Someone is always there…

In retrospect, it was the surprise dress-rehearsal before my daughter Megan’s 2004 cancer diagnosis.

The stage was San Antonio and the leading actors were my children Megan and Ryan. We were visiting Texas for my cousin’s mid-summer night’s dreamy wedding, followed by a day of party time at Fiesta, Texas and Sea World. The award-winning Rattler was headlining that year, a wooden roller-coaster considered to be the best and the baddest of its time. I can still see my children dismount from the terrifying ride on wobbly legs only to demand another “Encore!”

Fireworks ended the glorious day, and we stayed at the parks until final curtain call.

The following day, as I packed up the troupes to head home, my second-grader Ryan began to spike a fever over 101. Thankfully, my medical-professional aunt and uncle called ‘cut’ to my give him two aspirin and let’s get on the plane directions. The drama transferred to the hospital emergency room. I was bewildered by the sudden shift in our lives from ‘happiest day, ever’ to ‘day with horrifying possibilities.’ Stage fright set in as interns and physicians moved around us, unable to mask their concern over Ryan’s increasingly grave situation.

You would think I could have handled myself better, after all it wasn’t my first time in the ER. There was that “I Am Tarzan” show where Ryan swung from the shower curtain across the tub smack into the tile wall, biting off his lower lip. But the hustle and bustle of Omaha’s Children’s Hospital paled by comparison to San Antonio’s inner-city trauma center: there were not enough chairs for patients who spilled beyond the waiting room. Emergencies ranged from gun-shot wounds to severe asthma attacks from the Texas heat. The audience of hurting people, which now included my son, was overwhelming to this quiet Nebraska mom.

As the hours clicked by, Ryan’s fever soared but solutions were scarce. It wasn’t long before his temperature rose above the 105 range which queued up that mythological Kraken that resides in every mom of a sick child. Hours of frustration unleashed at the nurses’ station, and within minutes Ryan’s bed was racing down the hall to ultra-sound. I was glad they were back on course to find a cause, but the sobering reality was that kidney or liver cancer were suspect.

Though terrified at hearing the very word ‘cancer’, the dimly lit exam room was the first quiet place I’d experienced in fifteen hours. At 3 a.m. my emotions began to stabilize with the technicians non-verbal communication: for a few moments she held my hand that held Ryan’s. The exam began and and I was an observer as her instrument methodically rolled over his abdominal area. She lightened the mood by telling me to picture the radiologist at home reading the results in his jammies. I smiled. As she finished up, in a break with protocol she told me, “Everything is just fine.”

Relief gave way to tears, and I told her how grateful I was for her presence in the night hour. Her response was unforgettable. In that honest and wise way that Southern black women talk, she said, “Girl, if it wasn’t me, God would have put someone else here for you. No matter where you are in life, someone is always there when you need it.

Those words have echoed for thirty years, and were often a guard against negative thoughts when Megan’s life played out on the rare stage of adrenal cancer. Someone is always there when you need it. Our next-door neighbor was Megan’s oncologist. The gratitude list during her 44-month battle went on and on.

Since that day, I have lived expectant of that truth for both of my children in time of trouble. But maybe not until yesterday did I feel the full scope of that universal truth for me, for everyday, even in situations that are not life and death.

Someone was there for me yesterday morning.

Seven days ago I slipped on the old rug with its worn out rubber back in the master bathroom…you know, the one my BFF Kim told me to replace months ago. In the dimly lit night hour as I trekked to the toilet, I slipped on the rug and went flying into the tub and tile floor. The results were a cracked rib, and and badly bruised body. Still sore a week later, I loaded into my iced-over car yesterday morning, turning on all heat and defrost. My sporty little Chevy Malibu would make short order of the ice, but even at full throttle the defrost was not going to handle the few inches of hardened snow that packed on the ice during the night. I knew my very sore body couldn’t and shouldn’t be scraping the vehicle. For God’s sake, I’m Oompa Loompa short and leaning with a scraper over to the center of the vehicle is challenging even in the best conditions.  I had to get to work. In a wonderful way, business is exploding, and I had new authors waiting for me to help them. I inwardly thought, “What am I going to do?”

Out of nowhere, I saw a young woman standing by my window through the peek-a-boo hole where there was no ice or snow. I opened the door to ask if I could help her. She replied, “Do you need your car scraped?” My initial response was the old caregiver in me, “No, I’m OK.”

Sweet Jesus…Fancy Girl, no, you are not OK!

I retracted my pride and told her, “Actually I do need help.” I went on to ask, “Are you an angel or a real person?” She smiled at my blunt inquiry, and told me she was a real person. Then with a joyful attitude and one bad-ass scraper, she made short-order of my car. As she neared the end, relief gave way to tears of gratefulness and I got out of the car to hug her.

She left me with the knowledge that her name is Emily, and as Angel Emily began to walk away, I had full expectation that she would vaporize into the heavens. Instead she moved toward her apartment building, coincidentally #911.

May God wink at you today. Live expectant. And may someone be there when you need it.

Key Notes:

  • Caregivers often adopt one of three philosophies.
    • I can do it by myself.
    • I can’t do it alone, but I need help with my loved one.
    • You can help with my loved one, but not with my needs. I can do it alone.
  • I live expectant that someone will be there when I need it. But I also start every single day saying, “Who can I help today?”
  • Ryan’s final diagnosis was bacterial pneumonia. He was hospitalized for almost a week, and recovery was slow in the months that followed. Ryan’s need to come home from school early from exhaustion prompted me to make a major change in business – one that prospered me beyond my wildest dreams.

On A Lighter Note:

  • Thank you, make-up professional Rachel Ray, for telling me my make up was ‘spot-on’ last week. I did it to match the black and blue eye on the right side.
  • The original Oompa Loompa was 4″2″ tall. I’m 5″4″ and shrinking. Even at a foot taller than the famous Oompa Loompa, reaching to the center of the car is a stretch.
  • I don’t really think my Chevy Malibu is sporty…but it’s paid for. I see a Jeep Wrangler in my future. I’ll probably need a step stool to get in. I’ll call it “The Big Monster!”
  • No, I don’t have a remote starter car toy. But I’m always looking for new sponsors for this blog 🙂

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4 comments

  1. Whenever I see these in my Inbox I get excited. I want to find a cozy chair to relax in while I savor every descriptive morsel. Thank you for sharing another personal beautiful story from your heart. Happy Valentines Day Val💕

  2. OMGosh Val – Such good stuff!!! Today, YOU were the person that was there. I am in the middle of writing a note to a dear friend who needs to know that someone will always be there. YOUR WORDS today – good timing to remind us that God is so good – all the time. It is true, there are no coincidences in life, but there is God – doing his thing. I too have experienced angels on earth and it’s really crazy stuff! All God – just when we need him to break through. You are such an amazing writer with a true gift to lift others up. Love, Love, love the purple jeep (Lil Monster) and can’t wait to see you in it. Finally, but not least, I am so sorry to hear about your accident. Sounds horribly painful. Get well soon. With your great attitude, of course, you will!! Trudy

    1. Trudy, I am so happy you are writing a note. I saved every note written to Megan, and to me from her funeral. They are powerful reminders that we are not forgotten. You are an amazing friend 🙂 Thanks for this note to me!

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Article by: Valerie Bourdain