Mary Ellen writes about life as Air Force daughter, search and reunion with her birth family, gardening career, and stroke survival at mid-life. Her stories appear or are forthcoming in Gravel Magazine, Wildflower Muse, The Remembered Arts Journal, The Vignette Review, Modern Creative Life, A Thousand and One Stories, Halcyon Days, NatureWriting, PostCard Shorts, Memoir Magazine, Haibun Today, Carpe Arte, Borrowed Solace, Winter Street Writers, Amethyst Review, mac(ro)mic, SoftCartel, Drabble, FewerThan500, and BellaMused. Her chapbook is, Stroke Story, My Journey There and Back. She and her husband live in Sarasota, Florida, with their rescued senior Chihuahua, Max. Find her here: Ibisandhibiscusmelwrites.blogspot.com
Angel of Mercy
Mary Ellen Gambutti
Phil bolts from ambulance to open field, his unzipped windbreaker furling in the downdraft of a descending rescue helicopter. It touches down, nose to the rough wind that advances the storm. I’m rushed by paramedics, a rattled ride on rough grass, and they lift me in the stretcher into the helicopter bay. Amid engine roar, we’re aloft.
Stroke has blinded me, yet I discern male voices, scratchy radio transmission, and chopper vibration. This frightening flight couldn’t faze me, since I’d lost comprehension. In calm of semi-consciousness, I don’t panic; don’t realize Phil has been left behind—no room to fly with me.
Phil bears our terror alone. He watches the sky in horror; his heart races and aches, while dark clouds obscure hope. Where are they taking you? Will I ever see you alive again? He jogs back about fifty yards to the EMT station lot, where three of five paramedics prepare to leave; their emergency call complete.
Phil pleads to a blue jean clad volunteer who stands in the station doorway, “Where are they taking her?”
“Sorry, don’t know,” the volunteer shrugs and turns toward his car. The dispatcher overhears their exchange and calls out, “University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.”
“Where am I? How can I get to Pittsburgh?”
“Sorry, can’t take you that far,” says the dispatcher.
“Then, how can I get to the Uniontown Holiday Inn? By cab?”
Both volunteers shake their heads. “No way. Taxis won’t come way out here.”
We’re strangers to these western Pennsylvania mountains, and just over an hour ago, I collapsed on the rear seat of our tour bus on a winding, remote, two-lane blacktop. Phil is distraught. If only the bus or police had followed the ambulance! Taking pity on Phil, a volunteer agrees to drive him to the Uniontown hotel. As they walk to the car, the dispatcher calls out, “They’re headed south to West Virginia.” The deteriorating weather conditions make the flight west to Pittsburgh too risky, and I’m on my way to Morgantown.
Phil packs, and at the desk asks the manager for a cab to Ruby Memorial. But, no taxi will cross the state line. The manager’s gracious friend offers his assistance. Sandy-haired, forty-ish—a sweet angel of mercy--he negotiates back roads to bypass congestion of storm and rush hour. He refuses payment for the rainy two hour drive, and instead offers cash to help get Phil through the sad, difficult days ahead.
When I was an active and strong landscape gardener, my husband and I restored a Victorian farmhouse, kept goats, chickens, dogs, cats, gardens and a greenhouse. Then, our life changed with my hemorrhagic stroke in 2008. Just prior, we had downsized to a condo that required minimal garden maintenance, but part of my spirit died, when I was no longer able to prune, dig and kneel in the earth.
Physical and mental exhaustion of those early months and years passed. Neurons made new connections. I trust brain-healing continues, although my gait is imperfect, lacks grace. I’ve become accustomed to shifts in balance, and keep my cane handy. Proprioception, an innate awareness of physical space—how my feet relate to the floor--my right’s conversation with my left — was permanently affected. I still struggle with right hand and finger sensory deficits from ulnar nerve damage.
Now I focus on what is possible, and less on what was lost. On my best days, I’m a survivor, not a victim. A brain hemorrhage robbed me of freedom, impaired my thought and speech. I’m fortunate to be able to tell you about it. In the past eight years, I’ve taken many on-line writing courses. I read and write more than I did prior to the stroke, and I’ve always enjoyed both. I haven’t cooked, pruned, hooked rugs, or crafted since the stroke, because my dexterity is gone. But I can type, and do so, every day with my--now dominant-- left hand.
The hemorrhage caused strong to weaken and made freedom dependent. I’ve lost physical strength, but kept courage and conviction. This sixty-six year old Nana has come to terms with that awful event; the anguish of paralysis, and a healed outcome. Thanks to kindness and skill of therapists, I move ahead. Acceptance is part of becoming whole.