing her shift at 7 a.m.
  • She ensured that we three boys (my brothers and me) got off to school
  • Then she went to bed.
  • She slept during the day while we were at school
  • At 3 p.m., when we arrived home, we awoke her.

It was ideal. We enjoyed the financial benefit of her employment and still had her presence after school, through dinner, up to and including bedtime. After we had been nestled to sleep, she left for the hospital for her 11 p.m. start time, and the cycle began anew.

Having a mother who was an RN was an interesting way to grow up. She was always on duty. Whenever a need arose -- and these always seemed to be at the most unexpected moments -- she emerged from a crowd of onlookers and offer whatever assistance she could. 

Whether it was at the supermarket or on a neighborhood sidewalk, we boys watched this exchange countless times during emergencies:

"Is there a doctor nearby? Is anyone here a doctor?"

Mom would step forward: "I am not a doctor, but I'm an RN."

"You'll do."

We were witness to mom's skill and knowledge in all kinds of situations: Helping a teen who had hit his head on the bottom of the swim club pool; assisting a seizure victim; providing first-aid on a roadside after a nasty accident; icing a little-leaguer who had twisted an ankle in a heroic slide to second.

The car accidents were always memorable. As we passed twisted machinery and diamond scatters of safety glass, Mom quietly said: "Pull over, George."

Dad, who was driving, guided the car to the shoulder, and Mom was out in a shot.

"Stay here. Be safe."

She kept an emergency medical kit in each of our cars back then, and she would grab this small plastic container on her way back to the mayhem.

Often, she did nothing. Police were onsite, and medical attention was on the way. The last thing she wanted to do was get in the way.

But in those instances where we were first on the scene, she frequently lent a crucial hand.

She loved to tell the tale of how, on her word, a commercial airline flight was diverted to the nearest airport. She and Dad were on their way to the west coast on a vacation, when a flight attendant got on the PA system and asked if there were a doctor on board. No response. After a few moments, the request came again, and Mom described that the first threads of panic were beginning to find their way into the request.

Mom flicked on her call-light: "I am not a doctor, but I am an RN."

"You'll do."

A passenger was having chest pain. She ministered to him as best she could, given the limited resources. But when the pilot asked mom if she felt the medical emergency were cause enough to land right away, she said yes.

And so, on her word, an entire commercial jet was diverted. An ambulance was sent to the tarmac and, upon touching the ground, the patient was taken away. For her efforts, the airline unearthed the hotel at which my parents were staying at and arranged a bottle of champagne delivered to their room.

Having a nurse for a mom had benefits that went beyond benevolence toward strangers. Within our own household, any of our boyhood scrapes, sprains, and bruises were assessed with skill, and there was no guesswork as to whether an injury required an ER visit.

She was also extremely calm in these situations.

While goofing around with a set of golf clubs, a neighbor kid accidentally beaned me with a nine iron, cutting a huge gash in my scalp. As all head wounds do, the thing bled like a stuck pig. Mom was called, and I can remember lying on the grass as she arrived, a blood-soaked towel covering the damage.

She matter-of-factly got me to the ER as quickly as she could, assuring me that I would be fine. 14 stitches later, I was sent home with instructions for her to watch me closely for signs of a concussion, which, thankfully, there were none.

She never screamed. Never cried. Never panicked, despite seeing her youngest bathed in his own blood.

She did, however, admit later, in the quiet of her room, to breaking into tears.

Mom also had the nurse's touch. I remember on days when I was feeling sick, she needed no thermometer to assess a fever. She could feel whether or not we were running inordinately "hot" or not just by pressing her hand on our foreheads.

That cool hand on a flush face was often more comforting than any St. Joseph's Aspirin for Children and provided a balm that outdid Vicks VapoRub.

"You're hot. Let's get back into bed."

She then -- treat of treats! -- wheeled our ancient black and white TV into the sick room and allowed an entire day of Popeye, Woody Woodpecker, and Huckleberry Hound. Lunch would assuredly be tomato soup with a flotilla of Zesta saltines bobbing in it. And the afternoon unfold in a cycle of naps and quiet book reading.  

How I miss that hand on the forehead. The other one cradling my chin. The warm eyes conveying that everything was going to be all right.

How I'd love to feel it just once more...

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