Room 107-The Gift
The telephone ringing jolted me awake.I grabbed for the receiver.”Hello,” I gasped as if I had run from a stalker.
“Mrs.Zwahlen,” said the voice in my ear.
“Yes, yes, I am here,“ I said.
“This is Dr. A. Werner is not doing well.”
“I am on my way.” I dropped the telephone, flung off my blanket. The time on the bedside clock read 5 am. My feet hit the floor. No, not dying, please he is not dying. But there it was inescapable. I stepped from my bedroom to the hall. Everything familiar suddenly spun around me as if I stood in a foreign place.”Werner is not doing well,” I yelled and banged on bedroom doors.
“We have to leave to go to the hospital now.” Family members occupying all the bedrooms joined me in the hall. A few days ago, we celebrated our son’s wedding day. Questions flew. Who telephoned? What did they say? “Werner is not doing well. We have to leave now. Please, God, don’t let him die,” was all I answered.
Everyone dressed quickly, teeth brushed and showers forsaken. Nicki combed her hair. We raced through the kitchen. Everyone grabbed bottled water, bread, cheese, and cakes from the heaps of food left on the counter. We marched out the door like a well-drilled team.
“Stefan you drive,” I said to my son. My sister, Natalie, her daughter, Hilary, my friend, Nicki, set off in our station wagon. Jurg and his new bride, Lourinda, followed us for the one hour drive to the Medical Center. Stefan drove on the highway as fast as he dared. But the worst of the ride, over the twisting mountain two-lane road, lay ahead of us. “Please, God, don’t let today be the day we get behind a lumber truck,” I said.The mountain road offered minimal passing zones.
“Call the state police for an escort,” said Nicki.
I called the state police on my car phone. “My husband is dying.He is at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. We are on 118. Please, can you escort us? I don’t want to get there too late.”
“No Mame,” the officer said.”We cannot offer that service.Just be mindful of the speed limit.”
I hung-up. Stefan, a downhill ski racer, drove fast. “Please don’t let him die, not now,” I pleaded.
My eyes focused out the window on nothing but Werner in that hospital bed.
When we arrived at hospital’s north entrance located closest to the oncology unit, I opened my door and jumped out before Stefan stopped the car. I ran through the lobby to the elevators and pushed the button, glad no one else waited. All the while my brain screamed, please don’t let him die. Once out of the elevator, I stopped to collect my composure, took a deep breath, and hurried on to Room 107.
Just outside the door, I stopped. I expected it a closed door. It wasn’t. I heard voices, and then I heard laughter. What dying and laughter – did I hear right. My brain drained squeezing every cell of fear from in my body. I peeked around the door. The curtains were open on the wall to wall window in his room.The morning sun bathed the room in cheery yellow. Fresh-cut flowers and potted plants dressed-up the window seat. Get well cards, and notes wallpapered his room.
Not knowing what to think, I peeked a little further into the room. Werner caught my eye. I saw the smile in his brown eyes. Oxygen masks covered much of his face. I smiled backed and said, “Hi Honey, how are you doing? I had a call…
His attentive nurse said as she adjusted the many tubes hanging from the IV pole, “During the night, he experienced small episodes of heart failure. The oxygen he receives from the mask comes from our most sophisticated new version oxygen tank. We cranked the dial on the machine as high as possible. It feeds an enormous volume of air in his oxygen starved lungs.”
“I see.” I walked to the bed, leaned over and kissed my beautiful husband, where I found some bare skin on his face. He took my hand.
“Your doctor called me early this morning and said you had a difficult night. This time, I brought more clothes with me. I will not leave you again, even if I have to sleep on the floor.”
He touched my cheek. “I’m glad you are not leaving.”
His nurse said, “You are more than welcome to stay. We have a cot bed for you. Just make yourself at home.”
“Thank you! I am grateful for your support. Whatever I can do to help care for Werner, please tell me.”
From behind his oxygen mask, Werner explained. “My one fear was drowning, and I asked them if they can take care of that.”
“We assured him we could take care of that,” the nurse said. “We introduced morphine into his IV. It will help his breathing because his oxygen levels rise and fall.”
“Oh boy,” I said, ” I must apologize to your doctor because I hung up on her.”
The nurse and Werner laughed. Werner said, “She told me. Don’t worry; she laughed too.”
“Well, I said, the whole family is here.”
I hardly finished my sentence, when the rest of the family also expected the worst, quietly entered the room. The quiet lasted only through the explanations, kisses, and smiles.
Werner held my hand and announced. “Will somebody please go get my wife a coffee and two oatmeal cookies. She loves those oatmeal cookies.”
Later in the day, his team of doctors arrived in the doorway. We heard there is a party going on in Room 107. We came to say hello.
Sure is a party, we said. Please join us for a glass of wine, some bread, cheese and other assorted picnic edibles. We are celebrating life with Werner.They thanked us and explained if they were not on duty they would love to join us. As they lingered a few more minutes, we sang for them. Werner even yodeled behind his oxygen mask.
This day was not the day to die. We had more to celebrate to do with Werner.
My beautiful Swiss husband, beloved father, brother-in-law, uncle, friend, life-long mountain climber, and Alpine racing coach had a few more life gates to run. After his epic three-year race for his life against esophageal cancer, his wounded and weary body began to show signs of shutting down. Although cancer ravaged his body, it was no match for his faith-filled spirit.
For one more day by his side, I whispered, “Thank you, God.”