Geez, this winter sure has been tough. First the flood. Hadn’t seen anything like it in almost twenty years. Not as bad this time but it sure had me worried. Last time I couldn’t get to the cows for almost a week. It broke my heart to find the few that didn’t make it. They are so dependent this time of year. No matter how much you try to tell yourself you tried your best … it just doesn’t ease your mind. They needed me and I wasn’t there.
I ought to try to get some help, but that’s not the life that Daddy taught me to lead. He’s still out there with me everyday. He won’t let up. I try to get him to go to the house but he says he would only be in Mama’s hair. If you saw him at work you’d never know he was 70. Just a few years ago he could out work me. I see the pep slipping out of his step. I want to ease the burden of his time left. I try to do double duty so it isn’t so noticeable that he doesn’t keep up. I know he loves this grueling work. It’s his worship. His whole life. It pains me to see him losing what he holds so dear. I’ve worried about him more and more each year. This one really seems to have taken it’s toll.
Ouch, there goes that darn catch in my stomach again. I guess age is catching up with me too. Heck, Fifty shouldn’t feel so old. Darn, there it goes again. I don’t know what I could have ate that brought this on. That’s the fourth time this week. Umm, if I push down on the pain maybe I can get these cows feed. This cold wet winter has been tough on them. Just a few more hours and I can call it a day. Guess I’ll put out some feed and bring the hay out tomorrow. It’s still so awful wet that it’d only rut up the field if I did it tonight. Owww. Now this is darn ridiculous. A grown man shouldn’t carry on this way. I’m sure glad Daddy went on home. If he saw me whining like this he might have to whoop me. Owww. Oh darn, this is working on my head. It ain’t spun like this since I stole a cigarette from my uncle and smoked it behind the barn when I was a kid.
Alright. I’m so glad to be out of that damp cold weather. My wife says, “Hey, honey. You feeling alright. You look white as a ghost.” I tell her I’m fine, but choke on the words. She sees me wrench with the pain. She’s paid more attention to it than I have. Women always do. She says she’s got some stew just coming off of the stove. I sit down to eat, but can’t make myself down any of it. Not even out of love for her. It’s hurting mighty tough right now. I apologize for not being able to enjoy her cooking. I gotta get in bed. I just change my clothes without even cleaning up. I ain’t never done that before. But Lord, I ain’t ever hurt like this before.
I don’t know if what I did was sleep or something else entirely. I dreamed and thrashed and grunted and felt like I was underwater in some strange place. I wasn’t drowning but it wasn’t anything like a swim. I wake up covered in sweat.
My wife calls the doctor to have him work me in. I tell her I’ll be alright, but the look on her face is stronger than any man can deny. There ain’t no telling her no if she’s like this. And I know there’s something powerful wrong, but doctors don’t usually fix things they only find something wrong. But something’s got to stop this pain. He tells her to bring me to the emergency room. Now I’m a hurtin’ but I haven’t ever been to an emergency room. Another look from her tells me this is going to be my first time, willing or not.
There must be fifteen people ahead of us. She signs us in and sits down. I look around and see how much everyone else is suffering. I feel like a darn fool for being here. What kind of man comes to the emergency room for a stomach ache. They call my name. Now I’m feeling even worse. What about all of those other sick people. I bet there getting fighting mad. I tell the nurse I’m not next. She says that they are just going to triage me and see how bad I need help. I guess she’ll soon be laughing me out of this place.
She does some poking and prodding and puts a hospital bracelet on me and says they are going to bring me on back. I say that after they find out there isn’t much wrong there better be a back door they can take me out of ‘cause those other folks are going to want to make something wrong it they take me first. The look on her face is a copy of the one on my wife’s face that brought me here. There is no fighting women when they have that look. I’ll have to figure out where the back door is after we get this over with.
After the doctor does his poking and prodding, he tells me they are getting a room ready for me upstairs. I tell him I just want some medicine and I can come back later when I don’t have so much to do. He says there won’t be any more time if they don’t get the infection under control. My gallbladder needs to come out but they’ll have to get me ready for surgery with some medicine in an IV before they can attempt that. I decide I’ll just take it up with my doctor when he makes it here. I don’t know what’s in this stuff but a wave of tiredness washes over me like the water from my dream. I can’t fight it. It just drags me under.
When I wake up, the pain is much better. My doctor tells me he has a surgeon that will see me later today. After he leaves, I melt back into sleep. It’s like stepping in quicksand. I struggle to stay awake but it just pulls me in. The more I try to fight it, the stronger the pull it has on me.
The next day the sunlight seeps through the hospital curtains. My dear wife is asleep in the chair. Her brow is furrowed in worry. Darn, I hate I put her through this. I realize it’s been two days and the cows haven’t been fed. This hasn’t ever happened since the flood. I vowed it would never happen again. They can’t fend for themselves. They depend on me. I clear my throat and wake her from her sleep. I tell her that I need to go take care of the cows. She looks at me like I’ve been drinking or lost my mind. She says the doctor won’t let you do that. I tell her the doctor isn’t responsible for our cows. She softens a little. After all these years, she knows that it’s a love and a responsibility. It’s a way of life. There are no days off.
When the doc gets to the room, I tell him I’ve got to leave. I explain that I’ll come back. There’s no way I can have surgery if I can’t get them situated. He’s an old farm boy who grew up in Alabama. He knows that I’ll find a way if he won’t let me. He says I can get dressed and go stretch my legs if I sign a release. He can’t tell me what to do once I’m in the parking lot. He says he’ll be back to check on my that evening.
I get dressed, lickity split. My son in law picks me up in the parking lot. We get to the house and I jump on the tractor. I send him ahead. There’s no way I can take the time or the work to open and close all the gates. I put out round bails in all the pastures. It ain’t the way I run the farm but I know like this they’ll get by for at least a week. My son in law says we’ve got to hurry. The nurses have lost their patience when my wife has told them I’m just taking a walk. She called and says security is combing the parking lot for me.
I’m sure that none of the nurses can understand. It’s not a life that most people know, but it’s the only life I’ve ever known. It’s the only life I’ve ever wanted to know. I’m just glad I ended up with a doctor who knows how to medicate the soul as well as the body. His oath means as much to him as mine means to me. Knowing that I took care of my duty gives me peace. If I die, I can die knowing I did all I was meant to do. Doc gave me the medicine I needed most. He let me live on my terms and die on them if that’s how it turns out.
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