By Karen Brode
Winnie and her father, John Hawk, stood nervously outside the hospital room. John paced a few steps one way, and then almost to the end of the hall, the other way. He had put on clean over-alls and a freshly ironed chambray shirt. He had gone home late last night and come back early this morning.
Winnie stayed in place outside her mother’s room, but she wanted to run away. They had told her that the doctor would come by sometime this morning to see her mother, Effie. The young doctor who had been assigned to her Mother was probably the most arrogant person she had ever met. His name was Doak Blassingame. What kind of a name was Doak anyway? She wished they could have a real doctor – a kindly older doctor who was seasoned – not this upstart who challenged her by firing questions faster than she could think.
“How long has she had heart problems? Does she have a doctor she sees regularly? Is she on any medication? Has she ever had a heart attack?” All of this without giving Winnie time to think, much less open her mouth to answer. Then the doctor, apparently deciding she was a deaf mute, turned on his heel and entered her mother’s room. Winnie didn’t know if she should accompany him? He gave her no indication of what he expected of her.
Winnie stared down at her swollen feet. She had sat in the hospital room all last night and she tried to keep her feet up, but it wasn’t the same as sleeping in a bed. Her mother had moaned in her sleep and Winnie had waked often to check on her.
“Which one of you is Winnie?” the doctor yelled from her mother’s room. Winnie felt that this, too, was another insult to her. Surely, he knew that Winnie was a woman’s name. He was an idiot, but an idiot who scared her.
Winnie felt fear deep in her stomach as she bravely opened the door and stepped into the hospital room. She stayed near the door, and the doctor glanced up and said, “Well, come over here so I can talk to you. Are you Winnie?”
Winnie managed to shake her head affirmatively. Not only was she scared by this young doctor and all of his arrogance, but she was mad at herself for being scared, mad at herself for not showing him that he could not treat her this way. She was a teacher, she had gone to college for four years! She wasn’t some white trash lay-about. She was somebody, and he should know that. She wanted to tell him that she had taught school for twenty years, and he could stop acting like she was a brain damaged child, but she couldn’t seem to form the words.
“Your mother’s potassium levels are very low. It has caused her heart to go into a dangerous rhythm.”
Winnie stood staring at the doctor. Then she said, “What can we do?”
The doctor looked at her again as if she were a simpleton. “You could have done something a few months ago or maybe a year ago. There’s not too much you can do now.”
It seemed to Winnie in her math teacher’s mind that if her mother’s potassium levels were low, they could give her potassium. That was the reasonable assumption.
“Can we give her potassium?” Winnie asked.
“It’s not that simple.” the doctor replied as he moved his stethoscope over her mother’s chest. He didn’t bother explaining why it wasn’t that simple, and Winnie was too intimidated to ask him. Oh, she hated this part of herself. She so admired people who could take charge of situations and demand answers.
“I’ll check on her again tomorrow,” said Doak Blassingame as he made notations on Effie’s chart.
Winnie cleared her throat, and asked another question. “Can she go home?”
Doak put the chart down and stared at Winnie. She continued to hold his gaze, and then he said, “Yes, she can go home if that is what you want. She will have to stay in bed and take her medicine and you will have to take care of her.”
Winnie thought – so what else is new? Winnie had been taking care of her mother since she was eleven years old. She had been pulled into this arrangement with her mother before she was out of childhood. She didn’t know anything else.
Sometimes Winnie would look at other people her age, and she would wonder how it was that they were able to have their own lives? She made a wrong move somewhere along the way, and she’d had to pay for it with her life!
Her mother had been steadily going downhill for about thirty years now. It was hard for Winnie to get all that excited about her mother’s illness because she had been ill for as long as Winnie could remember.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.