“I’ll get it,” Marnell said when the doorbell rang. He had just arrived home from work. I had the kitchen in an uproar.
I couldn’t hear Jen’s entire dialogue, but she sounded shaky and was asking to borrow a phone. Something about Harvey and the hospital.
I walked into the front room, where Marnell was dialing the numbers she read off to him.
She explained to me that Harvey had been in the hospital the last few days and had been sent home with a chest tube, which had now “plugged” with fluid.
“I used to work with those,” I said in an effort to calm her down. “It might be doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.”
I grabbed a stethoscope and a few bandage supplies and headed down the street with her.
Sure enough, Harvey was waiting, bent over and panicked.
“I need an ambulance!” he gasped when he saw us.
Perhaps he does, I thought.
“Tell me what happened,” I demanded. “Sit down. You went to the doctor on Wednesday–“
I had known he had the appointment. He had been quite short of breath the last time I had seen him.
“And my lung was collapsed.”
“The doctor took an X-Ray.”
“So he sent you to the hospital and the ER doctor put this chest tube in.”
This I deduced from the kind of chest tube he had received which was clearly visible since Harvey was lifting his shirt. He had attached it with bandage tape to his gaunt frame.
“And then they put you up on the medical floor for a few days.”
“Yes. It never had fluid or blood in it before,” he said.
I looked at the straw-colored fluid with a light tinge of blood and it reminded me very much of all the other samples of chest tube fluid I had seen in the course of four years working with chest tubes. I could understand his fright, because his chest tube was placed at the top of his lung to repair the collapse and keep air out, thus letting the lung seal to the lining of the chest wall. The thin tube ended in a one-way valve. Thanks to gravity (I guess), there’s usually not much fluid at the top of the lung. On the other hand, as I told him and Jen, we all have a little fluid around our lungs, and it might as well come out if it’s collecting. I asked him if he was feeling badly, and he admitted that no he was not, that he was just scared. He had overdone himself possibly, by sweeping the floor as soon as he arrived home.
I pinched off the tube to keep air from getting into his lung, detached the collection chamber, and poured the fluid out on to the ground.
We then went up the rickety outdoor stairs to their apartment where I was invited to take a seat on a wooden chair with a pillow on it. I leafed through Harvey’s hospital paperwork and text my former comrade Sue, and concluded that we had done the right thing. I told Harvey that if he had a sudden change in how he felt, he should definitely call the ambulance. But since he was feeling fine, he was probably going to be okay.
“I was just scared,” he said. “I don’t know anything about these.”
I’m reminded of something fascinating I’ve encountered in the sailing research I’m doing for my new book. When the wind was fierce, a sailing ship could be destroyed or swamped by being pushed across the water at break-neck speed. To avoid destruction, captains would take down most of the sails and turn the ship around and into the wind. I don’t quite understand the concept, since it seems to me that the boat might just go backwards that way. According to several accounts however, this technique actually produced a stabilizing effect, to the point that the sailors could take a rest because the ship was “lying to” in a restful situation.
Just as Harvey was about to fall to pieces from the fright of the unknown, and just as ships nearly fall to pieces when pressured from a wind that is driving them from behind, so do we deteriorate in the face of uncertainty and storm.
I don’t think facing our fears is a magic wand to fix our problems. But sometimes, taking the time to embrace the storm helps us relax and see it for what it is: just a storm, and one that we can weather.
Next week: How God gave more butternut squash than were smashed in the community garden!
The week after that, I’ll be sharing snippets of our journey to Bethlehem, PA, and Staten Island, NY, where the captain of the Irene lived his boyhood days.