Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's the little things

This post is part of the November 2011 Blog Chain at AbsoluteWrite. This month’s challenge is a simple holiday story.

Most of my memories of the holiday season are good ones. As a child, I was fortunate to be in a loving family with relatively successful parents; there were no "hard times" to speak of, no years of meager gifts. In my college years, the holiday season was an extended party within my fraternity, with gift exchanges, booze, sex, and maybe a little bit of charity work on the side. As an adult, my wife and I have always enjoyed the season, decorating our home and reveling in the giving of gifts, first to each other and then to our children.

And really, there is nothing better than seeing the look of wonder in a small child's eyes from experiencing all of the holiday trappings, not to mention the presents on Christmas morn. This year, my youngest has really immersed herself in the show, from decorating, to baking, to the annual TV specials. And I can't wait to see her face, come Santa time.

But there is one blemish on my record of memories. As the holiday season approached in 1980, when I was in 9th grade, I woke up one morning feeling quite bad, or at least so I am told. I have no memory of the day, whatsoever. My mother told me to go back to sleep, though apparently I was worried because my science project was due on that day, so I first spent some time getting it ready before returning to bed. A little while later, she brought me a glass of juice,  then became quite worried at my lack of response and greyish complexion. She called an ambulance.

What followed was an extended period of missing time; I have bits and pieces in my mind, a doctor or nurse hovering above me, a bumpy moment in an ambulance, voices distant then close, lots of scurrying around. Some clarity finally returned and I remember having popsicles, while hooked up to machines and an IV, in what was obviously a hospital ward. My parents visited daily and brought me a radio to listen to as I grew more aware and expressed my boredom. One of my biggest worries at the time was missing the NFL playoffs. From the radio, I learned that the Raiders--my team--were due to face the Brian Sipe-led Browns (the "cardiac kids") and I very much wanted to see the game.

The staff was able to bring in a TV set and I got to see the game, watching most of it with a nurse who--it turned out--was from Cleveland. That was on January 4th, 1981. Obviously, there had been no traditional Christmas for me or my parents. Shortly after this point, I was moved to a private room, where I stayed for another week or so, before being released and returning home. And it was in that room that I learned the details of the last nearly four weeks:

An ambulance rushed me to the local hospital in Newport News where I was attended by the father of one of my best friends. I was barely breathing and he determined that I had contracted viral pneumonia. The local hospital didn't have the needed facilities, so I was moved--via ambulance--to MCV hospital in Richmond.

On the way, my ambulance broke down and a new ambulance had to be sent to pick me up and take me the rest of the way. My parents--who were following at normal speeds--came upon the ambulance that had broken down and at first believed that I had died, until they got out and asked the driver who was still there.

In Richmond, I was in intensive care for most of my stay, on morphine and unable to move, as the doctors and nurses tried to keep me alive. Close to midnight on Christmas Eve, my heart stopped. A doctor at MCV performed CPR on me and successfully restarted my heart, saving my life.

From that point on, I began to recover. I had lost an unbelievable amount of weight--from lack of movement and solid food--had to undergo therapy to walk again, and experienced a number of other complications. But I survived.

My parents spent their time in Richmond staying at the Ronald McDonald House (years later, they would go back and serve as caretakers there). If you're ever looking for a worthy charity, this is a pretty good choice.

My highlights from that year's holiday season:

Popsicles, the only thing I could eat for quite a while. I liked the orange ones best, I am told.
Skateaway by Dire Straits and Celebration by Kool and the Gang, the two most played songs while I was intensive care. Both bring back a flood of memories when I hear them.
Fried Chicken, my first solid food after my ordeal. And to this day, I also love hospital food.
Playing chess with the doctor who saved my life. He visited me often and will never be forgotten.
My friends that drove over to visit me.
And my parents. All that I went through, they went through, too. And more, really.

Still, the little things--the popsicles, the songs, the chicken--are the ones that stick out in my mind. Oddly, it's the little things that make the season, even here.

Cheers, all.

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:
Ralph Pines
Diana Rajchel


  1. I heart Brian Sipe! I am a tortured Cleveland fan.
    This is a wonderful story, you grabbed me at the beginning and held on tight. I'm glad you had that doctor and glad you are around to share your memories.

  2. Wow, the things we remember even when we don't remember. I was in the hospital totally out for a week, but I remember little bits too. The stuff that I remembered were things like sounds and smells. Weird. :)

    Glad you made it through to share with us!

  3. What an experience! I feel for your poor parents, seeing the broken-down ambulance and thinking you had died...

  4. Wow that was a close call. I'm glad you made it! Your parents must have had a horrible time and probably remember a mixture of fear, relief, and joy.

  5. The Ronald McDonald house is such a wonderful organization. I volunteered there as a child and would love to do so again. Thanks for sharing your story!

  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone. It's a period of my life that I rarely talk about.


  7. This is reminsicent of my birthday one year. I also ended up in hospital for a while then but for a far less serious issue. Though the nurse who admitted me said she was surprised I was able to walk into the ward. Most people who had what I have generally get pushed in unconscious...

  8. Wow! What a Christmas! Thanks so much for sharing this memory.

  9. Wow, what a story but how absolutely terrifying for your family members. I am convinced that kids have guardian angels. You certainly did. I hope you daughter had a wonderful Christmas.